July 3, 2016

Ray Stevens sings of America...

Hello to all the Ray Stevens fans out there. I hesitated, at first, to start my blog entry with one of the late Paul Harvey's catchphrases given this being 4th of July weekend but I didn't. Is it just me or does it feel a bit strange that a July 4th holiday falls on a Monday...it seems more at home on a Saturday or even a Sunday. It falling on a Monday, of course, extends the weekend for some people but not everyone.

Did anyone catch Ray Stevens on the Grand Ole Opry this past week, either in person or over the radio? He made a guest appearance during the final half hour portion back on Wednesday (June 29th) and sang several songs...he sang "Misty", "Safe at Home", and "The Streak". I listened to it on the radio as I made my way to my workplace.

He posted a video clip of his appearance and it's on his Facebook page. It isn't on YouTube. You can see the appearance by clicking HERE. Make sure you click the X next to the image of the speaker. For some reason the clip automatically starts playing in mute. You'll have to click the X to open up the speaker in order to hear the audio. I say that because there's going to be some people out there that click the video and wonder why they can't hear anything and then assume something's wrong with the upload.

This is just me but I prefer the YouTube style of embedded video clips that don't automatically start playing once they came into screen view. I prefer a person having to click the play arrow before a video begins to play but on Facebook, for some reason, if it isn't a video embed from YouTube then the video starts to automatically play when it comes in view...but on to the main theme of this blog entry...

Throughout the career of Ray Stevens he's recorded or performed several patriotic songs. If you're any kind of serious fan of Ray Stevens then you'll know that a majority of those America/patriotic songs have come within the last 6 years but if you take a glance at some of his albums over the decades you'll find some patriotic stand-alone songs hidden away on LP's. Can you guess what may have been Ray's first ever patriotic song? I'm sure he's recorded or wrote several that weren't released and so I'm only referring to songs that have been commercially released either on albums or as singles and in recent years, on-line video.

Independence Day, or the 4th of July, is largely a time of America celebration and of cook-outs and fireworks. Patriotic, pro-America songs are almost universally accepted as appropriate songs for July 4th. Although Ray has not recorded a song, to my knowledge, dealing in the actual events that led up to Independence Day (July 4, 1776) the fact remains that any song celebrating America's values and ideals or songs about the American flag are sort of lumped into the category of Independence Day songs even if they're not, technically, about the Revolutionary War.

During his involvement/association with Andy Williams (primarily 1969-1971) Ray performed several songs about America on Andy's television series and on the 1970 summer program that Ray hosted for Andy. Although the songs Ray performed were not necessarily dripping in pro-America fervor they were largely middle of the road and filled with the 'everyday person' point of view on the issues of the day (namely the Vietnam War) and they largely side-stepped the contempt and cynicism of the typical protest song of the era. The big song from Ray during this point in time dealing with the issues facing America is "America, Communicate with Me". It's such a great song...excellent recording...a lot of production went into it and it's a great middle of the road message decrying extreme points of view from both political parties and how the concept of one party trying to one-up the other is more or less going to be the nation's undoing.

The song attempted to bridge the gap between two extreme points of view raging on in America. Protests of the Vietnam War had began during the latter half of the Lyndon Johnson administration but it happened to be the Richard Nixon administration that felt the brunt of the protests, sit-in's, anti-war rallies, and the Assassinations of several political figures. Ray Stevens made mention of those assassinations in his recording...but didn't name the victims. As a listener we can safely assume that he's referring to John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr.. Due to the song not taking a strong stance either for or against the Nixon Administration or the Vietnam War it didn't receive a lot of positive publicity among the Top-40 audience and radio disc jockeys of the era. In fact it didn't really receive that much publicity in the printed press...most of it's exposure came via his television performances and the support from Adult-Contemporary radio stations across the country. On the Hot 100 pop chart the single peaked a couple notches short of the Top-40 portion...but the Adult-Contemporary chart (called Easy-Listening in 1970) ranked the song in their Top-20. The song originally could be found on his studio album, Unreal, in which several other topical, social-commentary songs existed: this single's B-side, "Monkey See, Monkey Do", "Can We Get To That", "Come Around", "Loving You on Paper", and "Talking".

