December 30, 2012

Ray Stevens: Patriots and Politics DVD...

As is typical with so many other blog pages and other web-pages when it gets to be Christmas time, and the days after, as the country coasts into a new year I tend to slow down my blog entries until the following year as well. The Ray Stevens Year-in-Review for 2012 can be easily summarized as the year of the Encyclopedia but yet there were other things happening as well. The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music hit the market in late February 2012 and in the days leading up to it's release and the days after you could catch Ray on a number of radio programs and see interviews with Ray promoting the Encyclopedia's release. If you Google the name of the 9-CD collection you're more than likely to find all of the print interviews as well as websites that may still offer audio clips from the various interviews he gave on radio programs during that February-March 2012 time period. Of course you'd have to look in the archive sections of those radio station websites and use the name, 'Ray Stevens', as the key word. One of the things that Ray did for publicity was tape a series of commercials in addition to this behind-the-scenes video clip showing him in the recording studio. There were two commercials taped in addition to the studio clip. One of the commercials ran rather long, almost like a mini infomercial at 4 minutes, while a second commercial had a standard running length of a little over 1 minute. The shorter commercial was later edited down to 45 seconds.

I decided to embed the studio clip which you can see below...



In May of 2012 a local television station in Tennessee showcased the Encyclopedia and included footage of Ray discussing the collection...



On the political side of things Ray offered a music video of "Obama Nation" in July of 2012, a searing look into the priorities and visions of the current White House dweller. The video, ironically, didn't come from his 2011 CD, Spirit of '76, but rather 2010's We the People CD. The video's gotten more than 765,000 on-line views since it's release.

Elsewhere in the political arena, Ray's You Tube channel provided two concert performances taped at the Welk Theatre in 2010. First up is the concert performance of "We The People" and then there's "If 10% Is Good Enough for Jesus". These two performances were soon to be included in a DVD release titled Patriots and Politics which you see in the picture at the start of this blog entry.

The DVD features one of the concerts that he did during his series of concerts at The Welk Theatre in October 2010 at the height of the mid-term election cycle. The DVD begins with a short documentary about famous figures in American history. Ray narrates the segment. This leads into a Yankee Doodle/Dixie Medley which features Ray and several of his band members. Ray takes the stage all by himself beginning with the third selection, "Dear Andy Griffith". Throughout the concert, for those not aware, Ray tells jokes and one-liners and often tells comical stories that are primarily used as lead-in's to the songs he'll be singing. Large applause is heard throughout "If 10% Is Good Enough for Jesus" and then we get to see Ray perform his illegal immigration smash hit, "Come to the U.S.A.". A few of the performances are aided by video snippets played on a large screen above the stage. Dedicated to Bernie Madoff is "Mr. Businessman" while a rousing performance and roaring applause greets his performance of the anti-Obamacare song, "We The People". "Safe at Home" follows...it's a nostalgia laced song that Ray's performed at his concerts for quite a few years even though it was never officially released as a single or music video. The military anthem, "Thank You", is up next. Scenes from the music video play above the performance. One of the members of Ray's stage show, Janice Copeland, sings "God Bless America" accompanied by Ray and the others. This is immediately followed by "Grand Old Flag" which is where the image of the DVD's cover shot was lifted. Ironically there isn't a performance of "Throw the Bums Out!" but overall the concert was fast-paced and extremely lighthearted considering the enormous political and social weight that the issues being sung about can carry.

If you ever happen to come across any review of this particular DVD and all you read is contempt and anger from the reviewer then chances are the criticism comes from political differences and nothing more.

This political concert was part of a longer show. The other half of the concert featured Ray performing his classic recordings like "The Streak", "Gitarzan", "Everything Is Beautiful", "It's Me Again, Margaret", etc. These non-political performances are available on DVD, too, in a release called Such a Night: 50 Years of Hits and Hilarity.

Fast-forward to November 2012...Ray releases a music video to "Grandpa Voted Democrat", a song found on Spirit of '76. The video came just days before the 2012 elections so there wasn't a whole lot of time for the video to reach hundreds of thousands of people. The song is about voter fraud and the video's gotten more than 170,000 views so far. It's not a big disappointment but I can't help but think of how many more hundreds of thousands of views it could've had if released perhaps a couple weeks earlier as the Election was growing closer. I'm sure the video will gain even more views as the next election cycle rolls around. In the meantime, Ray closed out 2012 on a kind of music video roll...

A few weeks ago Ray unveiled his video to "White Christmas". This turned out to be Ray's third Christmas music video following "Nightmare Before Christmas" and "Santa Claus Is Watching You". The video shows Ray and three of his harmony singers in Christmas attire crooning "White Christmas". The song can be found on the 2009 CD, Ray Stevens Christmas. To date, "White Christmas" has 11,424 views. This video was followed by not one, not two, but three more Christmas music videos! "Blue Christmas", done in stuttering pig style, has more than 6,000 views. "Redneck Christmas", a novelty from Ray's 1997 CD, Christmas Through a Different Window, has more than 14,500 views. A fourth music video release in December 2012, "Merry Christmas", out-performed the other three. "Merry Christmas", a song supporting the right of people to say 'Merry Christmas' rather than 'Happy Holidays' or 'Seasons Greetings', has already moved beyond the 100,000 mark and now sits with 113,631 views at the moment. So far "Merry Christmas" is only available as a You Tube video.

What will 2013 have in store for Ray Stevens? Well, in January 2013 Ray will have a birthday...this is something we already know. There is talk of a bluegrass CD...Ray performed a couple of songs at a Grand Ole Opry appearance from this future release. I assume this will be one of the first projects released by Ray in the new year...but we will see what happens as it happens!

December 24, 2012

Ray Stevens: The Merry Christmas video...

In the world of Ray Stevens we find that his "Merry Christmas" video has gained quite a few unique views since my previous blog entry. Yesterday I commented that the video had gotten more than 7,000 views and was sure to reach 10,000 rather quickly. Little did I know that my prediction would be met with more than 3 times as many unique views! Yes, as of now, "Merry Christmas" from Ray Stevens has 34,086 unique views. The video became available 2 days ago...technically a day and a half ago as the upload hit in the latter part of Saturday December 22nd. The only drawback, if you want to consider it as such, is the three other Christmas music videos that Ray emerged with: "White Christmas", "Blue Christmas", and "Redneck Christmas" have all collectively taken a back seat to "Merry Christmas". To date "White Christmas" has 7,187 unique views while the comical version of "Blue Christmas" has 4,974 and "Redneck Christmas" has 5,263. Interestingly, "Redneck Christmas" was released exclusively to a web-site much in the same way "Blue Christmas" originally was and so those two videos had experienced some on-line exposure prior to the unique views that have been accumulated since their being added to You Tube.

All of the unique views for the three videos adds up to 17,424. "Merry Christmas" with 34,086 at the moment means that it's obtained 16,662 more views than the other three videos combined. A lot of that has to do, I think, with the video being shared among the more religious blog sites and the fact that the song strikes an emotional chord in a way that a traditional Christmas song wouldn't. No matter how good a video or how good a vocal performance happens to be, "Merry Christmas" connects more on an emotional level and therefore it's obtained the most unique views by far. The other three music videos will certainly get their time in the spotlight but "Merry Christmas", for now, shines the brightest.   

Also, coincidentally or intentionally, three of the songs contain the colors on the American flag: Red, White, and Blue.

And yes, there was once a recording called "Green Christmas" and it was by Stan Freberg. I mention that just in case you're wondering if any other colors have been used in a title of a Christmas recording.

Let's summarize things...Ray's three new Christmas music videos have obtained 17,424 unique views in total while "Merry Christmas" has gotten 34,086. Enjoy all four of the new Christmas music videos but don't forget about the classic "Santa Claus Is Watching You" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas"! Six Christmas music videos of Ray Stevens entertainment altogether.

December 23, 2012

Ray Stevens sings "Merry Christmas": My Review!

Multifaceted/versatile, multi-talented, creative genius, comedic talent, political observer, singer-songwriter-musician-arranger-producer-music video star...so many nicknames apply to the legendary Ray Stevens. In this Christmas season that we're right in the latter stages of the remarkable Ray Stevens has issued a socially provocative and all-too-true look into the now frowned upon tradition of wishing someone a "Merry Christmas" in favor of a generic 'happy holidays' or 'seasons greetings'.

The sentiments expressed in the song make it clear that people should have a right to choose how they celebrate the season but what's been happening is the eroding of the religious aspect of the holiday and how the phrase is, in essence, banned in favor of Happy Holidays, etc. etc.

In "Merry Christmas" Ray makes a constitutional point as well when he mentions that people are suppose to have the freedom of religion instead of the freedom from religion. The opening lines of the song tell you right away that we're going to hear a pro-Merry Christmas message from good ol' Ray Stevens.

