December 27, 2008

Ray in the new year

Well, with the Christmas season officially over and 2008 coming to a close, this will more than likely be my final blog of 2008. As of now, Ray has several concert dates scheduled for 2009. One of the dates, in Indiana, I plan on attending. He is appearing in Ohio, too, but that concert wasn't announced until weeks after the Indiana show...I don't see myself attending two Ray, the Ohio concert is up in the northern part of the's a big state to begin with...too much travel.

2009 will mark a series of anniversaries for his songs, too. First of all, it will mark the 40th anniversary of a couple of his novelty hit songs: "Gitarzan" and "Along Came Jones"...both being hits in 1969. At the same time, in 2009, his biggest hit single "The Streak", will turn 35...thirty-five years ago in 1974 emerged the single that most associate with Ray. In a previous blog I touched upon another single that turns 35 in 2009, "The Moonlight Special". Ray's 1979 hit "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" reaches 30 next year and then going further along both "The Mississippi Squirrel Revival" and "It's Me Again, Margaret" hit 25 in 2009. It will be 20 years since Ray debuted "I Saw Elvis In a UFO", a novelty song from 1989 that became a fan-favorite in concert and it will be 10 years since Ray was diagnosed with and over-come Prostate cancer, which was caught early, in 1999. The biggest "anniversary" you could say in 2009 will arrive at the end of January...when Ray celebrates a birthday...the big 7-0...yes, Ray will reach 70 on January 24th.

On to the New Year...

December 18, 2008


I was never in any kind of band class at all. One of my sister's were but I never was. This song from Ray Stevens is called "Julius Played The Trumpet" and it's about a trumpet player whose at the mercy of an over-bearing high school band conductor. Listening to the chorus of the song I take it that the song takes place in Snellville, Georgia as us Ray fans know that he was born and raised in Georgia. The actual name of the band: The Snellville Municipal Consolidated Junior High School Band under the direction of Shottlegrubenheimen, a sort of strange twist on Lawrence Welk but based in a high school.

The members of the band are many but only three are name-dropped and those include Julius, Cecil, and Melvin. Cecil plays the cymbals while Melvin plays the trombone and Julius plays the trumpet. Apparently, Julius hasn't mastered the art of trumpet playing yet and it shows. The twist of the song comes when Julius and company decide to play the song terribly on purpose on the day of a big sporting event at the school...and without fail, the band conductor interrupts things during the middle of the half-time show and demands the band play the song correctly and then he launches into a brief Lawrence Welk "uh one and uh, two, three, four..." prior to the song fading out proclaiming "ahh, that's good, STUDENTS...that's good...".

The "students" phrase in my opinion is linked to Kay Kyser's radio program where he played the "professor of music" and he would conduct a game show where players tried to guess the name of songs. His program was called "Kollege of Musical Knowledge" and he was known as the professor and he wore a graduation outfit. The show emphasized comedy a lot as you can tell from the spelling of college in it's title.

He was a legitimate big-band leader during his time period but his success on radio with his show having a heavy dose of comedy, which I suppose was a no-no for a "serious" big-band leader, plus the fact he himself retired from the spotlight on his own long before his death helped cause his name to fade into obscurity.

December 13, 2008

Anniversary Under the Moonlight...

2009 marks the Thirty-Fifth Anniversary of a particular Ray Stevens recording that often goes over-looked. "The Moonlight Special" is a parody of a late-night TV show called The Midnight Special. In this particular recording, we hear an impressive set of impressions starting off with a stunning Wolfman Jack take off. The Wolfman for those who do not know was the show's announcer and "face" of the show during it's lengthy run. Although Wolfman was the announcer and not the "host", it's Wolfman Jack's personality and distinctive voice and fan-base from his radio listenership that made him arguably the star of that program. The song that parodies the show features Ray's vocal impressions of Wolfman Jack...howling and screaming and carrying on about the show and bringing on the acts one by one. The acts are all spoofs of pop and rock singers who made frequent appearances on The Midnight Special during the 1970's. The ironic part of this whole parody is that Ray wrote and recorded it while the show was in it's infancy...well before it developed into the show it became...for the show itself was in production for 8 and a half years, 1973-1981, and Ray's parody was released as a single in 1974, almost 35 years ago...the show was a cult hit at first but soon it became a huge hit because of it's unique air-time, late at night...90 minutes of pop and rock music performed in a studio with a different host each week and the presence of DJ Wolfman Jack as it's announcer. It aired after The Tonight Show on Friday nights...and so when Johnny Carson would say goodnight, what many viewers saw afterward was The Midnight Special.

Ray opens up the song in his own singing voice...singing the chorus of the song. He then brings on The Sheepdog...his version of Wolfman Jack. Amidst thunderous applause, Sheepdog crams a series of slang expressions together "crazy, too cool, outta sight, right on, and far out!" and welcomes everyone to the show and brings out the night's first guest. Satirizing the sound of Gladys Knight and the Pips, we're treated to Mildred Queen and the Dips. The group sings a nonsense song...Mildred leading the vocals with the Dips repeating everything she says word for word. After becoming frustrated by the repeaters, she screams...only to have the Dips scream in harmony. Sheepdog comes in asking for applause "how 'bout that all you dudes and chickies out there...yeah!!!". After Sheepdog informs everyone what they're experiencing, The Moonlight Special, we hear a more rushed Ray Stevens singing the chorus again in his natural voice as Sheepdog talks over the chorus...concluding with a series of howls.

Sheepdog then brings out the bizarre/alternative rock act...Agnes Stupor and his Chicken. This is a parody of Alice Cooper, who was known for having snakes in his performances. Agnes, however, regals the audience with a bizarre tale that allows listeners to wonder if he's in his right mind...implying about the streaking/flashing craze that was going on "yeah, flash an old lady now!" and then telling us about painting the living room carpet. A completely nutty act that's for sure. Sheepdog returns asking for applause...then we hear Ray singing the chorus once again as Sheepdog informs everyone that they're listening and watching The Moonlight Special.

The closing act, usually reserved for a legend or a classic, features the piano rocking appearance of a Jerry Lee Lewis spoof. Ray incorporates several Jerry Lee-type vocals during the piano rocking...which include a passage where Jerry plays with his feet...hollering and screaming all the while as Sheepdog marvels at the display...

The song comes to a close with Sheepdog thanking everyone for coming to the show and thanks everyone for listening and watching and reminds everyone to tune in next time for The Moonlight Special and he ends by making a series of howls. As this is going on, in the background we hear cheers and claps and Ray's natural voice singing the chorus once again.

The song is a wonderfully produced pop music circles it may even be considered a "gimmick record". Critics and radio people alike often frown on novelty records and records with a gimmick...but thankfully i'm not a professional critic nor am I a radio insider. All kidding aside, though, it's a well-crafted song putting to good use the over-dubbing process. I am not sure but I think Ray is one of the first acts in Top-40 music who used over-dubbing way back before it became so common today in all forms of entertainment...if he wasn't the first he certainly has my vote as the artist who used over-dubbing to it's maximum effect. It is highly unlikely that Ray ever performed this song in concert...the multi-tracking and over-dubbing is not easily duplicated in concert or even on a TV show. The single hit the Hot 100, peaking in the Top-80. It would be perhaps impossible for any of his singles to over-shadow "The Streak"...a monster #1 pop hit for Ray earlier in 1974 that was still selling and getting feedback throughout the rest of the I don't even think Barnaby Records or Ray himself was seriously looking to top "The Streak" but "The Moonlight Special" is a funny recording all the same and it showcases Ray's various talents with his broad vocal impressions.

Home For the Holidays

This here is my video montage of Home For the Holidays by Ray Stevens. The song comes from his holiday release, "Christmas Through a Different Window". I wrote a long review of that particular album a few blog's ago. The video montage I put together last week. I did this and Guilt For Christmas but I didn't highlight anymore songs. The holiday CD is still available on-line for, if you like what you hear...

