September 2, 2015

Ray Stevens: The Elusive Ten...

Hello to all the fans of Ray Stevens! September is here and for those that took advantage of the half-price sale of Ray's Such a Night DVD (sale ended yesterday), good for you. I'm sure it and or other items are going to be on sale in a couple of months as the Christmas season begins but perhaps not at such a steep discount as the one that just ended. By that time could it be possible that the long-awaited Volume 2 of his gospel recordings might be available?

I don't, of course, have any idea about the contracts and other things that go on in Ray's business life but I'd like to hear the remaining songs from those gospel recording some point.

The reason I bring it up is because during the publicity and promotion for the Ray Stevens Gospel Collection, Volume One CD Ray often remarked that he'd recorded more than 20 songs and the first 10 appear on the Volume One CD and the other batch of songs are going to appear on Volume Two. The gospel CD hit the market on August 19, 2014 and so, given that it's been more than a year, could it very well be possible that the follow-up is right around the corner?

Getting to the heart of this particular blog entry I'm bringing attention to a series of LP's in the career of Ray Stevens that have, to date, remained exclusive to vinyl, cassette, and 8-track format in an era of CD, digital downloads, and other technological inventions. As a result of the LP's not being available in a contemporary format there's a chance that some of his fans may want to track these albums down on internet auction sites to hear what they've been missing.

There's proof via social network commentary that a lot of Ray's younger and or newest fans discovered his music by accident given the lack of mainstream publicity on radio/television...therefore these newer fans of his are more often than not only familiar with Ray for whatever video clip they discovered on YouTube from him. This fan created blog is designed to spotlight his career, from all time periods, for those that have discovered him on YouTube but may not know much at all about his music.

In keeping with that goal here is a list of 10 studio albums from Ray Stevens that have never been available on CD or Mp3...

1. Have a Little Talk with Myself; 1969 Monument Records-  This is one of Ray's cover albums. In this collection he delivers the hits originally recorded by the likes of The 5th Dimension, Blood, Sweat, and Tears, The Beatles, Bob Dylan...a varied collection of pop music artists and groups. There are three original songs among the covers...first there's "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" from the pen of Kris Kristofferson. Ray recorded this song before Johnny Cash...but it's Johnny that ended up having the big hit single on it. Ray's recording afforded him the chance to appear on the Country music singles chart for the first time in his career...both here in America and in Canada. The other original song is "The Little Woman", a tale of fidelity and devotion. The third original song is the album's title track...the inspirational tale of attitude correction and prioritizing one's life. The title track also reached the country singles chart. The cover songs include "Help", "Aquarius", "Hey Jude", "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight", and "Hair" among others. The highlight among those being "Hair"...the production and time put into making the record sound almost exactly like the original by the cast of the musical, Hair, is a testament to his genius in the recording studio. The entire LP is incredible. It's a travesty it's never been issued on CD/Mp3.

2. Losin' Streak; 1973 Barnaby Records- For whatever reason this LP didn't see a re-issue from Collectible's Records even though the company re-issued the other studio albums Ray recorded for Barnaby (1970-1975). It still remains a mystery as to the reason it was skipped over. The title track appeared as a single release but it never charted. One of the tracks, "Inside", found itself as the B-side of several single releases from Ray in this era. There's an instrumental on here called "Laid Back". My favorites are "Golden Age", "This is Your Life", and "Idaho Wine". Physically, this is the first album of his to show him having a beard. Typically clean-shaven for photo sessions the beard didn't become a physical fixture until around 1978 or so. If anybody has a clean-shaven photo of Ray from the 1980s, 1990s, or even this decade I'd love to see it! I doubt any exist.