It's a wonderful song!! You get a sense that Ray Stevens is perhaps the only artist willing enough to address issues of this magnitude and a lot of that probably has to do with the lighthearted and jovial way his music videos are put together and the overall feeling of "it's us against the loonies" found in a lot of the lyrics of his latter day recordings. I bet you all didn't think a song with the unassuming title of "Merry Christmas" would carry such a strong message. There are quite a few social issues brought to the forefront in this song and it's a real treat. It's a seasonal slice of goodness from Ray Stevens.

The video's become another hit and it's gotten more than 7,000 unique views in less than 24 hours. I imagine it'll reach the 10,000 level within the next couple of hours or by Monday. The messages in the song resonate with so many people, religious and otherwise, that it'll be surprising if it doesn't go beyond 10,000 unique views rather quickly. I've seen this song called "Merry Christmas- I Stand With Jesus" from various people on Twitter but the official video at Ray's You Tube channel doesn't provide such a title. The official song's title is "Merry Christmas" and that's the title I'll use in my blog writings and here is the official music video... 


Merry Christmas from Ray Stevens...

Hello all the fans of Ray Stevens!! It's been almost 5 days since I've written a blog entry and that's because of a stretch of bad weather that came through here...on the climatic final day we had wind gusts of nearly 50mph and so I had the computer off the entire time. What do I find when I come back on-line? I find some new Christmas gifts from Ray Stevens!! The first of which is a music video of "Redneck Christmas". This is the second music video production on one of the songs from Christmas Through a Different Window. The first music video to emerge was "Nightmare Before Christmas" a few years ago. Here we have "Redneck Christmas" in all it's rural glory. Those familiar with Ray's videos are sure to be aware that Ray and Sabrina, who I've nicknamed The TSA couple, are in the spotlight in this latest music video. The two of them first appeared in this rural characterization in Ray's TSA video, "The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore" and later the two characters appeared in the "Obama Budget Plan" video and now they appear in "Redneck Christmas"...



I received an e-mail alert during my on-line hiatus informing me of a new Ray Stevens video. The message indicated that it was a Merry Christmas video from Ray Stevens. Well, after reading the message I clicked the video link. I was thinking that it would be a short 1 or 2 minute video clip of Ray saying Merry Christmas with members of his band or office staff. I was surprised to find out that the link took me to yet another new music video...this time to a song that has never been available until now. Titled "Merry Christmas", Ray sings about the meaning of Christmas and the decades long push to remove the phrase, "Merry Christmas", from books, TV shows, magazines, radio programs, music, cartoons, and other forms of entertainment. In the song Ray makes an all too true point that those who wish to celebrate the holidays as they see fit should have the freedom to do so but many times the politically correct zealots want to protest and raise a fuss if their points of view aren't adopted and executed nationally. It's wonderful... 



Ray's version of "Blue Christmas" became available on You Tube on December 21st. It had been available through AOL video for nearly 2 weeks, I think, before it's arrival on You Tube. It's gotten more than 2,000 views on You Tube. The two music videos above were uploaded earlier on Saturday December 22nd and so those are hot off the presses, too.



In addition to this, the items I ordered from Ray's web-store arrived this past Thursday. I initially purchased a DVD of Patriots and Politics and I'll soon write a brief review of that DVD and the concert it spotlights. The rest of the items I ordered a few days later and they arrived not long after the DVD.

This particular item is no stranger to long-time fans of Ray Stevens, I assume. Prior to it's arrival I had no idea when the songbook was originally released but after obtaining a copy I looked on the back and it shows 1991 as the copyright year. I had guessed that the image of Ray had to have been from the late '80s and the fact that the songbook included a song from his 1991 CD meant that it must have been published in 1991 or later, but not too much later. The songbook, as described, features the sheet music of a collection of songs associated with Ray Stevens. Lyrics are also included. I'm no musician so why did I purchase it? In a previous blog entry I explained that it's one of those rare kind of items that I felt I should have in my collection and at long last I have it. Some of the songs in the book are "Nashville", "Shriner's Convention", "Teenage Mutant Kung Fu Chickens", "Mr. Businessman", and "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". This picture of Ray's been used on other products including At His Best, a 1992 MCA re-issue of 1989's Beside Myself.

The EP of "Blue Christmas" arrived. It came in a plain white carrying case, a paper sleeve to be more specific. I was assuming that it would arrive in a case showing the Clyde Records Christmas design that we see on the web-store product page but it didn't.

It had been more than a year since the release of the Spirit of '76 CD. I had purchased the digital download back in the spring of 2011 and never did get around to purchasing the physical CD. As you can see I finally have a copy of the CD. It's a collection of 11 political and topical songs and it's a companion to We the People, the 22 song collection that Ray issued in 2010. Those discovering the political/patriotic music of Ray Stevens through You Tube and love what you hear then you should definitely get your hands on Spirit of '76 as well as We the People. Also, the Let's Get Political book is another component to the topical and politically oriented music by Ray Stevens. It's the Spirit of '76 which contains the most recent topical songs that have been released as music videos on You Tube. The CD features five songs that have been issued as music video singles: "God Save Arizona", "The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore", "Obama Budget Plan", "Mr. President - Mr. President", and "Grandpa Voted Democrat".

December 18, 2012

Ray Stevens promotes the 9-CD Encyclopedia...

Hello once again! After posting the previous blog entry spotlighting the Christmas medley that Ray performed yesterday morning I discovered, literally a few minutes ago, that several more video clips are available from the same appearance where he promotes the 9-CD Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music. Those who still haven't made a purchase you're missing out on a lot of great recordings from Ray Stevens.

Since discovering that there were two more video clips available of new Ray Stevens footage, in addition to the Christmas medley I posted earlier, I've decided to post all three clips in this blog entry. In the previous blog entry when you click the station's web-page link it shown that there were two other clips with Ray Stevens available for viewing but since they were about the Encyclopedia project I assumed I'd already watched them a few months ago because he'd appeared on a local TV channel in Nashville to talk about the project's upcoming release. I came across the first two clips on You Tube, by the way, and seen that the Christmas medley is also on You Tube and so I've embedded all three videos for your viewing pleasure rather than posting URL links.

The 9-CD project has had it's share of publicity but it hadn't gotten the kind of publicity that a massive project such as this commands. Hopefully more and more publicity will surface in 2013 for this box set. Some music video publicity is a great way to expose the Encyclopedia's availability to an audience that might only visit You Tube or social media sites rather than the traditional, information-based web-sites.

Ray performs an Encyclopedia medley featuring lyrics from "White Lightnin'" as well as a few lines from "Charlie Brown", "Chug-a-Lug", and "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It's Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?"...



This is the interview segment...



Here is the Christmas medley which features the comical version of "Blue Christmas"...


Ray Stevens and a Christmas Medley...

We had some storms pass through on Monday afternoon and into the evening hours so I had my computer off. During my on-line hiatus I found out this morning that Ray made an appearance, yesterday morning, on a local television station in Tennessee, WZTV, and performed a medley of three Christmas songs. The link appears on Ray's official Facebook page and it's been liked and shared by quite a few already. The link became available at some point on Monday but I'm posting it here, of course, because this is a fan-created blog about Ray Stevens where all of his appearances and all of his music is held in high regard. Yesterday, December 17th, was the last day fans and shoppers in general could order items from Ray's web-store and ensure their arrival before Christmas. I'm sure local orders in and around Nashville, if ordered prior to December 19th, will arrive before Christmas but it's never a safe bet to assume such a thing during the hectic Christmas rush that takes place every year in the postal system. As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, the office staff at Ray's company will be on Christmas vacation from December 21st through the first of the year and if orders are placed at any time during that period you'll have to wait until the first week of 2013 before the orders are shipped out. Last minute shoppers and procrastinators, in general, shouldn't wait until the 20th of December to place an order if it's meant to be a Christmas gift. I'd say today, December 18th, would definitely be the last possible day fans in the greater Nashville area and it's vicinity could place an on-line order and have it arrive before Christmas. If you don't order on-line you can call their office and order by phone. Mail orders, though, take so much time to process which is why it's not the ideal ordering method to choose a week before Christmas.

Meanwhile, in the television appearance, Ray sings a medley of "White Christmas", the comical version of "Blue Christmas", and he finishes the upbeat appearance with "Redneck Christmas". Each song comes from three separate releases: "White Christmas" comes from the serious project titled Ray Stevens Christmas, the comical version of "Blue Christmas" comes from the EP special offer at Ray's web-store, and "Redneck Christmas" is a song from the classic Ray Stevens Christmas-Through a Different Window comedy project that you see in the picture above.

Enjoy the Ray Stevens Christmas Medley

December 17, 2012

Give the Christmas gift of Ray Stevens...

