November 3, 2012

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

Studio album seventeen in the career of Ray Stevens continued the comical vein of his 1979 single, "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". Ray had joined the RCA label upon the conclusion of his Warner Brothers stint at some point in mid/late 1979. In a news article I found on-line about what turned out to be his final single for Warner Brothers, the author made mention of that 1979 single being part of a comedy album he was recording. That suggested album, in the meantime, would become his debut release for RCA...but it didn't include his spring 1979 single as the write-up had suggested simply because this new studio album was released on RCA and not his previous label, Warner Brothers, the label which had released "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow".

Ray's debut for RCA by all accounts was a smashing success. The new single, "Shriner's Convention", hit early in 1980. Ray remarked that the song was inspired by an actual convention that was taking place at a hotel he was staying in while out on the road. He recalled that the members of the convention were full of life and having a grand old time seemingly all night long...playing a key role in Ray's somewhat sleepless night. The publicity for the single, based upon my research, was through the roof. The song focuses on a one sided telephone conversation between a high ranking member of a local shrine organization and one of the rowdier members of the organization. We only hear the dialogue of the senior shrine member...written, as mentioned, one sided but yet we fully understand what's being said on the other end of the line based upon the senior member's reactions. It's a mostly spoken performance with some parts of the recording sung. As far as publicity, the lyrics created the opportunity for catch-phrases and the overall story created a visual picture. When hearing the song it's very easy to see, in your minds, a phone conversation taking place between these two shrine members. The descriptive attire worn by the two Shriners and the famed motorcycle that features prominently within the story have become popular, long running sight gags since the debut of this song in his career. For a brief period of time, the names of the two fictional shriners having the phone conversation, Coy and Bubba, became part of pop-culture. Ray performed this song on two occasions in 1979, months before it became a commercial single. On one such occasion it was a 1979 made-for-TV movie starring Jerry Reed and Tom Selleck, Concrete Cowboys. The two lead characters were inside a local club and Ray just happened to be on stage performing "Shriner's Convention" in the background. Every now and then the camera would pan to Ray and you'd get to see him perform the song in the foreground. Ray also had a brief cameo scene along side Barbara Mandrell. A second occasion in 1979 where Ray performed the song ahead of it's commercial availability was in an episode of Pop! Goes the Country, a television program hosted by Ralph Emery.

I've got the cassette and the vinyl copy of Shriner's Convention in my collection. I came across the cassette copy a couple of years ago and took a series of pictures with my web camera. The image I often post is the most subdued picture...I have another that's a little more on the crazed side. Anyway, as I'm sure the more dedicated fans are aware of, the cassette releases of his older studio albums are about as scarce as the studio albums themselves are. The album features 9 comedy wonders why there are only 9...maybe this collection had originally been meant for release by his previous label but it didn't happen? A 10th track would've most certainly been "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" if that particular theory is correct but that's only a theory. Then again, there are a couple of comedy songs on this 1980 album that are well over 5 minutes and so the running length of the album adds up to a standard 10-11 song album and so there probably wasn't a need for a 10th or 11th selection. It's also important not to forget that this album was basically released to tie in with the "Shriner's Convention" single...which became a runaway success in America and Canada. In America the single reached the Top-10 on the Country chart by the late spring of 1980. In Canada the single did even better...becoming a Top-3 hit. The album reached the Top-5 on the Country Album chart.

Although it's commonplace in pop music to have alternate takes of recordings, a longer LP performance and an edited single release for radio, it usually wasn't a common occurrence in country music to have two takes of a song floating around. Simply referred to on the label as the Long Version it runs 5 minutes, 33 seconds. This performance appears on several greatest hits releases in the years to come. There is also a Short Version which runs 4 minutes, 10 seconds. This is an entirely different recording...not an edited down copy. In the Short Version the entire song is recorded at a quicker pace and a few lines omitted...there's not a lot of pauses for comedic effect, either. More or less it's a rushed performance. The Short Version can also be found on a couple of later compilation releases from RCA. The A-side of the red promo single has the Long Version and the B-side has the Short Version. The commercial single that was released to the public featured "Shriner's Convention" as the A-side while the B-side was "You're Never Goin' To Tampa With Me". The album features various types of humor from parody, to absurd, to satiric, and back again. The album contains his cover of "Hey There", a pop love ballad from the past. Ray's cover of the song has two styles of humor going on at the same time. It's a parody, first and foremost, but then it also satirizes public radio broadcasts due to the plot of the song taking place on a radio program that plays ballroom dance music. The song, performed in lisps, is memorable. The song was released as a single in the United Kingdom...also backed with "You're Never Goin' To Tampa With Me". The single came with a picture sleeve showing Ray's face on the front of a radio...