A performance by Ray Stevens from his 1970 summer program...he's singing "Save the Country" and is joined by some of his cast-members (namely Mama Cass and Lulu) and then, solo, he sings "America, Communicate with Me"...

The next major recording that Ray did involving America and it's politics and policies came at the end of the 1980s in a stirring performance called "There's a Star Spangled Banner". This is another one of those hidden away songs because the 1989 album it appeared on, Beside Myself, is largely remembered by Ray Stevens fans for the comical songs "I Saw Elvis in a U.F.O.", "I Used to Be Crazy", and "The Woogie Boogie". The album itself presented a blend of serious and comical songs from Ray. Side One consisted of serious ballads and Side Two consisted of comical songs. "There's a Star Spangled Banner" tells the story of an American P.O.W  in Beirut and his optimism that he'll one day be free thanks to his faith in America, the meaning of the Flag, and our Military. Ray re-recorded "There's a Star Spangled Banner" during the Gulf War. The re-recorded version, keeping the same musical arrangement and chorus, features an entirely different set of verses. In the re-recorded version Ray sings about the American flag itself and describes, in song, various historical battles that have taken place. This special re-recording can be found on the 1991 compilation album from Curb Records titled Greatest Hits.

Ray returned to the American military theme for 2004's "Thank You". As you can tell from the year of release this patriotic song came during the early years of Operation Iraqi Freedom which got underway in early 2003 and it lasted until December 2011. Tied into the quest to at long last free Iraq from the Saddam Hussein regime on the belief he had an enormous supply of chemical/biological weapons that he would use on his people was Hussein's overall support of Terrorism (especially terrorism aimed at U.S. interests). The countries that support terrorists, largely in the Middle East, obviously became the target in the American-led coalition...but in the earliest months/years the prime target happened to be a fanatic named Osama bin Laden. Ray Stevens, in fact, satirized bin Laden in a couple of novelty songs...the first being December 2001's "Osama Yo' Mama" (a Gold selling single) and the next being it's sequel, "Hello Mama". "Thank You", in the meantime, honors all branches of the American military. The music video is emotional as one could expect. The song became the title track of a CD that Ray issued in 2004. Ray co-wrote the song with a man named Larry McCoy.

The CD contains a song that Ray wrote called "Let's Roll". The title was inspired by Todd Beamer...a passenger on United Airlines Flight 93 which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001 after it had been hijacked by four terrorists. Beamer had been in a conversation on a phone located in the airplane...telling a customer service representative about the hijacking taking place and that he and some other passengers were planning to overtake the hijackers but things ended tragically instead. The last words from Beamer heard by the representative happened to include the "Let's Roll" command to some of his fellow passengers. You can purchase the song as an Mp3 on Amazon by clicking HERE. The song has appeared on 2004's Thank You, 2005's Box Set, and 2010's We The People.

Speaking of that 2010 CD...as I mentioned earlier in this blog entry political songs that promote a Pro-America message tend to be lumped in with patriotic songs. In the latter half of 2009 and into the next several years the music of Ray Stevens received a tremendous boost via YouTube. The on-line popularity of a certain music video, "We the People", sent hundreds of thousands of people onto Ray's official website and onto his YouTube channel. Through on-line sharing the music video soon eclipsed a million unique views in a month's time. This kind of viral video experience literally changed the direction of Ray's career overnight. He happened to be winding down and reducing his workload by 2008 and in the pages of his 2014 memoir admitted that he had contemplated retiring altogether from concerts and other personal appearances around the time he sold his Branson, Missouri theater to RFD-TV in 2006. By 2006 his CD releases had also gotten sporadic. During the span of January 2000 to December 2006 Ray Stevens released a grand total of 3 studio albums in that 6 year time frame: 2000's Ear Candy, 2002's Osama Yo' Mama, and 2004's Thank You. One could argue that the 2002 CD wasn't necessarily a traditional studio album because it consisted largely of recordings that had already been released on the 2000 CD. The 2002 CD contained 7 songs that had appeared on Ear Candy in addition to 2001's single release, "Osama Yo' Mama" and it's B-side, "United We Stand". The one song on the 2002 not previously released happened to be "Freudian Slip". To date the 2002 CD is the only place to find that song.