I tend to post in Christmas colors out of habit whenever the subject at hand involves the holiday. Also, I like to post in different colors instead of the dull type that is used if one doesn't choose to post with color. I've had plenty of blog's posted without colors and they're all good...but color seems to color the posts. I'm rambling, of course...i'm waiting on the video montage to get through uploading so I can post the blog. I'll be doing a blog later on about a particular Ray Stevens song not associated with the holiday...the video just uploaded...end of discussion.

Ray Stevens 1970 TV Guide

I recently stumbled upon a TV Guide in my closet from 1970. I do have several vintage TV Guides from the 1970's and 1980's...almost every issue from 1992 onward to 1999...but this particular 1970 TV Guide I bought on eBay. It is because there is an article about Ray Stevens in it. The article's title may sound a bit harsh: "This stand-in doesn't stand-out" but the bulk of the article is simply about how low-key Ray's career has usually always been...where there are periods in his career when it seems like he's everywhere, he's everywhere and then there are times when it seems like he's in hiding. The article is actually positive and Ray gives his thoughts of the war and some other things. The article's writer brings up the question of why a low-key act like Ray Stevens was offered the shot of hosting the coast-to-coast summer show for Andy Williams. The show's producers/staff offer their opinion on Ray...all of them coming to basically the same conclusion that Ray is a "nice guy and that's a rarity in this business" and other heaps of praise.

There are two videos that I put of them is just a show off...and the second video is my trying to point where Ray's TV show was listed in the TV Guide. 7:30pm Saturday night. And so, without further is one of the videos...

It's a rather long clip...a lot of "dead air" as I flip through the pages. I am not a web-camera junkie and so i'm always forgetting to move in the opposite direction in order for the image to be captured moving in the right direction. In the video below, which is way shorter...i'm pointing to the TV listings...7:30pm...the Ray Stevens Show...

And there you have it...two amateur home made videos. The Ray Stevens goodies...high in polyunsaturated goodness.

December 7, 2008

Pearl Harbor...12-7-41

On this particular album from Ray Stevens, released in 1991 a few months prior to the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, we hear a few songs at the end of the album tied to Japanese culture with a few mentions of December 7, 1941. The album's cover may carry a subliminal message as well. Although titled #1 With a Bullet the huge bullet also carries thoughts of a big missile. The comedy album features ten songs...the final two songs, "A Little Blue Haired Lady" and the obvious "Workin' For the Japanese" feature passages that spotlight December 7, 1941. In "A Little Blue Haired Lady" the song starts out as a novelty song about older women who drive too slow and how it caused one motorist to start shooting people at random. However, the final verse of the song changes the direction of the song and it goes from everyday headaches on the roadways to blaming slow drivers as the reason why the Japanese never sent Roosevelt warning of an attack on 12-7-41. Ray sports a Japanese-American dialect as he plays the Japanese Ambassador informing Roosevelt that they tried to get a message delivered but their driver was stuck in traffic all morning behind you guessed it...A Little Blue Haired Lady. Naturally, the absurdity of the situation makes it all the more funnier. The album's closer, "Workin' For The Japanese", is a social commentary song about how Japanese culture was taking over America and how our money was going overseas because American's weren't buying American-made products. Surprisingly, given how sensitive the public at large had become because of the growing epidemic of political correctness, the song became a minor hit and made an appearance on the country charts in late 1991, peaking in the Top-60 after a 10 week chart appearance. The song was written by a man named Ron DeLacy.

In the meantime, I thought it would be interesting to spotlight World War Two and Pearl Harbor-related imagery from Ray Stevens since this is the 67th anniversary of December 7, 1941. The Pearl Harbor attack for those who do not know led the country into World War Two. The ironic thing, looking back, is World War One does have it's place in history of course but yet it's World War Two that seems to have the most notoriety and one can only speculate that a lot of this has to do with Hollywood through the years glamorizing(?) the war years, 1939-1945, specifically the early to mid 1940's during America's involvement. Ray is posing as General MacArthur on the cover of I Have Returned which is named after one of MacArthur's historical quotes. Aside from the album's mock-up of MacArthur, the songs contained on the comedy album are not war-related but I felt since the pose is a recreation from the WWII years that it would fit perfectly in this blog.

Of course, this image of Ray is a close-up during the photo sessions for his 1985 album I Have Returned. I have featured these pictures a lot in my You Tube video montages. Unfortunately I do not have a You Tube video montage of "Workin' For The Japanese" or "A Little Blue Haired Lady" from his 1991 album. I may do one later today, specifically because of this being December 7th.

December 6, 2008

Ray...30 years ago

Thirty years ago...1978...Ray Stevens releases the albums Be Your Own Best Friend and There Is Something On Your Mind. The album on top...the white album, you could say, is a very good album that simply got lost. The music is in step with the light pop sounds of the time period. There is no song on here that really screams out COUNTRY but yet the title track, "Be Your Own Best Friend", did hit the country charts. The song lyrics of all the songs are posted on the back of the album for fans to sing-a-long with. The album as I mentioned, is soft-rock/light pop...mellow. I'll go out on a limb and say that the only song on this collection that reaches a fever that has a bit of a rocking "Comeback". The album kicks off with a very nice sing-a-long, "L'amour", which carries an international feel in it's musical delivery. Ray co-wrote this song with a man named Gilbert Becaud. This may be the song Ray once referred to when he spoke about an instrumental he heard while in England and he wanted to write words to it...the music certainly has a British over-tone, to my ears at least. When you hear it you may understand what I'm trying to say.

"Comeback" carries a rush of urgency...pretty much the only up-tempo/rocker driven song on the album. Ray tells us about how a relationship has ended and fills us in about how much she meant to him in spite of her leaving him...and all she has to do is comeback...come, come, come, comeback. "Daydream Romance" is an ultra-mellow love tells the story of a musician on the road and thinking of the woman he's left at home. "With a Smile" carries a similar positive message that "Be Your Own Best Friend" "With a Smile" we hear Ray telling us how important it is to smile, no matter what you're saying, try a smile and when life makes you frown, "just take that frown, and turn it around". "Be Your Own Best Friend", meanwhile, tackles a similar message but in this song Ray tells us that it's okay to be your own judge and be your own person no matter what others may have to say and that only you are able to look after yourself because nobody else is going to. "You're Magic" is one of my favorites from the album. I love the arrangement, the melody, the lyrics...I wish it were released as a single or would have become something more well-known. "Two Wrong's Don't Make a Right" borrows the phrase passed down through the ages and transplants it into a love song setting about two people and how the woman likes to cheat but the man can't bring himself to go through with cheating on her...but as Ray says, "nothing's gained by revenge and spite", bringing us to the song's title.

"Hidin' Place" is a bluesy number to my ears. It's simply a song about getting away from it all with your lover/spouse and how just being together provides seclusion from the world. "You've Got the Music Inside" is a re-recording of a song he originally recorded in 1973 for his Nashville album. The 1973 version was performed slower and had a touch of drama whereas the 1978 re-recording is also recorded as a ballad but this time with a more smoother vocalization when compared to 1973. His voice had matured even more. "The Feeling's Not Right Again" is an unusual love song in that it tells about a couple who can't find the answers to whatever it is they are searching for...even though they seem to fit together, almost. "The Feeling's Not Right Again" is also unusal in that it became the name of his 1979 album...because it had a similar sounding title to a Barry Manilow song/album called "Trying To Get The Feeling" much so that Warner Brothers, the label Ray recorded for, parodied the Barry Manilow album in 1979. See my three Ray Stevens blog entries about the Barry Manilow parodies for more information.

The Be Your Own Best Friend album featured nine songs. It was very ballad heavy.

