November 26, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part 28...

Once again welcome to the Golden LP Series! This time we take a look at studio album 28 in the career of Ray Stevens. This particular release hit in 1991 and it could easily be described as songwriter Buddy Kalb's magnum opus. Kalb wrote or co-wrote 9 of the 10 songs on here. This wasn't the first Ray Stevens project that featured an abundance of Kalb material. He'd been writing songs for and with Ray on a consistent basis since the early '80s. Each successive LP that Ray issued throughout the '80s would usually include at least 4 songs from the pen of Buddy Kalb...often in collaboration with Ray. Their magnum opus on vinyl as a songwriting team was studio album 26 in 1989. That particular album was largely written by Ray and Buddy but this 1991 release is the first time that Buddy was the sole writer on just about every song.

The 28th studio album was titled #1 With a Bullet. This title is based on music industry jargon that a general audience may not be familiar with. In the music business there are weekly charts that rank albums and songs based on sales and airplay. Whenever a single or an album shown an increase in sales or airplay it receives what's referred to as a bullet. If you look at any weekly music chart you'll see numbers that appear on a black dot on certain singles and albums. Those are the releases that have been given bullets to indicate that the release is 'hot' and is a 'fast mover', etc. etc. just like a real bullet from a gun. When a single is said to have gone #1 With a Bullet that means the single is incredibly hot and shows no signs of losing steam for a couple of weeks even though it can no go higher than #1. The same applies to albums as well. The phrase "with a bullet" simply indicates that a song or album is selling briskly or has a good opening week on the charts. However, this doesn't mean that an artist must reach the charts in order to show their popularity. All artists have their initial across the board successes but ultimately what happens over the course of time is an artist begins to focus on their fan-base and what might please a targeted audience rather than a general audience.

As far as this album goes it's a return to zaniness and nuttiness. In the early years of the macho do-it-yourself kind of men we have the perfect song addressing the situation in "Power Tools". In this song, one of the single releases, Ray sings about the utter chaos and destruction that happens as a result of his messing with stuff he shouldn't be messing with. It's a good way to open up an album filled with zany goings-on. The song reached the Country Singles chart early in 1992 as an album cut. There wasn't a commercial single available for purchase.

In a song that was inspired by a Saturday morning cartoon series we have "Teenage Mutant Kung Fu Chickens". Spoofing the Ninja turtles, Ray's song tells about a chicken foursome and their heroics on the farm. Ray showcases his elderly lady impression as well as a gruff vocalization as a shady con-artist who tells a story of a peculiar rooster on the farm. When Ray guest hosted Nashville Now in the latter part of 1990 or early 1991 he performed a song about the trend in country music where all the men were wearing cowboy hats. New artists that were popping up were wearing hats. In "You Gotta Have a Hat" Ray whimsically informs us that the only thing it takes to become rich and successful in country music is a hat. Ray's impression skills and overall mimicry brilliance is once again on display in "Tabloid News" where we hear about the outrageous headlines and get to hear first hand accounts by those people written about in the made up stories. One of the stories is about a woman who gives birth to an alien. We get to hear her gush and show emphatic approval of his mistakes. "The Sheik of R&B" is a pun on the movie title Sheik of Araby. In Ray's song we hear about an arab who loves the sounds of classic R&B. He'd discovered it by accident while in the vicinity of an American soldier's army tent. "Juanita and the Kids" is a satire on the IRS and taxes in general. In the original recording Ray performs the song in his natural voice but several years later, when a music video was made, he re-recorded the song with an exaggerated Americanized Spanish-Mexican accent. Ray offers a re-recording of "The Pirate Song", track five.

"A Little Blue Haired Lady", track 9, is a comical story about the frustrations motorists experience while being stuck behind a driver going 20 mph in a 65 mph zone. An interesting tidbit of information you may not realize is little blue haired ladies played a factor in the hours leading up to the Pearl Harbor attack. How? You'll have to listen to the song to find out! Pearl Harbor's 50th Anniversary was marked in 1991. How ironic, though, that the 1991 album would close with the social commentary of "Working For the Japanese". This is an incredible song and it was the first single release in the latter part of 1991. It was a topical song about the economy and how America consumes more and more products from overseas rather than our own products. A gong was a prominent instrument in the recording as were the vocal impressions of Geisha girls cooing and sighing in the background. The single was showing some signs of gaining traction with country reached the Country Singles chart, too. This was his first appearance on the weekly singles chart since 1988. However, political correctness was becoming an ever increasing nuisance in society. The success of the song was halted by the politically correct advocates who threatened anyone and everything that shown the slightest support of the song. As a result of a potential protest/boycott, radio stations one by one started to pull the song from their playlists. In the meantime, advertisers didn't want the song played on stations that their ads aired on for fear of a backlash of some sort. The single was nearing the Top-50 on the Country Singles chart when it was pulled from the airwaves.

1991 is the year that Ray Stevens opened up his much anticipated theater in Branson, Missouri. The facility was one of the most popular for a period of years. Ray's years in Branson, Missouri saw an obvious decrease in his road dates as well as a decrease in television show appearances. The following year would launch a new creative avenue for Ray and one that caused a steady decrease in his audio releases as more and more of his attention was being taken up by his successful theater and a phenomenal music video collection released exclusively through mail-order. As mentioned in a previous blog entry, the more we progress into the 1990's the more we see a creatively restless artist having the time of his life with music video production and marketing.

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