May 13, 2012

Ray Stevens...those early '90s gems...

I've come across several on-line music sites and other web-sites pertaining to discographies, etc. etc. and mostly all of them are inaccurate about a few of the CD's from Ray Stevens. The reviews of a couple of his CD's from the early '90s incorrectly label the projects as compilation, rather than studio, albums. The first CD I came across that has an inaccuracy is titled #1 With a Bullet, from 1991. The review makes it appear that the CD features previously recorded material. Not only does the review make it appear that the CD is a compilation release it also incorrectly states that Ray recorded for Curb Records in the late '80s and early '90s. Ray began his association with Curb in 1990 and remained represented by that label through 1995. He returned to MCA in 1996, after having recorded for them first during the 1984-1989 time frame, and he remained with MCA through 1998. He returned to Curb Records in the following decade, starting in late 2001, and released various projects for the label during the next 3-4 years. His own label, Clyde Records, had been a part of Ray's career dating back to the late '80s but the label didn't have it's first big success until the 1992 release of Comedy Video Classics and from that point onward, his Clyde Records became the major distributive outlet for his home videos and later, DVD's, and now his CD's.

But going back to the CD review of #1 With a Bullet...the review apparently was picked up and shared all over the internet because I've seen quite a few places list this 1991 studio album in the compilation section rather than in the studio album section of web-site discographies. Elsewhere in the write-up, the reviewer laments that fact that the 'compilation' album doesn't contain any of Ray's songs from the '60s and '70s...which is one more example of the confusion that existed by the reviewer in not knowing that the CD was a studio album. The CD's title is based on any artist's hope that their album will hit the #1 spot on the album charts...and the album's cover art depicts the title literally...showing Ray, holding up a giant bullet, with his index finger pointing in the air (referencing, of course, the #1 in the CD's title).

Another CD that's long been publicized on-line as a compilation is 1993's Classic Ray Stevens. This particular CD features 10 songs that were all brand new at the time of release...well, the only cover song on the collection was his version of "The Bricklayer's Song" that had long been associated with Irish artists..but even that was brand new to Ray's career. Anyway, the CD was one of his studio albums for Curb Records but due to it's title you have modern-day reviewers who apparently didn't do their homework because they routinely label the CD as a "collection of previously released songs" when, in reality, all the songs were new to Ray's career at the time. The album's title is based upon the classical music cover art...showing a bust of Ray atop a piano in a Beethoven-like reference. The sheet music at the piano is titled Concerto for Cornball. Nevertheless, Classic Ray Stevens was indeed a studio album and not a compilation of re-recorded songs as referred to in the many reviews of the CD that appear on-line. Basically, each of the reviews make each of the CD's appear as low-budget compilations rather than impeccably produced and recorded studio albums of their day. 1991's #1 With a Bullet and 1993's Classic Ray Stevens are two of Ray's studio albums for Curb Records. His other studio album for the label was his 1990 release, Lend Me Your Ears. Ray issued a couple of music videos for some songs from the 1990 release: "Sittin' Up With the Dead" and "Help Me Make It Through the Night". Those two music videos would later surface on 1992's Comedy Video Classics along side his mid '80s music video of "Santa Claus Is Watching You" and his 1988 music video for "Surfin' U.S.S.R.". Four additional music videos were shot to compile the award winning #1 home video.

Ray only recorded three studio albums for Curb Records. The label issued several legitimate compilation projects on Ray during the 1990's: Greatest Hits (1991), 20 Comedy Hits (1995), and Great Gospel Songs (1996). #1 With a Bullet and Lend Me Your Ears, ironically, were both re-issued on CD in 2005...and I believe the 2005 re-issue is where the bulk of the more contemporary reviews of #1 With a Bullet have come from. It was during Ray's association with Curb Records that he became famous for his home video releases and his Branson, Missouri concerts...first as a popular guest at other venues and then as a headliner himself at The Ray Stevens Theatre which was in business for three consecutive seasons: 1991, 1992, and 1993. This activity, the home video productions and the Branson concerts, may have played a big part in why his audio output during the 1990's was low by comparison to the decade before. During 1990 through 1999 Ray Stevens released only five studio albums...3 for Curb Records, 2 for MCA Records...the rest of the time was spent on music video creations and concert engagements. The home video releases from Ray during the 1990's were Amazing Rolling Revue, Comedy Video Classics, Ray Stevens Live!, More Ray Stevens Live!, and the direct-to-home video movie, Get Serious!. It's interesting to note that 1992's Comedy Video Classics was inspired by the success of a similar home video that was sold exclusively at his Branson, Missouri theater. The concept was expanded on in the form of Comedy Video Classics and Ray went on to sell millions of copies of the home video through direct marketing and retail during a very prolific 2 year period, 1992-1994, which saw Ray become a leader in home video sales.  

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