October 31, 2008

Get The Best of Ray Stevens

I thought it would be good to spotlight the album in my profile picture. Yes...it's a vinyl album. Some may think it's a calendar but it isn't. A few of my nieces and nephews saw it sitting on my desk one time and one of them asked where I got the "calendar" and I had to explain that it isn't calendar but a vinyl album...one asked where's all the pictures if it's an "album". I said it's an album of songs. One said "like a CD?" and I said yes. One said it looks bigger than a CD. That's when I stopped trying to explain what a vinyl album was.

The album was released in 1987 and it was later sold on TV. The television promotion happened nearly two years later in early 1989. It's a double-album...it features two separate vinyl records in one jacket. A jacket is another name for album cover.

There are 20 songs on here and they are listed below:

Mr. Businessman
Shriner's Convention
Can He Love You Half As Much As I
Turn Your Radio On
The Blue Cyclone
Jeremiah Peabody
Along Came Jones
Freddie Feelgood
The Mississippi Squirrel Revival
In The Mood
I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow
The Haircut Song
The Streak
Harry The Hairy Ape
It's Me Again Margaret
Ahab The Arab
Everything Is Beautiful

There were a couple other compilation albums released in 1987 in addition to this one. There was the release simply called Greatest Hits that went Platinum and there was the follow-up Greatest Hits, Volume Two that went Gold. Each of those releases contained 10 songs a piece but on the double album there are two songs missing. The two songs that are missing are "Mama's In The Sky With Elvis" and "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" because those two songs were recorded exclusively for the Volume Two of Greatest Hits and therefore weren't on any compilation album to date. On the double album, those two songs were replaced with "Harry the Hairy Ape" and "Furthermore". So, the double album is a collector's edition of sorts because it's a special release but it contains 18 songs found on Greatest Hits and Greatest Hits, Volume Two which both were released in 1987.

October 29, 2008

Me...no not me as in me...Me as in Ray Stevens

Arriving in 1983 on the Mercury label, this Ray Stevens album celebrates it's Silver Anniversary. It produced one chart hit, "My Dad", amongst the material. The album cover is clever, titled "Me", which is named for one of the ballad's on the under-rated album. Ray's daughter makes a guest vocal appearance on a song entitled "Yolanda".

The songs range from light-hearted sing-a-longs like "Yolanda" and "Piece of Paradise Called Tennessee" to emotional ballads such as "Me", "Mary Lou Nights", "My Dad", and "Love Will Beat Your Brains Out". On that particular recording Ray warns us that he'll never fall in love again and goes on to tell us why and that he's had enough because he only gets hurt in the end. "Me" is a self-reflective type of song in that it explains a man who finally finds the right person and is comfortable enough to be just himself. "My Dad", the main single from the album, is an ode to father's everywhere. "Special Anniversary" wins in the category of saddest song on the album. The song is short but it says so much. It's about a man who meets up with a woman by accident in a restaurant who happens to be with her new lover and we hear a one-sided conversation. The man and his former lover accidentally see one another on the first year anniversary of her leaving.

Ray has lots of things to say to this woman including letting her know that he's still alone after she left him. As he and his former lover are about to part ways he thanks her for their special anniversary.

Loneliness is the subject of "Mary Lou Nights". The lead instrument being a harmonica sets the tone of the song. In the song, Ray sings about a woman named Mary Lou and how he misses her and this causes him to have what he calls "Mary Lou Nights" because she appears in his dreams. "Piedmont Park" is a ballad about a man who meets a woman he hasn't seen in a long time and the bittersweet awkwardness when he finds out she wants to hook up with him but the problem is he's already married by now. "Kings and Queens" is a quaint love ballad...nothing too fancy...it's a story of a man and woman who live a simple life but they feel like royalty because their life is uncluttered and free from stress.

The up-tempo songs on this album are few but there are some. "Yolanda", which features his daughter, Suzi, as a guest vocalist, is south of the border in it's music arrangement. Yolanda is the name of a woman who works in a restaurant in Mexico that the men all fall in love with. "Piece of Paradise Called Tennessee" would have been a wonderful song for the chamber of commerce in Tennessee to use to promote the state but sadly it wasn't promoted in that direction. The song is a boastful, pride-filled declaration of all things good about Tennessee specifically Music City USA, a/k/a Nashville.

Lastly, we have "Game Show Love", which is a very clever song. A game show fan myself, specifically older game shows, this rates up there as my favorite of this album. The lyrics of the song simply combines game show titles and game show catch-phrases and puts them in a love song setting. It's a neat song name-dropping all sorts of game shows and catch-phrases like "come on down" and "survey says...". The song closes out the Me album.

So, a happy Silver Anniversary to the Ray Stevens Me album from me and all of Ray's fans.

1. Love Will Beat Your Brains Out
2. Mary Lou Nights
3. Piedmont Park
4. Special Anniversary
5. Me
6. My Dad
7. Piece of Paradise Called Tennessee
8. Yolanda
9. Kings and Queens
10. Game Show Love

October 28, 2008

Ray Stevens: For those curious...

For those curious, this is the back cover of One More Last Chance, Ray Stevens' 1981 album on RCA Records. As I touched upon in other blog entries, during this era in Ray's career he looked every bit the part of the urban cowboy. I saw him a couple of times on television during the early '80s...programs that were re-ran in the 1990's. On one such appearance he appeared on Hee-Haw in 1980 and sang "Shriner's Convention" and "Love Me Longer". The latter was a song he had recorded in 1973. Why he chose to perform that specific song instead of more recent recordings I don't know...but the lyrics do carry a sort of macho, one-night stand approach which fed into the urban cowboy movement in country music.

One More Last Chance...and the Urban Cowboy

Ahhh, this is the cover of Ray Stevens 1981 RCA album, One More Last Chance. I do not know who the people are in the picture except for Ray Stevens of course. The back of the album shows him grinning wearing the cowboy hat.

As I mentioned in one of my Ray Stevens career essay's, this album was released in 1981 at the peak of the Urban Cowboy movement that swept through country music. Urban Cowboy is a 1980 movie starring John Travolta. The movie took place mostly at country singer Mickey Gilley's bar in Texas, known as "Gilley's". The movement included many people outside of country music embracing the "country" image and wearing "country" apparel. Cowboy hats, boots, fringe vests, and anything else that would cry out "country" was bought up by those caught up in the Urban Cowboy movie. The movie's soundtrack was a huge success, too. Ray took on an Urban Cowboy look during this period...often appearing in blue jeans and those style of shirts. In one Hee-Haw appearance from 1980 he performs a love ballad wearing a cowboy hat looking similar to Johnny Lee, a country singer whose biggest hit "Lookin' For Love" was the theme song of the Urban Cowboy movie.