Here we are...a week before Christmas Eve 2012. This image is probably familiar as I believe I used this one a few blogs ago when I wrote about the non-comical Ray Stevens Christmas CD from 2009. Over the course of the last few days I submitted some long-awaited orders at the Ray Stevens web-store and so any day this week the items should arrive in the mail. Hopefully nobody goes into shock after reading this but I'm thrilled to announce that I finally purchased the physical CD of Spirit of '76!! I had purchased the digital download way back when it became available in the spring of 2011 but I never got around to actually purchasing the physical CD until now. I can't wait to have the CD in my hands instead of just having the songs on my on-line music program. Another of the items I ordered was a DVD of Ray's Patriots and Politics. This DVD contains a concert taped in Branson, Missouri. It's described as the second half of the concert whereas the first half is featured on the DVD titled Such a Night: 50 Years of Hits and Hilarity. Why didn't I purchase both DVD's? Well, I wanted to see Ray perform several songs that, to date, I hadn't seen him perform in a concert setting. His concert performance of "We the People", for example, was uploaded to You Tube several months ago and I've also seen him perform the song on a couple of TV programs and so I'm familiar with the way he performs that particular song in a live setting but there are several other songs that I can't wait to see him perform and so that's what caused me to purchase the second half of the concert first and then later on I'll get the first half of the show. I also sent away for the Blue Christmas EP that I wrote about in the previous blog entry and I also purchased this songbook from the early '90s that Ray used to offer to fan club members. The fan club is no longer in existence, having ended in 2002, but in this era of social media artists don't really need to have a fan club in the traditional sense of the word. The general public can follow an artist's Twitter or Facebook pages and be kept up to date in addition to interacting with other fans. A mailing list is probably the only thing that serves the purpose of a fan club nowadays. This songbook's cover doesn't indicate if it contains lyrics just that it features piano notes and guitar chords to a list of songs from Ray's catalog. I'm no musician but the reason I purchased it is simply because it's an item that I think is rare, obscure, and probably of interest only to the most devoted of fans and so I felt it necessary to purchase it once it had become available for sale again. I also like the picture of Ray that was used on the cover...the same one used on the low-budget compilation, At His Best, that MCA issued in 1992.

December 12, 2012

A Blue Christmas with Ray Stevens...

Hello all the Ray Stevens fans out there! He's been busy behind the scenes, it appears, as we've gotten not one but two brand new music videos from Ray Stevens within the last 2 weeks. The videos are Christmas oriented and these two bring his total to four Christmas music videos at the moment. There is the classic from 1985, "Santa Claus Is Watching You", and then we have the wonderful "Nightmare Before Christmas" skewering political correctness from 2010, and then there's "White Christmas" from about a week and a half ago and that brings us to the comical recording of "Blue Christmas", released exclusively, at the moment, on The Boot web-page, a site affiliated with AOL.

An article posted yesterday, December 11th, on the Music News Nashville web-page promoting the brand new video can be found HERE but there is no link to the actual music video but it's a nice mention of it's availability and it includes a quote from Ray about the video.

The video of "Blue Christmas" can be found HERE. This link will take you to The Boot's site and the article there is a bit more lengthy than the one on the Music News Nashville site. The Boot's site includes a screen-cap from the music video while the article itself closes with an embed of the video. At the moment this video hasn't made it's way to You Tube yet and so The Boot is the only place to see it.

Ray had recorded a serious rendition of "Blue Christmas" and it can be found on his 2009 Ray Stevens Christmas CD but later on he did a comical rendition of the song that became available as part of an EP collection. That comical rendition has now made it's way into music video form. When you visit the web-store at Ray's web-site you'll see a Christmas note from the administrators informing fans and consumers that any orders made after December 20th will not be shipped until the first week of January due to the annual Christmas break at Ray's office. In order for shipments to arrive before Christmas they want you to order no later than December 17th.

December 11, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part 41...

We have made it to the final installment of the Golden LP Series and let me remind those of you who read these fan created commentaries that I'll continue to write about and spread the word around about Ray's music for as long as I choose to. Although this particular blog series is coming to an end it doesn't mean it's the end of this blog. I wanted to spotlight all of Ray's studio albums from 1962 through 2012 as well as spotlight a few of the notable compilation releases during this particular calendar year as it's the Golden Anniversary of the debut of "Ahab the Arab", the single that inarguably turned Ray from being a relatively unknown singer/songwriter/musician on the national music scene into a nationally known recording artist.

As you can see from the picture in my Blogger profile, the 41st studio album from Ray Stevens is quite a project. It's a 9-CD project titled The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music that Ray had been working on for several years. In early interviews Ray referred to this project by various working titles including one that I often quoted, "Ray Stevens Sings the Greatest Comedy Songs of All-Time". This title obviously wasn't used in the final decision and in late February 2012 this 9-CD masterpiece hit the marketplace. The project features 108 recordings altogether: 96 recordings, 12 per disc, are featured on discs 1 through 8 with 12 more on disc 9. The first 8 CD's feature a hefty dose of classic novelty songs that were made famous by other artists and were recorded by Ray Stevens for this project. 

There are several songs from Ray's own time-line that are included among the first 8 CD's as to omit his own big hits would seem bizarre on a collection saluting comedy music from the '40s through the present. The 9th CD, also featuring 12 songs, is Ray Stevens material exclusively. It's billed as a collection of modern day novelty songs that certainly would have been big hits had they been released in an earlier time period. 

Along with the 9-CD's you also get a wonderful booklet with information about each of the songs and Ray's comments about each of them. In addition to that you'll also get a summarized history of the novelty song and just how popular and commonplace it was to hear 2 to 3 novelty songs per hour along side the love ballads and other recordings that made up a typical pop radio playlist. The perception that novelty songs do not sell or that they are not remembered too long after their original release has become an accepted viewpoint by many music insiders and perhaps it's the main reason why major record labels do not issue novelty songs at all anymore. It's a viewpoint that Ray felt the need to disprove when he unleashed this project earlier this year. His belief that novelty songs have a much longer commercial and social shelf life and have the ability to stay on a person's mind long after they've vanished from radio playlists was proven correct time and time again when people began leaving feedback and comments about the project at various web-sites and recalling the times when they first heard these songs. Even those who weren't born when a lot of these songs were radio hits, it's safe to say, are aware of the existence of these songs from other forms of entertainment. 

One of the songs that has stood the test of time, "Chantilly Lace", was a major hit recording by an artist known as The Big Bopper. It was equally famous by Jerry Lee Lewis. While some can argue that a few of the songs included are early R&B flavored ditties that come off as 'novelty songs' today, these recordings will nevertheless bring a smile to your face and in many cases the lyrics will cause you to laugh...a true ingredient of any comedy recording. In a project that contains 108 recordings there's no way I'm going to go through all of them, one by one, and so I suggest that you search the archives off to the right side of the page and look up my review of the Encyclopedia. It'll either be in the February 2012 or March 2012 archives. I'll name quite a few of the songs that Ray covers for this project: "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer", "Witch Doctor", "Abba Dabba Honeymoon", "Little Brown Jug", "Haunted House", "Three Little Fishes", "Ode to the Little Brown Shack Out Back", "No Help Wanted", "The Too Fat Polka", "Cigareets, Whuskey, and Wild, Wild Women", "Temptation", "I Still Write Your Name in the Snow", "Dang Me", "Chug-a-Lug", "The Thing", "The Downtown Poker Club", "Too Old to Cut the Mustard", "That's What I Like About the South", "The Preacher and the Bear", "Get a Job", "Western Movies", and many, many more! 

The collection still remains an exclusive offer at Ray's web-store although there have been people who have intentionally purchased the project for the sole purpose of selling it for a much higher asking price on eBay and other on-line auction sites. Some feel Ray's asking price is too steep but it's actually a bargain for a project containing 9-CD's and an extensive booklet. Many other projects containing just as many CD's have asking prices in the hundreds of dollars and that isn't even factoring in sales taxes and shipping/handling fees. Ray's 9-CD project, with shipping and handling included, totals somewhere in the neighborhood of $86.00 estimate (that adds up to something like $10.00 per CD with the 9th disc and the booklet essentially free of charge). 

Since the project hasn't been issued in wider distribution to other on-line stores I imagine that there are still quite a few consumers who don't frequent Ray's web-page that are unaware of this collection's existence and you fall into that category I urge you to become familiar with this massive collection of comedy music from the master himself. If you order a copy of the Encyclopedia by December 17th of this year you'll receive it in the mail gift-wrapped and signed by Ray. Details about this can be found HERE

The link will show you the insides of the box set and how the CD's sit in the foldout section. An image of Ray in all black appears on the back of the box set's cover photo which you'll see when you click the above link. This picture's become a publicity photo of late.

