September 9, 2012

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 41...

In our 41st stroll through Nostalgia Valley as we spotlight the career of Ray Stevens we re-visit 1971. This was the year that Ray placed three vastly different singles onto several Top-10 charts...but if you're a casual fan or one that is familiar with a lot of the various career bio's floating around on Ray Stevens you wouldn't know about that because 1971 was also the year that came in the shadows of a massive #1 million selling hit single a year earlier in 1970. There's never been too much exploration into what was happening in Ray's career in 1971 because a lot of the more professional authors, writers, critics, etc. like to skip around too much when they offer information. Typically what we get is a commentary that highlights specific years...for example: a writer might mention Ray's 1970 #1 hit but then jump ahead 4 years to 1974 and pick up the commentary from there. If a reader of the commentary, or the essay, happens to be a fan of Ray Stevens or happens to be someone that's interested in Ray's music and in time becomes a devoted fan, I feel the reader is being cheated out of 4 years of information and music due to those omissions. I know that when I'd read essays and liner notes in a variety of albums and CD's issued on Ray through the years there always seemed to be a pattern to the information and that pattern was to simply highlight only "the big songs" and pretty much ignore the rest. Now this isn't the case all the time. There are some liner notes and some bio's on Ray that go beyond hitting the obvious but those are few and far between unfortunately. I've written about liner notes before and so search the archive section off to the right for more expansive commentary on the subject.

You may be asking: okay, what exactly are those three vastly differently Top-10 hits from Ray Stevens in 1971??

The first Top-10 of 1971 for Ray Stevens happened to be a single that was issued in December 1970 but had it's successful chart run in the early months of 1971. "Bridget the Midget", the mysterious hit single from Ray Stevens, reached the Top-50 on the pop chart in America and the Top-5 in the United Kingdom. I call it the mysterious single because a lot of people who hear of the song don't really believe such a song exists until they find it. The single, which features sped up vocals in the tradition of the Chipmunks, is a brilliant send-up of Go-Go dance clubs. Ray plays the part of the singer/narrator/announcer as well as a customer who seems under the influence and clearly infatuated with the star attraction, Bridget, whose also voiced by Ray. It's a comic vignette in song. The single never appeared on any album until the label, Barnaby, issued a Greatest Hits collection on Ray. The song, ironically, would be a featured track on just about every greatest hits-type collection issued on Ray through the 1970's but then it's availability on compilation releases started to diminish by the mid 1980's and in my mind a shroud of mystery began to form around it. It returned to a compilation project in 1990 on the release of His All-Time Greatest Comic Hits, which is where I first heard the song. That 1990 project from Curb Records was later certified a Gold album for sales exceeding 500,000 copies.

The other two Top-10 hits for Ray in 1971 were what became the first two releases from a soon to be released gospel project, Turn Your Radio On. "A Mama and a Papa" became a major Top-5 Easy-Listening hit in America as well as in Canada. It's a story about the importance of having a mother figure and a father figure in any child's life. Gospel music rarely has any kind of support from what's called mainstream radio and it's chart performance on America's Hot 100 and Canada's pop chart is reflective of this. Nevertheless, the single became a hit anyway. The other Top-10 hit for Ray in 1971 was the total opposite of "A Mama and a Papa" in both mood and delivery. "A Mama and a Papa" has a subdued vocalization while "All My Trials" showcases a glorious, triumphant vocalization with wonderful use of multi-tracking and overdubbed harmonies. It, too, became a Top-5 hit on the Easy-Listening chart. There are two versions of this recording. The shorter version omits a lot of the instrumental breaks as well as some of the lyrics found on the longer version. The reason for this was simple: to shorten the song for radio airplay. The longer version, which runs 4 minutes and 33 seconds, can be found on a 1996 compilation from Curb Records, Great Gospel Songs. The shorter version clocks in at just over 3 minutes, a far cry from 4 minutes, 33 seconds. The shorter version is what appears on most compilations but sometimes the longer version is chosen instead.

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