March 10, 2014

Ray Stevens...a Barry 35th...

35 years ago...March be specific the week of March 24, 1979...Ray Stevens entered the Hot 100 pop chart with a brand new recording, "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". The song, written by Dale Gonyea, can be seen as a parody, a satire, a spoof, or some may take it as a tribute...nevertheless, it became a 'surprise hit' to a lot of people in the spring and summer of 1979. I first heard this song on 1987's Greatest Hits, Volume Two on MCA Records. That particular release is the one that features Ray as the baseball player on the album's cover. I immediately loved the song upon hearing it...entirely clueless as to who Barry Manilow happened to be. Raised on country music I never became familiar with Barry's actual recordings until the early/mid 1990s when I started to purchase some of the CD's that I came across at the local store. I had wanted to hear for myself the singer that Ray sang about. Once I heard "I Write the Songs" and seen a lot of the titles of songs on several of Barry's Greatest Hits collections I started loving "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" even more than I already did. The thing that attracted me to the song, aside from it being RAY STEVENS of course, is the arrangement/music structure. I loved that sound so much that I actually became something of a fan of Barry's thanks largely to Ray's 1979 hit song...which perhaps wasn't originally meant to have such a positive effect and have the potential to create fans for Barry...but, yet, in my case that's exactly what happened. Later on, once I heard "Copacabana", I found out who Lola happened to be...Ray mentions that name in his 1979 hit. As you can see, the marketing department at Warner Brothers really got into the promotion and publicity of this single...designing the picture sleeve of Ray's single to look identical to Barry's second studio LP.

The similarities didn't stop there...Ray's 1979 album The Feeling's Not Right Again is pretty much identical in design/cover art of Barry's 1975 album of a similar title, Trying To Get the Feeling. The ironic thing is, excluding the "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" hit single, the rest of Ray's 1979 album is a Best-of collection. The remainder of the LP is filled out with selected album songs, and a couple of single releases, lifted from three of Ray's previous four studio LP's for Warner Brothers (from the years 1976, 1977, and 1978). "Get Crazy with Me" is track 2 on the 1979 album. It originally was issued as a single in 1977, from the Feel the Music album...and by the way, "Feel the Music" is found on this 1979 album, too. The title track of one of his 1978 albums, "Be Your Own Best Friend", closes out the 10 song LP. It had been issued as a single in 1978 and reached the Top-20 on Canada's country music chart and the Top-40 country chart here in America. In fact, of the 10 songs on the 1979 album, 5 of them come from his 1978 Be Your Own Best Friend album. 2 songs come from the 1976 Just For the Record album ("OM" and "Gimme a Smile").

So, if we break it down, here's what we have: two songs from 1976, two songs from 1977, five songs from 1978, and the lead-off 1979 release, "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow".

The catalog number for the single is WBS-8785. It's b-side, the Ray Stevens-penned "Daydream Romance", comes from 1977's Feel the Music album. On some releases the label credits 1979 on both sides of the single...especially on the larger 33 1/3 single release and the UK export. The 45-RPM single released in America accurately credits the A-side as 1979 and the B-side as 1977.

There are several nostalgic items from 1979 centered around this particular single. One of the items is a 1979 issue of Country Song Roundup that features an interview with Ray for an article called Help Me, Ray Stevens. I prefer that article...I have that issue in my collection...I purchased it on eBay in early 2000s. There also happens to be another 1979 article about the single in the pages of People magazine (a May 1979 issue). The story can be seen on-line but it contains a couple of factual errors (proclaiming his 1975 single, "Misty", to be his last hit prior to 1979's Manilow parody; another error is the intimation that his career had ceased to exist during that 4 year period between songs).

The truth is, Ray's career and song releases had simply moved over to country radio and into country music-oriented programming...he didn't "vanish" and his career certainly didn't cease to exist. It continued to thrive as the '70s continued on.

The song debuted on the Hot 100 pop chart on March 24, 1979 and made it's way into the Top-50 during an 8 week run. Music industry politics, no doubt, played a factor in the single not going higher than it did on the Hot 100. A week later, on March 31, 1979, the single debuted on the Adult-Contemporary chart. It's on this particular chart and radio format that the single achieved it's greatest success (reaching the Top-15 during a healthy 13 week chart run). This is something of an irony if you consider that in 1979 Barry Manilow was certainly the king, or at least one of the kings, of soft-rock and the master of the power ballad...and here was a song that had fun with that very sound...and so, as mentioned at the start of this blog entry, some may have taken this as a tribute of sorts to Barry (rather than see it as a parody).

For whatever reason, Warner Brothers decided to issue the song to country radio, too. A song about a megastar in pop/Adult-Contemporary music gets released to a radio format that doesn't even play that artist. It doesn't make much business sense but nevertheless it happened. The single, unbelievably, made the country charts in April 1979 largely, I assume, on the strength of sales and the publicity it generated on country music programs that Ray appeared on. It had a brief 3 week stay on the country music chart that month (it peaked in the much lower half of the then 100 position country single chart). It debuted on the April 14, 1979 chart and was in it's third and final week on the April 28th chart. The only time I've seen Ray perform the song is on a 1979 television special called Nashville Salutes America. It was released on DVD in 2005. Jerry Reed hosted the special and a lot of artists appeared on it performing their latest or their biggest hits...and Ray performed "Freddie Feelgood" and then spoke about his then-current single titled "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" before launching into it. Laughter greeted the narrative part of the song where Ray lists several Manilow song titles in a one sided conversation with a woman named "Mandy".

And that's some of the information on "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow"...a very funny song from Ray Stevens that made it's chart debut 35 years ago this month!

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