1. L'amour
2. Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right
3. You've Got the Music Inside
4. Hidin' Place
5. Be Your Own Best Friend
6. The Feeling's Not Right Again
7. Comeback
8. You're Magic
9. With a Smile

This album, There Is Something On Your Mind, was recorded in 1978 and it was Ray's labor of album spotlighting the beloved R&B music he grew up listening to. The album is one of those under the radar releases that when you blink, you'll miss it. The material is all top-notch and covers plenty of R&B...material known today as classic R&B. One of the things you'll notice is Ray's expertise in R&B...his liner notes appear at the top of the album above the picture. On the back of the album he gives his thoughts on each and every performance. There are only eight selections on this album but the selections are rather lengthy, and that will perhaps make it feel like a typical 10-11 song album by the time you're through listening to it. First off, Ray's sandwiches nine R&B songs into three separate medleys.

"Dance Trilogy" features abbreviated performances of "Do You Wanna Dance?", "When You Dance", and "Save The Last Dance For Me". "Old Faithful Trilogy" features portions of "Shake a Hand", "Since I Met You Baby", and "Always". Then there is the adventurous "Banned In Boston Trilogy" which spotlights three abbreviated R&B songs that were banned on Boston radio stations: "Sixty Minute Man", "Work With Me Annie", and "Annie Had a Baby". Ray tells us on the back of the album that these songs were banned because the subject matter was considered too racy.

Aside from the three medleys/trilogies, we hear full performances of five R&B classics: "Money Honey", "Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash", "Talk to Me", "One Mint Julep", and the title track, "There Is Something On Your Mind", which includes an audience background. Several of these recordings resurfaced in 1995 when Warner Brothers issued three compilation CD's on Ray: Cornball, The Serious Side of Ray Stevens, and Do You Wanna Dance? The recordings from this 1978 album that have yet to make their way onto CD are the title track and the medley of songs that were Banned in Boston.

There's just so much Ray Stevens music the public at large just isn't aware of!!

The liner notes that appear above the picture go as follows:

"I'm not a nostalgia nut I guess, along with everyone else, I'm a little tired of hearing, with rare exception, nothing but parodies of the '50s music. True, a few of the hits deserve nothing but a tongue-in-cheek treatment, but then maybe every era is vulnerable to ridicule from somebody's point of view.

Be that as it may...I have had the desire to record some of the old '50s songs for sometime now minus the "grease" and "doo-wop"! A lot of the lyrics are still relevant and the idea's expressed poignant and communicative to any generation. I have tried to present this collection of "oldies" with as much sincere appreciation for merit as reality will allow.

I grew up with these songs and they played in the background of my formative years as a singer and musician. I like these songs. Some of the lyrics are not what you could call heavy but they translate into a feeling that reads between the me, anyway.

I recorded this album in my little studio in Nashville on 24 tracks using a few musicians that I have known and worked with for years."


The band accompaniment was more than 7 separate musicians played on this album. The musicians for the most part played on all the songs with a few exceptions. Here is the musician list for this album...

Ray Stevens {keyboards, synthesizer, percussion, background harmony}
Jerry Carrigan {drums}
Jerry Kroon {drums on "Money Honey" and "Old Faithful Trilogy"}
Jack Williams {bass}
Reggie Young {electric guitar}
Johnny Christopher {acoustic guitar}
Mark Casstevens {guitar on "Money Honey" and "Old Faithful Trilogy"}

Quite a few of those musicians would continue to appear on Ray's albums over the next 10-15 years.

December 3, 2008

Take a Look inside the Book

Don't laugh at my attempts at showing the contents of the 1977 souvenir book released on Ray Stevens. I rarely use my web-camera except to take pictures on the spur of the moment when I don't feel like dragging out the digital camera or to make very short facial expression video clips to insert in some of the You Tube video montages I put together. Anyway, on the video clip, I show-off the book i've been writing about. I've had this for about a year but forgot I had it because I put it away after examining it thoroughly way back when I bought it...then when I went to clear out some things from my closet I was surprised to see that 1977 souvenir book sitting up in my closet. I'm glad I didn't re-purchase it as it's come up for sale on eBay a lot of times. Maybe in the back of my mind I knew I had that book so I never bothered purchasing it each time I seen it come up for sale?

I also took a picture of one of the Ray pictures...including a brief shot of myself right next to you can see off to the left side of the screen. The video below is my page by page showing of the book's contents, including a lot of mistakes by me...holding the book too close or too far back...common problems when it comes to first timers. Also, it was difficult trying to turn the pages and try and keep the book in the camera's shot at the same time.

I'm still keeping the green and red Christmas colors in a majority of my posts...some posts won't have colors, though. The video is a little over a minute long...I didn't think it would be THAT long because it didn't seem like it took over a minute to show off the booklet but turning the pages added to it. It only has a handful of pages. One of the faces you'll see is Del Shannon...the two were in concert in England back in 1977. I ended the video imitating a routine I saw on SCTV from John Candy years of his characters named Dr Tongue appeared in mock 3-D horror films and usually two or three times during the sketches, he would be holding whatever it might be, and pull it back and forward at the camera in an effort to make it look "3-D".

December 2, 2008

Ray Stevens souvenir book

This is the 1977 souvenir book that was issued on Ray while he was on tour in England. The book offers a lot of pictures and some editorial commentary from the authors of the book. The book also contains some information that even long time fans, myself included, weren't aware of. In a previous blog entry I made reference to Ray's 1968 pop hit "Mr. Businessman" being banned by several radio stations because of the potential message it may send to the audience Top-40 radio targeted. I also didn't know that Ray was involved in writing a play, Johnny Appleseed. I do not know if it is an error, though. Tour books often print things without double checking a lot of time. I know Roger Miller was involved with Big 1985...but this book is from 1977...the passage that refers to the play is as follows:

"Ray Stevens, the easy-going soft-spoken gentleman from Nashville is a singer, composer, comedian, impressionist, and Lord knows what else but like anyone who started out in music, melody is his bag." Ray says "If anybody ever remembers me in the long run, I'd like them to remember me for some music i've written.". It's possible, maybe even probable. Already Stevens has had several major hits, including his 'Everything is Beautiful', which just may end up as a standard. He's written more than 600 published songs, the book and score for a musical play Johnny Appleseed, and his records are selling hugely".

I'll do some searching around and see what this book is making a reference to...even I was unaware of a Johnny Appleseed connection.

December 1, 2008

the songbook...

In 1970, a songbook was issued promoting Ray...tying it in with his TV show, from the summer of 1970. I wrote about his TV show last month and these are pictures from the songbook that I have. It's a rare item and the pictures show how much fun Ray was having on the TV show.

In addition to the summer TV show of 1970, Ray was a recurring cast-member of Andy Williams late '60s TV series. Andy's brother, Don, became Ray's manager. This Don Williams is not the singer known as The Gentle Giant. That guy is another Don Williams. The songbook featured lyrics to several of Ray's songs, including "Unwind", a Top-60 pop hit from 1968. Also included were the pictures you see here. There were others as well but I can only add 5 images at a time from my computer. I came across my copy of the book on eBay and I am sure it will pop up from time to time for sale on there.

I have another souvenir tour book that was issued on Ray...this one is from 1977 and it re-caps Ray's career including information post-1970 that isn't included in the book I started writing about. In the 1977 book it talks about Ray's Top-30 pop hit "Mr Businessman" being banned on several radio stations because of it's message and how playing the song "could have a demoralizing effect on the youth of America". The 1977 tour book that I have was issued internationally. The actual name of the promo book is: "Ray Stevens Souvenir Programme October 1977".

Note the spelling of the word "program". I'll talk more about the 1977 promo book in a future installment.

Through a Different Window

Merry Christmas and a happy the long and eventful career of Ray Stevens it may be surprising to learn that he had never issued a full-length holiday album. This changed in 1997 when he released Christmas Through a Different Window a holiday album jam packed with Christmas comedy songs, several taking on the political correctness hang-up that has ruined every facet of entertainment...well, here's a CD that will please many who feel that political correctness is more of a nuisance than anything else. This album/CD was originally released by MCA in 1997 and it quickly went out of print. In Christmas times past, 1997 and 1998, this particular album was available in most retail stores but it became quite scarce since that time. As a way of promoting this album, Ray became a scheduled performer at the Acuff Theater at Opryland in both 1998 and 1999. As a twentysomething at the time, and a listener of the Opry on the radio, I would have a touch of excitement when the commercials for Ray's concerts would be promoted during Opry broadcasts.