One More Last Chance featured a well-crafted line-up of songs running through a myriad of emotions. The album was ballad heavy with just a few songs making it to mid-tempo. "One More Last Chance" featured an electric guitar as it's lead instrument...but the steel guitar was prominent on the recording as well. "Just About Love", "Let's Do It Right This Time", "It's Not All Over", "Certain Songs" and "I Believe You Love Me" play on the album's concept of love gone wrong with the hope of another chance. "Melissa" is a deep love ballad that tells the story of a man who falls in love with a woman but the two of them have very different lifestyles and yet he still loves her. "Take Your Love" is a song that cuts to the heart and the man pleads with a woman to take her love and go because he isn't cut out for relationships due to all of the bad ones he's been in. "Pretend" is the only song that breaks the mood...it comes on with an urgent brass section and Mexican-flavored arrangements. It is the same song that Nat King Cole had a hit with as a ballad but Ray's version is up-tempo...it's sort of like Ray Stevens meets Herb Alpert, which may give you an idea of how the song sounds.

The album's closing song, "Night Games", was actually a Top-20 single for Ray in late 1980 but it never appeared on an album until this one was released. That song takes place inside a bar room where a story unfolds between a woman and a man who meet one another at a bar, perhaps Gilley's? Anyway, the song tells the story of the couple who find one another, have a one night stand, and wake up the next morning embarrassed and feeling awkward over what took place but because the two are hopeless romantics they'll leave each other and go out on the town later that night looking for love{?} and join everybody else who are out there playing night games.

Ray Stevens...Multi-talented musician, part four

The 1990's offered some changes in Ray's career. He made a couple of music video's for two songs on his debut album for Curb Records. Lend Me Your Ears was the title of Ray's 1990 album and on the cover he appeared as Julius Caesar. "Sittin' Up With the Dead" and his up-tempo version of "Help Me Make It Through the Night" were made into music video's. Another song promoted from the album was "Barbeque", a song about a man's obsession with barbeque. The album wasn't a chart hit for Ray as his previous MCA albums had been. Curb at the same time had issued a compilation album called His All-Time Greatest Comic Hits and on the CD cover he appears in costume singing "It's Me Again, Margaret". This album would achieve Gold status. He followed the 1990 album with #1 With a Bullet in 1991. This particular album contained two chart hits. "Working For The Japanese" hit in late 1991...reaching the country Top-65. The satirical tale is borderline serious, too, as it questions America's dependence on foreign products and the immigration frenzy. "Power Tools" hit in early 1992 and it was a comedy song about a macho man who is obsessed with power tools and the trouble he gets into with them. One of the big hit shows that year was ABC-TV's "Home Improvement" and that show focused on a power tool fanatic played by Tim Allen. "Power Tools" was written months before the ABC show hit the air so it's one of those coincidental things. The 1991 album also featured "Teenage Mutant Kung Fu Chickens" which was a spoof of a certain Saturday morning cartoon series I'm sure everyone's heard of called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. "Tabloid News", the fourth track, is a rip on tabloid news. There's a song on there that takes aim at the Hat Acts in country music, "You Gotta Have a Hat". The 1991 album was filled with nutty material...one song invovled pulling a fast one on the IRS with the help of an inflatable doll named Juanita. You'd have to hear the song to grasp it's nuttiness.

After the 1990 and 1991 albums, Curb issued Greatest Hits in 1991. This compilation was just a collection of mostly non-comedy recordings from Ray during the '60s, '70s, and '80s. It included an alternate take on "There's a Star Spangled Banner", a song originally recorded in 1989. 1991 was a busy year for Ray...as you previously read in the above paragraph...it became even busier when his theater in Branson, Missouri opened up.

The Ray Stevens Theater was one of the consistently sold-out venues in Branson. He played the theater during most of the year...performing two shows a day for six days a week. The theater was one of Ray's biggest commercial successes during the 1990's. His biggest success, though, came along in 1992 with the release of a home video called Comedy Video Classics. This landmark home video, sold over TV, and eventually sold in stores, introduced Ray to an even bigger audience than before. His 30 second TV commercial for the project ran at all hours of the day, on most TV networks...and on cable-TV late at night. I even heard a radio commercial for it. The work paid off because the home video eventually sold a million copies on TV marketing...the success of it would transfer into stores and sell half a million copies, which for a home video, was something rare. All in all, Comedy Video Classics would sell 1.5 million copies and become a #1 home video for half a year in retail stores. Billboard named it Home Video of the Year, which wasn't a surprise, but the sales took the industry by surprise...and it allowed Ray to claim success in four consecutive decades: '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. Comedy Video Classics was released on his own label, Clyde Records, named for the camel in "Ahab the Arab".

Ray followed this home video in 1993 with Ray Stevens Live, a concert video shot at his theater. This one was not the blockbuster success of the previous one but it was a success. A little known home video sequel, More Ray Stevens Live, was issued in 1993 to fan club members and to those who visited his theater's gift shop. After the successes in home video's, Ray returned to audio with Classic Ray Stevens which in spite of it's title, featured 10 all-new recordings. Ray's face appears on a bust of Beethovan as to why the album has it's name. A couple of songs were promoted as singles. "If Ten Percent Is Good Enough For Jesus It Oughta Be Enough For Uncle Sam" was the album's lead-off song and the song being promoted the most at the start of the publicity. Later, focus was shifted to "The Motel Song" and then "Super Cop". One of the songs that didn't get much attention but should have was "The Ballad of Jake McCluskey". That song was patterned after the scenario of small-town morals verses reality. Jake McCluskey was an adulterous man...and as the song plays out, so was almost all the other men in town, including a local policeman and local politicians.

Ray shut down his theater in 1993 after three consecutive years there: 1991, 1992, 1993. In 1994 there was a Ray-drought. There was no CD or home video released...later it was revealed that Ray was working on a movie. The results surfaced in 1995...a direct-to-home video movie called Get Serious which is more like a musical because in addition to the spoken dialogue, there are 10 music video's interwoven throughout. It, too, was a commercial success. It featured cameo appearances by several country music personalities: Charlie Chase, James Gregory, George Lindsay, Johnny Russell, Chet Atkins, Williams and Ree, plus Jerry Clower. The movie's plot was based on a song Ray had recorded in 1986 called "Dudley Dorite of the Highway Patrol". In the song, Ray is pulled over by a cop for going 57mph in a 55mph zone.