Now, then, we've come to the end of the Golden LP Series and it's been wonderful, as I said, spotlighting Ray's studio albums of the last 50 years. Naturally, whenever Ray puts out a new CD or a new music video or makes an appearance I'll be here commenting about the projects and helping spread the word of their availability. In the meantime check out this Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music if you haven't done so already. Also, don't forget that Ray's current music video is available for viewing, the seasonal "White Christmas". I'll return with a more conventional blog entry next time as this LP series has officially wrapped up. 

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part 40...

The 40th studio album from Ray Stevens arrived in 2011 and like several of his recent CD's it had two separate release times. The first release was in April 2011 as an exclusive offer at his web-store while the national release didn't happen until August 2011. This is why you'll come across bloggers writing of this CD in the spring of 2011 and other on-line sites commenting on the CD in the fall of 2011 and in either case the writers refer to it as a 'just released' CD and technically it's an accurate statement.

The title of the project, Spirit of '76, features a CD cover photo showing Ray's face super-imposed on a previously illustrated body from the famed painting of the same name. The project contains 11 songs and the first two single/video releases occurred months before the CD's actual release. The first single release came about in August 2010 titled "God Save Arizona". It was made into a music video as well. This was a departure from his recent video releases whereas this one features an all-serious approach vocally and visually. The song criticized the illegal immigration problem but it went even farther than that and criticized the Federal Government, too, specifically the Attorney General, for the passive and weak policies centering around the problem. The video's gotten more than 900,000 on-line views since it's release.

When the TSA was making national headlines in the latter part of 2010 and into early 2011 due to their aggressive and invasive security methods at airports all across the country Ray emerged with "The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore" in February 2011. In the song Ray sings about the goings-on at an airport where he and his fictional wife are groped and patted down by an employee of the TSA. In a comical twist, the wife can't get enough of the body screenings and pat downs. The topic was based on a heated issue that was one of the most talked about for a period of several months and the music video seemed to mirror the national shelf life of the topic as well as it's been in the mid 300,000 view total range for nearly a year. Then again the follow-up music video, released in April 2011, returned Ray to the arena of hard hitting politics and this could have played a factor in why the TSA video was ultimately overshadowed.

When the Spirit of '76 became available at Ray's web-store in April, a few weeks later a new music video emerged in the form of the "Obama Budget Plan". This song utilized some of the same melodies heard in the previous TSA recording and it told the further story of Ray, his fictional wife, and now a fictional son was brought into the picture. In the song Ray tells the story of emulating the massive printing of money in Washington, D.C. by operating his very own printing machine in his basement. The song points out all of the practices and policies currently in place under the umbrella of the Federal Government and how private citizens do not have the luxury of printing their money and having spending sprees like they do in Washington, D.C.

By video's end we see a sight gag where a newspaper headline shows that Ray and his family have been arrested for emulating the practices of the Federal Government...and yet lawmakers continue to go about their merry way authorizing and setting forth spending sprees in their own interests rather than in the interest of the nation as a whole. The budget heavy lyrics and catchphrases associated with the debt and deficit played a role in the video catching on with a debt/deficit weary public. A tie-in appearance on several programs on the Fox Business Network aided in the publicity of the video. As of now the video's gotten 1.9 million on-line views. The actual tally at last look is 1,998,556 total unique views and so it's close to 2,000,000 unique views at the moment. There has not been a budget passed in Congress during the entire first four years of the Obama Administration and who's to say that there's going to be one in the second four years?

In September 2011 Ray issued the "Mr. President - Mr. President" music video. Ray had previewed this song at a C-PAC event in February 2011 a few months before Spirit of '76 was released. I couldn't wait to get a copy of the song and when the Spirit of '76 became available in April I purchased it right away in it's Mp3 form since at the time the Mp3 was the only available format for purchase. I don't own the physical CD which is why you don't see a picture of me showing it off.

Anyway, "Mr. President - Mr. President" asks a series of questions of the President and we get fictionalized responses from Ray based upon how the President should answer but in reality never will. The video uses pics of Obama as well as a live action eye blinking Obama lifted from, I assume, one of the very few press conferences he's given. Ray incorporates some scat-singing in the middle of the song and at the end while the music video at various times uses camera tricks to show three separate images of Ray side by side. Ray is dressed up as the traditional news reporter with the suit and tie, fedora hat, and handy with the pen and paper. Total on-line views as of now sit at 810,752.

In part 39 of this series I commented that Ray went back and forth between his 2010 and 2011 projects for a few months. This scenario was first played out in late July of 2012 when a song from 2010's We the People became a new music video, "Obama Nation". In this song Ray explains the far left-of-center progressive direction that the President wants to take the country in with the aid of an unsuspecting and largely uninformed general public. The song's title is obviously based on the word, 'abomination', but a clever pun in the title of "Obama Nation" seems so natural. Total on-line views for the video as of now sit at 747,530.

The follow-up music video, this time from Spirit of '76, titled "Grandpa Voted Democrat", hit a day before the 2012 election this past November. The video, in hindsight, should have been issued a couple weeks earlier as a build-up to Election Day with this reminder of voter fraud but instead it became available on Election Eve 2012, November 3rd. The video has managed to obtain 163,763 unique views during it's first month of on-line availability but I don't look for this video to create a lot of media hype or any major increase in views until the next election cycle rolls around unless there's some kind of voter fraud story that breaks nationally.

Observant readers might be wondering why there was a nearly year long gap between music video releases by Ray Stevens during the latter half of 2011 into the late summer of 2012. "Mr. President - Mr. President" had been released as a music video in September 2011 but it didn't receive a follow-up until July 2012 with the release of "Obama Nation". You may be asking yourselves: what in the world was going on in the career of Ray Stevens from late 2011 through the first half of 2012? Well, in late 2011, Ray was in the final stages of an upcoming project that he had been working on since around 2009. The massive popularity of his political music videos from December 2009 onward had pretty much took priority with studio albums 39 and 40 devoted to political and social commentary songs but he remained working on this soon to be released project nevertheless. Finally, after a couple of years of brief mentions of the project in several interviews, this long-awaited project saw it's release in February 2012...and it was well worth the wait...an incredible project Ray referred to as a labor of love. Details will be forthcoming in my final installment of the Golden LP Series!

December 10, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part 39...

Welcome again to the Golden LP Series. Studio album 39 in the career of Ray Stevens is on the agenda this time around. All of these installments of the Golden LP Series have been wonderful to put together and this one is no different. In January 2010 the Ray Stevens music video, "We the People", and the single of the same name were riding a wave of popularity which shown the single consistently place among the Top-5 on Amazon's various best-seller lists. The music video was nearing 2,000,000 unique views by the middle of the month and just prior to that a clip of the video was shown on the Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor. This spotlight, which featured a clip of the video and alerted viewers to check out Ray's web-site for more information, caused Ray's web-site as well as his You Tube channel to crash momentarily.

National talk radio programs as well as local talk radio programs featured interviews with Ray Stevens throughout the first half of 2010 as "We the People" continued to garner hundreds of thousands of on-line views weekly. Bloggers, from both sides of the political fence, all featured Ray's music video. The theme in a lot of the blogs of that time period all seemed to follow the same line of thinking that Ray had come out of retirement to musically challenge the Obama Administration. There were other bloggers who had assumed that Ray had died years ago and so to see him all over the news programs certainly startled quite a few people. Oh yes, believe it or not, there were some out there who thought this video was from a Ray Stevens impostor because the sudden political overtone was something "the real Ray Stevens" wasn't known for.

Ray gave a boatload of radio and print interviews, as mentioned, during the first half of 2010 and one of those interviews can be found HERE. If you Google Ray's name and the song's title chances are you'll still find a lot of the various interviews and commentaries from 2010 that featured Ray's song as a centerpiece. You'll also find a lot of my earlier blog entries from that time period where I chronicle all the interviews and appearances Ray was a part of if you look in the archives.

Ray's birthday is January 24th and he had several interviews and articles that popped up all over the internet focusing on political issues that very day. The thrilling events had culminated in a mid January 2010 appearance on The O'Reilly Factor, the very program that caused his web-site to crash. Ray appeared via satellite and thanked O'Reilly for helping the site crash and for all the attention the song and video were getting as a result. It was in this interview where the two of them spoke of the bygone days where people weren't so easily offended as they seem to be today. A clip of "Ahab the Arab" was played during this point of the interview. In April an Mp3 digital album, We the People, was released. This was studio album 39 in the career of Ray Stevens. The collection featured a mixture of brand new political songs and a few patriotic recordings with a small dose of some previously recorded songs that fit the overall theme of the project. Two additional music videos emerged in the aftermath of "We the People" and those were "Caribou Barbie", a song about Sarah Palin in which the video employs a professional Palin impersonator to play the part of the former Governor and it also visually spoofs cable news personalities on liberal leaning newscasts. The follow-up music video, "Throw the Bums Out!", is a protest of Congress in general and it served as one of the rallying cries of the 2010 midterm elections that coming November. 