Recently, Ray has re-released this on his own label, marking the first time in over 10 years that the material is available commercially again.

The concept of the album is a reference to traditional Christmas settings. In the case of most people, families set up their Christmas tree either in front of a living room window or in the corner of their living room. As people drive by the houses there's a chance a driver can look out their car windows and see a Christmas tree on display in the windows of houses one by one. This creates a mood of family and joy and promotes the Christmas spirit through their window. Ray, however, went in the other direction and because his songs were comedic he titled his album Christmas Through a Different Window because these are the kinds of songs you'd hear being listened to in a dysfunctional family perhaps? Ray takes a look at the holidays through a different window. Now you know why the album was titled as such.

The songs on this album as I hinted at earlier are mostly tied into political correctness in some way. I should say, political incorrectness. I am sure if a music listener would give this album a listen, especially a listener not really used to outrageous and often times blunt humor, I am sure the listener would have a fit and go "Good lord! What in the world??".

There are 11 songs on this holiday CD. The mood of the CD is set right away with the opening number, "Guilt For Christmas". This song is about a man who is fed up with the holidays and he tells us why, with a few shots thrown in at political correctness about how it's supposedly a no-no to give a girl a doll for Christmas because a doll symbolizes traditionalism and may make her a house-wife and not a working a boy an army boy for Christmas the "experts" say the guns might make the boy mean and vicious as he gets older. So, Ray has a perfect solution...he'll be giving people guilt. The mood is picked up on the next offering...the lovely "I Won't Be Home For Christmas", which tells us about Ray's dysfunctional family and the headache they bring and so he's going into hiding this Christmas.

The third song, "Greatest Little Christmas Ever Wuz", is easily by far one of my favorites of the whole album. In this song, Ray tells us about his break-up with a woman and how he plans to get back together with her and he tells her how much fun they could have by combining all of the holiday's together. Ray had previously recorded this song on a 1985 compilation called Tennessee Christmas and up until this 1997 album came along, that 1985 various artists album was the only place to find the song. This version is a re-recording of the 1985 song, which Ray wrote himself. The fourth song, "Home For The Holidays", borrows the title of the Christmas standard but this version is a totally different song. In it, Ray tells us how he's gotten a call from his mother and so he and his family are heading home for the holidays. As he tells us this, he warns his wife to pack lots of medication, perhaps booze? It's a very funny recording, as are all of the songs on here.

The fifth song, "Redneck Christmas", can be offensive if listened to by the wrong person. I didn't find anything offensive about it but I am sure some would take objection to the outrageous stereotypical southern depictions Ray sings about, specifically the line about cousins and wives. I saw him perform this song on The Nashville Network back in 1998 and I may have taped it. I have tons of video tapes stored away and a lot of them have so many things on them that it was impossible to write and keep track of every little thing I may have taped. I do know that Ray was having fun when he was singing the song...the lyrics being so deliberately stereotypical it was probably difficult for him to keep a straight face when singing it. Moving on...the sixth song on the album, "Xerox Xmas Letter", I will admit to not knowing what in the world this was when I listened to the song originally. Ray explained what it was during one of his TV appearances but I couldn't comprehend it. Anyway, according to Ray, families like to send letters in the mail bragging and playing up all they have achieved during the calendar year. The term xerox letter I know are letters written and copied off in mass quantities and sent out to whoever it may other words, a "Xerox Xmas Letter" is Christmas junk mail. Before anyone may raise a fuss, Christmas is written Xmas because it flows with the word Xerox, there is no anti-religious meaning.

Turning the cassette tape over to side two, or just letting the CD play, we have song seven. "Nightmare Before Christmas" is another shot at political correctness. I vote this song as the quintessential jab of the season when it comes to political correctness. In the song, which starts out with an ode to the poem Twas the Night Before Christmas, Ray tells us about having a nightmare that Santa gets arrested and he's charged with all sorts of crimes that have broken the political correct code of conduct. The prosecution insists that Santa is a bad influence because he smokes a pipe and is over-weight. They also charge that he's cruel to reindeer and has a poor work ethic.

The work place gets spoofed on "Annual Office Christmas Party". This song may not resonate with those who haven't gone to a company party before. I had only went to two or three...the ones I went to weren't in a conference room, though, but the few I went to those were very, very tame compared to what you'll hear in this song. On the other hand, if you just want to laugh without having to feel as if you can relate to the subject, then the song will do the job. The ninth song on the album, "The Little Drummer Boy - Next Door", is a song that depicts the aggravation of a man who lives next door to a kid who got a drum set for Christmas and keeps 'playing' it at all hours. Ray co-wrote this song with frequent songwriter partner Buddy Kalb and another writer named Paul Alter.

The tenth song, "Bad Little Boy", owes a lot to Spike Jones and Red Skelton. Ray delivers the entire song in the voice of a boy. It's not really a's more like a narration. The boy tells us about all of the things he's did that's causing him to not get anything for Christmas. The overall plot of the story follows the Spike Jones classic "Nuttin' For Christmas" in it's concept and the enunciation of the boy carries shades of Junior, the mean little kid character that Red Skelton was famous for. Ray performed this song on TV once, The Statler Brothers Show, and to make himself appear as a little kid he sat on top of a giant rocking chair.

The 11th and final song of the album is his updated version of "Santa Claus Is Watching You". Ray had originally wrote and recorded this song in the early 1960's as a typical Christmas song aimed at kids. In 1985 he re-wrote the song and made it into a more adult performance...making it become a song about a man who's upset over his wife's behavior and attitudes and he warns her to be good because Santa's watching. This is the version that's become the most familiar...Ray even made a music video of the song sometime in the late '80s when video's were becoming a promotional tool for albums. I wish I knew the year of production for that music video...i'll say it was made in 1989 or 1990...but it could easily have been made in 1985 or 1986 before music video's were all over the country music scene. The music video of the 1985 recording is featured on Comedy Video Classics. This 1997 updated version keeps the 1985 lyrics intact and the only differences are the saxophone honks and the vocal delivery. The 1985 version heard Ray singing the song in a sort of lonesome voice...but the 1997 take features Ray delivering the song with enthusiastic energy. Also, in the 1997 version, there isn't a solo passage from the high-pitched Elf near the song's end like there is in the 1985 recording. Ray delivers the Elf passage himself this time around, the passage, for those who don't know, refers to us being told about Santa having his binoculars out, keeping his eyes all over the woman.

So, have a Ray Stevens Christmas this year...having fun looking at it through a different window. You'll be glad you did.

November 30, 2008

Ray Stevens: A Ray of Sunshine on your Screen

In 1970 Ray Stevens was a recurring guest on Andy Williams TV show. In the summer of 1970, Ray was picked to host the summer edition, which would air on NBC-TV. The most of what is remembered about Ray's TV show is that it's theme song, "Everything Is Beautiful", emerged from the show to become Ray's first #1 pop hit and his first Grammy winning song and his first Top-40 entry on the country music charts. The TV show aired once a week, eight times during the summer of 1970, covering the time period of late June through early August. The show's cast included Mama Cass from The Mamas and The Papas as well as British singer, Lulu. Steve Martin was on hand as was comedy duo Tom Solari and Clark Carr, Billy Van and Dick Curtis. The program ran one hour, 7:30pm-8:30pm, on Saturday nights.

The show was featured in a write-up in TV Guide on which the cover subject happened to be Bill Bixby from The Courtship of Eddie's Father. The series, which was officially titled Andy Williams Presents Ray Stevens but also known as The Ray Stevens Show has never been aired since the final broadcast in August 1970. Even more frustrating to a lot of us Ray Stevens fans is that no episodes have would be nice to see the program on DVD...even a cheap DVD would be sufficient. Sadly, all that seems to be available are pictures...actual video of his show have yet to surface.