In the movie, Ray is stunned to learn that a lot of the people he has sang about in previous songs actually exist and that Dudley Dorite turns out to be Bubba from the "Shriner's Convention". So, using the 1986 recording as a basis, the movie consists of Ray and girlfriend, Charlene MacKenzie, on the run from Dudley Dorite and his deputy, Coy. As a sub-plot, Ray's record label is bought out by a Japanese company and they want to re-shape Ray's image and want him to "get serious". Ray refuses and so the record company executive and a few of his pals dream up a plan to ruin Ray's career by planting protesters at various personal appearances Ray takes part in claiming that Ray is politically incorrect with his comedy. The movie takes aim at political correctness and it has a happy ending. One of the highlights is Ray's song "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens" which he performs with co-star Connie Freeman. The two of them perform an all-out song and dance number in a chicken coop.

Ray's long-time friend and songwriting partner, Buddy Kalb, plays the Dudley Dorite/Bubba character. Ray plays a variety of roles. Tim Hubbard plays the hat obsessed Deputy Coy. The label executive is a hilarious parody of Paul Lynde. A lot of Ray's music video co-stars are in the movie, too.

In 1996 Ray returned to touring...something he had stopped doing in 1990 prior to the opening of his theater in 1991. Later in 1996 year he signed a new contract with MCA. Hum It was released in 1997 on MCA...marking his first full-length CD in four years. The comedy album featured 10 songs and of those ten, a few of them were made into music video's. "Mama Sang Bass" wasn't a music video but it was a parody of the Johnny Cash hit "Daddy Sang Bass". Appearing in the song as Mama was gospel singer JD Sumner. The song was about hormone injections of all things.

"Too Drunk To Fish" was patterned after Jaws but it told the story of two men fishing...and the problems that arise when one of the men get drunk. "Virgil and the Moonshot" is a parody of the Apollo-13 movie. Hum It contained a slap on the wrist on the airline industry...the funny "How Much Does It Cost To Fly To Albuquerque?" closes the album. "I'll Be In Atlanta" is a wonderful non-comedy song honoring the city and State of Georgia that is found on the album. Later in 1997 he released his first and only holiday album Christmas Through a Different Window. The album is chock-full of demented holiday songs...political correctness is targeted on "The Nightmare Before Christmas". "I Won't Be Home For Christmas" is a touching song about a man who can not stand his family because they are idiots and barbarians who trash his house. "Guilt For Christmas" opens up the album...setting the tone. "The Little Drummer Boy...Next Door" is a song about a kid who gets drums for Christmas and drives Ray crazy. "Home For the Holidays" carries the arrangement of a warm, glowing Christmas song but it's far from it when Ray tells us about how going home for the holidays is a terrible thing and that lots of medication needs packed for the trip. The office parties are given center stage on "The Annual Office Christmas Party". In a somewhat throw-back to Spike Jones, Ray delivers "Bad Little Boy", a narrative told in a little boy's voice.

Ray parted ways with MCA in 1998 after those two albums. 1998, 1999, and 2000 were quiet years for the most part. He began a Christmas series at the Acuff Theater at Opryland that ran in 1998 and 1999. He was the main attraction at the Acuff Theater throughout 1999. In 2000 he issued Funniest Video Characters which included the long-awaited music video of "The Blue Cyclone". The video was broken into two parts. The first part aired at the start of the home video...then there were six additional music video's...and the second part of the song closed the collection. On the home video it also included music video's of "Freddy Feelgood", "The Pirate Song", "The Haircut Song", "Juanita and the Kids", and the two music video's he did in 1997 "Too Drunk To Fish" and "Virgil and the Moonshot". On Clyde Records he issued a new audio CD, Ear Candy, in 2000.

2001...the year is forever remembered for September 11th, or 9/11. The date of 9/11 is in reference to the terrorist attacks. Osama bin Laden became a household name on 9/11 and on the days, weeks, months, and years following...patriotic songs popped up in country music...some artists saw sales spikes in their older recordings, most notably Lee Greenwood and Johnny Cash. Newer songs included Charlie Daniels "This Ain't No Rag It's a Flag", Clint Black's "I Raq and Roll" which is pronounced "I rock and roll", and Alan Jackson's "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?". When it appeared the country had 'forgot' about 9/11, Darryl Worley came along with "Have You Forgotten" in answer to those who wanted to downplay 9/11 and push it aside. Ray was no exception...he released an Osama song in early 2002...Ray's single was "Osama Yo' Mama" which featured a sing-a-long style of lyrics and included vocal appearances from Osama's mama, Ray in his falsetto voice, as well as a broad vocal impression of President Bush, referred to as Dubyah in the song. The single caught on...mainstrem country radio didn't play it but it reached the country Top-50, making this the first single of his to reach the country chart in 10 years. Soon afterward, Curb Records issued a single "Osama Yo' Mama" backed with "United We Stand". The single, available mostly as an on-line download, but some music stores carried a physical copy of the single, the single ended up achieving Gold status...half a million in sales. The song hit #2 on the Country Single Sales chart and remained charted for nearly half a year.

Curb then issued an album Osama Yo' Mama: The Album to distingush it from the CD single of the same name and cover design. This 10 song album hit the country Top-30 in 2002. Seven of the ten songs were actually pulled from his 2000 Clyde Records release Ear Candy. The three songs that weren't from 2000 were "Osama Yo' Mama", "United We Stand", and "Freudian Slip". "United We Stand" was a pop hit in the 1970's and Ray's version of the song is spectacular.

In spite of the success in 2002 and early 2003, Ray remained low-key. I do not even know if he performed "Osama Yo' Mama" in concert anywhere. He re-opened his Branson theater in 2004 and did a series of concerts there as well as in 2005. Acclaim for his older material surfaced the same year as Collectables Records issued three separate CD collections spotlighting six of Ray's 1970's albums: Everything Is Beautiful, Unreal, Turn Your Radio On, Nashville, Boogity-Boogity, and Misty. He started to experiment with animated music video's around this time. The animation was limited. In 2007 Ray issued a new album on his label, Clyde. This album was a salute to New Orleans and it's music. New Orleans Moon contains the title track plus plenty more songs about New Orleans and Louisiana. Some of the songs are "New Orleans", "Louisiana", "Louisiana Man", "Way Down Yonder In New Orleans", "Battle of New Orleans", "Basin Street Blues", and others. The album wasn't promoted at all...

In mid 2008 he did a mini-tour...this was brought about to promote his music and re-introduce himself to the touring circuit again. He issued a comedy album prior to the start of the mini-tour...called Hurricane. This album featured seven all-new recordings and five re-recordings of earlier songs. "Hurricane" is patterned after "The Streak" but in "Hurricane" the action news reporter is replaced by CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who in this novelty song appears as Wolf Spitzer. Christiana Ammonpour{?} appears as Christiana I'm in a Downpour. Another reporter of the hurricane is Raegae Dreadlocks. In addition to "Hurricane", there's the topical "Sucking Sound" which brings to the forefront Ross Perot's messages during the 1992 Presidential campaign. Ray does a broad impression of Perot throughout the song "talking" to Larry King. "The Cure" is a song about enema's. "Hey Bubba Watch This" is a song patterned in the redneck theme. A little known album came along in mid 2008 called Ray Stevens Sings Sinatra...Say What?? where Ray offers his take on several Sinatra classics. Most recently he has issued a comedy album, Laughter Is The Best Medicine, which contains re-recordings of previous songs with a hospital or doctor's office plot. "The PSA Song" represents the only song that had never previously been available before.