Max T. Barnes wrote "Throw the Bums Out!" in addition to "We the People" and "Solar Powered Song"; he co-wrote "Caribou Barbie" with Matt Cline.

In June the CD copy of We the People became available. It came with a DVD extra featuring four music video releases that had been big hits on You Tube: "We the People", "Caribou Barbie", "Throw the Bums Out!", and the military salute entitled "Thank You". It was around the time of the CD's June release that a new music video from Ray was creating quite the stir on-line. "Come to the U.S.A.", from the pen of Buddy Kalb and Matt Cline, hit right around the time the Arizona illegal immigration topic was all over the news, both locally and nationally, in the summer of 2010. The news centered around a bill that was ultimately signed into law by the state's Governor, Jan Brewer. The song had been recorded months before the Arizona illegal immigration issue had dominated national newscasts but the timing couldn't have been more wonderful. Illegal immigration isn't anything new and it isn't confined only to Arizona but that's the state reportedly having the highest crime rates and drug trafficking as a result of illegal immigration from Mexico and so Arizona gets more media focus than other border states. In this particular song Ray addresses the illegal immigration issue in his own special kind of way...and in the music video he has some fun while addressing the serious issue. The underlying theme of this project, as I took it, was having the seriousness of the topics handled with a hefty dose of humor in an attempt to get over certain points of view without being heavy handed about it. The music video repeated the same pattern as "We the People". It became a million view success story, too. Today "We the People" has more than 4.5 million views while "Come to the U.S.A." has more than 6,000,000.

Given the fact that this project contains 22 songs there was some considerable longevity and future music video releases mined from it. I call this a political music gold mine. Basically, each Ray Stevens album is a pot of gold but it's up to the consumer to dig around for all the hidden gems that do not become commercially released or widely known. Following the illegal immigration video Ray moved on to the topic of global warming. "The Global Warming Song", from the pen of Matt Cline, tells the whimsical tale of two brothers who buy a frozen wasteland cheap in the hopes that global warming will turn it into a tropical paradise. Cline plays one of the brothers in the video. In the previously recorded offerings list we have "Let's Roll" and "Stand Up", both from the 2004 limited release Thank You project and there is "Sucking Sound" from 2008. "Thank You" is a re-recording. The nostalgic "Safe at Home" is featured on here as is the brand new, "Dear Andy Griffith". Each of those songs, written by Nick Sibley, paint memories of rural America and the idealistic simpler days. Ray often performs "Safe at Home" at his concerts and he performed it during an appearance on Larry's Country Diner, which airs on the RFD-TV channel. Ray gives us some updated recordings of "Kings and Queens" and "If 10% Is Good Enough for Jesus".

There are two songs on here that I'm surprised were never made into music videos and those are "We Are the Government" and "Solar Powered Song". The former is a song about an ever-growing Government that takes over people's daily lives, a hardcore fact that a lot of voters seemed to overlook or not care about in the recent elections. It's also a comment on Congressional hypocrisy where bills become drafted and ultimately signed into law by the President and yet those very people who create and enforce laws are immune from having to follow the very laws they create. The latter is a whimsical song about solar power and it's usage in a recording studio.

As of this writing the last song to be lifted from this project and turned into a music video was "Obama Nation" in July of this year...two years after the 22 song We the People project was released. In the meantime, Ray had released studio album 40 in 2011, and for awhile he was going back and fourth between We the People and the 2011 project when it came to publicity and marketing.

Return to this blog next time as we take a look at studio album 40 in the career of Ray Stevens...it'll lift your spirits most definitely!!

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series Extra...2009...

Welcome one and all to an Extra installment of the Golden LP Series. This time around I'll be taking a look at a certain single-only release that hit in December 2009 on the heels of an on-line music video by Ray Stevens that struck a chord with millions upon millions of people.

As someone whose on the Ray Stevens mailing list I received an e-mail alert in the late part of November 2009 with some of the details of an upcoming music video that Ray was working on. The actual music video hit the internet almost 3 years ago to the day. The upload date was December 11, 2009. The video criticized a bill that was making it's way through Congress imposing tremendous changes in America's health care system. The crux of the bill is rooted in what's referred to as single-payer health care which creates an enormous social program whereby tax payers are ultimately responsible for paying the health care benefits for practically the entire country. The song's title, "We The People", borrows the famed line in the Constitution and criticizes the health care bill as a backdoor pathway into Universal health care.

The bill and the style of health care being pushed was nicknamed ObamaCare by it's critics. The song uses this nickname heavily throughout it's criticism. The song comes from the pen of Max Barnes, a famed country music songwriter, and during it's first month of on-line availability the music video had been viewed on more than 1,000,000 computers and other digital devices combined. The view totals represent what's referred to as a unique view whereby only 1 view from each computer is tabulated just once. Multiple views from the same computer aren't counted and so, in real time, the video had probably been watched more than two million times by the end of December 2009 if you factor in that people like to watch video clips more than once.

"We The People" pretty much changed the career path of Ray Stevens overnight. An often used phrase in the entertainment world to describe sudden fame is "overnight sensation". Ray, of course, had been a recording artist since 1957 and had his share of hit songs, hit albums, hit home videos, and various awards down through the decades and so by 2009 he was certainly no "overnight sensation" but yet that's exactly how he was seen in some corners of the internet world from those who had no idea who he was up until that point in time. In essence, Ray Stevens entered the next phase of his career as an internet celebrity with a decidedly political overtone and from all indications he was just getting started. There were some critics who assumed that this song was a fluke and was made just to cash in on a topical issue...were their assumptions correct or was Ray sincere in his criticisms of the direction the Obama Administration was taking the country in? Stay tuned for the next installment of the Golden LP Series as I take a look at his next studio album.

December 9, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part 38...

Welcome one and all to the Golden LP Series. This time around we take a look at studio album 38 in the career of Ray Stevens. In this 2009 project, titled Ray Stevens Christmas, Ray delivers the sounds of the season in the long-awaited follow-up to his 1997 Christmas comedy project. In this project, though, Ray is a serious crooner singing holiday songs with traditional and newly arranged musical accompaniment.

Ray gives us 10 performances and by now I must sound like a broken record but once again they're all great. On some of the recordings we have new arrangements but the bulk of the recordings keep the traditional sounds intact. What better way to start off a holiday CD than have the bouncy "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" lead things off. In one of the traditional songs getting a slightly different arrangement we have "Silent Night" and later on in the project we have his infectious performance of "Jingle Bells" which is unlike anything you've probably ever heard. Nearly the rest of the songs are quintessential holiday standards with the exception of one song, in particular, from the pen of Ray Stevens. "Winter Wonderland" is a song that I'd always liked from the moment I heard it. I must have been 7 or 8 when I first heard the song on a vinyl album by Lawrence Welk that my parent's played every year around Christmas time. The recording featured a soloist and I must've liked the singer's voice or whatever plus the concept of naming a snowman Parson Brown must've sounded funny to me. What 7 year old could actually comprehend the meaning behind giving a snowman that kind of name and yet I liked the song. In hindsight it must've been the vocalist's voice and the peppy and lively musical arrangement.

One of most recorded standards is "The Christmas Song", also known as "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire". Co-written by Mel Torme and popularized by Nat King Cole, Ray does a great job covering the song and the same great job can be said for his rendition of "Blue Christmas". The one song that came from the pen of Ray Stevens is "Deck The Halls With Teardrops". It's a wonderful uptempo sad song about an unhappy man during the holidays. There is prominent harmonica accompaniment to enhance the somber mood. Ray sings his heart out on the closer, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas".

Ray offers his version of "White Christmas", track two on the CD. Ray borrows the stylings of The Drifters midway through, sandwiched between the crooner style popularized by Bing Crosby. Ray just recently made a music video of "White Christmas" and I've embedded it a few blog entries ago and naturally I'm going to embed it once more as I write about the CD from which it originated.



"Blue Christmas", in the meantime, has a unique parallel story to tell. Upon the release of this CD Ray went back into the recording studio and did his version of Seymour Swine and the Squealer's stuttering "Blue Christmas". The comical version from the fictional group had been a fixture on early morning FM radio and on the internet for quite awhile prior to Ray covering it in 2009. The comical version, featuring Ray stuttering and stammering the lyrics, was made available as a single-only through the internet. The CD single featured the comical version of "Blue Christmas" as well as "White Christmas", "Deck the Halls with Teardrops", and "Nightmare Before Christmas". It was an extended single release which were commonly referred to as EP's back in the vinyl era. The initials, EP, stood for "extended play".

