An early New Year's Eve hello to all the fans of Ray Stevens!! As has become the tradition each year I speculate and opine on things to come in the new year as far as the career of Ray Stevens is concerned. Here's hoping that 2015 is the year a couple of much-anticipated projects see the light of day: a Bluegrass CD, a novelty song CD, and Volume Two of the Gospel Collection. If the follow-up to the gospel CD is to be in the near future I assume it'll arrive around Easter but that's just my guess because for all we know Ray could issue Volume Two this coming January...but that doesn't seem likely. Ray has also, at various times throughout 2014, mentioned that he's also working on a CD of non-political comedy songs.
A lot of us Ray Stevens fans have been aware of a future Bluegrass project from Ray...he's made mention of the project several times over the years (!) and as mentioned in the above greeting here's hoping the project gets a release in 2015. I believe it was early 2013 or it may have been in late 2013 when Ray appeared as a guest on the Grand Ole Opry and made mention of an upcoming Bluegrass project and performed "Pretty Woman" in a Bluegrass arrangement. His music video of "Unchained Melody", in Bluegrass-style, is also a song that's to be on this anticipated release. In early interviews he stated that the CD's title is Melancholy Fescue...but it's hard to tell if that's going to remain the official title or if it's just the working title.
Checking the anniversary calendar for 2015 there's several big projects that reach a milestone this coming year.
First and most importantly is Ray Stevens reaching 76 next month on January 24th.
Starting things off...reaching 45 in 2015 is Ray's monster hit from 1970, "Everything is Beautiful". The single re-defined 'Ray Stevens' in the eyes of the buying public. Even though Ray had long displayed his serious side on many albums and single releases since the late '50s, "Everything is Beautiful" cemented his image as a pop vocalist and pretty much all of Ray's single releases during the 1970s were non-comical (exceptions included a novelty single late in 1970, a comedy LP in 1974, and a couple of out of the blue novelty releases later on that decade). Also, Ray had a major boost in his career thanks to consistent exposure on television. He'd become one of the recurring guests on Andy Williams' television program in 1969...Ray was named the host of Andy's summer program in 1970...and Ray remained a frequent guest on Andy's program through 1971. "Everything is Beautiful" became the summer television program's theme song/music. In America the single had hit #1 for 2 weeks on the pop chart and #1 for 3 weeks on the Adult-Contemporary chart (spanning the months of late May through late June 1970). The single entered the Hot 100 in April 1970 and by it's 9th week it took control of the #1 spot. It vanished from the pop chart after it's 15th chart week but it continued to appear on several international charts. Ironically, the single had it's biggest impact just prior to Ray taking over Andy's television program in late June. The single had already left the Top-10 portion of the pop chart by the time the first episode of Ray's summer program aired. Nevertheless, the exposure of the song each week (theme music) helped sales of the album, Everything is Beautiful, and the single continued to register sales even after the song became a recurrent. The 1970 album hit the Top-40 half of the Billboard 200 in July...the title track and "A Brighter Day" are the only self-written songs on the album. The rest of the recordings are Ray's versions of contemporary pop songs of the era. The summer television program ran from June 20 to August 8.
Other single/album releases from 1970 that are turning 45 in 2015 are: "America, Communicate with Me" and "Sunset Strip", both from Ray's album, Unreal!!!. Each single reached the Top-10 on the Adult-Contemporary chart...but their impact on pop music listeners/consumers didn't duplicate the smashing success of "Everything is Beautiful" (pop music consumers then, much like today, are traditionally the under-40 audience...the advertiser targeted 18-34 age group).
Oh, before I forget...Andy owned the Barnaby Records label that Ray recorded for during the first half of the 1970s (1970-1975) and Andy's brother, Don, was Ray's manager for many, many years.
Here's a performance of "Everything is Beautiful" from that very summer television program in 1970 as hosted by Ray Stevens...
In December 1970 "Bridget the Midget the Queen of the Blues" hit the music scene. Oh yes, amidst the angst, protest, and unrest of 1970 Ray Stevens hadn't lost his funny bone and this funny bit of comical mayhem emerged as a single. It had it's biggest impact in the early half of 1971...nevertheless, the novelty single entered the charts in late December 1970 so it, too, reaches 45 in 2015.
Reaching 40 in 2015 is Misty. Released in 1975, the Misty album featured Ray's versions of several pop standards delivered in various original arrangements. The album, of course, is named for one of his single releases that year, "Misty". The single's arrangement (most notably piano, fiddle, and iconic steel guitar) earned Ray his second Grammy. Previously, "Misty" had been made popular by Johnny Mathis. His recording featured a much more slower vocal and even slower music. Prior to that, one of the song's composers, Erroll Garner, had an instrumental recording on the market. Johnny Burke wrote lyrics to Erroll's music. Ray turned the song around and gave it an up-tempo, Bluegrass-flavored presentation. This jolt in music arrangement for a song popularly known as a slow ballad sums up the Misty album. The songs that Ray covers are arranged in the opposite of what's popularly familiar. "Misty" became a Top-5 country music hit, a Top-20 pop hit, and a Top-10 hit internationally (music surveys published in Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, and Austria ranked the song in their Top-10). In addition to "Misty", other single releases from the album include: "Indian Love Call" and "Young Love". Ray included 2 original songs on the album, among the cover songs: The self-written "Sunshine" is a toe-tapping sing-a-long and then there's the romantic "Take Care of Business". It's been said in several publications that the song's writer, Layng Martine, Jr., sought inspiration for it's title by the popular hook line in Ray's 1968 hit "Mr. Businessman". Aside from those similarities there's nothing else in common between the songs. Ray's versions of "Lady of Spain", "Deep Purple", and "Cow-Cow Boogie" are great, too!
Stand back or else risk getting run over by Coy...oh yes, 2015 will mark the 35th anniversary of "The Shriner's Convention", commercially released in early 1980.
One of Ray's Gold albums, I Have Returned, turns 30 in 2015. The album hit the market in the latter half of 1985 and ultimately climbed to #1 in early 1986 on the Billboard Country Album chart. Single releases from that project included: "The Haircut Song", "The Blue Cyclone", and the seasonal "Santa Claus is Watching You". The re-recording of "Santa Claus is Watching You" became Ray's first music video (for more information on that song see my 2014 Christmas day blog post in the archives).
A couple of other recordings from that 1985 album have become popular amongst fans of Ray Stevens and have since been immortalized in music video form: "Hugo the Human Cannonball" and "The Pirate Song". Strangely enough "Kiss a Pig" nor "Punk Country Love" have entered music video territory...but the two songs are hysterical in their own kind of way.
Turning 20 in 2015 is Ray's 1995 direct-to-home video movie, Get Serious!!. This home video movie became the third best selling video project for Ray Stevens during the 1990s (following 1992's Comedy Video Classics and 1993's Ray Stevens Live!). Since the home videos were sold through direct marketing during their initial availability the titles weren't eligible to enter the Billboard sales charts (no retail availability). The 1992 home video entered the Billboard video chart in May of 1992, several months after it's explosive run on television. Get Serious!! seen a retail release in late 1996 (almost a full year after it's direct marketing campaign began) and it entered the Billboard video chart in January 1997 and it remained among the top selling home videos through the fall of 1997.
And so, here's to an upcoming new year...and here's hoping that it'll be filled with a lot of Ray Stevens music!!