March 4, 2012

Ray Stevens 9-CD box set: My Review...

This collection of comedy/novelty songs from Ray Stevens is a testament to his dedication to a style of music that he acknowledges is no longer in the mainstream with only a scant few artists and groups keeping the genre going. This 96 song collection represents a huge portion of the recorded comedy gems, jewels, and obscure golden nuggets from a bygone era where radio programmers weren't ashamed to program off-the-wall novelty songs back-to-back with the non-comical songs. I said 96 songs...but there's actually 108 songs if you count the 12 songs on the bonus CD. The main focus, though, are the first 8 CD's where Ray musically and vocally has a blast doing impressions along the way of old women, country folks, sophisticates, Irishmen, Englishmen, chickens, dogs, cows, goats, and Boris Karloff! What a group! Also, there is Ray's take on a wide array of R&B vocalizations that bring back the feel of any number of early R&B groups that Ray has long identified as inspirational to him. As a longtime fan of comedy songs he tells us in his own words how he feels about the comedy song genre: from it's lucrative heyday to it's forced fall from the spotlight by those in radio who feel the 'novelty song' is beneath them.

Once you open the Encyclopedia and look on the inside part of the cover you'll see the image of Ray that's been used for publicity for this collection. I've used the image several times at the start of my last series of blog entries and in this blog entry it's located further down the page. The booklet goes into great detail about the comedy song. A bio of Ray, written by Don Cusic, graces the first few pages and the last few pages of the booklet. A written introduction from Ray appears first, followed by the first few pages of the bio on Ray, followed by deep coverage of all 108 songs on the 9 CD's, concluding with the continuation of the bio. Musician, songwriter, and publisher credits fill out the last several pages. In the booklet's introduction Ray explains that it was extremely difficult in the days of radio-only exposure to have a hit if radio wasn't playing the song. In order for a song to become a hit back then it had to have adequate exposure on radio...and if audiences liked what they heard chances were they'd go out and buy the song...and sales data would provide all the proof that radio programmers needed to add a song to their playlists. Of course, if radio didn't play a song it had obviously little to no chance of becoming a hit. Today, of course, it's all different. The music video craze in the '80s enabled a lot of music not heard on the radio a chance to get exposure to a wide audience. Several artists became popular through music videos first and radio airplay second. No longer was radio airplay needed to secure a hit song.

However, this came to an end when a wide variety of music video channels began popping up on cable television by the late '90s. The newer channels were something of a brand...with an advertising agenda...never daring to deviate from formula. This branding also led ALL the video channels to only program music videos to songs that were currently on the radio. That sort of thing, in my opinion, defeated the whole point behind the concept of seeing if exclusive music video exposure could potentially generate music sales. Ray mentions this sort of thing during his commentary for a few of his songs that were wildly popular on country music video channels in the early '90s but were pulled in favor of what's termed as radio-friendly artists. This term, for those unaware, is applied to any musical act who performs songs that follow a certain edict or pattern for universal radio airplay acceptance. Ray, nor the biographer, go into as much detail as I just did but when you get your Encyclopedia collection you'll see that Ray has some opinions about the programming side of the music industry.

I listened to this collection, with a few breaks, throughout the night. I'm a night-owl anyway...I work nights through the week so when I'm wide awake on the weekends during the overnight hours it afforded me the time to listen to the collection virtually uninterrupted. A lot of the songs remain faithful to their originals...a few of the songs include added lyrics as Ray offers asides and commentary as the songs go into a fade-out. "Searchin'", for example, ends with a lyric not heard on the original recording from The Coasters. "Mr. Custer", another example, ends with Ray offering additional dialogue not heard in the original by Larry Verne or the first cover version from Ray on his 1969 Gitarzan album.

One of the things that shines through is Ray's love of early R&B and novelty music...I didn't take count but there are more than a few covers of Coasters recordings on here as well as Spike Jones classics from the '40s and '50s. Ray brings out the sound-effects in all their audio glory when he delivers "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth", "Cocktails For Two", "William Tell Overture", "I Went To Your Wedding", and "My Old Flame". In the latter Ray does a broad impression of Peter Lorre...the original by Spike Jones featured voice actor Paul Frees as the Peter Lorre sound-a-like.

