September 9, 2015

Ray Stevens: All-Time Hits...

As I often do I highlight compilation albums issued on Ray Stevens...some I've got in my collection and some I find posted on-line most typically listed on auction sites that I feel the need to comment about or promote through this fan-created blog page.

All-Time Hits is one of those misleading titles that many record companies place on compilation albums. The basic reason is to grab a consumer's eyes...and then once their attention's been obtained the next thing some, not all, but some consumers do is look at the album's photo/picture of the artist. Then the consumer, in the vinyl era, more than likely would flip the album over and read the song selections. Usually a different photo of the artist appeared on the back of the album...a kind of exclusive photo for those that purchased the album. Promos and ads rarely gave the back of album's much, if any, exposure and so a lot of fans that didn't purchase vinyl albums (preferring singles) weren't aware of the practice of having the main publicity photo of the artist on the front of the album and then a secondary photo on the reverse side.

One of the recurring concepts of compilation albums labeled either Greatest Hits, The Very Best of, or All-Time Hits is the use of photos of the artist that, usually, do not match the era in which the bulk of the recordings took place. This is, of course, more common for artists that have had incredible longevity in the music business. Even though there a lot of artists from Ray's generation and those that came before him that have had a massive catalog of compilation albums issued on them I've noticed that the compilations issued on Ray have had some of the most misleading photo's accompanying a release.

This release, All-Time Hits, originated in 1996 in cassette format and featuring a minimum of just eight recordings it was marketed as a budget-priced release. Issued on Polygram Records, a subsidiary of Mercury Records, the eight recordings on the project happened to have been recorded by Ray during his stay at Mercury (1961-1965, 1983) and one song, oddly enough, from his RCA period (1980-1982). Of course not every recording during his Mercury or RCA stint are represented but 8 recordings are. The track list: "Ahab the Arab", "Harry the Hairy Ape", "Jeremiah Peabody's Green and Purple Pills", "My Dad", "Shriner's Convention", "Speed Ball", "Furthermore", and "Funny Man". Six of those recordings come from the early 1960s but the photo of Ray that's used from a much later era (perhaps from a photo session in 1983 during the making of his studio album that year). If one is not too familiar or conversant with all things Ray Stevens as some of us are you'd probably think that Ray looked like that during the recordings found on this collection but in reality he did not. On six of the eight recordings found here he looked like this...

A note to collectors is this 1996 compilation includes the original recordings of his early 1960s hits on Mercury. A lot of compilations use the Monument re-recordings but on this collection, since it's affiliated with Mercury, the original recordings are featured.

All-Time Hits is also available in CD format. Although a cassette is perfectly capable of holding a large amount of recordings only 8 appeared on the cassette copy. However, for the CD release, three songs were added. In a move to entice CD sales using the allure of "bonus tracks" the 11 track version of All-Time Hits incorporated 2 additional recordings from the early 1960s and one recording from 1981. The three bonus recordings are "Butch Babarian", "Santa Claus is Watching You", and "One More Last Chance". The reason, well, one of the reasons that I have both the cassette and CD releases is because of my desire, at the time, to have any Ray Stevens release that appeared in retail stores.

Secondly it's because I only had a cassette player at the time...I didn't have a CD player and I definitely didn't have a record player, yet. So, once I got a CD player I found All-Time Hits in CD format and purchased it...the allure being I didn't have any of those songs on CD format at the time. You could say I was slow at getting the latest listening devices. I'm still like that...I don't have an Ipod or Ipad or tablet or whatever the most recent listening device happens to be but I do purchase/download songs on Amazon if I choose to but ordinarily I prefer a CD copy.

The CD copy of All-Time Hits displaying all 11 tracks. The titles that have an asterisk to their left indicate the bonus songs found only on the CD. Considering how obscure Ray's 1983 studio album for Mercury happens to be it always puzzled me as to why only "My Dad" appeared on this compilation and nothing else from that album...instead choosing a couple of his RCA recordings to represent the early '80s period. Don't get me wrong, though...the inclusion of "One More Last Chance" is most certainly a welcome addition. Given that "My Dad" appears it's still a mystery as to why his 1983 studio album, Me, has never made it's debut on CD or even Mp3 yet. Polygram, the label that issued this in 1996, certainly had the capability of including songs from the 1983 album or else "My Dad" wouldn't have made an it's odd that they, nor Mercury itself, have ever thought to reissue Me. One thing about this collection that can't be said for other compilations issued on Ray Stevens is this one features single releases only. Every track on here found it's way onto the pop or country music charts. Usually the compilation releases included album tracks, chosen seemingly at random, along side the actual single releases. This practice raised awareness for a lot of recordings by Ray Stevens that were originally meant as album cuts.

Yes, this is the cassette copy...the one I purchased at the local Wal-Mart store back in 1996. It's still in excellent shape. I never handle cassettes, CD's, or vinyl singles and LP's in a rough manner or toss them around, etc. I guess the only strike against this collection is the lack of liner notes. I've become spoiled by the liner note concept that accompanies a lot of music collections even though, strangely enough, I never cared one way or another if something featured liner notes or not; but since I've gotten older and have seen a lot of liner notes and articles about Ray that are more fiction than fact it's becoming something of an interest of mine if a compilation features liner notes or not. The thing about liner notes is the subjective nature of the authors, which I don't mind, I'd be more offended to see negative criticisms...but the thing I'd noticed about liner notes is the passing of misinformation and the omission of information. Bios found on Ray omit the fact that Ray recorded an album for Mercury Records in 1983 and the label released several singles on him throughout the bulk of 1984 prior to his departure to MCA and his relaunch as a country comic. Liner notes often omit that Ray had more than a couple of hit recordings for RCA and Warner some liner notes only a couple of songs are highlighted during an entire 7 year time span (1976-1983) and this sort of lack of information does a disservice to any new fan of Ray's and it's maddening to long time fans that don't appreciate seeing his catalog of music go overlooked. So it's great if a CD has liner notes but it's also wise on the reader or the fan's part to do research for themselves, too. I was once a new fan of his...and my only exposure to his music happened to be what appeared on the CD's available in retail stores and the several cassette tapes originally owned by my grandparent's. If I remained content on just enjoying the songs on those projects I'd be missing out on a LOT of other great recordings from his career. Some prefer just to listen to a handful of recordings by him (recordings from the mid '80s primarily) and dismiss anything else he's recorded. 1987's Greatest Hits on MCA and Greatest Hits, Volume Two contain the recordings that are associated heavily with Ray...and therefore those compilations have gotten the most sales.

The liner notes for the Platinum 1987 album, however, doesn't mention that the recording of "Ahab the Arab" is from 1969. The author mentions the song was a hit in 1962...but this naturally suggests to a new fan that the recording they're hearing is from 1962. I didn't learn that the recording was from 1969 until some point in the 1990s...I had gotten the Mercury cassette titled Funny Man and heard his early '60s recordings for the very first time and that's how I heard "Ahab the Arab", the original recording, for the very first time. The cassette features a bearded Ray Stevens on the cover...looking nothing like he did in the early '60s...which fits in with the overall theme of this blog entry spotlighting compilation albums featuring misleading images of Ray on the cover.

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