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.

November 8, 2008

Ray...20 years ago

20 years ago in 1988, Ray Stevens was telling us that he never made a record he didn't like. The album's title is loosely based upon a Will Rogers phrase "I Never Met a Man I Didn't Like". This is why Ray appears as Will Rogers on the album cover...performing a rope trick. This album also marked a was the first and only time that Ray covered Michael Jackson. Ray delights us with his take on "Bad", a mega pop hit for Jackson. Ironically, another comedian, Weird Al Yankovik, parodied Michael's song and labeled his version, "Fat", which ironically is the name of a comedy song Ray recorded in 1986.

"Bad" was never promoted and only those who have the album know Ray recorded it. Ray injects down-home, southern values into his recording...slipping in Michael Jackson enunciation every so often. Halloween, ghosts, goblins and all-things horror show up on "The Booger Man", a song about a mysterious figure of the night who's lurking in the shadows ready to pounce. In spite of the title, it has nothing to do with noses or mucus. The album kicks off with the Beach Boys sing-a-long spoof, "Surfin' USSR". Satellite TV takes center stage on "Language, Nudity, Violence, and Sex"...if only they knew then what they know now...20 years later and satellite TV is still carrying almost anything imaginable. "Ethelene The Truckstop Queen" is a rare song from Ray, depicting the up-bringing and life of a woman raised in a truck-stop. "Blood and Suede" carries a touch of mystery...with Ray performing the song like a folk-rock ballad, almost in a hushed voice like he's conversing with a small group of listeners. Surefire silliness is almost always found on Ray's albums...track #6 fills the bill...

"The Day I Tried To Teach Charlene MacKenzie How To Drive", track #6, tells the outrageous story of Ray trying to teach a deaf woman how to drive. The couple make their way all over the place in the '57 Chevy, destroying everything in their path as Ray patiently tries to inform Charlene what to do, but the problem being she can't hear that well and ends up creating a mess. "Mama's in the Sky With Elvis", which I touched upon in a previous post, is a tale of a woman who dies by falling off of a balcony while clutching to her Elvis doll. "I Don't Need None of That" isn't a comedy song by typical standards but the premise is whimsical...simply telling us how he doesn't need any of life's interruptions and surprises. The album's closer is like the icing on the cake. "Old Hippie Class Reunion" travels back to 1963...Ray delivers a Bob Dylan vocal in addition to playing a second character. The two hippies talk back and fourth throughout the recording with a heavy emphasis on drug usage.

The real Will Rogers lived decades upon decades ago. His life span was 1875-1935...dying at the age of 55 in an airplane crash...he was born on November 4, 1875 meaning that 1975 marked the 100th anniversary of his birth and the 40th anniversary of his death. He was a comedian, philosopher, political figure to some extent with his humor, in addition to his movie and radio career.

November 7, 2008

Ray Stevens: I Saw Elvis!

In the above picture, Ray is singing "I Saw Elvis In a UFO" at his Branson, Missouri theater. The song originated from 1989 on the Beside Myself album. The song deals with the tabloid stories that have often appeared proclaiming that Elvis was spotted at Burger King restaurants and at all other places around the world. What about in a UFO? It can happen if you have the imagination to think up a song...not only is Elvis up in the UFO but there's seats reserved for Col Parker, Liberace, Howard Hughes, and Jimmy Hoffa. The melody of the song is a broad interpretation of the Bob Seeger pop hit "Old Time Rock and Roll", explaining why Ray vocally delivers this song in a certain kind of way. The song starts out innocently...the Evening News signs on with the announcement that we're being taken to a field, where reporter Renaldo Rivera is on the scene. Renaldo interviews a man who claims to have seen a UFO...not only that, he claims Elvis was up in the UFO...and the man bursts into song. As the song progresses we get to hear the chipmunk flavored sing-a-longs from pink aliens and UFO sound effects. As the song ends it's easy to tell we're dealing with a nut-case because the man being interviewed has assumed the identity of Elvis, demanding that he be taken on a UFO.

An early pop novelty recording from Ray called "The Rock and Roll Show" featured an Elvis-type act named Tommy Jimmy.

On 1987's Greatest Hits, Volume Two Ray debuted "Mama's in the Sky With Elvis" about a couple who are separated because of tragedy. The man's wife, a big Elvis fan, falls to her death over a balcony while dancing with her Elvis doll, giving literal meaning for mama being up in the sky with Elvis. I love the song.

Another Elvis song came along in 1989, the previously mentioned "I Saw Elvis in a UFO". In 1997 Elvis made another comeback reference on a Ray Stevens album. Hum It, which featured "Virgil and the Moonshot", "Mama Sang Bass", as well as "Too Drunk To Fish" also featured "She Loves Elvis Better Than Me". In that Elvis song, Ray bemoans the fact that his wife loves Elvis more and tells us that he's attempted Elvis moves, such as doing karate kicks and shooting TV sets, but she still prefers the King.