As far as The Coasters, Ray takes us on a musical ride through the following: "Poison Ivy", "Searchin'", "Little Egypt", "Along Came Jones", "Yakety Yak", and "Charlie Brown". Technically The Coasters also recorded "Love Potion #9" but didn't have the biggest hit with it. This distinction is held by The Searchers, an early R&B group. Ray's version is on CD 5. In a vocal display heard throughout the 8 CD's we have Ray's uncanny mimicry of early R&B vocalists countering the other forms of novelty/comedy music. Ray gives us "How Much Is That Hound Dog in the Winder?", a country comedy classic from Homer and Jethro. Ray and Lori Stegner do a few duets on this massive collection. Stegner, for those who don't know, is the woman who portrays Sarah Palin in Ray's music video, "Caribou Barbie". Ray and Lori team up for "No Help Wanted", a classic from The Carlisles; "Tim-Tay-Shun", a parody originally recorded by Red Ingle and Jo Stafford of a song spelled "Temptation"; and "Too Old To Cut the Mustard", another classic from The Carlisles.

A lot of production was put into these recordings...a hefty amount of production can be heard in his version of "They're Coming To Take Me Away Ha! Ha!" in which Ray eerily performs the song in a memorable haunting voice...building up to the equally haunting high-pitched laughing paranoia of the clearly insane man. It's as close to the original as possible. "Transfusion", a song I first heard on a low-budget novelty song tape released by K-Tel in the early '90s, is covered by Ray. In the original by a singer known as Nervous Norvous the delivery is low-key and calm in spite of the dangerous car crashes that appear to consume him...requiring the insistence for more blood. Ray's version keeps the car crash sound effects but musically it's much different. An impression of Boris Karloff is on "Monster Mash", one of the few songs that several on-line sites erroneously credit to Ray. Another erroneous credit is "Grandma Got Run Over by the Reindeer". In the book Ray refers to this erroneous credit by stating that up until now he'd never recorded or performed the song. It is just one of the Christmas songs on here. The previously mentioned "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth", "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus", "Santa Claus Is Watching You", and "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" all appear on this Encyclopedia. His rendition of the hilarious "The Thing", a hit originally by Phil Harris, will have you caught up in the song as you strive to figure out exactly what the mystery is. Ray covers some of the songs made famous by the likes of Roger Miller, Jim Stafford, George Jones, and one song in particular by Toby Keith(!). Those songs are "Chug a Lug", "Dang Me", and "Kansas City Star" (from Roger Miller); "Spiders and Snakes" (Jim Stafford); two drinking songs made famous by George Jones- "White Lightnin" and "The King Is Gone and So Are You"; and lastly the country rap song "I Wanna Talk About Me" by Toby Keith.

Did you ever think that Ray Stevens would do an update on "In The Mood"? In the original from late 1976, released by Ray as The Henhouse Five Plus Too, Ray clucks out the instrumental with some help from a cow. On this project Ray demonstrates his technical prowess with sound effects and vocal tricks...successfully reviving "In The Mood" without deviating from the original chicken clucking recording from 36 years ago!

The bonus CD features 12 songs that were recorded by Ray within the last several years...the most recent being 2011's "Obama Budget Plan" and the earliest being his re-recording of "The Camping Trip" in 2005 (the original from Ray goes back to 1986). In the booklet Ray remarks why he's re-recorded a lot of his older has to do with ownership of a recording. Also, with regards to the more topical songs on CD 9, Ray offers his opinions about You Tube and social media and how it's become an alternative to radio when it comes to getting his music to the masses. His original You Tube music videos, those that debuted on You Tube prior to their exposure elsewhere, single handedly revived his touring schedule which had, up until 2010, been minimal at best. Up until 2010 Ray was pretty much off the road without any major touring schedule and only did performances at select venues or an occasional visit at The Grand Ole Opry. After the You Tube videos started to amass hundreds of thousands of views...with some obtaining millions of was then pretty much decided that Ray needed to get back out on the road and tour wherever he could and become more visible on high-profile television programs to reintroduce himself to a sea of consumers who only knew of his classic, older recordings.

"Come to the U.S.A.", one of those massively popular on-line music videos, is included on CD 9 in it's audio form.

This massive collection of music is a must-have for any comedy/novelty song enthusiast. It's also a must-have for the sheer amount of recordings...108 altogether...and without question any fan of Ray Stevens shouldn't be without this Encyclopedia project, either!