November 25, 2008

Ray Stevens: 1983 Greatest Hits

This album was issued by RCA in 1983. I have written about it before but I wanted to write about it again. It contained only two RCA songs with the rest pulled from previous years from the Monument and Barnaby labels. What you see from left to right are the back and front of the album. As mentioned, the RCA album only featured two songs Ray recorded during his RCA stay and it's made me wonder if this hits collection was issued as part of Ray's recording contract? Some artists have contracts, they say, that dictate a "greatest hits" collection is to be released at some point and going by that sort of thing, I wonder if RCA issued this on Ray out of contractual obligations because the label could have featured a bit more RCA material than they did.

Here is the song list for the 1983 album...

Shriner's Convention; 1980 RCA
Ahab the Arab; 1969 Monument
The Streak; 1974 Barnaby
Everything Is Beautiful; 1970 Barnaby
Mr Businessman; 1968 Monument
The Moonlight Special; 1974 Barnaby
Misty; 1975 Barnaby
Gitarzan; 1969 Monument
Freddie Feelgood; 1966 Monument
The Dooright Family; 1980 RCA

It's quite an impressive list of songs...that's for sure...and while it features the hit single "Shriner's Convention" and the hilarious "Dooright Family", both from 1980, it lacks the other hit singles Ray had for RCA, which remains a mystery. It's missing "Night Games", a hit from late 1980 plus the hit "One More Last Chance" from 1981 and the two hits from 1982 "Where The Sun Don't Shine" and "Written Down In My Heart".

If RCA would have put those four songs on the 1983 collection in addition to "Shriner's Convention" and "The Dooright Family", it would've contained six RCA recordings, making it RCA-heavy, which would have made more sense due to the album being issued on RCA, after all...

This version of Greatest Hits features 10 great Ray Stevens recordings and the collection was released during Ray's final year with the RCA.

Click image below for super-sized Ray...


November 23, 2008

Ray Stevens: The media

The relationship that Ray Stevens has enjoyed with the media is a bit of a mystery. Ray is often highly critically acclaimed in most of his efforts but the critical acclaim doesn't always translate into public awareness or even respect.

Ray has the respect of his fans and his peers in the music business...but there is a segment of the music world, including the critics, who have often been mystified over Ray's success and longevity. The contemporary media who choose to do a write-up on Ray or a music critic who maybe was born 10 or 15 years into the 1970's and often has no comprehension of the music before his or her lifetime are lost when it comes to Ray Stevens. In 1992 when Comedy Video Classics hit, some critics weren't aware of who Ray was...the comments do not exist today but there were some who got enjoyment watching "those video's by the guy with the beard...oh, what was his name?". So, by some accounts, the comedy music video's were being watched by some who had no clue who Ray Stevens was prior to that.

There is also a portion of the media who frown on comedy recordings...sophisticated music critics are completely at a loss when a single like "It's Me Again, Margaret" can capture a segment of the music audience...afterall, in the minds of the sophisticate, there's nothing sophisticated about a song dealing with an obscene phone caller...and that dirty laugh. Heh heh heh heh heh!!!

But while the media looks down their nose on comedy and novelty songs preferring "serious, legitimate recordings", it should also be noted that Ray's serious side has come under attack in some circles of the media as well. Music critics who do not like songs grouped in the "peace and love" category always had something cute to say in the early 1970's regarding Ray's #1 hit "Everything Is Beautiful". Critics today, 38 years later, most of them born well after 1970, cringe at the song because it deals with topics that somehow have become less appealing through the years? A song about hoping people can get along in spite of everyone's differences seems to me like a universal topic/theme but to hear it from music critics of today they shudder when they think of the song.

It is a shame, though. In some circles, though, the media has been positive. A lot of the negative comments often come from internet hot-shots and pop music critics, actually, who don't really have an idea who Ray Stevens is anyhow. The media embrace actually started to take shape in country music publications in the late 1970's and continued on through the 1980's and into the 1990's. The country music publications seemed far less cynical in their reporting, too. Country Song Roundup covered Ray's career often in the late '70s and into the early '80s. The Music City News publication, which was famous for it's fan-voted awards show, also featured lengthy and positive write-up's for Ray. Ray also kept his name and his music in the market place with print ad's in Billboard magazine and other publications.

In one of the ironic cases, though...I earlier wrote about Comedy Video Classics being seen by some as a collection of music video's by an unknown singer with a beard...but the success of that home video and the others that followed was directly tied to the media. Ray used the media, in print ad's and TV commercials, to sell his home video's. The few "critics" who consider themselves hip and all-knowing who bash Ray and his brand of entertainment probably don't even have a sense of humor...let alone the ability to dial a phone number.

November 21, 2008

Ray in the wilderness

In 1986 Ray recorded a trio of songs that took place out in the woods...amongst nature's animals. The above video montage is of "Camp Werthahekahwee". The song is about summer camp but it includes funny lyrics and situations, typical in most Ray Stevens novelty songs. The history of the camp is explained during the song...Ray telling us that it was started by a Chief who stumbled upon an area of land but lost his sense of direction and could never make it back home. An example of some of the funny lyrics are "just a bit northeast of nowhere, founded on a swamp" which is explaining the location of this camp. The chief's name is Dog-Gone-If-I-Know. The song carries a boy scout/summer camp feel...the music sets the mood. The song has a funny twist in the end when Ray goes to pick his son up at the camp.

"The Camping Trip" is a song about a family that goes on a camping trip and the predicaments that soon plague this family. The song is mostly a spoken recording with Ray telling us about the trip...throughout the recording we hear Ray's "thoughts" coinciding with his re-call of the camping trip. This is marked by Ray's voice sounding distant, like we're hearing the thoughts inside his head. A lot of the humor comes from the mundane things everyone does when camping...pitching tents, telling ghost stories, etc. but in this recording those things are told with a twist. For instance, in the song, Ray's wife decides to bring everything with her...creating the image that this family is way out in the wildnerness with no electricity but yet the wife wants to bring curling irons and hair dryers. The price of the camping equipment is also given...well over six thousand dollars...a humorous comment on the over-priced equipment campers take along with them. Disaster soon strikes as campfire sparks drift to a pile of leaves and this starts a fire which consumes just about everything in sight. Then, the fire is put out by a almost flood-like rainstorm hits their camp site. Then, the family is attacked by a bear...they escape, though, with Ray thinking to himself how he was conned into embracing the great outdoors and stating that next summer he'll be going to Hawaii or other tropical locations.

"Smokey Mountain Rattlesnake Retreat" tells the story of a married couple who go out into the woods and sit in during a rattlesnake revival. The couple apparently is not aware that the church uses rattlesnakes and that provides the bulk of the song's story. The wife, Doris, turns out to be a participant in the chaos as she faints but is soon brought back when a huge snake is dropped in her lap. Then, as Ray tells us, Doris becomes a possessed worshiper who comes across as Lash LaRue and she swings a rattlesnake around and around over her head like a rope. The chain of events comes to a head, literally, as she smacks the snake apparently on a church pew and it's head comes off and sails across the room...not only that, Doris tap dances on top of a group of snakes that are crawling on the floor.

These songs are on Ray's 1986 album Surely You Joust and more recently he has re-recorded the second two songs and they appeared on his 2008 album, Hurricane.

November 16, 2008

Ray Stevens: HELP!!!

"Help" is a song from Ray Stevens 1969 album Have a Little Talk With Myself and it originally was recorded by The Beatles; not only that, it was the name of one of their movies. Ray covered the song but it wasn't issued as a commercial single on either an A or B side so it remains an obscure album track. I did a video montage several weeks ago or several months ago and that is what you see at the start of this blog. "Help" also played into the over-all theme of Ray's album: loneliness, asking for help, and despair.