And with that...i'll conclude this career look-back at Ray Stevens...the multi-talented musician.

Ray Stevens...Multi-talented musician, part three

The 1980's were very good for Ray Stevens depending on how one looks at things. The decade started off with Ray enjoying continued success...but that success came as a result of a comical recording and in 1980 he was still heavily persistent on being known and accepted as a serious artist.

On the music front...as I mentioned in part two, Ray went to RCA Records in 1980. This label was the one that Chet Atkins ran for a number of years as a producer and as an executive. Ray was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame this year in addition to being inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Ray wrote or co-wrote 85% of the material he had recorded up to that point. Ray's debut single for RCA was the novelty "Shriner's Convention". The single and the album of the same name were big hits in 1980. The single hit the country Top-10 in spite of the fact that it was well over 3 minutes in length. The album was a Top-10 success as well. RCA released "Hey There" over in England, which is Ray's spoof of the pop ballad from the 1950's. This album also contained fan-favorite "The Dooright Family" about a gospel family who travel the country in a silver eagle equipped with the most luxurious items. The song features great mimicry of preachers...the hook of the song, one of them, is the sort of mis-treatment of poor ol' Mama Dooright at the hands of Brother Virgil. If you hadn't heard the song, it's hilarious. Another novelty song on the "Shriner's Convention" album poked fun at John Cameron Swayze. "The Watch Song" tells the story of a man who loves his watch so much he'll do just about everything for it. John Cameron Swayze appeared in many commercials for Timex watches as to why he's name-dropped frequently in the song.

As I earlier mentioned, Ray was still wanting attention for the non-comical songs he wrote and recorded and was longing for recognition for the serious work and as a result of this desire there wasn't any major push after the summer of 1980 for the comedy album. In fact, later in 1980, Ray issued a single called "Night Games". The song took place inside a bar room, an image that went hand in hand with the Urban Cowboy era in country music. It was a serious straight-forward recording and it became a Top-20 country hit.

Ray continued his acting during this time period. In addition to the usual country music TV shows he began to appear in other genre's. One in particular is a 1981 appearance on the daytime soap opera, Texas. Ray appeared as himself and performed a couple of songs and was featured on and off during a week's worth of shows. 1981 also saw the release of a new album...this one non-comedy. The album was called "One More Last Chance" and it featured his Top-20 country hit from late 1980, "Night Games". The title track was issued as a single in late 1981 and it reached the country Top-4. Ray performed "One More Last Chance" on the Texas soap opera and also performed "Misty". The 1981 album cover featured Ray dressed up in Urban Cowboy attire with an alluring woman looking at him. Some other gems featured on the 1981 album are "Melissa", "Just About Love", "Certain Songs", and his Mexican-laced arrangement of "Pretend", a former pop hit for Nat King Kole. 1981 was also the year that Ray's voice appeared on the movie CANNONBALL RUN singing the theme song as well as a love ballad called "Just For The Hell Of It".

By 1982 the country music scene was more or less Urban Cowboy driven. Ray issued another album on RCA, "Don't Laugh Now". This particular album was more up-tempo than the ballad heavy "One More Last Chance" LP. The album contained one Top-40 country hit and another Top-65 country hit. "Written Down In My Heart" hit the Top-40 while "Where The Sun Don't Shine" charted lower. In spite of such a title, it wasn't a novelty song. The rocking "Such a Night" kicked off the 1982 album, setting the tone. "Take That Girl Away" and "Always There" were other up-tempo songs on the album. One of the stand-out songs was "Oh Leo Lady", a song that blends astrology with an everyday profession of love to somebody. The enduring tale of upper and lower class finding love with each other is sprinkled throughout "Country Boy, Country Club Girl". Ray left RCA Records and signed with Mercury in 1983...the label in which he became a pop star in the eary 1960's.

I do not know the details of his Mercury contract but it only lasted one year and not many people know much about the album he released for Mercury in 1983. The album was simply titled "Me" and the album cover featured him as a painter working on a painting of himself while a mirror was nearby giving off a reflection of himself. There was only one chart hit on this album and it arrived in early 1984...the melancholy "My Dad", written by Dale Gonyea. Mercury had previously issued "Love Will Beat Your Brains Out" and "Piece of Paradise Called Tennessee" as singles but they didn't enter the country charts. The research I did shown that the album was not promoted much at all by Mercury which explains why the first two singles didn't make any noise. Ray appeared on an episode of the TV show, The Fall Guy, and performed "Piece of Paradise Called Tennessee". Ray played the role of Webb Covington. So, at least, there was some sort of effort made to promote the album. "Me" featured a lot of intimate-style love songs...in addition to the title track, it boasted "Mary Lou Nights", "Kings and Queens", "Piedmont Park", plus it featured an off-beat love song called "Game Show Love" in which Ray builds a song using a host of game show titles and catch-phrases. Again, the "Me" album was terrific and I do not know why it was not promoted much. After "My Dad" peaked, Ray remained on Mercury Records for a little while longer until making the switch to MCA.

Ray's arrival at MCA was like a "comeback" of sorts. This is the label that promoted Ray as a country comedian...cementing the image that Ray had always tried to keep in the background but according to Ray, the comedy songs/the comedy image is what the public at large had always seen him being and so he began to purposely promote himself as a country comedian. The risk paid off because his first MCA album, "He Thinks He's Ray Stevens", was a Top-10 hit and hit Gold status, which indicates half a million in sales. The album featured two singles that are now considered classics. "Mississippi Squirrel Revival", sometimes referred to as the "Squirrel Song" by casual fans and the general public.

The song told the tale of two kids who go to church and accidentally set loose a squirrel. The over-all message of the song is the squirrel caused miracles amongst the church goers...where infidelity was exposed. The novelty single reached the country Top-20 in early 1985. MCA then issued "It's Me Again, Margaret". In spite of the novelty single's peak in the country Top-75, the song has become as synonymous with Ray as "The Streak" or "Ahab the Arab" or "Gitarzan". It was around this time that his 1984 album was certified Platinum...sales of over a million copies sold.

