October 15, 2012

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

On this crisp Monday morning we take a look at the fifth studio album from Ray Stevens...a wonderful album from 1969 titled Have a Little Talk With Myself. As many readers that stop by here are well aware of I happen to like/love something about every Ray Stevens album. Some albums I really, really like and some I simply like for whatever reason. This 1969 album falls into the really, really like category.

This album was something new for Ray, at the time, as he mostly offered his versions of contemporary pop songs by other artists and groups. The album contains 12 songs and it was produced by Ray and Jim Malloy. There were only three songs on here exclusive to the album at the time and those were "The Little Woman" and the title track, "Have a Little Talk With Myself", which were both written by Ray, and then the first single release from the album, "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down", written by Kris Kristofferson.

Ray was the very first artist to ever record "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" and the first artist to release it as a single. Ray marked his debut on the country music singles chart with this song as it peaked in the country Top-60 in America. It reached the Top-50 on Canada's country music chart, the Top-60 on Canada's pop chart, and it crawled into the lower regions of America's Hot 100 pop chart. The song was covered a year later by Johnny Cash and it is his version that the public is much more familiar with as it not only reached #1 on the country chart in 1970 but it ultimately won a coveted award from the CMA, too.

The title track, "Have a Little Talk With Myself", is one of those inspirational kind of songs that deals with the human ego and all the pressures and enticements one's ego endures throughout life and how to address those human frailties of egotism and selfishness. It is one of my favorite Ray Stevens songs...it became one of my favorites upon the first time I heard it. It became a country music chart hit, his second overall, but ironically it never appeared at any position on the Hot 100. It would be covered a few years later by Sammy Davis, Jr.

The third single release, in early 1970, turned out to be the album's opening number, "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight", from the pen of Bob Dylan. The single, however, didn't reach the Hot 100 but bubbled under instead. Ray's take on the song is quite excellent and it includes verbal instrumentation and heavy production work. In fact, this album showcased a certain talent of Ray's that had long been a part of his own recordings and that is the art/science of multi-tracking and overdubbing. Although he didn't invent these practices, Ray was among the few recording artists, at the time, to embrace the concept and use it to it's full potential long before it became commonplace and accepted as a vital ingredient for practically every recorded performance during the last 40+ years by artists of every music genre imaginable. Given that Ray's a skilled music arranger, producer, musician, and all around studio whiz perhaps lent a lot to his embrace of multi-tracking and overdubbing, a technique that has long been a source of disdain for music purists who prefer songs to be recorded in their entirety with a full band in the studio rather than a song recorded in bits and pieces and then digitally mixed into one single performance.

This multi-tracking/overdubbing skill was put to even greater use on a few more songs found on this 1969 album. "Help" is known worldwide as a Beatles hit...it's one of several songs on here with a Beatles connection...Ray overdubs his voice in various harmonies and the full effect shows up about half way through the recording. In addition to this, his incredible take on "Hey Jude" in my opinion is mind blowing...uncannily capturing the spirit that was heard on the original recording by the Beatles. If those two songs, in particular, don't blow you away then we have his version of "Hair" and this, too, is a wonderful showcase of not only Ray's production talents but also his mimicry skills as he sings the song in various vocalization pitches for the choir of background singers generated by the overdub process. Jim Malloy co-produced this album and he appears on the back of the album cover, next to Ray, in a picture taken in the studio. The two are laughing about something...what they're laughing at is never revealed. A second picture of Ray, at the piano, also appears on the back of the album.

The other covers on this album are "Spinning Wheel", "But You Know I Love You", "Aquarius", "The Fool on the Hill", and "The Games People Play".

It was during this point in time that Ray became associated with Andy Williams. Ray became one of the most popular guests on Andy's weekly television program in 1969 and he made numerous appearances...almost becoming something of a semi-regular. Have a Little Talk With Myself turned out to be Ray's final album for Monument Records. The album's final couple of singles, mentioned earlier, had hit and left the charts in early 1970. This chain of events of exiting Monument Records enabled Ray to move to a new record label, owned by Andy Williams, as the next several years were to become the biggest of his career up to that point.

Coming up next in this series is Ray's sixth studio album, Everything Is Beautiful, and the chain of events that shaped 1970 as a banner year in his career. 

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