Ray was a recurring player on Andy Williams TV show...guesting several times...and during the 1969-1971 era a lot of Ray's material was spotlighed on this program, more than any other TV show on the air. Ray hosted the 1970 summer show for Andy Williams, too. A summer show is a series that replaced the regular program during the summer often air during the summer months for mostly all TV shows, returning in the fall with new episodes. Well, Andy's program didn't offer many re-runs. Instead, Andy would fill his vacated time-slot with familiar faces for a summer season before the vacated show returned in the fall.

"Hey Jude", another Beatles song, is my latest You Tube montage. The performance is considerably lesser in length than the over seven minute Beatles production. Ray's version clocks in at 4 minutes, 29 seconds while the Beatles 1968 mega smash version clocks in at 7 minutes, 5 seconds. The Beatles version was a #1 hit...naturally...nearly everything they did during the British Invasion period hit the top of the UK or American music charts. In America, "Hey Jude" was a #1 single for 9 weeks. Ray didn't issue his version as a single...likewise for the versions of "Help", "The Fool On The Hill", "Hair", "Spinning Wheel", and "Aquarius" he covered on Have A Little Talk With Myself in 1969.

Ray Stevens: Take Your Love...take it and go...

One of my favorite songs on the 1981 Ray Stevens album, One More Last Chance, is "Take Your Love". It's a love ballad delivered with a sense of urgency and emotion not heard on previous love ballads by Ray Stevens. In the song, Ray sings about a life that's seen nothing but heartaches and trouble ever since he lost a woman he once was a companion with. This advise of "take your love..." is being directed at a new woman in the man's life. The man doesn't want to risk being hurt once more and so he tells her to go away and gives her warning that being with him wouldn't be a pleasant task. The song is ambiguous in that it doesn't really say where it takes place but judging by the lyrics it sounds as if it takes place at a bar...which would fit in with the overall theme of lonesomeness and heartache that this album projects. The album contains 10 songs...mostly all love ballads, or, ballads in general...the only time the album really kicks into high gear is on the trumpet heavy song, "Pretend", which was originally a slow ballad by Nat King Cole. "Pretend" in the hands of Ray Stevens is turned into a Herb Alpert-like number. It's a catchy performance. "Take Your Love" is on the opposite extreme. The title track, which hit the country music Top-40, features electric guitars as the lead instruments and it has a mid-tempo melody but it's still, of course, a love ballad.

1. One More Last Chance {mid-tempo}
2. Just About Love
3. Certain Songs
4. Melissa
5. I Believe You Love Me {mid-tempo}
6. Pretend {up-tempo}
7. It's Not All Over
8. Let's Do it Right This Time {mid-tempo}
9. Take Your Love
10. Night Games {mid-tempo}

November 14, 2008

Have a Little Talk...about Ray Stevens!

In a previous blog I mentioned the upcoming 40th anniversary of Ray's Gitarzan single and album. Ray issued another album in 1969 which, too, will turn 40 next year. This album was all-serious and it contained his versions of contemporary pop songs and a couple of new songs. The cover songs include his take on "But You Know I Love You", which was a country hit for Bill Anderson as well as Dolly Parton. The pop version was by The First Edition, which included future country music super-star, Kenny Rogers. The writer was a man named Mike Settle, a member of The First Edition. Some daring covers and I say daring depending on whose reading this...some daring covers include his versions of several major Beatles pop hits. There are those who feel The Beatles can not be covered...some are very protective when it comes to songs. It's now time to understand the era in which Ray Stevens emerged from...his era of singers were open to singing anything as long as something new could be added...which may include something major like a tempo change or something subtle like instrumentation. The Beatles songs that Ray covers on this album are "Hey Jude" and "Help". Ray over-dubs his voice many times to create the background vocals and the choir effect on a lot of these songs. "Hey Jude" in particular. Interestingly, while I had written that Ray likes to play around and dabble with songs, he seemed to keep The Beatles songs in tact...down to the rousing close of "Hey Jude" with all the na-na, na-na, na na na na's that close out the song.

One of the newer songs is "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" which was issued as a single in late 1969. Ray was the first artist to record this song, famously recorded by Johnny Cash a year later in 1970. Ray's version stalled on the pop Hot 100 at #81 in 1969 but it made the country Top 100, reaching the Top-60, his first appearance on the country singles chart. Years later Ray said that his public image couldn't sell the song in the way Johnny Cash did. A listener couldn't imagine clean-cut Ray Stevens on a drinking binge but they could imagine Johnny Cash on a binge. Kris Kristofferson wrote the song. It's said that he wrote this and "Help Me Make It Through The Night" on the same day. Another of the newer songs is "The Little Woman" which Ray himself wrote. This song is about a man who meets a social-climbing woman in a bar and from what we hear she comes on to Ray but he tells her no thanks, he's married.

"Hair" comes from the rock musical...Ray performs all parts of the song and it comes close to being a novelty in his delivery. Ray tells us he wants to give a home to the fleas in his well as a hive for the bees...a nest for the birds, etc etc. The song originates from a musical depicting the rebellious notion of men letting their hair grow long, which was a symbol of women for years and years while men had shorter hair...but in the mid to late '60s things changed and men started to let their hair grow. The Cowsills recorded "Hair" and had a huge pop hit with it in 1969. Another song from that musical is "Aquarius". Ray performs this song in step with the Fifth Dimension's version that year. Their take was released as a single and became a multi-week #1 hit.

Along the way we hear Ray take on the "Spinning Wheel", a pop hit for Blood, Sweat, and Tears and he covered Bob Dylan's "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight". Another song from John Lennon and Paul McCartney is on this album, "The Fool on the Hill". One of the stand-outs in an album of stand-out songs is his take on Joe South's "Games People Play". Our man Ray was seriously taking on some pretty big names in the rock world for this album.

Aside from "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down", the other commercial single was the title track, the self-written "Have a Little Talk With Myself". This song is an introspective song about man's selfishness and arrogance in their quest for fame and glory. Ray sings the song personally...coming across as if he's the one who needs to change his ways and attitude. The single charted country, reaching the Top-70.

Songs are not in order as they appear on the 1969 album...

1. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight
2. But You Know I Love You
3. Aquarius
4. Help
5. Hair
6. Spinning Wheel
7. The Little Woman
8. Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down
9. The Fool On The Hill
10. Games People Play
11. Hey Jude
12. Have A Little Talk With Myself

This was the picture sleeve of the title track, issued in France as a for a bigger image...


November 13, 2008

Ray Stevens....all that Jungle talk....

We're coming up on the 40th anniversary of Gitarzan and i'd like to spotlight the single and the album that carried that title in 1969. We have two very distinct and very different picture sleeve's that appeared on the single. The single with the yellow/gold lettering is the international release...the single sent to Canada, the UK, Germany, and other places. The picture sleeve showing Ray holding the guitar is the picture sleeve that accompanied the single here in America. "Gitarzan" is a musical spoof of Tarzan. It features Gitarzan, Jane, and their pet as members of a rock band. Ray put the song together using a title given to him by Bill Justis whose credited on the single as Bill Everette. The lyrics deliberately are put together with internal rhymes. The concept of the song is Tarzan being a guitar player. The song comes complete with Ray's Tarzan yell and monkey chants plus his falsetto role as Jane. Jane is a bit of a prima donna we find out as she wants to take up all the spotlight, demanding her lover shut up because she's trying to sing. The single became a gold record and a pop Top-10 hit in 1969, at the time it was his first Top-10 single since 1962's million seller "Ahab the Arab". The b-side of the single was the funny "Bagpipes, That's My Bag" which told the story of Patrick Alfred Muldoon who was obsessed with the bagpipes. The phrase "that's my bag" was a slang phrase in the 1960's as another way of saying "that's my hobby" or "that's my talent". So, Muldoon's 'bag' was playing the bagpipes. I particularly love the part of how Muldoon keeps his lungs in shape.

