September 2, 2012

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 40...

One of the finest teen pop love ballads from Ray Stevens came along in 1967 on "Answer Me, My Love". This was among the several single releases that Monument Records issued on Ray Stevens throughout the mid and late '60s that never appeared on any full-length album. The love ballad was accompanied with the catchy sing-a-long "Mary, My Secretary" on the single release. Neither song would appear on any album until some 25 years or so later. "Answer Me, My Love" would appear in 1996 on a CD re-issue of Ray's 1968 Monument album, Even Stevens. That re-issue is on the Varese Sarabande label. Fans and music consumers in general may recognize that label as being prolific in it's treatment of Ray's catalog of music through the years. Varese, for a short period of time, was responsible for keeping Ray's earliest recordings for Monument and Barnaby in print. I researched their first release on Ray being the 1996 Even Stevens re-issue followed by the re-issue of 1969's Gitarzan. Those 1996 releases were soon followed by The Country Hits Collection, All-Time Greatest Hits, and 12 Hits in 1998, 2001, and 2002 respectively. The All-Time release features the super rare "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon" from 1960.

"Mary, My Secretary", also from 1967, wouldn't appear on any album until a 3-CD project titled The Incredible World of Ray Stevens came along. As mentioned in earlier blog entries, this title was released twice...both featuring 3 CD's...but the material was different on each collection. The overseas release features 30 recordings and the America release features 36 recordings. Also, the international release was a packaging of 3 previously issued CD's in one collection while the America release contained songs that appear to have been chosen at random on the first 2 CD's while the third CD is his 1987 release, Crackin' Up. To be clear, "Mary, My Secretary" appears on the 36 track version of The Incredible World of Ray Stevens which you see in the image above. I took this picture a few minutes ago and if you click this picture link you'll see the picture of Ray that was used for the 30 song version. You'll notice right away both releases have nearly the same art design and lettering concept but the images of Ray are different. As far as "Answer Me, My Love" goes, it doesn't appear on this collection...only "Mary, My Secretary" does. I think a lot of Ray Stevens fans agree with me that there needs to be proper CD or Mp3 releases of his Monument catalog. So far two of his studio albums for the label have been issued in their entirety: 1968's Even Stevens and 1969's Gitarzan. Several of his single-only releases for the label have become available in limited quantity on various limited release CD's through the years...all of those releases have long been out of print.

The Monument album that continues to get overlooked is 1969's Have a Little Talk With Myself. I've always felt for the longest time that the reason for the continued omission of that album is due to it's extremely topical feel. Nearly all the songs on that particular album are tied to the pop sounds and social messages of the late '60s...but recently I started to think that the bigger reason the album has never made it to CD or Mp3 in more than 40 years is that several of the songs may be tied up in copyright battles or other legal issues. If so, that could explain why his versions of quite a few of those songs have not seen the light of day during the last 43 years. Also, the license fees for those songs may be enormously expensive today as compared to back then which can also explain why there's been no Have a Little Talk With Myself re-issue. He covers the Beatles, Joe South, Bob Dylan, Blood Sweat and Tears, The 5th Dimension, The Cowsills...just to name a few...acts that certainly defined that era of pop/rock music. The songs that appear on the 1969 album are as follows:

1. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight
2. But You Know I Love You
3. Aquarius
4. The Fool on the Hill
5. Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down
6. Spinning Wheel
7. Games People Play
8. Help
9. Hair
10. Hey Jude
11. The Little Woman
12. Have a Little Talk With Myself

As you can see from the track list, this is the album that featured his version of a brand new song at the time, "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down". The song was written by Kris Kristofferson. Ray's recording was the first in a long line of recordings by other artists...most notably the hit recording by Johnny Cash in 1970. Ray issued his version as a single in 1969...which, of course, gave Ray the distinction of being the first major recording artist to issue it as a single in addition to being the first artist to record it. Ray's image was in sharp contrast with the song's lyrics...and to this day, when asked about the song, Ray refers to the image factor being a key ingredient in whether the same song can become a hit twice depending on whose singing it. Ray put a lot of production into his recording, too, while the Cash version was minimal in production but heavy on dramatics. I like both versions...but being a Ray Stevens fan I always point out that he introduced the song to the music world even if Johnny Cash had the bigger hit with it. Ray's version reached the lower half of the pop chart and the Top-60 on the country chart in 1969...his first ever appearance on a country music chart. "The Little Woman" and "Have a Little Talk With Myself" were written by Ray...the uptempo title track became a country music chart hit, too.

Ray's biggest area of exposure came with his many appearances on the Andy Williams Show. Soon after, Ray departed from the Monument label. Ray was one of the most popular guests on Andy's program and due to this he was picked to be the host of a summer TV show in 1970 which aired during Andy's time-slot on NBC. Ray had by this time joined the Barnaby Records roster in 1970, a label owned by Andy Williams. Ray remained a frequent guest on Andy's television programs through 1970 and into 1971. Decades later the two of them became major attractions in Branson, Missouri. Andy owned and appeared in his Moon River Theater while Ray appeared at his own Ray Stevens Theatre. Ray owned and operated his theater from 1991 through the end of the 1993 season. When he stopped appearing at the theater he ventured off into other aspects of the music and entertainment business. A lot of his 1990's releases were home video projects. He would later perform a series of concerts at the Wayne Newton Theater. Sandwiched between his closing down of his theater in 1993 and the concerts at Wayne Newton's theater was the release, in 1995, of his home video movie, Get Serious!. The movie runs 1 hour, 50 minutes. The movie went without a title during it's first months of production and was known by the acronym: LFSDCMV. The acronym stands translates to the following: Long-Form Story-Driven Comedy Music Video. Later this year Ray will appear in a string of concerts saluting the life and career of Andy Williams. The concerts featuring Ray will take place in Here to read all about it.

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