March 31, 2012

Ray Stevens and those liner notes...

One of the things about Ray's earlier albums is that you could usually count on reading interesting or in-depth liner notes from writers or contemporaries of Ray...and at least one album features liner notes from Ray himself. In what I call the CD age, anywhere from the mid '80s through the early 2000's prior to the Mp3 digital download becoming the most preferred choice of music purchases, several CD compilations on Ray Stevens featured liner notes. A CD reissue of his first two studio albums features the original liner notes from the vinyl albums. In the picture the image of both albums appear on the CD. The insert features a fold-out that contains a reprint of the original liner notes. There is no credit given to who wrote the liner notes. I have the vinyl version of This Is Ray Stevens but I forgot to look and see if the liner notes writer was credited or not. Sometimes liner notes were written by a staff member of the record label, too. A fair amount of confusion arises a lot of times if a CD reissue features newly written liner notes while the vinyl counterpart has different liner notes. This scenario plays out with the reissue of Ray's 1968 album, Even Stevens. The album, originally on Monument Records, featured liner notes by writer Tupper Saussy who penned "The Earl of Stilton Square" found on the album. The CD reissue from 1996 features liner notes from Randy Poe. The 1969 Gitarzan vinyl album contains liner notes from Merv Griffin while the 1996 reissue contains Randy Poe liner notes. A writer by the name of John Grissim wrote the liner notes for Ray's other 1969 album, Have a Little Talk With Myself. To date that 1969 album has not been reissued. On the back of that particular album there are a couple of pictures of Ray inside the recording studio. A compilation from Mercury, rather two compilations from Mercury, The Rock and Roll Show and The Best of Ray Stevens, each featured liner notes. Each of those compilations are closely linked due to the fact that both releases feature tracks from the early '60s. In fact, The Rock and Roll Show is a 9-track reissue of Ray's first studio album, 1962's 1,837 Seconds of Humor. The two songs omitted from the reissue are "Rockin' Boppin' Waltz" and "Furthermore".

After 1969's studio album, Have a Little Talk With Myself, liner notes wouldn't grace the back of another Ray Stevens studio album until 1978's There Is Something On Your Mind. In this case Ray himself wrote the liner notes as he gave his feelings and opinions of the classic and obscure R and B songs being highlighted on the collection. I believe that the 1978 release was his last studio album to feature liner notes. Now then, a couple of compilation albums afterward would feature liner notes: 1987's Greatest Hits, a Platinum selling album for MCA, featured notes from Ronnie Pugh. In 1991, Curb Records issued a Greatest Hits collection with liner notes by Don Ovens. In 1995 Curb Records issued the compilation 20 Comedy contains a fold-out insert with liner notes and pictures. A guy named Barry Alfonso wrote the 1995 liner notes. This is the collection that features the 1993 rendition of "Shriner's Convention" lifted from the Platinum selling Ray Stevens Live! home video. 1995 was also the year that the 1993 home video was released in CD format. It was also in 1995 that Warner Brothers released a 3-CD collection of recordings that Ray did for the label in the mid to late '70s. Unfortunately there were no accompanying liner notes on any of those CD's! What a shame!

In 1997 Rhino Records issued their collection on Ray Stevens with liner notes by Dr. Demento. This collection was fueled largely by the fact that 1997 marked Ray's 40th year as a recording artist.

A year later Varese Sarabande, the label that had reissued Even Stevens and Gitarzan in 1996 on CD, went through the Barnaby catalog and assembled The Country Hits Collection in 1998. This particular collection featured quite a few songs that are still rather obscure to the general audience...with a track list made up of mostly album tracks found almost exclusively on vinyl at that point in time (more about that later). The 1998 CD contains 16 songs with liner notes written by a man named Mike Ragogna in January 1998. It includes quotes from Ray on a couple of the songs. The first 5 songs on the CD are single releases while the remaining 11 are album tracks. The liner notes feature pictures of various promo advertisements of Ray's singles, too. The CD contains 3 tracks taken from his 1973 under-rated Losin' Streak album. Another of the songs in The Country Hits Collection was released as an exclusive b-side in 1975, "Piece of Paradise". Unless a fan out there has the actual 45-single of "Indian Love Call" backed with "Piece of Paradise", then this 1998 CD is the only collection that offers the b-side in CD format.

In 2001 came All-Time Greatest Hits on Varese Sarabande with liner notes written by Brian Mansfield. The liner notes for the Varese Sarabande releases tend to be more detailed, which I like, instead of sounding like a gushing fan essay, which I obviously like, too! In 2002 Varese Sarabande issued 12 Hits, a CD that features, you guessed it, 12 songs...recorded between the years of 1968 and 1975. The liner notes this time around were written by Howard Evets. When I read the 12 Hits liner notes for the first time I overall enjoyed them but then after re-reading the notes several times in the days following my purchase of the collection I grew annoyed that the latter part of the track-list wasn't mentioned and quite a few career milestones weren't mentioned, either, just in case any of the CD's would be purchased by someone new to Ray's music.

The versions of "Ahab the Arab" and "Harry the Hairy Ape" that are on this CD are from his 1969 Gitarzan album on Monument which is a common occurrence on many compilation albums released on Ray. At least Varese Sarabande made note of this on the back of the CD...some labels don't tell if they've used a re-recording or an original of a song on the visible part of the CD. It isn't until after purchasing that the disclaimer is shown in small print inside the fold-out. I don't really have an issue with re-recordings if they're better, musically and or vocally, than the original...but some out there absolutely detest re-recordings with a passion. Later on, Collectible's Records released a treasure of Ray Stevens music via the 2 album on 1 CD concept in 2005. Collectible's released 6 of Ray's 7 studio albums for Barnaby Records from the '70s. Three CD's were released, each contained 2 full-length studio albums. This marked the debut of those albums in CD format: Everything Is Beautiful was paired with Unreal, both albums from 1970. Turn Your Radio On (1972) and Misty (1975) were paired together and lastly, Nashville (1973) and Boogity Boogity (1974) were paired together. Sadly, there were no liner notes boggles the mind how a release of that magnitude (6 studio albums!) didn't contain any liner notes of some kind. Each of the CD's fold-outs feature musician and photo credits with thumbnail images of the front and back of the albums but beyond this there's nothing else. I mention those 2005 releases because of their significance in bringing long out of print recordings back into distribution. A purist may be put off by the fact that the track lists are in different order from how they originally appeared on their vinyl counterpart but I never make a big deal about that because it's not that big of a deal, to me.

I hadn't purchased many compilation CD's of Ray since the mid 2000's because I already have the I have no way of knowing if any of the latter day compilation CD's on Ray that pop-up from time to time on Amazon have liner notes or not. I also purchase more Mp3 digital downloads than CD's even though I do plan on getting a CD copy of Spirit of '76, Ray's 2011 project. I have it in Mp3 format but at some point want the official CD copy, too.

There have been a couple of CD's released by Ray which contain what I call greeting notes...typically these are a few sentences or a paragraph from Ray remarking on the creation/concept of the particular CD (see the releases of 2002's Osama Yo' Mama, 2004's Thank You, and 2009's One For the Road for examples). Ray's current release, The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music, features an in-depth booklet filled with commentary and information about all 108 recordings in the box set.

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