October 24, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part Eleven...

Welcome to the Golden LP Series...we're up to studio album eleven in the career of Ray Stevens. This particular album, released in 1974, centered around a certain single that's become the biggest selling hit of his career. The fad of streaking dominated much of 1974...which consisted of people taking off their clothes and running naked through a crowd.

In his various interviews, Ray recalls how he was inspired to write "The Streak". He remarked that he had read about the phenomena in the back of a weekly news magazine and since the subject had potential for a comedy song he started drafting it. As luck would have it, at the 1974 Oscar awards, a streaker appeared from out of nowhere. David Niven famously commented on this and before long streaking became a fad across the country and even overseas. Coinciding with all the front page news and editorials about streaking that took place on television news programs and in newspapers, in addition to the streaker at the Oscars, according to Ray's recollections he quickly dug out the streaking song he'd been working on and he put the finishing touches on it. The single was rush released, literally, in the early part of spring 1974. Since the song was so topical and about a subject everyone, it seemed, was talking about worldwide it quickly became what's referred to as a monster hit. It was well-written and had several hooks and catch-phrases which probably played a key factor in it becoming the only streaking song to be a genuine hit single.

"The Streak" flew up the Hot 100 pop chart within a matter of weeks...hitting #1 in one of the fastest climbs to the top. It remained at #1 for 4 weeks, eventually selling over five million singles, and it reached #1 in several other counties, too. It crossed over and became a Top-5 country hit. It was certified Gold and Silver for international sales and easily became one of the Top-10 hits of the entire year in America and overseas. "The Streak", a novelty song, became Ray's first #1 single since 1970. Although Ray had quite a few Top-40 hits in various music formats between the years of 1970 and 1973, "The Streak" was by far the biggest single from Ray since early 1971's novelty, "Bridget the Midget".

The song went on become one of his most requested and highest selling. In pop culture the fad of streaking was primarily looked down on and the national fad didn't last any substantial length of time beyond the spring/summer months of 1974 yet "The Streak" hit at the perfect time, a quintessential ingredient for a true novelty song. A modern day music listener not familiar with streaking and how big of a fad it was and perhaps not familiar with Ray Stevens, neither, will probably wonder why a song about running around naked was written or even released. Ray made a music video of the song 18 years later in 1992 and he still performs it in concert to this very day. Why shouldn't he? It's one of his biggest hits.

The streaking single eventually spawned a studio album, Ray's 11th...titled Boogity Boogity. Just about anyone not familiar with the titles of Ray's albums will see this particular release and mistakenly think the album is titled Woosh but it isn't. The album features 9 songs, including "The Streak", and three previously released comedy songs added to fill out the 9 song LP. The previously released songs are "Freddie Feelgood", "Bagpipes, That's My Bag", and "Bridget the Midget"         

The follow-up to "The Streak" came along in the latter half of summer 1974. The single, "The Moonlight Special", is a spot on parody of the massively popular rock music program, The Midnight Special, which featured disc jockey Wolfman Jack. In this song Ray does impressions of Wolfman Jack, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Alice Cooper, and Jerry Lee Lewis. It reached the Top-80 on the Hot 100...it should've been a much bigger single than that considering how hilarious his impressions were and the fact that it spoofed a television program that was quite popular through much of the '70s. This was the second and final single release from the Boogity Boogity album. The remainder of the selections include a mix of comedy and novelty...plus one love ballad. "Smith and Jones" is the second streaking song...it's more about flashers, though. The song is about two undercover agents staking out a public park with neither agent knowing the other and each suspecting the other as a flasher. "Heart Transplant" tells the strange story of a guy who gets a heart transplant at age 82...he's given a younger heart and as a result he has the inner stamina of a twenty something but a body of an 82 year old. We're told of the conflicts he goes through wanting to rock out and party but his body just isn't into it. "Don't Boogie Woogie" is not exactly a comedy song and it's not a love ballad...it's a piano rocker in the vein of Jerry Lee Lewis. I believe Jerry Lee recorded this before or after Ray did. "Just So Proud To Be Here", the love ballad, is mid-tempo and breaks up the overall uptempo-frantic-comic feeling of the LP. After the comedy album and it's two singles ran their course on the weekly music charts, Ray turned to serious works once again. In late 1974 he released a new ballad available as a single-only titled "Everybody Needs a Rainbow" and it ultimately found it's pot of gold as it hit the Easy-Listening Top-20 and the Country Top-40. Ray would move more into country music the following year although he was still charting on the Hot 100 and Easy-Listening with frequency. In Part 12 of the Golden LP Series we'll take a look at his 1975 studio album where he brought back pop standards with new arrangements.  

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