Those wanting the Ray Stevens Christmas CD can purchase it HERE. While at Ray's web-store you can browse the other items. The EP is available, too, featuring the comical version of "Blue Christmas". Meanwhile, if all of this late fall/early winter 2009 activity wasn't exciting enough, Ray was soon to become something of an internet sensation exactly three years ago this month! I'll provide details in the next installment of the Golden LP Series!

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part 37...

As we get closer and closer to the final Golden LP Series installment we've made it to studio album 37 in the career of Ray Stevens. This particular release appeared in the summer of 2009...I'll always remember this because when it was released it was only available exclusively at Pilot fuel centers across the country. Pilot, one of the various chain stores open 24 hours and closely associated with truck drivers, carried the CD for several months before it was widely distributed. It was never available in the two Pilot centers in my area and so I was left to wait until after Labor Day 2009 before it became available in all the on-line stores and at Ray's web-store.

The project, One for the Road, features 15 recordings. Five of those recordings had been previously released, three more were new interpretations of older songs from his catalog, while the remaining seven were new to the project. Why am I counting this as a "studio album" whereas I didn't count 2002's Osama Yo' Mama as a studio album? The reason is simple: the 2002 project only featured one never before available recording, "Freudian Slip", while the rest of the CD was filled out with songs Ray recorded in 2000 for a limited release CD along with the 2001 recordings of "Osama Yo' Mama" and "United We Stand". One for the Road, by comparison, features 7 new songs instead of only 1 new song.

This advertisement is what was sitting, face down, on the seats at a venue where Ray did a concert. I believe it was at the Little Nashville Opry in Nashville, Indiana. When you walked to your seats you saw little strips of paper sitting on them. When you turned the paper over you saw this advertisement for Ray's upcoming One for the Road and it's exclusive availability at Pilot. There were souvenirs, of course, at the merchandise table. One of the items were pictures of Ray during the photo session for the CD cover. I bought a few of the pictures and I've posted them before. The physical copy of the CD has art work to make it look like a semi truck tire. On the back of the CD there's the list of 15 songs and a comical image of Ray sitting on the step up the semi's door. The track list isn't comprised of just 'truck driver songs' but more or less it's a traveler's companion as most of the songs deal with experiences while on the road either as a profession or as an everyday motorist going from point A to point B. The trucker mood is set during the first song and it continues through track three. The opening track, "Concrete Sailor", is excellent. Penned by Buddy Kalb, Ray sings about the trials and tribulations of many over-the-road truck drivers who live lonesome lives and how it's almost a miracle for most to balance their job and have a healthy family life. The imagery of a truck driver's command of the road being equivalent to a ship's captain is felt within the soaring music/arrangement. This sad song is followed by the extreme opposite in the trucker's anthem, "Convoy", the legendary song made famous by C.W. McCall. Ray does a wonderful job capturing the mood of the original while "Right Reverend Road Hog McGraw" samples some of the hilarity of an earlier Ray Stevens classic, "The Dooright Family". In the song about the right reverend we're told a fascinating story about a preacher who uses the trucker's airwaves to conduct sermons and preach about any potential sinning and bad habits lurking in the shadows. Track four, "Cooter Brown", is an uptempo song about an alcoholic who doesn't really seem to care much about any of life's problems or his own drinking problem and instead prefers to celebrate life to the fullest no matter the consequences. It's got an early rock-n-roll feel in the Jerry Lee Lewis vein. This is followed by another alcohol enriched story, "Jack Daniels, You Lied To Me Again".

In the tradition of story songs that comment on or expose fictional small town secrets we have the great recording, "Hangin' Around". Ray sings about a woman named Sadie who eventually went insane. The music offers a great atmosphere as the story unfolds as Ray tells us that we wouldn't want to be caught all by ourselves in a certain Georgia town. Ray co-wrote this with Buddy Kalb and in one of the few instances Buddy's name appears first in the songwriter credits. Whenever the two wrote a song together it would always appear Ray Stevens/C.W. Kalb, Jr. in the credits but this time around it's been switched. I don't know if it was intentional or if it was a typo but it's something the casual fan I don't think would even notice. Elsewhere on this project we have an updated take on "Oh, Lonesome Me", then we have the inspirational "Never Too Late" and later on there's the whimsical "Retired". In the latter, Ray sings about the life of a retiree. It was originally recorded by one of the song's writers, Brent Burns, as a duet with Ray. In this project Ray performs the song solo. According to the songwriter credits, Brent Burns wrote the song with another writer named Bill Whyte. Track 12, "Mary Lou Nights", is one of the modern day interpretations of a song from his past. Ray originally recorded this gem of the song in 1983. The 2009 update sounds amazingly faithful to the 1983 original.

The 3 bonus tracks, which make up songs 13, 14, and 15, are later day interpretations of "Mississippi Squirrel Revival", "It's Me Again, Margaret", and "The Streak".

Outside of a write-up and interview in the Pilot newsletter and a mention of it's release in an issue of Country Weekly, this CD slipped by without a lot of publicity. Studio album 38, though, was on the horizon and it offered the sounds of the season in that unique Ray Stevens tradition...be on the lookout for part 38 of the Golden LP Series!

December 7, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part 36...

Welcome once more to the home stretch of the Golden LP Series. We're still in 2008 but closer to the end of the year as Ray delivers an amazing CD titled Ray Stevens Sings Sinatra...Say What??. It's a 10 song project that features Ray covering some of the standards made famous by Sinatra, all did in the Ray Stevens style. There are a few renditions that remain somewhat close to the originals but by and large the majority of the recordings adopt a jazzy/early R&B delivery. A couple of the songs are shortened, musically...huge fans of Sinatra will spot this right away. If you're not a die hard Sinatra fan and simply want to be entertained by Ray Stevens covering the songs made famous by Frank Sinatra then you'll love this CD, in my opinion. I'm not as familiar with some of the songs to know if any lyrics have been omitted but based on the songs that I am familiar with I do know that some of the longer passages of music found in the originals is cut out in favor of, as mentioned, a more bouncy delivery.

The project kicks off with "I've Got You Under My Skin" from the pen of Cole Porter. In fact, glancing at the songwriter credits, Porter's got the first three tracks: "I've Got You Under My Skin", "Night and Day", and the irresistible sing-a-long of "I Get a Kick Out of You". Ray incorporates an echo chamber on "All the Way" and then gets to lighten the mood even more with a couple more of my favorite Sinatra songs, "High Hopes" and "Witchcraft".

Ray closes out the CD with what might be four of Sinatra's biggest commercial hits. "The Tender Trap" is track seven. There's a jazzy feeling throughout the recording and as a listener you can hear how Ray lovingly gets into the early R&B sounds that he grew up hearing. This is followed by "Young at Heart" which I've liked since the moment I heard it. Prior to Ray's recording there were three distinctly different hit recordings of the song. Obviously it was recorded by Sinatra but strangely enough the versions that I was more familiar with were the recordings did by Bing Crosby as well as Jimmy Durante. Ray's version incorporates various harmonies in the background accomplished more than likely through the overdub process. Unlike previous recordings by others, Ray delivers a solid, harmonious performance throughout as if it were performed by an actual choir of singers. This is an example of Ray's creativity in the studio once again. The masterpiece of the CD is track 9, "Strangers in the Night". It's a faithful rendition, pretty much, but it delves nicely into a shoobie-doobie doo-wop flavoring at certain moments, too. The CD closes with the inspirational "That's Life"...who on Earth has never heard that song at some point in their lives? Sinatra's vocal recording was very forceful while Ray's rendition is less forceful but more soothing. Ironically there was no cover version of "New York, New York" but I do recall seeing a clip of Ray performing the song at a venue and he had his band and back-up singers all standing in a row in a mock of The Rockettes as the finale of the song was sung. I saw that clip several years before the release of this CD and so I was surprised that the song didn't make the final cut...considering how synonymous with Sinatra the song happens to be.

Ray Stevens Sings Sinatra...Say What?? was released exclusively at Ray's web-store in 2008. It was later available in more wider distribution the following year. I bought my copy at the merchandise table at a Ray Stevens concert I attended in Renfro Valley, Kentucky. When I purchased my copy it hadn't even been put up for sale to the general public yet as it was only being sold at his concerts. For those who don't know if you attend his concerts chances are you'll be able to purchase CD's or DVD's that the general public doesn't have access to yet. This CD remains an obscurity even with the wider distribution due to a couple of future releases from Ray that overshadowed this unheralded gem. The fact that it didn't receive much publicity upon it's release also played a factor in it's current obscurity. In the next installment of the Golden LP Series I'll take a look at the first of two releases in 2009. That particular year began rather quietly for Ray but by November/December 2009 some big time news was being made. Until we get to late 2009, though, we have a couple more studio projects to spotlight as I lead up to the release that re-launched Ray Stevens into the stratosphere once again.

