Well, hello fans of Ray Stevens! I've been enjoying all of the clips that have been surfacing on You Tube over the last month from the 1970 summer program that Ray hosted for Andy Williams. I noticed, by way of my frequent look-in's, that quite a few have visited Ray's You Tube channel (I posted a link to it in my previous blog nearly 1 month ago) and so I'm sure many of you have seen most of the uploads by now. Ray's 1970 summer program lasted a brief 8 episodes. Like many that have seen the clips and are fans of Ray Stevens we've all basically formed the same opinion that the show was way too brief in it's episode count. I looked up the show's air dates months ago and refreshing my memory I looked them up again and it debuted in late June and stayed on the air through early August: June 20, 1970 through August 8, 1970. Strategic air-dates is how the network was able to stretch 8 episodes into a summer season.
Here's Ray Stevens performing his version of "Proud Mary". I assume it's labeled 'Rolling on a River' after the repeated use of that phrase and the fact that many people may think the song's called that...
The summer of 1970 also meant that the Vietnam War was raging and protest music, from all sides, filled the airwaves. I'm a self-described nostalgia nut and generally write positively about the music and entertainment from a bygone time period and that's how any nostalgic minded person should be. I don't necessarily believe that a person HAD to have lived through an era to have 'nostalgia' feelings for it. A 35 year old can easily read a reference book or a history book, for example, and wish they lived 20 or 30 years earlier to experience or enjoy something that had happened in history. War is something that no sane person should ever feel nostalgia for...but there DOES happen to be some great feel-good music to come out of that era that shouldn't be lost to time.
There's a perception today, as there happened to be then, that only those of a liberal point of view can enjoy feel-good songs. I reject that perception. There's another perception that conservatives are war mongers and that liberals are pacifists. There's still yet another common belief that a pacifist is the most desirable role than the one that chooses to use military action. The facts remain that no matter the political philosophy, there's a time and a place for diplomacy and military action, no matter which political affiliation a President aligns himself with.
An extreme hawk or an extreme dove is just one of those kinds of things that Ray Stevens wrote and sang about in this stunning clip from 1970. The clip begins with Ray and company performing "Save the Country", a protest-era song originally released by The 5th Dimension in 1970. This is followed by Ray's take on the extremists of both political parties in "America, Communicate with Me". He cites a couple of bumper stickers as the main inspiration for the song. It's a great performance all around.
The single cut through on the adult-oriented Middle of the Road/Easy-Listening charts in 1970. It nearly made the Top-10 in that format after just a few weeks in the stores. The format, now known as Adult-Contemporary, at that point in time was the stomping ground for many, MANY pop singers that were enormously popular but they didn't have a lot of rock and roll in their music to fit the dominated rock and roll playlists. In other words, artists that had a significant following and sold a steady stream of singles but didn't fit Top-40 pop radio were usually pushed into the Easy-Listening formats. These artists, because their singles were selling, still managed to make appearances in the lower portions of Billboard's Hot 100 which had quickly been taken over by rock music by 1960.
"America, Communicate with Me", while being a major Easy-Listening hit for Ray Stevens in 1970, wasn't able to crack into the Top-40 of the Hot 100 as easily. It came close...but I suspect that the middle of the road, Independent stance on social issues heard throughout the song created such a dilemma with Top-40 radio stations that DJ's perhaps thought that there could be a negative reaction, of some kind, from ardent supporters of liberal politics and those in the anti-war crowd...perhaps a major listening base...that Top-40 stations were too scared to play it. As mentioned, Easy-Listening radio formats played the song...
A lot of the artists in Easy-Listening format had seen their Top-40 airplay reduced or stopped altogether after the advent of rock music in the mid '50s. The artists that still sold concert tickets and singles, but happened to be over a certain age and declared 'uncool' and not hip by teenagers, were now able to continue to make a decent living as recording stars for an additional 10-15 years after rock and roll came along thanks to the creation of an Easy-Listening/Adult-Contemporary radio market. Ray was unique in that he happened to have been born in 1939 and so in January 1970 he had turned 31. Image wise he wasn't seen as some sort of a culture threat or bad influence on kids while his youthful appearance and socially aware demeanor, as you clearly see in these 1970 clips, appealed to younger audiences and that's a big reason why, in my opinion, he was able to straddle both the younger and older audiences simultaneously.
Cast members of Ray's summer show included Mama Cass from The Mamas and the Papas, English singer Lulu, comedian/writer Steve Martin, Billy Van, Tom Solari, and Clark Carr. In the clip below enjoy "Ahab the Arab" followed by Ray and the cast singing "Let it Be"!