October 26, 2012

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

The fourteenth studio album from Ray Stevens arrived in 1977 and was a return, of sorts, to his earlier LP's in that most of the songs were self-written. Feel the Music, the album, was filled with smooth sounding country music aimed at a general audience. In other words it was in the category of pop-country or country-pop, depending on which music critic one was reading. Ray, to be fair, never marketed himself as a traditional country music singer but he began to have considerable television exposure and media attention within country music's ever expanding umbrella during this mid-late '70s time period and he was eventually marketed as a country artist once he joined Warner Brothers. I suspect the fact that he was never marketed as a traditional country music artist is a big reason why he's never been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame...human beings elect the members and it's human nature to let one's own biases or perceptions play a role in the decision making process. As mentioned, the LP features plenty of songs written by Ray. The emotions that are depicted throughout run the gamut from passionate, playful, happy, somber, melancholy, sad, and spiritual. The opening track, "Feel the Music", is an inspirational number about never giving up in life, be your own person, and always strive to accomplish whatever one sets out to achieve. It's one of the several written by Ray.

The back of Feel the Music shows a publicity photo of Ray Stevens that was used during that time period. The photo would surface several times throughout 1977 and into 1978...even after Ray grew his beard for good. The front of the LP is an illustration of a stereo speaker while the back of the album illustrates what the back of a standard stereo speaker looked like. A bit of trivia about the songs on this LP: the publishing is credited to Ray Stevens Music. Why do I bring that up? Well, prior to this 1977 album, all the songs that Ray published were under the Ahab Music Company name. This LP marked the first time his publishing was referred to by this new name. As far as the image goes I didn't think to take a picture showing the front of the album because that image could be found easily if one did an image search...yet seldom was shown of the LP's back cover and that's the reason why I took the picture. The front of the LP  is shown below. Obviously you all noticed that Ray's likeness doesn't appear on the front of the album...an unheard of concept for any recording artist...particularly one that was well established.

"Set The Children Free", a song written by Buddy Kalb, is a fascinating tale. The song has a religious/spiritual overtone as it tells of human behavior. It's a heavy song and Ray does a fabulous job on the recording. It's the only song on the 1977 LP that wasn't written by Ray. One of the more eye catching song titles on the album is "Junkie For You". It's a bluesy number in which Ray describes his addiction to the woman in his life. Do you want to know one of the best upbeat sad songs of all-time? The answer is "Alone With You". If you simply went by the song's title you'd think it was a passionate love ballad of some kind but it isn't! "Alone With You", with it's uptempo arrangement, tells the sad tale of a couple apparently in their final stages of marriage and how alone the two of them feel. It's arrangement will pull you in right from the start! Speaking of arrangements...the LP features another uptempo, heart pounding sing-a-long in the name of "Dixie Hummingbird". This was one of the two singles released from the album. "Dixie Hummingbird" tells all about a woman from the south that Ray can't get enough of. He hums along during the instrumental break. The single came ever so close to reaching the Country Top-40...it peaked several spots below #40...but it deserved a much better fate. At the other end of the emotional roller coaster there's "Blues Love Affair", a mid-tempo song dealing with the various complexities of love and it's motivation, from true love to one night stands, and everything in between. "Save Me From Myself", a gospel inflected number, tells the story of a man who can't stand being alone and that he's become mentally and physically unstable as a result. The only thing that can cure this, he says, is for the woman to return as soon as possible and rescue him from self-destruction.

"Road Widow", another all-time favorite, tells the story of an entertainer who spends a lot of time on the road. This distance from his wife, in his mind, must cause her to feel he's no longer alive and as a result she's referred to as a "Road Widow"...as he sings about the certain death of a relationship...but ironically he reassures himself that she knew and accepted the kind of life he led traveling all over the country and so there shouldn't be anything to worry about. "Daydream Romance" carries the same traveling man scenario as Ray sings about being on the road and fantasizing about an unspecified lover and how he can't wait to turn the daydreams into reality.   

"Get Crazy With Me" was the other single release from Feel the Music. In this recording Ray sings about breaking away from what's perceived as the norm. In the song Ray sings about a man whose had patience when it comes to a love life but seeing how patience leads to impatience, the man takes a plunge and decides to change his calm, complacent attitude toward not being in a relationship into a no holds barred, risk taking approach where he finds himself asking a woman to get crazy and wild with him...if only for one night. At the core of the song is the viewpoints of a lonely guy whose had a run of bad luck when it comes to women and now he has a chance to change all of that. The song featured an ear catching kind of arrangement...at one moment in the song it sounds as if laser beams are going to shoot from the speakers as a barrage of Sci-fi sounds take control and effectively blast the song into orbit. The sound was not necessarily something that was commonplace on country radio in 1977...but it did reach the popularity charts for a couple of weeks...peaking in the 80's on the Country chart. The song obtained several major publicity efforts...the one that was most impressive was the generous multiple page story in Country Song Roundup titled Get Crazy With Ray Stevens shown below...

The Feel the Music album reached the Top-50 on the Country Album chart. I think it's a great album and I'm sure the more dedicated fans of Ray Stevens then and now still love this album. It's one of my favorites in a long line of favorite Ray Stevens releases. His publishing company scored a big hit in 1977 when "Way Down" became a hit for Elvis Presley. It was the last hit single for Elvis during his lifetime and it features prominent bass vocals from J.D. Sumner. In the meantime, Ray was going about his business of doing concerts, recording songs, appearing on TV, writing songs, producing sessions, publishing songs, and becoming more and more familiar to country music audiences...amongst all of this activity emerged an LP with hardly any fanfare or major publicity. It sounds like to me that something was happening in early 1978...something that one just couldn't get out of one's minds...something...something...that certain something that leaps out at you when you least expect it...something was on Ray's mind and his fifteenth studio album elaborates on this. Be on the lookout for the next Golden LP Series installment...as we explore what was on Ray's mind with his follow-up release in early 1978.   

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