Ray's commercial resurgence on MCA went hand in hand with the explosion of country comedy in the mainstream. Hee-Haw was still going strong on TV but on top of that Nashville had a channel all it's own to promote the music. The Nashville Network came on the air in 1983 and was still in it's infancy in 1985. I have no doubt that TNN helped Ray gain a new audience...a lot of these newer fans were often not aware of Ray's pop career...for they only knew of Ray for his comedy songs and his jokes on Nashville Now, for instance. The good times kept coming and in late 1985 MCA issued "I Have Returned". This comedy album featured several more signature songs. "The Haircut Song" was issued as a single...it was too long for radio and so it was edited. The radio edit features Ray visiting two barbershops, instead of the three in the full version of the song. The single is basically a story, with Ray narrating the bulk of the recording and singing the wrap-around segments. It was a Top-50 country hit. The other single from the album was the famous "The Ballad of the Blue Cyclone" or "Blue Cyclone" for short.

The song is about a man who, with a couple of buddies, encounter a wrestler named Blue Cyclone. Wrestle Mania and everything associated with wrestling was the most talked about news story a lot of times in the entertainment sections and so this song hit in a timely manner. One thing leads to another during a fight at the wrestling match and Ray finds himself on the receiving end of Cyclone's wrath. Wrestling fake? Not so in this song...for Blue Cyclone gives Ray one heck of a beating and sends him to the hospital. The comic violence puts the single on the edge. The song was naturally too long for country radio. The recording was broken up into two parts on the album. Each part was over 5 minutes...so you're looking at a 10 minute plus recording...for the radio edit they carefully constructed a recording that was just a little over 4 minutes which edited out a lot of the detailed lyrics and other parts of the song and the end result was a 4 minute or so radio edit that told the story from start to finish. It was still funny but it wasn't like the full two part version. The single reached the country Top-50 in early 1986. In addition to that song and "The Haircut Song", the 1985 album also featured "The Pirate Song" which has become a fan-favorite about two pirates on a ship: one pirate is gruff and angry while the second pirate is easy-going and feminine. The song is a parody of The Pirates of Penzance. A catch-phrase repeated throughout the song is "I want to sing and dance". The 1985 album also contained his re-recording of "Santa Claus Is Watching You", which Ray originally had a pop hit with in 1962. The album, which hit in late 1985, inched up the charts and hit the #1 spot in early 1986. It was certified Gold in 1986 as well.

1986 also saw the start of an annual tradition for Ray. He was named Comedian of the Year by the readers of Music City News. Ray would win this award each successive year: 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1994. Ray's third comedy album for MCA arrived in 1986 and it featured a couple of hit singles. "The People's Court" was an obvious spoof of the TV show of the same name. It reached the country Top-75. "Southern Air" on the other hand was a collaboration with two other country comics: Jerry Clower and Minnie Pearl. The novelty single hit the Top-65 in 1986. That event marked the first time a guest vocalist appeared on a Ray Stevens recording. The album that contained those two singles was "Surely You Joust". The album featured other now-classic recordings: "Can He Love You Half as Much as I?", "The Camping Trip", "Smokey Mountain Rattlesnake Retreat", and the biographical "Dudley Dorite of the Highway Patrol". Moving on to 1987, this marked Ray's 30th year in the music business. MCA issued several albums on him, one of which went Gold and another which went Platinum. "Greatest Hits" and "Greatest Hits, Volume Two" featured classic Ray material from the '60s and '70s but sprinkled in recent 1980's recordings as well. "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" and "It's Me Again, Margaret" were the recent hits found on "Greatest Hits" while the volume two release contained the 1985 singles as well as recordings from 1986, 1987, and as far back as 1961. Among the songs on "Greatest Hits, Volume Two" was a brand-new recording called "Mama's in the Sky with Elvis". Adding confusion to the 1987 albums that were released, MCA had released a mail-order album on TV called "Get The Best of Ray Stevens", a two-album collection. There was an album of all-new recordings issued in 1987...an album called "Crackin Up"...which featured the hit single "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?".

"Crackin Up" had been issued after the success of "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?". The single was a satire on televangelists, a hot topic in the news. Chet Atkins co-wrote the song with Margaret Archer. It was a country Top-45 hit...coming close to breaking into the Top-40. After this single, Ray went into a dry-spell...as far as airplay is concerned. "Sex Symbols", a parody of sorts of the Willie Nelson-Julio duet "To All The Girls I've Loved Before", was issued as a single in 1987. Ray sings with 'Julio' on this recording...not the real Julio...but nonetheless it was a funny recording. Today Show weatherman, Willard Scott, was even a target on "Cool Down, Willard", a funny tale of a man who's annoyed at the women in his family going ga-ga for Willard.

Ray managed to squeak into the country chart once in 1988 with the single "The Day I Tried To Teach Charlene MacKenzie How To Drive". His 1988 comedy album for MCA was more low-key and didn't feature any zany or strange comedy songs. I suppose it did feature at least one zany recording...well, off the wall...the spoof of hippie culture on "Old Hippie Class Reunion". Cable-TV was targeted on "Language, Nudity, Violence, and Sex". He takes a jab at Michael Jackson of all people...you read that right...Ray does his take on "Bad", a Michael Jackson pop hit from a year or two earlier. The name of Ray's 1988 album was "I Never Made a Record I Didn't Like". Ray coasted into 1989 and his album that year was a departure. He released some non-comedy songs for the first time since 1983. The 1989 album for MCA, "Beside Myself", featured Ray performing 5 non-comedy songs and 5 comedy songs. The first five on the album were non-comedy. "Your Bozo's Back Again" was the kick-off song...on the album's cover Ray is seen sitting beside himself. One pose is a more serious looking Ray who has his arm up on the shoulder of his clownish alter-ego. "There's a Star Spangled Banner" orginated on this album. "Marion Michael Morrison", the third track, is a salute to John Wayne. In the comedy set, we have the tabloid-inspired "I Saw Elvis In a UFO" which became a fan-favorite, thanks largely in part because of how he performed the song in front of an audience...with a UFO hovering over the stage and pink aliens dancing around. "Stuck On You" spoofs infomercials and "Bad Dancin" captures the 1980's era wonderfully. After the release of this album, Ray's contract with MCA was up and he moved to the Curb label in 1990.

October 27, 2008

Ray Stevens...Multi-talented musician, part two

In 1974, Ray Stevens released the song that forever became linked to his career. "The Streak" was a novelty single in every sense of the word. It capitalized on the fad of running around without any clothes. The story goes that Ray was on an airplane and he was reading a news magazine and he saw an article about streaking and he got an idea for a song. Later, he found out, that streaking was a big fad on college campuses and that it had spread into the mainstream. Ray rushed out "The Streak" and at the time there were other streaking songs on the market...Ray's song is the only one to become a hit and it became a gigantic hit. It flew up the Hot 100 and was #1 in a matter of weeks...staying #1 for three weeks. The single sold in the millions...most reports indicate it sold at least 5,000,000 copies. This out-sold his previous Gold record, "Everything Is Beautiful", which had sales reported to be over 2,000,000. "The Streak" would also reach #1 in England and become a country Top-5 hit. The song introduced the catch-phrase "Don't Look, Ethel!!" into the vernacular. An album built around the song followed. The album in question, "Boogity-Boogity", was issued in 1974 and it featured another single, "The Moonlight Special".

