March 18, 2014

Ray Stevens from Cover to Cover...

In a previous blog entry I remarked that a lot of compilation projects on Ray Stevens have been issued in some format or another throughout the latter half of the '60s and running non-stop through the mid '90s. A lot of those compilations were not under Ray's control...once an artist records songs for a label, the label in return takes ownership of those recordings and the distribution rights. It gets even more confusing and complex if a label is bought out or merges with another company or if the label gives distribution rights to a second, third, or fourth party...that sort of thing can create a scenario of multiple record labels issuing compilation albums of the same songs, just in different sequential order, and usually with varying audio quality, too. If I remember it correctly from some things I've read through the years, if the singer happens to be the song's writer or it's publisher then that artist owns the rights of the written 'song' (lyrics and music) but not the actual recording of that song (the recording is owned by the label). Having said that, if a singer is the song's writer but the publisher is someone else then it's said that the writer/artist and the publisher share ownership of the song but the recording is still under control by whatever label the artist recorded it for.

Ray Stevens is one of the pioneers, in my opinion, of savvy music sense. As soon as he as able he began to publish the songs he wrote and he began publishing pretty much every song he happened to record because he learned that the publisher had the most lucrative career. Every so often he'll record songs that aren't tied to his publishing house but those are exceptions to the norm...typically he records songs he's either written, co-written, or have been submitted to him by a core of songwriters that work in his publishing company. He produces his recording sessions from his own recording studio and arranges the music on the songs that he chooses to record and has long been the piano/keyboard/synthesizer extraordinaire of his albums (he'll occasionally play the trumpet, vibraphone, or other instruments but mostly he sticks with instruments in the piano family). On some of his albums (specifically the late '80s/early '90s) he handed over the piano duties to a musician named Gary Prim (if you look at the musician credits you'll see his name) but Ray was still credited for the keyboard and synthesizer contributions of those albums.

This 1992 compilation is exclusively Mercury Records oriented. It features 12 songs that Ray recorded during the years of 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, and 1983. The catalog number is 838 169-2 and this CD more or less combines 8 recordings found on some earlier compilation releases in 1989 (also on Mercury) and adds in 4 additional recordings he did for Mercury to give the CD a total of 12 tracks. One of the oddities is the inclusion of a couple of early '80s recordings he did for the label. I say they're oddities strictly due to the fact that the 10 other Mercury recordings all come from the early '60s time period and his voice, by 1983, had deepened, mellowed and matured dramatically between the years of 1964 and 1983. For those curious, Ray had recorded three studio albums for RCA (1980, 1981, and 1982) after having signed to the label in the latter half of 1979. In addition to those 3 studio albums, RCA issued a Greatest Hits package on Ray in 1983. Later on that year Ray found himself at Mercury Records of all places...the label that made him a recording star in the early '60s...and he ended up recording one studio album for Mercury in 1983 titled, Me. From that 1983 album comes 2 of the songs on this otherwise exclusively early '60s track list: "My Dad" and "Game Show Love". The timeline for the publicity of the 1983 album got underway late in the year and much of it's publicity peaked sometime in mid 1984. After concluding his one year stay at Mercury he joined MCA almost immediately and by the end of 1984 he had refocused his career into country comedy and from that point forward he's marketed himself almost exclusively as a comedy/novelty act (something he had resisted doing for many years until he could resist no longer). The 12 tracks on that CD are listed below:

1. Ahab the Arab; 1962
2. Furthermore; 1962
3. Funny Man; 1963
4. The Deodorant Song; 1963
5. Harry the Hairy Ape; 1963
6. Just One of Life's Little Tragedies; 1963
7. Speed Ball; 1963
8. Bubble Gum the Bubble Dancer; 1964
9. My Dad; 1983
10. Jeremiah Peabody's Green and Purple Pills; 1961
11. The Rock and Roll Show; 1962
12. Game Show Love; 1983

I mentioned earlier that the songs on that 1992 CD had appeared on a compilation release from Mercury in 1989. The label issued 2 separate collections in 1989, each consisting of the same songs and the same image of Ray, but under different titles: One release is titled Funny Man and the other is titled Ahab the Arab. The project happened to be released under the Polygram Records imprint...a subsidiary of Mercury Records...and there are 8 songs altogether. The catalog number for the 1989 pressing titled Ahab the Arab is 838 169-4 (note it's similarity to the 1992 catalog number). The 8 songs on those 1989 collections are:

1. Ahab the Arab
2. Furthermore
3. Funny Man
4. The Deodorant Song
5. Harry the Hairy Ape
6. Just One of Life's Little Tragedies
7. Speed Ball
8. Bubble Gum the Bubble Dancer

As you can see, 1992's CD simply took the 8 songs from the 1989 compilation and tacked on 4 additional songs to give it 12 tracks altogether.

As I've mentioned in other blog entries, a 1970 release called The Best of Ray Stevens on Mercury Records, introduced me to Ray's early '60s recordings. I came across a cassette copy at some point in the early '90s just as I was slowly but surely putting together my Ray Stevens music collection. I then came across this cassette and seen a couple of song titles new to me: "The Deodorant Song" and "Just One of Life's Little Tragedies". I also seen "Furthermore" listed. At the time I was familiar with Ray's 1984 recording and before listening to the 1989 tape I assumed I'd be hearing the 1984 recording...what a jolt to hear the song in it's original, high octane 1962 presentation...completely unlike the bluesy 1984 rendition. I had so much more to learn about Ray's recordings that it's embarrassing to think back on what little I knew!! This is back in the days before the internet became the giant that it is today...long before video hosting sites, Mp3's, social media sites, and on-line stores and auction sites, etc. etc. In those days a person had to rely on looking through flea markets and yard sales and garage sales (in person) in order to find vinyl albums and vinyl singles or visiting book stores (in person) in the hopes of perhaps coming across reference material of some kind. The 1989 compilation titled Funny Man looks exactly the same...and the songs are in the exact order, too...

There's never been a reason given for the separate releases...each has the same catalog number, it's like the same item but under a different title. My guess is Mercury may have released the Funny Man compilation tie it in with Ray's reputation with the general public. Then the label could have re-issued it as Ahab the tie it in with Ray's first big hit and potentially create more sales. Then there's the possibility that Mercury/Polygram issued it as Funny Man in certain parts of America and under the alternate title in other parts of America. I've never come across any explanation as to the reason behind the 2 nearly identical projects and so those are only my theories. The 1992 CD I mentioned earlier essentially wiped out the need for either of these 1989 releases but if you have them both they may become of value to some future fan of Ray Stevens. Some might find it baffling as to the reason Mercury issued the same 8 song collection during the same year, using the same image of Ray, the same catalog number, but utilized different titles. They may also be of value to a completest intrigued by the oddity/obscurity of those 1989 Mercury releases.

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