March 17, 2014

Ray Stevens and the Golden Gum...

Mercury Records issued a novelty single in 1964 on Ray Stevens and it's appeared on several compilation releases over the decades. It happened to be a single-only upon it's initial release 50 years ago. Ray had a unique arrangement, if I recall the historical facts correctly, in which he would be an arranger/session musician/producer for Monument Records beginning in the latter half of 1963 while Mercury Records would continue to release his recordings. I've read that in several music history reference books and so I'm taking it as being pretty accurate. If anyone has any contrary information let all of us know! I happen to think there's some accuracy in that statement because if you search You Tube or research a lot of the various recordings released on Monument Records as well as Independent labels in the early to mid '60s (specifically R&B music from that era) you'll see Ray's name credited either as producer or arranger and sometimes songwriter on the recordings by those artists. I've embedded several You Tube clips through the years of songs that Ray helped create behind the scenes and almost all of them came from that early to mid '60s time period.

In this blog entry, though, we're celebrating the Golden Anniversary of "Bubble Gum the Bubble Dancer"...and just who is that you might be asking!!? Bubble Gum...well, she's an exotic bubble dancer for one thing...and for another she causes fits of passion amongst the locals at a night club. Historically speaking, though, this novelty recording came several years prior to the official creation of what's referred to as bubble gum in pop music (a sound that's easy on the ears, heavily inspired for mass appeal, and lyrically sweet as, you guessed it...bubble gum.). In other words, 'bubble gum', though an official sub-genre of pop music, is mostly used as a derogatory phrase by those that prefer hard-rocking, hard-driving music.

Ray's song is quite the's not exactly 'bubble gum' due to the music creating a bluesy, night club feel and as much as it's irresistible to claim that the song predicted the bubble gum era, I won't make such a claim...but I will say that the song's title is clever and it's one of his great undiscovered gems. Those that see this song title on compilation albums issued on Ray Stevens may think the song is about the bubble gum era in pop music but it really has nothing to do with it.

As mentioned, the song has appeared on several compilations...obviously on the releases administered by Mercury Records and it's subsidiaries. I have the commercial single in my has a cream colored paper sleeve and two asterisks on either side of "Bubble Gum the Bubble Dancer" title to indicate it's the A-side of the single. The B-side is a haunting tale of infidelity and madness called "Laughing Over My Grave". I often provide links to that particular song around Halloween time.

In the United Kingdom this LP, according to several music sites, became available during the bubble gum music era of the late '60s. I had never seen any references to this collection on any music sights until several years ago (when Amazon and other on-line music sites started using this particular image as a promo for an Mp3 release in 2010 titled, you guessed it: The Best of Ray Stevens) and so I don't really know the true origins of this particular project or it's illustration but judging by it's art design it looks as if it had been released in the late '60s. If anyone out there can positively state that the project below had been originally issued in the UK in vinyl format in the late '60s let us all know. I like being accurate (everyone that reads this blog should know that by now).

But as you can see from it's title, it highlighted "Bubble Gum the Bubble Dancer" specifically...complete with a crude illustration of a lady that I don't assume could successfully audition at becoming a bubble dancer but obviously the illustrated rendering is meant to focus on her bubble gum bubbles rather than anything else. The catalog number for the project is Mercury-6335087. If you Google the album title and it's catalog number you'll also discover that there happens to be two separate releases, one with 11 songs and another with 13, but the catalog number and title of the project is the same. In 1967 Mercury issued it's first of several compilations titled The Best of Ray Stevens. On the 1967 collection it included for the first time on LP the previously single-only releases of "Butch Babarian", "Santa Claus Is Watching You", and "Bubble Gum the Bubble Dancer" and so that indicates that the project I just got through discussing was released after 1967. The 1967 LP would see a couple of arrived in 1970 and another re-issue came much later in 1987. The 1967 release featured a performance of "Ahab the Arab" with an introduction by Ralph Emery and I believe it's from the local mid-morning/afternoon pop music program that Ralph hosted. This recording appears on each of the re-releases, too.

The songs from his first two studio LP's for Mercury (released in 1962 and 1963) would find themselves being re-issued and re-packaged on numerous compilations in America and internationally throughout the rest of the '60s, all of the '70s, and into the late '80s before reaching somewhat of a peak in the early '90s as music conglomeration and consolidation, I suspect, splintered the ownership of a lot of his earlier recordings.

At the time of the single's original release 50 years ago in 1964 it came with a picture sleeve. The image used of Ray is a bit younger, had been used as a publicity picture for a number of years prior to this release. I think it dates back to his years on Capitol Records in the late '50s (his hair is still in the slick back style). Regardless of it's origin it's an image that had been around prior to it's use on this picture sleeve. The single didn't reach the pop charts...neither the A or B side...and a lot of it most certainly has to do with radio politics, music industry politics, a lackluster promotional campaign, and a British invasion of music acts that pretty much erased the Top-40 and most of the Hot 100 of American-born music acts (The Beatles made their historic debut on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964 and in April made history by claiming the Top-5 slots on the Hot 100 Pop singles chart). Those that survived the Invasion had to adapt to the sounds of The Beatles and the acts that came in their foot steps, either reluctantly or happily adapt, or else face sudden career failure. I say that but then I also say that some acts continued to survive by going their own way and adapting to the 'singer-songwriter' movement taking place in pop music, set in motion largely by The Beatles. Ray Stevens, as we all know, had long been the writer of his songs and so he fit in rather nicely with the wave of singer-songwriter acts that started to pop up in the mid and late '60s.

I suppose everyone knows what a bubble dancer is. I didn't spend any time on the subject because it should be self explanatory. If you know the role of a bubble dancer, "Bubble Gum the Bubble Dancer" could create the illusion of a nude dancer on stage using a large bubble made of gum to conceal herself and tease/torment the audience. Now, with Bubble Gum turning 50 this year it begs the asking of a certain she still shaking it around or has her bubbles burst by going sugarless in this health fanatic era?

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