That particular novelty single poked fun at the TV show The Midnight Special, which featured radio DJ Wolfman Jack as it's on-camera announcer. Ray, as he often does in his comedy recordings, struts his comedic stuff by vocally imitating Wolfman Jack in the role of Sheepdog. Along the way we hear satirical spoofs of Gladys Knight and the Pips, Alice Cooper, and Jerry Lee Lewis. The names have been changed in the song to Mildred Queen and the Dips, Agnes Stooper, and Jerry Joe Harry Lee Jimmy Billy. The single managed to creep into the Hot 100, peaking in the Top-75. The single was too long but it also made light of the music teenagers of the time took seriously as to my guess why the hilarious spoof wasn't a bigger hit. Nonetheless it was a very funny recording.

In a change of moods, Ray delivered the calm "Everybody Needs a Rainbow" in late 1974. The single was a Top-40 country hit as well as a Top-20 Adult-Contemporary hit. The chart wasn't called Adult-Contemporary until later in the 1970's...it was still going by the Easy-Listening and Middle-of-the-Road banners.

As pop music was changing in the mid '70s, Ray was becoming increasingly visible on country music TV shows. He was still charting pop and country but as far as television exposure his calling card were country music TV shows. He made the rounds of Hee-Haw, Pop Goes the Country, and That Nashville Music during this time period. "Misty" was Ray's next single...it was another big hit that won him a Grammy for Best Arrangement of the Year. The arrangement of "Misty" was up-tempo and featured a banjo, fiddle, and steel guitar as it's lead instruments. The song was a Top-5 country hit, a Top-20 pop hit, and a Top-10 adult-contemporary hit. Ray's album, also named "Misty" featured his take on pop standards. "Indian Love Call" was a single from this album...it became a Top-40 country hit and a Top-65 pop hit. Ray arranged this song in a ballad style that was very different than the hit recording from Slim Whitman years earlier. Ray's version came complete with "bop-shoo-bop" background vocals which he provided himself. A third single from the album was issued in early 1976...the very slow "Young Love". This had been a hit for Sonny James and this version from Ray inched up the Hot 100 and reached the country Top-50.

Ray left his long-time Barnaby Records home for Warner Brothers in 1976. It is on this label where he was promoted officially as a country singer for the first time in his career. His debut single for them, "You Are So Beautiful", a previous pop hit for Joe Cocker, featured a similar arrangement with "Misty" using the same instrumentation. "You Are So Beautiful" became a Top-20 country hit. He followed that with the country Top-30 "Honky Tonk Waltz". In late 1976 he issued "In The Mood" under the name Henhouse Five Plus Too. The novelty single featured a chicken clucking choir performing the Glen Miller pop hit. Ray wasn't going to release the performance as a single but Warner Brothers insisted and it became a Top-40 pop, adult-contemporary, and country hit in early 1977 and it became a hit in England where it was issued under Ray's own name. Later in 1977 Ray's publishing company boasted the success of "Way Down", a single recorded by Elvis Presley. Unfortunately, "Way Down" became the last hit single during Elvis' lifetime. It was also in 1977 that the pop duo Captain and Tennille had Top-20 success with Ray's song "Can't Stop Dancing". His other songs that year included "Get Crazy With Me", a Top 100 country hit and "Dixie Hummingbird", which managed to inch up to the Top-50 on the country chart.

1978 was another relatively quiet year for Ray on the singles front. "Be Your Own Best Friend" was the only commercial single to emerge from Warner Brothers. It was a country Top-40 hit. It was the name of his main album that year which also featured "L'amour", "With a Smile", "You're Magic", and other love ballads. He had recorded another album that year paying tribute to the R&B music he grew up listening to. That album, "There Is Something On Your Mind", contained no hit singles but it features a wonderful tribute to early R&B. Ray tackles "Money Honey", "Talk To Me", "One Mint Julep", the title track "There Is Something On Your Mind", and others. In 1979 he issued a new novelty single...

"I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" came along at a time in Ray's career when it needed a publicity boost. This song was written by Dale Gonyea and it was never revealed why Ray picked the song to record unless for the obvious connection to Barry Manilow, then one of the biggest pop artists all over the world. The album that Warner Brothers issued to promote this single was called "The Feelings Not Right Again". The title track is a song from his 1978 album "Be Your Own Best Friend". The song was chosen as the 1979 album title because it sounds similar in title to one of Manilow's songs "Trying To Get The Feeling". The album cover design on Ray's 1979 release was a parody/spoof of Manilow's album design of "Trying To Get The Feeling". It's a very funny send-up.

The "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" single predictably didn't chart too high country but it did well on the pop and adult-contemporary formats. It was a Top-50 pop hit and more ironically it was a Top-20 hit on the adult-contemporary chart, a format Manilow dominated throughout the mid/late 1970's. This became Ray's final single on the Hot 100...charting country exclusively with his next wave of singles in the 1980's. This would also bring a close to his three year contract with Warner Brothers. He went to RCA to kick off the 1980's.

Ray Stevens...Multi-talented musician

Ray Stevens...one of the crowning examples of a multi-talented musician who I feel is also one of the most under-rated artists of all-time. This may sound strange for some, who only know of Ray for his latter-day image as a country comedian with a host of comedy music video's to his credit. In this area of his career, he's far from under-rated. Ray Stevens is without question the #1 Novelty recording artist due to his longevity and success in this genre. He does have his competitors...most notably Weird Al Yankovik and Jeff Foxworthy, both who have had mainstream success in more recent times...but if you do not factor in the fairly recent "redneck" explosion...which, interestingly, fairly recent in this case is pre-2000...but anyway, there are still redneck jokes and redneck references in the mainstream enough to keep Jeff's signature routine in the public arena even if it isn't he himself doing the comedy.

Weird Al, most recently, scored some success with his latest comedy release...but let's back-up a minute to Ray Stevens...

Ray, as the public is well aware, records comedy songs and does comedy music videos. The thing that often gets over-looked is the amount of non-comedy recordings Ray has recorded. There are the two non-comedy songs that get mentioned when one writes about Ray Stevens...the 1970 mega-smash "Everything Is Beautiful" and the 1975 Grammy winner "Misty"...but he's recorded more serious-oriented material than those two singles, even though "Everything Is Beautiful" is his biggest non-comedy recording.