It's important to remember that during the commercial success of the 1980 comedy single and the comedy album, Ray continued to look for ways to promote his serious work. There were no other single releases from the album and for the rest of 1980 Ray continued to appear all over the country doing concerts...which, of course, featured both comedy and serious performances. His national TV appearances in 1980 were mostly built around "Shriner's Convention" which included an elaborate performance during a 1980 telecast of the fan-voted Music City News awards. Speaking of accolades, Ray was elected into two separate halls of fame in 1980. He was elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Since I've mentioned it twice already how about I describe "You're Never Goin' To Tampa With Me"!! The song is a cleverly written love story about a man on spring break who meets up with a series of unnamed southern women. The guy only has one thing on his mind, and the various women he meets are well aware of this, but their collective southern drawl causes the guy to mistakenly, but humorously, think that they're telling him that he can't accompany them to Tampa, Florida but that's not exactly what they're saying. On the cassette copy that I have, two songs appear in different order from the vinyl counterpart. On the album, "Coin Machine" appears as track 9. However, on the cassette, it appears as track 2. "The Last Laugh", which appears as track 2 on the album, switches places and appears as track 9 on the cassette. The songs, basically, flip-flop with each other depending on which format you have. "Coin Machine", written by Dick Feller, is an uptempo song about the misadventures of a man who encounters a variety of vending machines. "The Last Laugh" is a demented love song, of sorts, about a suicidal man who's tired of being hurt and victimized by the woman in his life and for revenge he threatens to do all kinds of things that he hilariously thinks is going to hurt her but in reality he'll be physically hurting a series of fatal ideas. The guy, foolishly thinking he'd be getting revenge with his actions, is deliriously happy about getting "The Last Laugh". On the other end of the humor spectrum comes "Rita's Letter", a nice little song about divorce and a chaotic chain of events that occur when vindictive ex-wife meets a totally revamped ex-husband infected with the peace, love, and joy picked up at a commune he'd been staying at.

"The Watch Song" tells the comical tale of a guy who loves his watch and how this devotion played a huge role in a bar room fight and a subsequent murder. Ray plays a guy who's accused of having an affair with the wife of another man...and ultimately this leads to an encounter between the cowboy and Ray. For starters, Ray kicks the cowboy in a sensitive area and then the punches fly. The cowboy gets the better of Ray, at first, but as the story progresses the cowboy makes a serious mistake: he destroys Ray's watch! This causes Ray to rise from his beaten state and in a wild rage he literally beats to death the cowboy. The next stop for Ray is death row. Throughout the song a lyrical hook is heard as Ray mentions John Cameron Swayze several times. John happened to be the spokesman for Timex watches in addition to being a legendary news anchor/reporter. "The Dooright Family" is the most laugh out loud comedy song on the entire's a comical story about a religious family who broadcast a radio program and travel the country spreading their beliefs to those who attend. This is one of the comedy recordings where Ray gets to show off his impressions of different southern accents. Daddy and Therman Dooright have southern accents which are completely different from one another. Vocal effects help aid in the lower register of Virgil Dooright while Ray's hilarious take as the scratchy voiced Mama Dooright steals the show. The song with the most eye catching title is "Put It In Your Ear". The song is actually a love ballad...but there's a comical passage where Ray does his German-American accent. Aside from this section of the song, it's a love ballad all the way.

As you can see, Ray's debut for RCA was certainly a smashing success...but his desire to focus on serious work saw him release a catchy love ballad in the fall of 1980 in which the story took place inside a singles bar. This love song turned out to be the first single from Ray's next studio album which saw it's release in 1981. It's studio album eighteen in the career of Ray Stevens, his second LP for RCA, and it went hand in hand with the Urban Cowboy movement in country music...visual details are crystal clear when you see the album's photo shoot.

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