The Gitarzan album featured a lot of comedy recordings, most of them were his versions of Coasters songs and other artist's novelty songs. "Yakety Yak" opens up the album. Ray also did a wonderful job on the stripper song "Little Egypt". I'm partial to Ray Stevens and prefer his versions of "Little Egypt" and "Alley Oop". Ray is very energetic on these recordings...throwing in various James Brown-like hollers, particularly on "Yakety Yak". "Alley Oop" is the tale of a caveman...the toughest man there is alive...wearin' clothes from a wild-cat's hide. "Sir Thanks a Lot" is a nice little comedy song that doesn't get as much attention from the various independent record labels that have spotlighted the material from this album down through the years. "Sir Thanks a Lot" is a narrative, making one think of Andy Griffith, which tells the story of the Knights of the Round Table and a knight not many recall, Thanks a Lot.

Ray updates "Harry the Hairy Ape" for this album. He originally recorded the song in 1963 and had a Top-20 pop and R&B hit with it. This 1969 version remains lyrically pretty much the same except for subtle the 1963 original, the dance called Mashed Potato is mentioned while in this version a dance called Boog-a-loo Shing-a-ling is mentioned. Also in the 1969 version the DJ remarks that Harry is "too cool, too cool, too cool", a passage missing in the original from 1963. The song is about an ape who escapes from a city zoo and ends up being a rock star because of a near-sighted DJ thinking the ape is just another long-haired rocker. Larry Verne's "Mr. Custer" is tackled on this album, too.

In addition to "Gitarzan", the second single from the album was "Along Came Jones", originally recorded ten years earlier, in 1959, by The Coasters. For those who don't know, The Coasters were a big influence on Ray. Ray's version of "Along Came Jones" hit the pop Top-30 in 1969. The album was re-issued in 1996 on CD and featured bonus tracks not featured on the original version of the album: "The Streak", "Moonlight Special", and "Bridget The Midget".

The album closes with a re-recording of "Ahab the Arab". This recording is the one often heard on those various compilation albums that have been issued on Ray through the years.

November 11, 2008

Comedy Curb...Part Three...

After having signed with MCA Records in 1996, Curb was out of the picture for a number of years. Ray Stevens' MCA stay was brief, however, exiting the label after a two-album run in 1997.

In 2001, specifically 9/11, most country artists began to issue patriotic songs. At the same time there were a lot of novelty and comedy songs popping up about Osama bin Laden and terrorists in general. Ray made his contribution to the list of Osama novelty songs when in early 2002 he released the single "Osama Yo' Mama" on Curb Records. The single was a surprise reached the Country Top-50 and it became a Gold record on top of it spent multiple weeks at #1 on the Country Single Sales chart.

Well...Curb issued an album to support the single, Osama Yo' Mama: The Album, and the album entered the Top-30 on the country of his highest ranked albums in over a decade. He made a music video of "Osama Yo' Mama" and it's sequel, "Hello Mama". After the initial splash of the single and the album throughout much of 2002 on into early 2003, things quieted back down. Ray opened up his theater again in 2005 for a series of concerts and Curb issued a 3-CD collection simply called Box Set which contained numerous recordings, mostly songs that he recorded in the early 1990's for Curb plus a wide variety of previous hit songs all re-recorded. Ray remained with Curb Records in addition to releasing material on his own label, Clyde Records.  The Box Set would become a durable sales hit for Curb...frequently appearing on Amazon's Best-Sellers lists for years.

Hurricane Katrina inspired a single-only release in 2005...the topical "The New Battle of New Orleans". The single was distributed by Curb but most of it's availability was on-line as a digital single. The hurricane and the floods inspired a more serious approach in 2007 with the release of New Orleans Moon which found Ray singing songs about New Orleans and other spots in Louisiana. The album was available as a digital-download but then Curb started making physical copies of the album for distribution. A few months later, Ray offered a new digital single, "Ruby Falls". This single was also distributed by Curb Records and has yet to make it's way onto any collection.

Earlier this year Curb distributed Hurricane which boasted a lot of comedy songs. The title track was a satire on CNN's coverage of natural disasters with Ray portraying various characters in the song, prominently Wolf Spitzer...a broad exaggeration of Wolf Blitzer. The album featured 7 brand-new songs and 5 re-recordings of previous material. Hurricane carried a redneck theme throughout most of the songs: "Hey Bubba, Watch This!", "Down Home Beach", and "Bubba, The Wine Connoisseur". Ross Perot and economics are dealt with on "Sucking Sound". One of the surprises is "Rub It In", a song that Ray originally produced and published for it's songwriter, Layng Martine, Jr. but Billy Crash Craddock would end up having the hit recording. "The Cure" tells the story of home remedies.

In celebration of Ray's 50th anniversary, Curb issued the budget-priced 50th Anniversary Collection a couple of months ago which was a single CD's worth of songs pulled from the 2005 Box Set. To date, that is the most recent offering from Curb Records on Ray Stevens.

November 10, 2008

Comedy Curb...Part Two...

Ray borrow a catch-phrase from one of his songs "he's everywhere! he's everywhere!!". It was certainly true that Ray seemed to be everywhere even though he kept himself planted in Branson, Missouri at his theater during 1991 and into 1992. It was during 1992 that Ray experienced one of the biggest years of his then 35 year career. When he was performing at his theater he often used a big jumbo-tron movie screen to play visuals to the songs he was singing on the stage. The audience started paying attention to the visuals and laughed at the things that they saw as Ray was singing and so he got the idea of making music video's. He could not find a major label to distribute the home video he was planning and so he self-financed and released the revolutionary Comedy Video Classics on his own label, Clyde Records. The home video featured eight music videos. These music video's are all over on-line sites like Google Video, You Tube, and AOL Video. The home video was sold by way of direct mail. This method wasn't anything new...for several years a lot of artists had sold their music on TV and in print-ad's. However, the concept of selling home video's using TV advertisements was makes perfect sense now but at the time it was rarely practiced because the idea didn't seem profitable, I guess?

So, throughout 1992, Ray was all over TV with his 30 second TV commercial advertising Comedy Video Classics and the sales of the home video set records and set in motion a tidal wave of other artists and record labels hoping to cash-in on the success Ray was having. Curb Records was able to distribute the home video to retail stores after the exclusive TV offer ran it's course. The home video had sales two and a half million, which for a home video, is a staggering figure. Ray issued a follow-up home video in 1993, Ray Stevens Live, which was certified Platinum for sales over 100,000 and it, too, was sold over TV. The footage was shot at Ray's theater down in Branson. This home video and it's sequel, More Ray Stevens Live, serve as video documentation of Ray's fun-packed shows at his theater. Ray Stevens Live was not the blockbuster that Comedy Video Classics was but it sold well for a home video. Curb Records also handled the store distribution.

1993 also saw the release of Classic Ray Stevens which returned Ray to audio after his success with video. The album featured all new recordings in spite of it's title. On that year's Music City News awards program Ray debuted the main single from the album "If Ten Percent Is Good Enough For Jesus It Oughta Be Enough For Uncle Sam". The album also featured the quirky "Motel Song" plus "Super Cop" and a semi-serious love ballad, "Meanwhile". The album also contained a song Ray wrote himself, "If You and Yo' Folks Like Me and My Folks". This marked the first time since 1989 that one of Ray's own compositions was featured. Ray then made the announcement that he was selling his theater to concentrate on other things and on top of that he would later leave Curb Records.

