October 15, 2012

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

The sixth studio album from Ray Stevens, Everything Is Beautiful, came along in 1970. The album marked Ray's debut on Barnaby Records, a label owned by Andy Williams, which was distributed by CBS domestically and MGM internationally during the first few years of Ray's involvement with the label. Ray's debut single for the label became the biggest hit of his career to that point. "Everything Is Beautiful" is a wonderful song from start to finish which tells of an ideal world and creates escapism and optimism in the process. The song was issued at a time when the Vietnam War protests were still raging as the war became a daily headline in local and national newscasts. The pop music of this time period was most often centered around the news of the day and topical events in general. Television comedies and dramas, and even cartoon programming, were slipping social and political commentary in an indirect way into the scripts. The look and presentation of most variety shows on TV mirrored the youth-oriented/psychedelic/hippie culture. The Andy Williams Show had a youth-oriented backdrop during it's final years on the air and it showcased quite a few musical acts from that youth culture even though the star of the show and many of the regulars appeared more conservative in their appearances.

Ray remained a long-time friend of Andy's and was credited with being the one that inspired Andy to open up his own Branson, Missouri theater in 1992. Ray will be performing at the Andy Williams Moon River Theater in Branson, Missouri beginning tonight, October 15, 2012 and lasting through October 20. Ray will perform a total of 6 concerts during the on-going series saluting Andy's life and career. The appearance from Ray had been scheduled long in advance and was originally designed to be part of a celebration series of Andy's career, with Andy himself in attendance, but since his recent death in late September the concert series is understandably taking on more of a memorial celebration.

The Everything Is Beautiful album hit the market in June of 1970, mere weeks after the title track had hit #1 on both the American pop chart and the Easy-Listening chart. The single hit #1 during late May of 1970...remaining at the top for 3 weeks on the Easy-Listening chart and 2 weeks at #1 on the Hot 100. The song would reach #1 in other countries, too, and also crossover and become a Top-40 country music hit. The album's release and the single's achievement of hitting #1 and staying there into early June wasn't the only great news for Ray Stevens...later that month he became the host of the Andy Williams Summer Show on NBC-TV. In those days it wasn't uncommon for variety show hosts to take the summer off and have a substitute fill-in, rather than show reruns, and it was that scenario that led Ray into being picked as the host of the fill-in program for Andy Williams. The show was on the air every week from June 20, 1970 through August 8, 1970. "Everything Is Beautiful" was the show's theme song which no doubt continued to help the sales of the single soar even higher. The single reportedly sold more than 3,000,000 copies altogether from both domestic and international releases and it was certified Gold by the RIAA. The album reached the Top-40 on the pop album chart. On the back of the album cover it shows a picture of Ray and Andy side by side.

Cast members of Ray's TV show included Mama Cass, Lulu, and Steve Martin, just to name a few.

The b-side of "Everything Is Beautiful" was "A Brighter Day" which carries a similar message as "Have a Little Talk With Myself" did. Aside from the title track and "A Brighter Day" the remainder of the album feature his versions of other artist's hits. In the picture above, I'm holding the CD re-release which features the sixth and seventh studio albums from Ray Stevens. Some of the songs covered on Everything Is Beautiful are: "Walk a Mile In My Shoes", "Get Together", "Leaving on a Jet Plane", "Something", and "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head". Interestingly, Ray was offered the chance of recording "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" first...but had to turn it down. He had just completed "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" and didn't want to postpone it's release. The Raindrops song found it's way to B.J. Thomas, who ended up having a massively popular recording of it. The film that featured the song was Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman. One of the most majestic recordings on the album is "A Time for Us", referred to as the Romeo and Juliet Love Theme. In this song Ray goes all out vocally...easily the best performance of that particular recording that you'll ever hear.

All of this success for Ray Stevens in 1970, critically and commercially, may have seemed to come from out of nowhere to a general audience who may have only known of Ray for a few sporadic novelty songs. In fact, the official name of the summer fill-in show for Andy Williams was titled Andy Williams Presents...The Ray Stevens Show???. The reality was Ray had been a long-time fixture in recording studios as a session musician, arranger, and producer for other artists as well as on his own recordings. To some critics and maybe to Ray himself, all of this meteoric success in 1970 was something unreal...which coincidentally is the name of Ray's seventh studio album...

Coming up next in this series we'll take a really good look at Unreal, the seventh studio album from Ray Stevens.

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