October 31, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series Extra...1979...

In this installment of the Golden LP Series we take a look at a 1979 single from Ray Stevens titled "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". This particular novelty single became what the music industry describes as a surprise hit. The song has become interpreted by many who've heard it as either a tribute to the music of Barry Manilow or a vicious parody of his style. I've never actually made a point to label it a tribute or a vicious parody...all I know is I love the song and I've described it as a parody in the general sense as it replicates the sound heard in many of Manilow's songs but it's played against comical lyrics which may cause some to view it as a vicious parody. The overall melody borrows a lot from "I Write the Songs", a huge hit for Manilow in 1975.

From the pen of Dale Gonyea comes "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". There were several write-up's about this single and there was even a promotional piece in People Magazine detailing the surprise hit and it's impact on music consumers. In country music circles it was written up in an article that appeared in the Country Song Roundup publication, the October 1979 issue. The issue featured Dolly Parton on the cover and within the issue was the article titled Help Me, Ray Stevens. The article was well-written and it featured a very reflective Ray Stevens giving his thoughts about music, hit songs, and the image that his current single will no doubt help reinforce in the minds of music buyers and the critics. In the article Ray was coming off an appearance on The Tonight Show. The song is about a man whose love life is in shambles and so he turns toward Barry Manilow for help and guidance. The lyrics string together, in a clever way, several titles of Manilow's hit songs as well as familiar names from his songs. Some of the songs mentioned are "Copacabana", "Can't Smile Without You", "Mandy", and several others.

Warner Brothers issued a compilation album in 1979 to tie in with the single. The single's picture sleeve spoofs the art design and imagery on Manilow's second studio album. The 1979 compilation album's cover art spoofs Manilow's 1975 studio album. I don't consider this a studio album and so I've presented it within this Extra installment. The LP contains 10 songs...all but one of them had been previously released. The title track, The Feeling's Not Right Again, for example, appeared on Ray's 1978 LP as did a few other selections on this 1979 compilation. The only newly recorded song is "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" as the remaining tracks were lifted from Ray's 1976, 1977, and 1978 albums. As far as the commercial success of the single goes it became a chart hit on three different radio formats: pop, adult-contemporary, and country. It reached the lower regions of the Country Top-100 but this was perhaps to be expected given that the novelty single dealt with one of pop music's biggest recording acts of the time and maybe the humor was lost on country music fans. It reached the Top-50 on the Hot 100 pop singles chart but in one of the most ironic accomplishments it climbed into the Top-15 on the Adult-Contemporary chart, coming close to reaching the Top-10. This meant that the very radio format where Barry Manilow had ruled the airwaves pretty much since the mid '70s couldn't resist the spot-on parody from Ray, either.

This novelty single would become his final release for Warner Brothers. In terms of publicity and consumer reaction, this was considered to be his biggest hit single for the label since the Top-40 pop and country success of "In the Mood" early in 1977. In other words, Ray's thoughtful and introspective ballads and love songs that he wrote and recorded while on the label just didn't have the staying power as the two novelty songs he released.  In the years/decades to come those two novelty songs would appear on many compilation albums...without a trace of any other hit single he had with the label.

It wasn't long after "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" reached it's peak and started to fall back down the charts that Ray found himself at RCA Records. He joined the label in the latter half of 1979 and his debut single arrived early in 1980...so rev up your motorcycles...we're in for a good ole time as Ray makes his way to RCA!! 

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