After Ray's video had reached over a million unique views in a month's time he began making appearances on numerous high profile television programs that aired on the Fox News Channel. In the song he name drops personalities such as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Glen Beck. "We The People" spoke out against Obama-Care (the nickname for the President's health care plan). To show you the power of high profile publicity Ray's website crashed after O'Reilly mentioned Ray's video and played a short snippet of it in a broadcast. Several days later Ray appeared on the program, via video hook-up, and thanked O'Reilly for causing the site to crash because it was a sign of instant heavy traffic in search of Ray's recording/video. The video has gotten more than 5 million unique views.

Highly topical it visually presented itself comically but took aim at Congress very seriously by warning them that if they pass Obama's health care plan then they'll be voted out come the next election cycle. The prophetic lyrics rang true...the 2010 election season seen the rise of the Tea Party movement (a faction of voters fed up with both political parties but sided mostly with the Conservative wing of the Republican party). This movement ultimately led to a dramatic resurgence of Republicans being voted into Congress that November as a direct result of Obama and the Democrat-led Congress shoving Obama-Care down people's throats and voting the bill into law in the middle of the night. The Republican party took over the House of Representatives and nearly took over the Senate. A lot of vulnerable Democrats ended up either losing or deciding to not run or retire rather than face defeat. From 2010 until early 2013 Ray racked up some impressive numbers on the YouTube site...a lot of his older music videos that had nothing to do with patriotism or politics were being discovered by this newer audience that found Ray Stevens as a result of the "We The People" music video and other videos that followed...namely the enormously successful "Come to the U.S.A." which deals with the problems of illegal immigration. To date that video's been seen by more than 9 million!

2011 saw the release of the Spirit of '76. The CD, as you can see in the collage, features a photo of Ray superimposed into a Spirit of '76 painting. The project was largely built around a couple of songs that had become successful music videos on YouTube prior to the CD's release. "God Save Arizona" spoke out against Obama and Eric Holder in their lack of support of Arizona during a highly contentious period of time involving an unusually high number of illegal immigrants crossing into the country from Mexico. Not only did Obama and the Holder justice department refuse to offer support to the state's Governor and various local police departments but ultimately the Holder justice department sued the State of Arizona for not "following Federal law and it's mandates" when it comes to illegal immigration. The sorry state of events inspired "God Save Arizona". A clever tie-in to the U.S.S. Arizona battle ship provides a neat lead-off. One of the songs that didn't become a music video but it nevertheless is a good patriotic song is "My Uncle Sam". It's track five on the CD. It's a song which begins literally about an uncle named Sam in which Ray describes as set in his ways and can often be misunderstood but it turns into a testimonial about how America has grown, evolved, and is still the greatest nation on Earth in spite of flaws that pop up every so often.

Another popular music video, "Obama Budget Plan", hit big during the bitter battle between Obama and his opponents in the House of Representatives and the Senate over the ever increasing budget and federal deficit. The video has gotten more than 4 million views. The Spirit of '76 CD features 11 songs and of those recordings 5 are YouTube music video smash hits: "Obama Budget Plan", "Mr. President - Mr. President", "God Save Arizona", "The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore", and "Grandpa Voted Democrat". Song four is about airport security and the T.S.A. and song five is about voter fraud (it became a video right around the November 2012 election cycle).

Just recently Ray performed the National Anthem at the CMA Music Fest. I posted a video of his performance a couple of blogs ago but here's a LINK to the clip. The musical arrangement with the keyboard being the lead instrument is based on the recording he did for the 2010 We The People CD.

It's been a rather lengthy blog entry today but I wanted to try and touch base on nearly all of the major recordings from Ray Stevens that have a patriotic and political overtone. I think I succeeded but later today I'll more or less remember something that slipped my mind and I'll have to edit it into the text at a later date.
Have a Safe Fourth of July!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Show your appreciation for the music of Ray Stevens...leave a comment...