Ray Stevens delivers a truly unique and comprehensive collection of comedy music...The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music to be precise! It's fantastic.

This collection is available, for now, as CD-only. Ray's web-store is easy to navigate and if you purchase with an electronic transaction the shipment will arrive a lot sooner. I ordered my copy the day it went on sale, February 28th, a Tuesday, and it arrived on a Friday...three days later!

During a recording career that's amidst it's 55th anniversary (dating back to 1957) this Encyclopedia project will astonish those who've been away too long...the energy level of these recordings is top-notch...a lot of those early novelty songs require a lot of energy to pull off and sound comparable to the original. When you get the project listen to the energetic Stevens storm his way through all those Spike Jones hits and those of The Coasters. "The Witch Doctor" is on here, too, which is another one of those songs erroneously credited to Ray but never recorded by him until now.

Ray once recorded a song in 1980 titled "The Last Laugh", a very funny comedy song I might add, and with this Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music it looks as if Ray will continue to have that last laugh on those who dare say that the public never remembers a comedy song beyond it's original shelf life.

Click the 9-CD link below:

Purchase Ray's 9-CD Encyclopedia Here

CD 1:
Abba Dabba Honeymoon
Ahab The Arab
Alley Oop
All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth
Along Came Jones
A Boy Named Sue
The Ballad Of The Blue Cyclone, Part 1
The Ballad Of The Blue Cyclone, Part 2
The Bricklayer’s Song
Bridget The Midget
Chantilly Lace
Charlie Brown

CD 2:
Chug A Lug
Cigareets And Whuskey And Wild Wild Women
Cocktails For Two
Dang Me
Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It's Flavor
The Dooright Family
The Downtown Poker Club
Drop Kick Me Jesus
Dry Bones
Freddie Feelgood
Get A Job

CD 3:
I'm Kissin' You Goodbye
Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer
Harry The Hairy Ape
Haunted House
The Haircut Song
Henry The Eighth
Hello Muddah Hello Fadduh
Huggin' And Chaulkin'
How Much Is That Hound Dog In The Winder
If 10% Is Good Enough For Jesus
I’m My Own Grandpa

CD 4:
In The Mood
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
I Still Write Your Name In The Snow
Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini
It’s Me Again Margaret
I Wanna Talk About Me
I Went To Your Wedding
Jeremiah Peabody’s Green And Purple Pills
Kansas City Star
The King Is Gone And So Are You
King Tut
Little Brown Jug

CD 5:
Little Egypt
Love Potion #9
Mairzy Doats
Makin’ The Best Of A Bad Situation
May The Bird Of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose
Mississippi Squirrel Revival
Monster Mash
Moonlight Special
Mr. Custer
My Old Flame

CD 6:
No Help Wanted
Ode to The Little Brown Shack Out Back
Open The Door, Richard
Osama Yo' Mama
The Pirate Song
Poison Ivy
The Preacher And The Bear
The Purple People Eater
Rub It In
Running Bear
Santa Claus Is Watching You

CD 7:
Short People
Shriner’s Convention
Sittin’ Up With The Dead
Smoke Smoke Smoke That Cigarette
Spiders And Snakes
Splish Splash
The Streak
That’s What I Like About The South
There Is Something On Your Mind
The Thing
Three Legged Man

CD 8:
Three Little Fishes
They’re Coming To Take Me Away! Ha! Ha!
The Too Fat Polka
Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport
Too Old To Cut The Mustard
Western Movies
White Lightin'
William Tell Overture
The Witch Doctor
Would Jesus Wear A Rolex

Bonus material/CD 9:
The Camping Trip
Come To The U.S.A.
Cooter Brown
The Cure
Happy Hour
The Higher Education Of Old Blue
Hugo The Human Cannonball
Obama Budget Plan
The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore
Sucking Sound

1 comment:

  1. IMHO, Osama, Pirate Song, Margaret, Harry, Haircut, Bricklayer, Blue Cyclone and Kissing You Goodbye don't belong in the collection. There had to be other worthy songs. Harper Valley PTA, Amos Moses, When Your Hot Your Hot, Hot Rod Lincoln, and others come to mind. Bo Diddley classics such as Say Man, or Judge a Book By It's Cover? Will Smiths Parents Just Don't Understand? etc etc. Still buying the colection but will burn my own playlist copies.


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