November 11, 2012

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

Studio album twenty in the career of Ray Stevens was a rather obscure release. The LP was issued in the latter half of 1983 as his debut album for one of his former homes, Mercury Records. Ray had been on the Mercury label during 1961-1963 and it was the label credited with turning Ray into a successful recording artist and session musician. Ray's comeback LP for the label was titled Me...and it's cover art shown Ray as a painter, looking at himself in a mirror, while at the same time painting a very different image of himself. I took the cover shot to mean that underneath the clown-like reputation beats the heart of a very serious artist. As you can see from the cover shot, the entire front of the album is designed as a picture frame.

The album contains the standard 10 songs and almost all of them were written by Ray Stevens. This was one of his first LP's in awhile to feature a majority of songs that he wrote. The only single release to reach the country music charts came in early 1984, a few months after the LP's release. "My Dad", from the pen of Dale Gonyea, was a tribute to father's and father figures. It reached the Top-70 on the Country singles chart in early 1984. There were a few other single releases from this album that didn't reach the charts and those were "Mary Lou Nights" and "A Piece of Paradise Called Tennessee". In "Mary Lou Nights" we hear the story of a man's loneliness over a mysterious woman named Mary Lou whose role in the man's life is never really explained...only that her absence in his life is overbearing. Tennessee pride is in full force on "A Piece of Paradise Called Tennessee" where Ray sings the praises of the state and it's culture. Ray references the music that originates from the state, the famed moonshine stills that are hidden in the mountains, and a little known fact about the hound dogs throughout the state. As a bit of trivia, Ray performed this song on an episode of The Fall Guy. Ray portrayed a character named Webb Covington. In the episode Ray wore the shirt from 1983's Greatest Hits on RCA. "Me", the title track, has an introspective feel as Ray sings about the joys of being himself and how he found a woman that loves him for who he is as a person and how easy it is to be himself whenever he's around her. "Yolanda" is a fun song...and it features his daughter, Suzi Ragsdale, as a guest vocalist. It's about a man who falls in love with a woman of Spanish origin and he's not too sure how she feels about him. Me opens up with "Love Will Beat Your Brains Out", a melancholy love ballad in spite of it's comical title. Ray sings about how he'll never give love another chance because he always ends up being hurt.

If you want nostalgia or a nostalgic feeling, "Piedmont Park" may provide you with what you wish for. In this song Ray sings about meeting an old flame from his teens many years later. We're told that as teenagers the girl dumped him for someone else but she regretted doing so as she ended up going through three different relationships prior to running into her old flame. She's the one who says that she never really loved the other men she dumped Ray for...but it's too late because Ray's moved on and got married. The song comes from the pen of Buddy Kalb, a frequent contributor to Ray's music catalog. Now, all of the songs are exceptionally good, but the best of the best was saved for last in the clever "Game Show Love". In this cleverly written song about a broken relationship Ray uses a lot of game show catch-phrases and game show titles as he paints the story of a man who gets taken by a shallow woman only interested in having a good time and when she's through she moves on to the next victim. It's been lumped into his library of novelty recordings but, again, I don't consider this a novelty song. It's light hearted musically but it's a serious message dealing with a broken relationship. Unfortunately, the Me album was not a commercial success and it went by little fanfare and not much attention from critics or the country music media in general. After the less than stellar reception for this wonderful album, Ray and Mercury parted ways in 1984 and then Ray decided to something that you'd never expect judging by his consistent desire of having his serious, non-comical recordings become just as popular as the comical ones had been. Ray had, for years, spoken about how his comical hits overshadowed the more thoughtful songs he'd recorded. He intentionally recorded serious songs, love ballads, and other forms of music to show that there's more to him than novelty and comedy songs.

However, upon the official parting of ways with Mercury at some point in mid 1984, Ray returned to the studio and began working on a brand new that would hit late in 1984, on yet another record label...but this particular LP would change the commercial direction in his career tremendously and set in motion a string of remarkable successes. In our next installment we take a look at studio album twenty-one and the career decisions that kick started an entirely different direction in his career!  

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