October 13, 2012

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

Ray's second studio album, 1963's This Is Ray Stevens, features a more even split between the comedy and serious recordings. In the first album there was only one selection that was in the love ballad category but in the second album we have six...count 'em...six ballads and six novelty songs. Ray was no stranger to love ballads, though. In his single-only years, 1957-1961, the bulk of his releases were in the teen-idol love ballad category. When the superb love ballads failed to reach the national music charts Ray turned to novelty/comedy in 1960 with a song about Sgt. Preston of the Yukon, a fictional adventure hero on radio and in films. The single reached a subsidiary of the national Hot 100 chart entitled Bubbling Under the Hot 100, a list of songs that were regionally popular but hadn't broken out nationally yet. When this single became a regional hit and the threat of a lawsuit was announced by the owners of the fictional character, the song was removed from the marketplace. However, it led Ray to the decision that comedy/novelty could be the break he'd been looking for nationally. One thing led to another and during 1961-1962 Ray was able to breakthrough nationally with the music I wrote about in Part One of this particular series. This Is Ray Stevens was perhaps a deliberate attempt to spotlight the love ballad side that had become hidden underneath the comical reputation. As mentioned, of the 12 songs on this album, 6 of them were of the love ballad variety. The album kicks off with "Harry the Hairy Ape", which became the biggest hit single of the collection, and it's a novelty recording. It reached the Top-20 on both the pop and the R&B chart in 1963. The album features Ray sitting in a bathtub during what appears to be rush hour using hand signals to show he's going to make a left turn. A second hit from the album, "Speed Ball", reached the R&B Top-30. A third release, "Funny Man", is an exceptional recording. It's a love song about how a man's reputation for clowning around causes those around him to not take him seriously and as a result he has to pretend to be all smiles and full of cheer under any circumstance. The song became quite a hit in Canada where it reached the Top-20. "Loved and Lost" is one of the shortest songs on the album. It's one of those sing-a-long pop songs that were commonplace in that era. It carries an inspirational undertone as it offers advice on romance. "Teen Years", musically, sounds as if it comes straight from a high school prom but it's a nostalgic look at the events that take place during a typical person's teenage years leading into adulthood. "It's Been So Long", another of the six love ballads, tackles separation. "Just One of Life's Little Tragedies" and "Little Stone Statue" are the remaining two love ballads on the collection. On the comical side, in addition to "Harry the Hairy Ape" and "Speed Ball", we have several demented and truly unique forms of comedy. "Soap Opera" takes the cake when it comes to insanity on vinyl. In this performance Ray shows just why he's a master at recorded comedy music. We hear Ray spoof a soap opera, Ma Perkins in particular, and not only does Ray portray the role of the narrator but he also portrays the 'son' and the 'mother' who appear to have quite a dilemma on their hands in the lumber yard...made wildly hilarious by Ray's vocalizations as the slobbering, shrieking, melodramatic 'mother' as the stereotypical soap opera organ plays away in the background. "The Great Sebastian" takes place at the circus...and it's a brief tale of a tight rope walker...ending with a clever line about show business. "The Deodorant Song" is about what you think it's about while "The Weekend" features Ray spoofing topics found in country songs...delivering the song in a country music vocalization. It's a good natured parody of a genre that would become extremely important to Ray by the middle of the following decade.

Coming up next in this series is Ray's third studio album, Even Stevens, from 1968.   

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