3. Just For The Record; 1976 Warner Brothers- Ray's debut on a different label after 5 years at Barnaby. The music he recorded on this album, country-pop, fit in nicely among the other songs on country radio and he enjoyed a pair of Top-30 country music hits in the process... "You Are So Beautiful" and "Honky Tonk Waltz". A non-album single, "In the Mood", hit in December of 1976 and it became a novelty hit in the early part of 1977 in America, Canada, and in the United Kingdom. The single, clucked like a choir of chickens and initially released as The Henhouse Five Plus Too, is one of those rare instances of a single hitting the market out of the blue without any advanced publicity to speak of. It never appeared on any LP but the label promoted the single, heavily, to pop music markets and it became an international Top-40 hit. It's long been said by historians that being primarily a West Coast music company, Warner Brothers didn't necessarily know how to market to country music outlets (especially the southern markets in the Eastern portion of the United States). Also, the label hadn't been in the business of marketing music for too long. Legendary country music artist Buck Owens, also signed to the label around the same time, seen a dramatic drop in his album sales, too, compared to his previous albums for Capitol. In fact, Buck's first 2 studio albums for Warner Brothers never even appeared on the sales charts. Ironically, this Ray Stevens album happened to be a success, however...

4. Feel the Music; 1977 Warner Brothers- For this album Ray penned 9 of the 10 songs! He also, as usual, produced and arranged the music from his own recording studio and contributed his musical prowess on keyboards/piano. Unfortunately the extreme lack of publicity for the LP caused it to literally anchor the Top-50 album chart during an all too brief visit. The label's continued publicity for "In the Mood" may have also hurt this album's potential (commercially speaking, of course). The number of positions on the Country album chart at the time happened to be 50. Even though, by comparison, one of the single releases from the LP titled "Dixie Hummingbird", managed to peak just outside the radio-oriented Top-40 portion of the Country singles chart; however, the funky audio sound effects in "Get Crazy With Me" and it being marketed to country music outlets as it was, well, obviously, the song seen resistance from programmers unwilling to add it. One gets the sense that there wasn't any clear direction, from a label stand-point, as to which way to market his music. He remained just as popular as ever on tour but clearly the label's inability to market/promote his records properly certainly must have caused strained relations...

5. There Is Something On Your Mind; 1978 Warner Brothers- This is a covers album featuring Ray paying tribute to classic rhythm and blues artists and groups. The album is one of his most personal given that he supplied his own liner notes (a rarity) and discussed, song by song, his thoughts and opinions about each of the songs and how he became familiar with them during his child-hood/teenage years. It's a marvelous collection but it never reached the album charts and no song became a single release...almost as if it's a ghost album that existed at one time but yet there's no trace of it's existence in music trade publications. I've yet to come across any article in Billboard from 1978 (via Google archive research) to mention the LP in any write-up or any promo ad from Warner Brothers. If anybody has any publicity about the LP let me know! I've got the LP in my collection but as a fan I like seeing advertisements/publicity for Ray's music at the time it originally surfaced.

6. Be Your Own Best Friend; 1978 Warner Brothers- This is the fourth and final studio album Ray recorded for the label. Surprisingly the album received publicity in a more traditional sense by appearing in a large print ad in Billboard. The album never reached the charts but the title track became a Top-40 country music hit in America and a Top-20 country music hit in Canada. In Canada it happened to be a fairly decent hit...peaking in the Top-20 on October 14, 1978 (after leaping from the lower half of the Top-40 a week earlier). It can be said that the single peaked too soon because, for a Top-20 hit single, it was only among the Top-20 for one week before falling back into the upper Top-30. One also could say the single either had massive sales spikes or enormous airplay during an 8 week period (September 9, 1978-October 28, 1978).

1979's release, The Feeling's Not Right Again, is a compilation album consisting of 9 songs taken from Ray's previous LP's for Warner Brothers and one brand new song, the satirical "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". That particular single, chart-wise, is his biggest single release for the label. It charted country (ironically enough) and it peaked in the Top-50 on the Hot 100 pop chart but more ironically is it's performance on Adult-Contemporary/Easy-Listening radio (the format ruled largely by Barry Manilow during the latter half of the 1970s). The single peaked just outside the Top-10 on Billboard's Adult-Contemporary chart. The single reinforced his reputation as a novelty artist, though. His biggest selling hits for the label happened to be this and 1977's "In the Mood". Not long after the success of "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" Ray quietly left Warner Brothers and joined the roster of RCA Records. His move to RCA took place in the latter half of 1979...and publicity surrounding his arrival appeared in Billboard that same year. The blurb mentioned that he'd soon be in the studio to start working on his debut for the label.