Ray Stevens was born Harold Ray Ragsdale in Clarkdale, Georgia on January 24, 1939.

Ray's career goes back to the mid 1950's...technically, 1957, which would make it the late 1950's. In my earlier paragraphs I related how Ray is one of the most under-rated artists and this is where the under-rated comes into play. Ray cut his teeth on recording sessions...working in the background on recordings performed by other artists. This role allowed Ray to become known as a whiz in the studio as he not only performed instruments but also sang harmony vocals and eventually became an arranger and an assistant A&R man...but we're jumping ahead...

Ray signed a recording contract with Prep Records in 1957...a subsidiary of Capitol. It was at this label that he changed his name from Harold Ragsdale to "Ray Stevens". Stevens was his mother's maiden name. While at Prep, his singles were not national hits but he often likes to tell the story that his first recording "The Silver Bracelet" was a huge hit in Atlanta, Georgia but nowhere else. Regional hits and session work continued while at Prep and then on the Capitol label itself. The 1957-1959 era of Ray's career, while he was still a teenager, offer a glimpse into the future recording style he would employ on later mid 1960's recordings. He released a few love songs and material that would at the time be considered "novelty" songs while at Capitol. Among the recordings he cut while at the labels were "The Silver Bracelet", "Cat Pants", "Chickie Chickie Wah Wah", "The School", "The Clown", and the Japanese-laced "Rang Tang Ding Dong, I'm the Japanese Sandman".

Ray enrolled in Georgia State and studied music theory and composition around this time period. He also signed a deal with the NRC label. Ray recorded for the NRC label for about a year, 1959-1960. It was on this label that the infamous story of Ray's near-brush with national fame took place. It happened with a recording called "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon". The single was issued on NRC in 1960 and according to Ray it shown signs of becoming a national hit. It was then that the owners of the character threatened a lawsuit if he didn't take the song off the market...this experience and the publicity the song recieved gave Ray an idea that novelty songs could make him a success.

While at NRC, Ray recorded a steady amount of songs...mostly love ballads in the mold of the teen idols of the day. Ray was never grouped into that category of "teen idol" even though his songs could have fit that mold well...interestingly, Ray mostly had an older fan base...and by older I mean music listeners in their late 20s-mid 40s were typically who appreciated the sounds of Ray Stevens. His non-threatening brand of pop music appealed to an older audience, not usually associated with the crazy, screaming teenage image often linked to teen idols. A sample of Ray's NRC songs are "That's What She Means To Me", "High School Yearbook", "Truly True", "Part of the Time"...there are a few songs that veer off into the novelty/off-beat genre. In addition to "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon", Ray had recorded the Chinese-laced "Cholly Wolly Chang". Also, Ray demonstrated an Elvis-like delivery during certain passages of "My Heart Cries For You".

Ray left the NRC company for the major label, Mercury, in 1961. It was on Mercury where Ray become the "overnight success" and he did so with a novelty recording. His first release on Mercury was the attention-grabbing song-title...take a deep breath... "Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsaturated Quick Dissolving Fast Acting Pleastant Tasting Green and Purple Pills". The novelty single itself was about medicine man shows of the 1940's or earlier where men would travel the countryside selling medicine. The single at the same time was a study in commercialism, which one could say is the underlying theme of the recording. The sound-effect of the gurgling/swallowing at the start of the single provided audiences with a great hook, even before the song was sang. This single was Ray's first-ever entry on the Billboard Hot 100, known commonly as "the pop chart" and it enabled him to have his first-ever "Top-40" success, too.

While that single allowed Ray to break into the mainstream Hot 100, Ray continued his collegiate studies until he couldn't afford the time for a college life AND an in-demand music life. He dropped out of college while "Jeremiah Peabody" was riding it's peak on Top-40 radio. Afterward, he married his girlfriend, Penny and Mercury issued the up-tempo love song "Scratch My Back", which didn't enter the charts. Mercury and another record producer, RCA's Chet Atkins, continued to hire Ray for recording sessions...his move to Nashville in 1962 saw Ray take part in close to 300 recording sessions. Something that isn't spotlighted much is during one recording session in 1962 Ray played on three hit recordings. One of the recordings was Joe Dowell's "Wooden Heart" and another was his own recording, "Ahab the Arab"...

That single, "Ahab the Arab", was the breakthrough hit that he'd been waiting for. Released in 1962, the single was a cross-over hit...not only being played on Top-40 pop radio but also on R&B radio stations of the era. The single became a major Top-5 hit and a Top-10 R&B hit as well. "Ahab the Arab" as most people know, became Ray's signature song, and it's closely associated with Ray to this very day. The novelty single tells the story of an arab who loves a woman in a harem, Fatima. Ahab rides through the sands on his camel, Clyde. The camel logo has become Ray's trademark and it's the name of his own recording company, the distributor of his mail-order comedy music video's. Throughout "Ahab..." Ray name-drops cultural references, incorporating lines from Chubby Checker's 'Twist' songs specifically.

After the huge commercial success of "Ahab the Arab", Ray issued the love ballad "Furthermore". It was a chart hit but "Ahab the Arab" was still on the public's minds. A holiday single was issued in late 1962, the original recording of "Santa Claus Is Watching You", which peaked just outside the Top-40. Ray's biggest single of 1963 was the novelty "Harry the Hairy Ape" which poked fun at rock and roll music and Top-40 radio in general. The satire isn't too harsh, though, but if one examines the song you can pick out little things about it that are bold for it's time such as the joke about the near-sighted DJ who thinks Harry is a rock and roll singer and the DJ plays a record that supposedly is from the ape that becomes a huge pop hit. It's a quirky, frenetic novelty single which hit the pop Top-20 and the R&B Top-20.

Striving for a serious/non-comedy hit, Mercury released "Funny Man". The single reached the Hot 100 but peaked outside the Top-40. His second biggest hit of 1963 was the Top-30 R&B novelty "Speed Ball" which also hit the Hot 100. This single is often referenced to when historians like to talk about the influence of Brother Dave Gardner. See, Brother Dave once did a stand-up act and one of his routines became famous, "The Motorcycle Story". There are lines in Brother Dave's act that appear in "Speed Ball", the song about a daredevil motorcyclist. Mercury released a couple more novelty singles on Ray, "Butch Babarian" and "Bubble Gum The Bubble Dancer", but neither of those singles entered the Hot 100.

Mercury in 1965 issued "Rockin' Teenage Mummies". While that novelty single never made the Hot 100 it became a staple of Dr Demento's radio shows in the 1970's and 1980's. "Mr Baker the Undertaker" was the last official single issued from Merucry in 1965. One gets the impression that Ray was working on his own version of "Monster Mash" with those two ghostly-Halloween-esque singles. Ironically, the B-side of one of his last Mercury singles was "Laughing Over My Grave". Ray was now on the Monument label with a new focus on serious recordings.

