May 14, 2012

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 35...

The month of May will always cause celebration among fans of Ray Stevens due to the fact that it was during the month of May, in 1970 and again in 1974, that Ray Stevens reached #1 on the pop chart. Ray hit the top during the last week of May in 1970 with "Everything Is Beautiful". During the middle part of May 1974 he hit #1 with "The Streak". Each song spent multiple weeks at #1...and both sold millions of copies...and both songs have become permanent fixtures at his concerts to this day.

In the case of "Everything Is Beautiful", the song would reach #1 a little more than a month after it's release and would stay at #1 on the Hot 100 for 2 weeks. The song hit #1 on the Adult-Contemporary chart for 3 weeks in late May 1970. It was #1 in Canada and Australia while reaching the Top-10 on the United Kingdom music survey and the Top-5 in Ireland. The single sold more than 3,000,000 copies internationally and was used as the theme song on Ray's summer TV show. Ray had been a frequent guest on the Andy Williams Show since 1969...and when Williams went on vacation in the summer months of 1970 the producers picked Ray to fill-in. The program was officially called Andy Williams Presents Ray Stevens???. There's an article in a 1970 issue of TV Guide that explains the story behind the question marks. The issue often comes up for sale on eBay which is how I ended up with a copy. Bill Bixby and Brandon Cruz from The Courtship of Eddie's Father are on the cover. Search the internet for Ray Stevens + TV Guide and you're bound to come across it. Ray won a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance in early 1971. Jake Hess, meanwhile, had recorded a version of the song and he won a Grammy for Best Sacred Performance in 1971. Hess had even released an album titled Everything Is Beautiful in 1970, just as Ray had done. Here's more trivia...on the back of the Hess Album it credits John Ragsdale as the album's music arranger. Ray's brother is John Ragsdale, by the way, and so I'm assuming it's the same guy...if it isn't then it's incredibly coincidental.

"The Streak", on the other hand, literally streaked up the Hot 100 chart. It was at #1 in it's 4th chart week...spending 3 weeks at #1 as a result of that incredible rise to the top. The single was an international hit, too, reaching #1 and the Top-5 on several overseas music surveys. Reportedly "Everything Is Beautiful" sold about 3,000,000 copies internationally while "The Streak" sold in the neighborhood of 5,000,000. "The Streak" became the best-selling novelty single of the entire decade and in a year-end survey it was one of the Top-10 songs of 1974. Not too bad for a single that was supposed to only cash-in on the streaking fad and then disappear from the public's collective memory forever.

The single did disappear from the radio airwaves quicker than most popular songs due to it's connection to a fad that increasingly caused embarrassment for those who actually took part in it. The song is so tied to pop culture in 1974 that I defy anyone to write an essay on the music of 1974 and not mention "The Streak" at some point. To omit the song's popularity would be like revisionist history in overload. Still, streaking occasionally pops up here and there even today but it's not dealt with as some sort of silly novelty/prank by society as it was in a streaker will more than likely be shamed and publicly humiliated by reporters and others in the media for doing such a thing. This is why, I think, more and more of the younger people who come across "The Streak" at some point in their lives will find it hard to believe that someone would put out a song that seemingly celebrated, rather than shown contempt for, the act of streaking. In the meantime, smile and sing "The Streak" as you go about your day.

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