September 2, 2012

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, 39...

In this particular trip into Nostalgia Valley we visit primarily the final years that Ray Stevens was on the Barnaby Records label. Ray joined the label in 1970 and remained on their roster on into early 1976. The label went through a series of distributors, both nationally and internationally, in the form of CBS, MGM, Janus, and GRT to name a few. Ray had become the top artist for Barnaby Records and in 1975 he recorded his last studio album for the label, Misty. On this particular album Ray does his versions of several pop standards with a few newly written songs added in. The new songs, referred to as original songs since they appear on a covers project, are "Take Care of Business" and "Sunshine". The former was written by Layng Martine, Jr. and is said that the title may have been inspired by a phrase in Ray's 1968 hit, "Mr. Businessman". The two songs are extremely different, though, in terms of storyline. "Sunshine" was written by Ray...and it features an uptempo arrangement similarly heard on the album's title, "Misty". The rest of the album contains Ray's versions of pop standards.

"Misty", one of Ray's biggest airplay hits, became a single in 1975 and it reached the Top-10 on the country chart. It would also reach the Top-20 on the pop chart and in early 1976 it won a Grammy in the Best Arrangement of the Year category. It's become what is known as a signature song and is performed in his concerts to this day. Although the album's award winning Top-10 title track easily became the biggest hit of the project that isn't to say the other recordings weren't as great. The second single from the album was his fancy, doo-wop take on "Indian Love Call" and it's unlike anything you'll ever hear. It reached the country Top-40 but it didn't have the staying power of "Misty" and it's become what is known as an obscure hit. Barnaby released two more singles from this album as 1975 came to a close and 1976 opened up. "Young Love", a former smash hit from Sonny James as well as Tab Hunter, became the third single release from Misty. It featured a dramatically different arrangement from the light and bouncy sing-a-long that the general public was accustomed to. Ray turned the song into a slow love ballad. Although the single missed the radio-friendly Top-40 it nevertheless charted a section below, in the country Top-50. As you can see from the single's picture sleeve, the b-side is Ray's version of "Deep Purple". For me, "Deep Purple" is one of the masterpieces of the album...not taking anything away from the vocal acrobatics of "Indian Love Call" or any of the other recordings on the album. Try singing any number of these songs the way Ray Stevens's nearly impossible. "Deep Purple" is one of those songs that I think would be nearly impossible to replicate by others. When the song begins I often think of Rudy Valle for some reason...but then the arrangement shifts and the vocalization from Ray leaps into a different range and it's become a full-on, upbeat pop song. Those who've heard Ray's version no doubt are aware of the glorious note that he puts onto the performance toward the end of the recording...and as an avid listener and as a fan you can't wait to hear it. Do you want to know another song from the album that you can't wait to hear? "Lady of Spain"!! Ray puts a lot into this recording, too. Traditionally performed as a love ballad, Ray changes things with the arrangement and urgent vocal delivery...singing like a man possessed for the Spanish woman he craves...and the Fats Domino vocalization that Ray uses is another treat you can't wait to hear again and again. "Mockingbird Hill" found it's way onto a single release in 1976. Ray used a lot of tra-la's and tweedle-de's during the song's chorus and it sounds nothing like the original recording from years earlier. The single didn't reach the charts but several compilation albums from the late '70s and early '80s from independent labels featured the song on their releases.

Fans can see Ray perform "Misty", "Indian Love Call" and several other songs by purchasing a Pop! Goes the Country DVD from an on-line store that I've written about in previous blog entries. The DVD features a 1975 episode and he performs "Misty", "Indian Love Call", and "Twilight Time". The latter song is not featured on the Misty album. You can purchase the DVD at This Web Page. That's the product page for the Volume Four includes a video embed of Ray and other artists featured in that volume. Now, for those new to that site, several other DVD volumes feature appearances from Ray Stevens. Volume Four, as mentioned, features a 1975 episode. Volume Nine features a Ray Stevens episode from 1977. Volume Fifteen features a Ray Stevens episode from 1979...he debuts "Shriner's Convention" on this episode...months before it was released as a single in early 1980. Volume Seventeen features a Ray Stevens episode from 1982. On that episode, hosted by Tom T. Hall, Ray opens up the show with an alternate version of "You've Got the Music Inside" but the remainder of his performances are in medley form, trading off with Tom T. Hall, as the two sing bits and pieces of their songs at the request of the audience. The two close the show singing a duet, "It's Hard To Be Humble". In the just released Volume Twenty-Four, it features a Ray Stevens episode from 1978. The item description states that Ray performs "Gitarzan", "Everything is Beautiful", and "Sweet Dreams". Since I don't own that DVD, yet, I obviously don't know whether or not the songs are performed in full length or in medley form. Once you see any of the episodes starring Ray Stevens you'll notice a lot of the memorable moments come not only from his performances but also from the interview segments with Ralph Emery and later, Tom T. Hall.

The songs listed below are on the 1975 Misty album:

1. Misty
2. Indian Love Call
3. Over the Rainbow
4. Oh Lonesome Me
5. Mockingbird Hill
6. Cow-Cow Boogie
7. Young Love
8. Take Care of Business
9. Sunshine
10. Deep Purple
11. Lady of Spain

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