December 5, 2012

Ray Stevens: White Christmas music video...

Good Wednesday morning all the Ray Stevens fans!! Yesterday evening Ray uploaded a new music video, "White Christmas", that I didn't find out about until this morning. I was away from the computer yesterday evening. This rendition comes from the CD titled Ray Stevens Christmas that was issued in the winter of 2009. I'm almost near the end of the Golden LP Series that I've been writing and I've made my way up to the year 2008. I'll be talking about that 2009 Christmas album in a future blog entry but I wanted to create some awareness for the brand new music video. I'll also be embedding the music video once more in a future blog entry...here's the video...

December 4, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part 35...

Studio album 35 came blowing into the marketplace at the start of 2008. In late 2007 Ray issued a single-only titled "Hurricane" which was available at Itunes. This was followed by a digital Mp3 album in early 2008, titled Hurricane as well. The project was available exclusively at Ray's web-store for more than half a year before it became available in the latter half of 2008 at all the on-line music shops. The project features 12 recordings in which 7 were brand new and 5 were re-recordings of songs he had did in the past.

The title track, "Hurricane", is patterned after "The Streak" in many ways. The cover photo of the CD features the 1992 cover shot of Ray from Comedy Video Classics...that particular image comes from the music video of "The Streak", by the way. Ray and Buddy Kalb wrote "Hurricane". In "Hurricane", Ray plays the part of a man caught in a hurricane as well as the reporters who are on the scene attempting to get a response or a reaction from those who've stuck around and didn't flee. Ray plays the same character he did in "The Streak". The main point of the song is a commentary on cable news in general and how it covers a natural disaster. Hurricane's and storms are also given names...and in Ray's song he tells us that they've cleverly given this latest hurricane a name that's truly memorable. Wolf Blitzer and Christiane Amanpour are spoofed as is a Jamaican news reporter. The remaining six new comical songs range from topical and political to rural and redneck.

In the redneck theme we have "Hey Bubba, Watch This!", from Buddy Kalb, which is a comical tale about southern culture and we're told that whenever you hear someone shout "Hey Bubba, Watch This!" then it means that you better watch out for anything. In the song we're told about a guy named Junior who seems to find enjoyment out of experimenting with things he shouldn't be messing around with. One disaster after another...which were preceded by the "Hey Bubba, Watch This!" battle cry. Staying with this style of humor we have "Down Home Beach", from Chuck Redden, which describes the goings-on a southern beach where the backwoods citizenry gather around to play and have fun. Buddy Kalb and Chuck Redden supplied Ray with "Bubba the Wine Connoisseur", a comical story that deals with a uniquely southern gentleman who finds himself playing the part of a first class wine taster whose descriptions of the wine he samples aren't necessarily the kind of descriptions you'd hear coming from the mouths of the more urbane wine tasters.

Doing an impression of Ross Perot, Ray tells us all about the giant "Sucking Sound". Ray recounts Perot's appearances on Larry King's CNN program and how Perot warned of the complexities and disasters of a global economy and it's impact on America's economical outlook. A flushing toilet sound effect and other comical effects enhance the recording. "The Cure" is a cute song about enema's. How can someone have a cute and fun song detailing an enema? Once you hear "The Cure" you'll find out...but it may make you stay away from soap for a couple of hours after hearing the song.

Although "Rub It In" isn't a comical song it does have it's light hearted presentation. This song has a unique connection to Ray as he was involved in the song's original release in 1971. Ray played the role of producer of the first release of "Rub It In" but the record company issued it during the wrong time of the year and it peaked in the Top-70 of the Hot 100. The song's writer, Layng Martine, Jr., had recorded it first in 1971 and Ray Stevens was the producer. Several years later an artist named Billy "Crash" Craddock recorded it and soon after it became a huge #1 hit for him. Craddock's version was produced by Ron Chancey. I assume Ray had at long last recorded the song because it fit the beach and tropical theme of several of the songs found on Hurricane.

The remaining 5 recordings are updated performances of songs that Ray originally done in the mid 1980's. The re-recordings are: "Hugo the Human Cannonball", "Smoky Mountain Rattlesnake Retreat", "The Camping Trip", "Makin' the Best of a Bad Situation", and "Stuck On You". 3 of those songs originated on his 1986 studio album.

This project marked the second time that I purchased a digital download rather than the physical CD. I do hope to add New Orleans Moon and Hurricane to my CD collection simply so I can have the CD counterpart to the Mp3 recordings. The main reason I want CD copies is because they offer a physical CD, cover art, musician credits, songwriter credits, and other things that you don't have if you simply click and purchase music and then transfer it to your music library. I'll edit this entry as well as the one for New Orleans Moon whenever I get a physical CD copy of those titles. Until then be on the look out for the next installment of the Golden LP Series as we look at studio album 36!

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part 34...

One of the natural disasters to have a major impact on a country's geography happened in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina. The aftermath of the hurricane spawned all sorts of inner fighting, looting, and all out chaos from many of the citizens in the Katrina ravaged areas. There was even verbal fighting among city leaders and local politicans. Studio album 34 arrived in March 2007 but it was preceded in 2005 by a CD single-only titled "The New Battle of New Orleans" which detailed all the negativity that took place in Katrina's aftermath. The song's main writer was Chuck Redden but later it was partially re-written by Ray and Buddy Kalb. The end result appeared on the single-only released by Curb Records.

In March 2007 New Orleans Moon was released on his own label, Clyde Records. It was issued as a digital download during the first few months prior to it's release on physical CD format in the summer of 2007. Ray did some local interviews and media appearances creating awareness for the project but he didn't do any national publicity. The project contains 11 recordings...one of those recordings is a medley featuring two songs blended into one performance. The medley is "St. James Infirmary" and "Just a Closer Walk With Thee", track 5. Things get started with the energetic "Way Down Yonder In New Orleans".

The title track, "New Orleans Moon", is a sentimental and crooning salute to the city and culture of New Orleans. There's even a surprise impression toward the end of the performance of Louis Armstrong, referred to as Satchmo. The song was written by Ray and Chuck Redden.

One of the things that you'll notice when listening to this tribute CD is that Ray performs the songs pretty much exactly the way they should be performed...there's a lot of gusto, excitement, swing, Dixieland, and heartbreak found in the originals that Ray captures in his versions, too. "New Orleans Moon" is the only new song on the project while the rest are his versions of famed songs about Louisiana and New Orleans, in particular. I have the digital download Mp3 album. The reason is the Mp3 was released first, in March 2007, while the CD came along in July 2007. I had no idea if a CD would ever be released considering the technological changes going on in the music industry and so I purchased the Mp3 version of New Orleans Moon as soon as possible. I still don't own a copy of the physical CD, yet.

A highlight, among the many, is "Louisiana". It's the famed song written by Randy Newman about the Mississippi River flood of 1927 which now carried the perception that the Federal Government in 2005 had done little to help the suffering that took place after Hurricane Katrina. The lyrics mention Calvin Coolidge, the President at the time of the 1927 flood. The CD closes with a homesick lament titled "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" which was featured in a late '40s movie titled New Orleans and it featured Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and a cast of many. According to research, Holiday performed the song in the movie. The recording artists weren't technically billed as the stars of the film even though they feature heavily on movie posters of the time period. The stars of the movie were Arturo de Cordova and Dorothy Patrick.

Most of the songs that I've mentioned so far are ballads. There are several uptempo songs on here, too. In this category we have the rocker "New Orleans" as well as the Hank Williams classic, "Jambalaya". Staying with the country sound there's his cover of "Louisiana Man", a classic that's been recorded by a whole host of artists but closely associated with the Kershaw Brothers as well as Connie Smith. If these gems weren't enough we have his take on the Johnny Horton classic, "The Battle of New Orleans", from the pen of Jimmy Driftwood and then there's the amazing "When The Saints Go Marching In" and the mid-tempo "Basin Street Blues".

New Orleans Moon was Ray's second non-comical CD in a row, following 2004's Thank You. In 2006 Curb Records had issued two DVD's that I mentioned in a previous Golden LP Series entry. Each DVD consisted of 5 limited animation music videos of mostly comical songs...there was one non-comical offering, "Misty". The DVD's were titled Gourmet Restaurant and Teenage Mutant Kung Fu Chickens. The animation was done by Randy Cullers. Would Ray's next CD be a return to comedy/novelty or would it stay in the ballad/non-comical category? We'll find out in the next installment of the Golden LP Series!

December 3, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part 33...

