May 21, 2012

Rita's Letter and Ray Stevens...

Those people out there who are going through a break-up need to look no further than this perfect song by Ray Stevens to address the situation. Recorded in 1982, "Where the Sun Don't Shine" is an up-tempo sing-a-long detailing the specifics of a break-up and the advice that the man gives to the woman. The arrangement, as mentioned, is up-tempo and it masks the anger and contempt going on between the two people. I've only seen Ray perform this song a couple of my earlier blogs I mentioned that it was on an episode of Country Standard Time, which aired on The Nashville Network during the early '90s. The program specialized in airing performance clips of country artists from the '50s through the '80s with heavy emphasis on the performances from the '70s when country music television programs were populating the syndicated television market. The performance clip that aired of Ray Stevens was first broadcast on an episode of a program called That Nashville Music! which had a lengthy 15 year syndicated run. In the performance you can see the television program's title in the background. Coincidentally, the project called Collector's Series from RCA had recently become part of my Ray Stevens collection...and on that 8-song collection is "Where The Sun Don't Shine"...and so it was ironic to hear a song on a cassette tape and then a year or so later see a 1982 clip of Ray performing that very song. It's funny that I can remember seeing him perform the song on a program that aired on The Nashville Network in the early '90s but I couldn't tell you what he was wearing, if there were any close-ups, or anything like that. He was playing the of the most prominent instruments in the recording...that I do remember! If you've never heard the for it on any number of on-line auction sites. It's often available as a single like the one you see above and it was included, as mentioned earlier, on the Collector's Series project, but for those truly dedicated to Ray's music you can search for his 1982 studio album, Don't Laugh Now, which features the song. 
Don't know what those projects look like? No problem...
This is the back cover of Don't Laugh Now. The front of the cover shows a similar image with Ray holding a smiling mask but he's wearing a frown. As far as Ray's music on RCA goes it's really, really hard to find and unless you have the studio albums on vinyl (or even cassette!) or if you have the Collector's Series project then chances are you won't become familiar with this period of his career for the simple fact that it's never been kept in print for any long period of time. The Collector's Series project had three releases: 1985, 1987, and 1992. The 1985 original was issued on vinyl and cassette. I have the cassette version as you see in the image. The title was re-issued in 1987 with a slightly modified design...gone was the close-up picture of Ray and the black background and in it's place was a slightly different picture of the actual vinyl album, with Ray's face still showing prominence, and the design featured light blue rather than solid black in the background. In the 1985 release it featured the 1981 love ballad, "One More Last Chance", which Ray took to the Country Top-40 that year. In the 1987 re-issue, that ballad is removed and a 1980 novelty, "Put It In Your Ear", appears instead. It's been said that Ray's reputation as a comic caused the label to remove the love ballad in favor of a comedy song. In 1992 the title was released for a third time but exclusively on CD and it kept the track list that appeared on the 1987 re-issue. There were only 8 songs on the Collector's Series which, of course, is way too limited. Since the CD's release in 1992 there really hasn't been any project to come along in the last 20 years to respectfully showcase Ray's RCA recordings and as I said earlier you'd need to own the vinyl albums as I do if you truly want to hear a lot of songs that you're missing out on. 
Here's a look at the 1987 re-release. The track list appeared below the name of the album but in order to get a more detailed image I cropped out the track list and just focused on the imagery and titles.

The songs on this project are great...but as mentioned there are only 8 recordings altogether. Ray recorded 3 studio albums for RCA for a total of 29 songs. I'm sure he recorded more songs for them that never made it to any album. There were 9 songs on his 1980 album, 10 songs on his 1981 album, and 10 songs on his 1982 album. I'm sure that the major reason why the RCA songs of Ray Stevens hadn't been kept in print and available is due to the brief stay...but don't let that 2 year period fool you. He remained as active as ever...and was a frequent television performer on a variety of programs. He even lent his voice to the big screen when he performed the theme song to the hugely successful Burt Reynolds film, Cannonball Run. In addition to the theme song he could be heard singing the love ballad "Just For the Hell of It" during a romantic scene. Obviously, though, as many fans are well aware, the biggest recording he did for RCA was his debut single for them titled "Shriner's Convention". The single hit early in 1980 but Ray had been performing the song prior to it's official release. A 1979 movie which featured a cameo appearance from Ray titled Concrete Cowboys shows him performing this song at a night-club that the two stars of the movie, Jerry Reed and Tom Selleck, visit. Barbara Mandrell, among other artists, have cameo appearances, too. Ray and Barbara have a scene together and a screen-cap from their appearance can be seen on-line. In another 1979 appearance, this time on the television series Pop! Goes the Country, Ray performs the song for what could be the first time on television. He would later perform the song on an episode of Hee-Haw from 1980 and then stage an elaborate performance, complete with motorcycle, at the fan-voted Music City News Awards program in June of 1980. One of his last performances of the song, on a television program that is, came in 1995 when he was promoting his direct-to-home video movie, Get Serious! He performed it on an episode of Music City Tonight on The Nashville Network which was hosted by Lorianne Crook and Charlie Chase. The performance included George Lindsey.
The Shriner's Convention album reached the Top-5 on the Country Album chart and the single reached the Country Top-10. When Ray opened up his Branson, Missouri theater in 1991 he'd incorporate the motorcycle into his performance of the song. You can see this on the 1993 home video, Ray Stevens Live!, and you can also get a glimpse of the motorcycle in the 1995 music video of the song, available on You Tube. 
No other release from Ray during his RCA period would match or top the massive popularity of "Shriner's Convention" but don't let that stop you from seeking out his 1981 and 1982 albums. One of the songs from the 1980 album was titled "Rita's Letter". It's an offbeat little story about a man who sends a letter to a former wife (her second husband) and tells her all about his new directions and how he's discovered the true meanings of life, etc. etc. In the letter he suggests that they should reunite since he'd be back in town. He eventually shows up at her front door...and she reacts as any typical woman would upon seeing the man who dumped her for selfish reasons. 
When I first heard the song I thought of the episode of Three's Company when Chrissy wants to run off and join a commune and is easily manipulated out of her money by a sleazy Guru.

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