In the meantime, Ray started working on a land-mark movie. The movie would incorporate music video's plus spoken dialogue sandwiched in between the music video's. Ray called this a twist on the musical. The results of this shown up in 1995, a home video release entitled Get Serious. The movie ran 110 minutes and Ray starred as himself plus he played numerous characters throughout the movie. His co-star was Connie Freeman in the role of Charlene MacKenzie. The movie's plot dealt with political correctness and the attempts of a new record label wanting to change Ray's public image from comedy to opera. The label executive was a wild impression of Paul Lynde. A lot of Ray's friends in country music made cameo appearances: Johnny Russell, Chet Atkins, and Charlie Chase each had some screen time as did Williams and Ree, Charlie Lamb, James Gregory, and George Lindsay. Jerry Clower had the most on-screen time as his role was portraying Ray's manager. Buddy Kalb and Tim Hubbard portrayed Bubba and Coy from the Shriner's Convention...doubling as Dudley Dorite and his deputy, Coy, throughout the movie in pursuit of fugitive Ray Stevens, who was fleeing not only from the label executive and his group of associates but also from Dudley Dorite, Coy, and nearly the entire town of Hahira, Georgia who were looking for revenge on Ray for mocking their town and it's people in several comedy songs. The main players out for revenge included Dudley Dorite/Bubba, Coy, Harv Newland, Sister Bertha, Clyde, and Ethel. The home video movie did as well as Ray Stevens Live as it, too, appeared in TV commercials. Curb issued a soundtrack album of Ray Stevens Live to retail stores in 1995 plus they mined Ray's classic hits and put together Twenty Comedy Hits which featured mostly contemporary material from his 1990, 1991, and 1993 albums plus some bonafide classics at the start of the collection. Curb then released Great Gospel Songs in 1996 which was partially a re-release of his 1974 gospel album Turn Your Radio On with other gospel-inspirational songs he had recorded added into the mix. The release of Great Gospel Songs was the last project Curb issued on Ray throughout the rest of the decade as Ray signed to MCA late in 1996.

Comedy Curb...Part One...

Ray Stevens joined the Curb Records label in 1990 and this decade shown Ray's career explode in an entirely different direction. The first year at Curb hinted at things to come as Ray introduced two music videos...promoting the his debut album on Curb in 1990: Lend Me Your Ears. The two music videos were "Sittin' Up With the Dead" and "Help Me Make It Through The Night". Ray had previously only produced one music video and that was for "Santa Claus Is Watching You"...but with this 1990 album two music video's emerged. Also on Lend Me Your Ears there was a very funny spoof of Stanley and Livingstone, "This Ain't Exactly What I Had In Mind" and an insane recording about a man obsessed with "Barbeque". Ray re-visits the jungle theme on the song "Bwana and the Jungle Girl" about a couple who pretend they're Tarzan and Jane when their kids are away. Curb Records had also released a compilation album in 1990 called His All-Time Greatest Comic Hits and that collection eventually became a Gold record. It continued to show that Ray's biggest and best-known songs were still selling even in the 1990's.

History Lesson: Ray is dressed up as Julius Caesar on the cover of Lend Me Your Ears from 1990. I do not have the picture of His All-Time Greatest Hits posted but on that cover he appears in character calling Margaret, referring to the 1984 hit song "It's Me Again, Margaret".

In 1991, Curb issued two more albums on Ray. One was the compilation Greatest Hits which featured a new recording of "There's A Star Spangled Banner", a song he originally recorded in 1989. This hits collection also favored more serious material, too, with eight of the ten songs being serious non-comedy recordings. The two comedy recordings included were 1969's "Along Came Jones" and 1987's "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?". The picture on the cover was often used as a publicity picture throughout the 1990's. The other 1991 album was the all-comedy #1 With a Bullet which featured Ray on the cover holding up a big bullet, wearing a bright yellow Cat hat, and looking quite comical striking a rapper/hip-hop pose...intentionally or un-intentionally...with his hat turned to the side on his head. This 1991 album featured a lot of strange, bizarre comedy songs...something his albums had gotten away from during the last part of the 1980's. "Tabloid News", "Power Tools", and "You Gotta Have a Hat" featured topical humor delivered in a silly way. For those curious, "You Gotta Have a Hat" is a song about country music's fascination with cowboy hats and how a lot of the newer male artists were all wearing much so that the media nick-named the singers The Hat Acts.

"Workin' For the Japanese" was a satirical look at global economics, one of the more in your face recordings associated with Ray over the years. "Juanita and the Kids" was later pulled from this album and made into a music video. Ray often performed this song around income tax time as it has to do with the IRS. "Shiek of R&B" could be described as a salute to Ray's early R&B/blues influences, blending it with Arabian culture. The title was no doubt derived from the movie Shiek of Arabee. 1991 was the year Ray opened up his theatre in Branson, Missouri. This theatre became one of the most sold-out and it also provided Ray with a place where the fans traveled to see him.

November 9, 2008

Ray Stevens: Let's Be careful with those Razors!!

Examining the 1985 comedy album from Ray Stevens titled I Have Returned we give our attention today to one of the popular recordings from this album. The Haircut Song is a every sense of the word. It is one of those special kind of Ray Stevens novelty songs that is filled with detail...bringing the listener along with him on his quest for a perfect haircut and a perfect barber, two things that usually are non-existent when one is traveling the country. The song is rather lengthy as Ray visits three separate barbershops and receives three very unique haircuts. His first stop is up in Butte, Montana. The barbershop up there that he visits is decorated in heavy-duty macho-man...hairdryers mounted on rifle racks. If that wasn't nerve racking enough, the barber happens to be a 300 pounder prone to smoking cigars. The image is cast as a construction worker as this barber wears a hard hat as well. The barber immediately sets the tone of the visit, gruffly asking Ray "what'll it be, pal??". The most revealing aspect, and the one perhaps causing Ray more anxiety, is the shirt the barber wears that states "I hate musicians". Ray meekly explains that he's a logger and he's been topping trees, trying to impress the mean barber with an ax to grind. Ray winds up getting all his hair shaved off...but things look up because the set back is only temporary because with his baldness he may get a job working with heavy equipment.

The second barber that Ray encounters happens to be is Los Angeles. The interior of the barbershop boosts the usage of black leather. There are whips, chains, and other domination toys hanging around the shop. That wasn't even half of the story...the barber walks out wearing orange hair...heavy black mascara, plus stainless steel teeth!! Upon seeing this display, you can bet Ray is just a wee bit nervous. Then, the barber seriously tells Ray: "I'm gonna tell you somethin' that might make you a little nervous!". At this point, Ray laughs it off and ponders what else could possibly make him nervous. The barber then comes out of the closet. Ray explains that he's a logger and that he was in the marines and had played football in high school. The haircut that the gay barber left Ray could be described as punk rock since this segment of the song was satirizing punk rockers. Ray had a wild hair-do and a facial make-over as well; for not only did Ray have shades of purple hair but half of the hair was in a white streak and the other half was like Mr T, with a purple strip down the middle, giving the image that his mohawk resembled a skunk tail he had safety pins in his cheeks.

The third barber that Ray comes in contact with is down in the south. A policeman actually demanded that Ray go get himself a haircut "or a dog tag!" and so into this southern barbershop Ray walks in. The shop was built in the shape of a church while an usher walked Ray up to his barber chair. The barber turns out to be a southern preacher, crying foul on all things sinful and speaks down on dancing, drinking, sex, and "the music business in general". The barber insists that Ray give out what he does for a living...with hesitation Ray admits that he's worked in bars and casino's and around liquor and wild women. Ray tells the barber that he runs a church for loggers.

The radio version of the song edited out the second barbershop visit. I have the 45 RPM single in my collection and it doesn't feature the second segment of the song. The music video he did for the song in 2000 doesn't feature the second trip to the barbershop, either, although it would've been hysterical to see Ray in that sort of punk rock look. The original long version of the song can be found on I Have Returned as well as the 1987 release, Greatest Hits, Volume Two.

One of the running gags of the song was the phrase "I just play my piano and sing my little songs" which is often used by Ray in real life whenever asked if he thinks his songs create controversy. The phrase was used in his 1995 movie Get Serious as well.

History lesson: Ray is dressed as General MacArthur on the album cover. MacArthur was noted for two sayings that were said during his military career, one was "I Shall Return" and the other was "I Have Returned", when he walked to the shore of Philippine Leyte Island, wading through the water in 1944.