7.  Shriner's Convention; 1980 RCA- This is Ray's debut album for the RCA label and it's an all-comedy project. It marked the first all-comedy album from Ray in 6 years (his previous being the 1974 album spotlighting "The Streak"). This album also reached the Top-10 on the Country album chart...a major success in both sales and publicity. It's big hit, "Shriner's Convention", also became a Top-10 hit on the country music singles chart. The album contained another single release, "Hey There", but it never charted. The title track and "The Dooright Family" have consistently appeared on numerous compilation albums released by RCA and their family of labels.

8. One More Last Chance; 1981 RCA- Like the other LP's this one is also unavailable on CD and Mp3. This collection of songs are meant to compliment the Urban Cowboy craze that had been sweeping the nation for the last couple of years. Even though Ray's previous LP happened to be a Top-10, all-comedy smash hit he immediately began to work on this album. In fact, during a couple of print interviews that surfaced in newspapers at the time of the album and single's success, Ray defiantly took the stance of distancing himself from comedy as soon as possible so he could get back to serious recordings once more. The album's first single, "Night Games", appeared in the latter half of 1980 and it climbed into the Top-20 on the country singles chart in America...but at the time there happened to be no LP in the stores featuring the single and so it remained a single-only release until this album appeared in 1981. In a show of the times Ray is decked out in western attire and on the back of the album he's wearing a cowboy hat. "Night Games" did even better in Canada...peaking 9 positions higher than it's peak position in America. The album's title track reached the country singles Top-40.

9. Don't Laugh Now; 1982 RCA- Ray's third studio album for the label carries a bit more Rhythm and Blues and pop-country than the previous collection as the opening track, "Such a Night", clearly demonstrates. This album didn't reach the charts (neither did the 1981 LP) but it contained a Top-40 country hit in "Written Down in My Heart" and a gospel-tinged novelty single titled "Where The Sun Don't Shine", which also reached the country chart. In contrast to the 1981 LP, this one carried a much more uptempo feel and an optimistic one. Most of the songs on the 1981 LP happened to be ballads and the feel of the collection had an overall melancholy flavor in spite of several rousing uptempo songs. For the 1982 LP there's the fair share of ballads but not all of them are slow ballads...a couple of them are mid-tempo, actually, such as "Country Boy, Country Club Girl" and "Oh Leo Lady" and then there's "Why Don't We Go Somewhere and Make Love". Even though it's a romantic ballad the chorus picks the song up delivering an easy-listening sing-a-long. The only slow ballad is "This Old Piano" close second is the title track.

10. Me; 1983 Mercury-  Lastly there's this 1983 studio album on Mercury Records...the label that made Ray Stevens a recording star in the early '60s. This time around Ray delivered an album of songs mostly self-written but like his last 2 studio albums for RCA this one didn't make the charts, either. It did contain one single that reached the country charts...the majestic "My Dad", from the pen of Dale Gonyea (the one that wrote "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow"). The LP didn't receive much publicity and beyond the brief chart run of "My Dad" it didn't get much notice except for an extremely rare promo by Ray Stevens on an episode of The Fall Guy titled 'The Pirates of Nashville'. In that episode Ray plays a character named Covington, a country music artist estranged from his son. There's a performance of one of the songs from the album at the end of the episode but there's no mention of the album's existence or anything. The album hit in the last half of 1983 and the single releases didn't arrive until 1984. "My Dad", "Love Will Beat Your Brains Out", "Mary Lou Nights", "Game Show Love", "Me", and "A Piece of Paradise Called Tennessee" appeared on single releases from Mercury throughout the first half of 1984. Once his contract expired Ray set his attention on MCA Records and an incredible run of commercially successful albums and singles soon followed.

And there you have it! Those 10 studio albums have never seen a re-issue of any kind on CD or Mp3. Some may say it has to do with the lack of major hit recordings contained on those albums....some may say the albums themselves aren't worthy of re-issue...and some may say the albums had no commercial value then so why would there be any audience all these years later. I think there's an audience...a built-in audience of fans that are familiar with his songs but hadn't actually heard the various styles of music those albums represent because the complete studio albums are hard to come by and if found can only be heard on vinyl or cassette tape.

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