November 10, 2012

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

As we continue on with the Golden LP Series we're up to studio album eighteen in the career of Ray Stevens. This particular studio album arrived in 1981 after what could very easily be considered one of Ray's biggest years. The album also returned Ray to love ballads once more. Titled One More Last Chance, the 1981 album was heavy on slow ballads but it did feature some uptempo selections as well. In a few of Ray's interviews in the latter half of 1980 and into 1981 he expressed his continued desire to have music consumers be as familiar with his love ballads and non-comical recordings as they happened to be with his comical songs. This desire had been a recurring scenario throughout most of Ray's career and it seemed like each time he'd have a huge commercial hit with a comedy recording he'd be determined to follow it up with something extremely serious. A lot of the time the serious works, believe it or not, actually performed quite well on the charts but only a few managed to perform at the same commercial level of his comical releases.

One More Last Chance contained only two single releases, though. The first single emerged in the latter half of 1980, "Night Games", a bar room ballad about the fictional happenings in single's bars across the country. The song became a rather successful release late in 1980 as country music, and for a brief period of time, popular culture, was caught up in all things cowboy and western. Country music, specifically, adopted a commercially successful formula following the success of the Urban Cowboy movie where younger and newer artists were igniting their careers and some established artists shed their '70s fashions in favor of a new look: tight blue jeans, fringe filled suits and vests, and the ever popular cowboy hat. Some established artists didn't adopt this new look but they did alter their fashions a little bit with a more casual look rather than the businessman approach with suit and tie. "Night Games", written by Buddy Kalb, reached the Top-20 on the country charts in late 1980. Ray, in the meantime, was one of the artists who adopted that cowboy look in a few of his appearances. Although he didn't go all out and become a visual replica of any member of The Riders in the Sky he nevertheless, at times, wore the fringe vests and cowboy hat.

After the Top-20 success of "Night Games", Ray spent most of 1981 appearing on numerous television programs, country music related or otherwise. One of his more surprising appearances took place on the daytime soap opera, Texas. Ray appeared as himself during several episodes that took place within a fictional night-club and he performed on the soap opera during his final episode. What song did he sing? "One More Last Chance"...which happened to be his current single and the title of his 1981 studio album. The title track features a heavy dose of the steel guitar and it's a lover's plea of forgiveness. The single reached the Country Top-40 but it's sound wasn't as catchy as "Night Games" happened to be but it's a great performance all the same. The album features 10 songs, the standard number of selections on most albums of the time period. The two singles open and close the album...with "One More Last Chance" kicking things off and "Night Games" wrapping things up. Sandwiched between those two recordings are 8 immaculately produced love ballads of varying tempo. By now you know that I don't pick favorites when it comes to Ray Stevens recordings...they're all good...some stand out more than others but as I've often said there's typically something great that can be taken away from any Ray Stevens recording in my opinion. One of the few uptempo songs on this particular LP is his cover of "Pretend". Traditionally performed as a slow ballad, Ray's take on the song transforms it from slow ballad to rollicking joy with a Mexican-Spanish flavor in the instrumentation. "I Believe You Love Me", a love ballad performed in part mid-tempo, tells the story of a relationship falling apart but the man thinks the woman still loves him regardless. One of the slowest ballads on the LP is "Just About Love" starts out slow and it slowly builds up to what one may think will be a powerful climax only for the tempo to fall back down abruptly to a crawl as the song comes to it's conclusion. It's a great performance about a man whose facing the facts that his relationship with a woman is coming to an end.

In the mid-tempo range comes "Let's Do It Right This Time" which tells the tale of a relationship on the verge of collapse with the man in the song urging for a do over, in other words: a second chance...which keeps in step with the overall theme of the LP. Much of the subject matter in the songs deal with marital strife, relationship misery, love gone sour, and optimistic hope for reconciliation. It's one of the more country music flavored LP's from Ray Stevens in his vast catalog of studio albums. "It's Not All Over" carries a sense of denial in that the guy refuses to accept the realities of a bad relationship and instead tries to talk himself into believing that things can be worked out. One of the most unique songs, "Melissa", is about a guy who meets up with a woman and apparently falls madly in love with her. The two are complete opposites of each other when it comes to social, economical, and culture backgrounds and yet he can't get over that one time encounter. While most of the songs deal with love gone wrong, there's one song on here that deals with love prevention and that's "Take Your Love". In it, Ray sings about the concept of pushing away a woman who gets too close because everyone the guy's had a relationship with always ends up leaving him and so he doesn't want to go through it all over again.

Studio album eighteen was a love ballad feast and an LP that was extremely serious...once again showing how multi-talented Ray Stevens happened to be vocally. This was his second studio album for RCA and the third studio album from 1982 was nothing to laugh at, either. In the meantime, Ray was revving up his engine vocally in the summer of 1981 as his voice was heard all over the world performing the theme song for the huge hit film, The Cannonball Run, starring Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise with an all-star supporting cast. The theme song's chorus was heard at various times throughout the film anytime there were far shots showing the progression of the auto race. Ray was also heard performing a love ballad titled "Just For the Hell of It" during a love scene. Coming up we take a look at studio album nineteen in the career of Ray on the lookout for it!

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