In 1966 Monument issued "ABC", a little-known song that was a love ballad...Ray was now seriously concentrating on having non-comedy singles...another single from 1966, "Devil May Care" is another experiment from Ray, this time from the pen of Joe South. The song features a similar guitar intro as Billy Joe Royal's "Down in the Boondocks". Incidentally, those two artists along with Ray and Jerry Reed all came up together through their connections to Bill Lowery, a music mogul in Atlanta, Georgia. Now, just when it appeared Ray was on a serious streak, he puts out the novelty single "Freddy Feelgood and His Funky Little Five Piece Band" in 1966. The single hit the lower regions of the Hot 100. Monument then issued "Mary, My Secretary" as a single in 1967. This one was a little bit more sassy and up-tempo, arranged in that style popular at the time. It was a cheating song...about a businessman who wants to spend more time at work than at home.

1968 would mark the turn-around...it was this year that Ray had his biggest non-comedy hit to date. After the moderate success of "Unwind", Ray issued the very serious, satiric, and frank "Mr Businessman". This single, featuring a one-note piano intro which builds into a full orchestration before each successive verse, was a Top-30 pop hit and it was the highlight of his LP, "Even Stevens", his first for Monument Records. After the success of the single, Ray concentrated on novelty songs again and in 1969 issued "Gitarzan", which became his second pop Top-10 hit and a Gold record. The single was followed up with his take on "Along Came Jones", a former hit for the Coasters. Ray's version hit the pop Top-30. The "Gitarzan" album on Monument consisted of other novelty recordings including his takes on "Little Egypt", "Mr Custer", "Alley Oop", "Yakety Yak", as well as "Sir Thanks a Lot" which was a funny story song inspired by Sir Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table. It was around this time that Ray began his association with Andy Williams.

Ray was now a super-star in pop music and in late 1969 he issued his take on then-contemporary pop songs on an album called "Have a Little Talk With Myself". The first single from this album was "Sunday Morning Coming Down", from the pen of Kris Kristofferson. This single, while inching up the Hot 100, would do somewhat better on the country chart, reaching the Top-60 there. This marked Ray's first appearance on the country charts. The title track of his album would also chart country...but Ray hadn't become a country act yet. Another foot-note in Ray's career happened when the makers of the movie 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' approached him to perform the movie's main song "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head". Ray liked the song but didn't think it fit him and so he passed on recording it. The song would later become an international smash hit for BJ Thomas.

Another reason why he passed on the "Raindrops" song is because he was working on a new single called "Sunday Morning Coming Down", which I wrote about in the above paragraph.

He left the Monument label at the beginning of 1970 but 1970 brought Ray his biggest non-comedy hit song. The song in question? "Everything Is Beautiful".

"Everything Is Beautiful" in brief was a smash hit anyway you look at it. The single captured a mood at a time when protests and war and other social issues were prominent. The single was a million seller for Ray and it was his first #1 single...the song was also his first Top-40 country hit and it was a hit in England as well. Ray was named by Andy Williams to host a summer TV show...the program's official name is "Andy Williams Presents Ray Stevens??". The question marks were added in the official title as a joke because of how meteoric Ray's rise to super-star status had become thanks to "Everything Is Beautiful". Throughout the summer show there was a segment where people asked who Ray was, etc etc.

Ray's theme song for his show was "Everything Is Beautiful", which is one of the reasons why Ray wrote the song. It climbed the charts and was a big hit right about the time the summer show aired for the first time. Another reason he wanted to write what he called a "deliberate hit song" was because it was his debut single for Barnaby Records, a label tied to Andy Williams, and he wanted to make a good impression with the debut. Andy's brother, Don, became Ray's manager. This Don Williams isn't the same person who's a country singer, though. It's a totally different person.

Barnaby released an "Everything Is Beautiful" album as a result of the single's huge success. The album featured the title song of course...it also featured several of his takes on modern-day pop recordings including John Denver's "Leaving On a Jet Plane", Joe South's "Walk a Mile In My Shoes", and the optimistic "Get Together". Another song on that album was "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head", the song he orginally turned down in 1969. Barnaby Records later released an album called "Unreal", which featured a majority of songs that Ray wrote.

"Unreal" featured the single "America, Communicate With Me" which was in the vein of the protest-songs of the era. It was a mid-level Hot 100 hit but it struck a chord with adults, a segment of the pop audience becoming favorable in some markets. On the Easy-Listening chart, the single hit the Top-20. Another single, "Sunset Strip", was promoted as an homage to the sounds of Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame. The single in fact incorporates that 'sound' of Beach Boys recordings and while it wasn't a major Hot 100 hit, stalling in the lower half of the chart, it was a hit with adults...reaching the Top-20 on the Easy-Listening/Middle-of-the-Road survey. Ray bounced back to novelty recording once more with a late 1970 hit, "Bridget the Midget the Queen of the Blues". The single was a Top-50 pop hit and a smash in England, hitting the Top-5. The novelty single used the gimmick of sped-up vocals in the tradition of David Seville's Chipmunks recordings. Bridget is a Go-Go dancer which makes the single very topical as go-go dancers were still around by the time this single hit.

The big news was still to come as Ray picked up the Grammy award for Best Male Vocal Performance-Pop for "Everything Is Beautiful"...a second Grammy went to Jake Hess for his recording of the song in the Best Sacred Performance-Male category.

1971 was a gospel-flavored year for Ray...it was also the year Andy Williams' TV show ended production of weekly episodes. "A Mama and a Papa" as well as "All My Trials" became Top-10 Easy-Listening hits that year...he closed the year with "Turn Your Radio On", the title track of his gospel album. This single reached the country Top-20, his biggest country hit up to that time, and it hit the Top-30 on the Easy-Listening chart. 1972 and 1973 were quiet years in comparison to 1968-1971. Barnaby Records continued to release singles on Ray but none of them were hitting...it had been suggested that the overall changes in music, period, at that time affected genre-busting artists like Ray who enjoyed success in various radio formats...it was a sign of things to come as Top-40 pop radio started to become tighter in it's radio playlists. A nice album, "Losin Streak", was issued by Barnaby in 1973 which consisted of no hit singles. The album featured something new to the eyes: Ray appears on the album cover with a beard, which up to that point he had been clean-shaven.

After this album, Ray issued "Nashville". Although the song pays tribute to Nashville, Tennessee and it was a country Top-40 hit, the album as a whole wasn't exactly a 'country' album...the previous album featured his take on Freddie Hart's "Easy Loving"...signaling a country direction in Ray's career. After the "Nashville" album, Ray released a single that would become his biggest hit single of all-time.

Enter 1974...