We're now up to studio album 33 in the career of Ray Stevens. Issued in 2004, this particular album features wall to wall ballads and not a whisper of a novelty or comedy lyric in sight. Thank You contains 11 tracks...10 vocal and 1 instrumental. The closing track, the instrumental, is titled "Boogie Woogie" and is played on the piano by one named Clarence Smith. This is the first studio album from Ray Stevens since 1983 to feature ballads only and it's also heavy with songs he wrote. The title track, "Thank You", is a salute to all the branches of the military. Ray made a music video of the song and it's one of the songs that gets a standing ovation at his concerts. Ray wrote the song with a writer named Larry McCoy. Ray's picture appears on the inside fold out cover in a still shot taken from the "Thank You" music video. The image of the American Eagle is a perfect cover photo to describe this kind of CD. In a departure we hear several songs that feature opening narration from Ray...setting the stage for the plot of the songs. "Come on Home to Baseball" is a nostalgic song, written by Ray, encapsulating a baseball game into a slice of everyday life. One of the more deep songs from Ray Stevens in quite awhile comes in track three, "Blue Angel". It's almost entirely a spoken dialogue recording interspersed with singing dealing with a man's final days with his wife.

"Pledging My Love" is one of the few mid-tempo recordings on the CD. It had been an R&B hit several decades earlier and Ray's version is outstanding. The performance features the bagpipes on prominent display...something you don't expect to hear...but it adds to the song. "It Won't Be Easy", written by Don Silvers, is a love ballad that deals with a man's anguish and sorrow in the aftermath of a relationship breaking up. When I heard the song for the first time I instantly thought of Ray's 1981 album and how much this song sounded as if it would've fit right in with the songs on that particular release.

In "Let's Roll", Ray crafts a patriotic ode of military solidarity and anti-terrorism inspired by the phrase from Todd Beamer during the flight in Pennsylvania on 9/11. Ray references many catch-phrases and battle cries made famous throughout U.S. and World History while the phrase "Let's Roll" is heard in the background. Updating a couple of gems from the past Ray offers "Be Your Own Best Friend", originally recorded in 1978. The original recording was a Top-40 Country hit for Ray as well as the title of one of his albums that year. Then there is "Love Will Beat Your Brains Out", originally recorded in 1983, which tells the story of frustration and emotional turmoil that faces practically everyone whose single or just starting out a relationship only for it to all come crashing down.

One of the other mid-tempo songs, "When I Get Over You", uses irony in it's quest to inform a woman that she'll always be on the man's mind forever. Ray co-wrote the song with a writer named Doug Gilmore. The thing I find interesting about this pairing is Gilmore's name appears as a songwriter on an early '80s Ray Stevens album. There's a possibility that this song was written by Ray and Doug at that particular time but it wasn't until the making of this 2004 CD that Ray recorded it.

The 10th song, "Stand Up!", is an inspiring power ballad written by Ray and Buddy Kalb. In songs like this there are several ways to interpret the lyrics. I've always taken the song to be a criticism of those who choose to ignore the realities of what it takes to keep a nation free and question what they consider worth standing up and fighting for. It's a powerful song to be sure.

Ray went into what he called semi-retirement and he reduced his touring. He continued performing at select venues every so often but the self-imposed, semi-retirement kept him out of the mainstream public eye for a number of years. He continued recording, though, and studio album 34 arrived in 2007, a salute to a certain city in the southern portion of the United States...details in the next Golden LP Series installment!

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series Extra...2002...

On September 11, 2001 the United States was attacked by terrorists. Among the artists who rallied support for America and our military was Ray Stevens. He, like a lot of other artists, used their music to bring people together or show a spirit of solidarity against a common threat. Terrorism was that common threat. By year's end Ray and Buddy Kalb had written a song, "Osama Yo' Mama", which, through humor, chastised and shown contempt and anger at Osama bin Laden. The song was issued as a single-only late in 2001 and throughout the early to mid 2002 the single racked up quite a bit of sales and spotty airplay. The single reached the Country Single Sales list and peaked at #1 and hung around the Top-5 for nearly all of 2002 and was certified Gold for sales of more than 500,000 copies. In addition, the song rose to the Top-50 in Country Airplay. A music video soon surfaced as did this project, Osama Yo' Mama: The Album. The project was given such a title because the CD single used the same imagery with the phrase The Single written in place of The Album. The project was released by Curb Records and it quickly became a Top-30 Country album.

I don't count this as a studio album because 7 of the 10 songs were lifted from 2000's Ear Candy. The songs from that 2000 project that appear on this 2002 release are: "Hang Up and Drive", "Safe at Home", "Deerslayer", "Bon Temps Roulette", "The Hustler", "The Lady on the Radio", and "Gone For Good". The exclusive material was: "Osama Yo' Mama", "United We Stand", and from the pen of Ray Stevens, the bouncy love song, "Freudian Slip". "United We Stand" was considered the b-side of the "Osama Yo' Mama" CD single. "United We Stand" originated in the early '70s and was extremely popular. Ray's cover captures the mood of the original "United We Stand" without it being a complete replica of the original. After the success and publicity of this 2002 project winded down Ray found himself back in Branson, Missouri at his theater. He re-opened the venue, it had been closed since 1993, and he began performing there once again and did so for three more seasons. He closed the theater for good and put it up for sale not long after season 3. Curb later released a couple of cartoon DVD's on Ray. Each DVD consisted of 5 limited animation music videos. This time around Ray himself was animated rather than appearing in live action form. Continuing, though, in a patriotic/military vein saw Ray issue his first non-comical project in many years in 2004. Studio LP 33 hinted, a little bit, of the sort of music and audience that Ray Stevens would aim for in the coming years...and so be on the look out for the next Golden LP Series installment!!

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part 32...

Studio LP 32 came along in 2000 on Ray's own label, Clyde Records. As many of Ray's fans are well aware, his audio output had slowed down as his home video releases increased. Ear Candy, the name of the 2000 project, is a quaint 10 song offering. The image doesn't pick up the details of the cover photo too well but there's a giant candy cane sticking through one ear and protruding out the other. Now, of course, it's a photo trick but it rates up there with other visually memorable photo pics through the years. The title refers to the derogatory term applied to music that's sweet, non-threatening, and suitable for practically any age. This particular studio album didn't receive a lot of publicity considering his home video release of Funniest Video Characters around the same time period was attracting more advertisements. No matter...most of the songs on this 2000 Ear Candy release would achieve much more attention a few years later when Ray signed a deal with Curb Records, the label he recorded for during most of the 1990's. As mentioned, there are 10 songs on here. Ray co-wrote, with Glenn Fortner, a song titled "Deerslayer". This song would later become a music video experiment but the plot deals with a guy who hits a deer. He pulls the deer into his car and that's when all the chaos happens. It features a catchy hook line within the chorus with frequent pleas for 9-1-1 assistance. Buddy Kalb contributed most of the other songs. He and his wife wrote "The Hustler", a ballad that tells the story of a young pool player attempting to defeat a legendary pool hustler. The song, as I later found out, dates back to the mid '80s and was originally recorded by the late Mel McDaniel. It's anyone's guess why Ray didn't record the song the first time around but at that point in time he was concentrating on filling his albums almost exclusively with humorous songs. "The Hustler" and "Safe at Home" were the two non-comical ballads of the project. "Safe at Home" has a patriotic and nostalgic flavor and it made it's debut on this 2000 project. It's a song that Ray inserted into his concerts almost 3 years ago.

The contemporary habit of talking on cell phones while driving is the subject of "Hang Up and Drive". By now that habit's increased to texting while driving and doing all kinds of other things with cell phones while driving. This song was also turned into a music video experiment. The experiment I refer to was a series of music video productions that featured live action Ray singing in front of limited animation backgrounds. The project kicks off with the Cajun flavored uptempo recording of "Bon Temps Routlette". In this song we hear a wild story of casino inhabitants and a sub-plot centered around adultery and the wealthy. In "The Dog Song" Ray sings a song from a dog's point of view. A couple has broken up and the dog sets the man aside and tells him all the things he should have done to keep the woman there. "King of Christmas" is a comical story of what may happen if Elvis were Santa Claus. One of the songs that uses a lot of satirical nuance is "The Lady on the Radio". In this performance Ray sings about being embarrassed that his wife called in a love advice radio program and told the world their private issues. By song's end Ray exacts his revenge. The closing number, "No Lawyers in Heaven", has recently been a Bluegrass favorite by a number of Bluegrass groups but Ray recorded it in 2000 and it's never been made available anywhere but here. It's a story about lawyers, of course, as well as political correctness and it's impact on the legal system.

Most of the songs on Ear Candy would make their way onto a 2002 project that I'll write about later in an Extra feature. Since this 2000 release is a studio album I decided to refer to this as studio LP 32. The 2002 CD lifts a lot of the songs from Ear Candy and includes exclusive material as well. We'll talk about this 2002 release in the next installment!