The below image is of the Elvis single, "Way Down", released in 1977. Ray's publishing company published the song. It was the last commercial single released during Elvis' lifetime. Ray's publishing company is listed up underneath where it says Victor if you've got good eyes. I think you may be able to click the picture for a better view.

Ray was not done with the King of Rock and Roll...another Elvis song from Ray hit in 2000. "The King of Christmas" tells the funny story of Elvis as Santa Claus. The song can be found on the 2000 album Ear Candy and the 3-CD collection from 2005, Box Set.

Ray Stevens: The Awards

One of the things that also sets Ray Stevens apart from other acts marketed as country comedians is the amount of awards and achievements he has accumulated through the years. This isn't meant to be a definitive list but i'll try and keep it in chronological order...a lot of the awards are from what i've researched, which is why it should not be viewed as a definitive list.

1969: Gold Record- "Gitarzan"
1969: BMI Publishers Award- "Gitarzan"
1970: Billboard- 2 week #1 Pop Single- "Everything Is Beautiful"
1970: Gold Record- "Everything Is Beautiful"
1971: Grammy- "Everything Is Beautiful" Best Male Vocal Performance
1974: BMI Publishers Award- "The Streak"
1974: Billboard- 3 week #1 Pop Single "The Streak"
1974: Gold Record- "The Streak"
1975: BMI Publishers Award- "Misty"
1976: Grammy- "Misty" Best Arrangement
1977: BMI Publishers Award- "Way Down" performed by Elvis Presley
1980: Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame induction
1980: Georgia Music Hall of Fame induction
1980: BMI Publishers Award- "Shriner's Convention"
1984: Platinum Album- He Thinks He's Ray Stevens
1985: Gold Album- I Have Returned
1986: #1 Country Album- I Have Returned
1986: Music City News Comedian of the Year
1987: Music City News Comedian of the Year
1987: Platinum Album- Greatest Hits
1987: Gold Album- Greatest Hits, Volume Two
1988: Music City News Comedian of the Year
1989: Music City News Comedian of the Year
1990: Music City News Comedian of the Year
1990: Gold Album- His All Time Greatest Comic Hits
1991: Music City News Comedian of the Year
1992: Music City News Comedian of the Year
1992: BMI Publishers Award- "Cadillac Style" performed by Sammy Kershaw
1992: Triple-Platinum Home Video- Comedy Video Classics
1993: Music City News Comedian of the Year
1993: #1 Home Video- Comedy Video Classics
1993: Platinum Home Video- Ray Stevens Live!
1993: #1 Home Video- Ray Stevens Live!
1993: Billboard Home Video of the Year- Comedy Video Classics
1994: Music City News Comedian of the Year
1994: BMI Publishers Award- "I Can't Reach Her Anymore" performed by Sammy Kershaw
1995: Country Weekly Golden Pick Award- Best Comedian
1995: Platinum Home Video- Get Serious!
2002: Gold Single- "Osama Yo' Mama"

November 4, 2008

The parody of Barry #3

Well, this completes the Barry Manilow-Ray Stevens commentary. Previously I shown the 1979 Ray Stevens album...then I spotlighted the back covers of both the 1979 album from Ray and the 1975 album from this completes the circle. The first image is the picture sleeve that appeared on the 45 rpm single "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". Collector's say that the 1979 single is less valuable without the picture sleeve. I have the single but I don't have the picture sleeve. The picture sleeve as you can tell spoofed the picture that appears on Barry Manilow's second album.

Ray on a losin' streak...

This 1973 album from Ray Stevens can be considered a lost album. It can also be considered rare...officially obscure is how I like to describe it.

Ray once remarked that this was the first album he recorded in a brand new studio that he called The Ray Stevens Sound Laboratory but unfortunately none of the singles issued from the album reached the charts in either pop or country, which was odd due to the fact that his singles were always finding spots on the country or pop charts with frequency...but not with this particular album.

The album features a hodgepodge of songs...several of them are clever, some of them are pleasant, and some of them are pointed and insightful. It's interesting to note that Ray covered pop and country music on this album. "Easy Loving" was a gigantic hit song for Freddie Hart and "Bye Bye Love" was a gigantic hit for The Everly Brothers. The arrangement is mid-tempo for "Easy Loving" while the famous up-tempo of "Bye Bye Love" in Ray's hands is turned into a bluesy ballad.

I like the picture of Ray on the album cover...looking as if he's rocking out on his piano and I also like the album, too...other songs on the album: "Inside" is one of the insightful songs I made reference to earlier. Lyrically it sounds like it should have been on either of his 1970 albums Everything Is Beautiful and Unreal because of the subject matter at hand with lyrics such as "...time to stop all the falsifying...time to cast out the hypocritical way of life...". A straight forward love ballad, "Being Friends", is in the pleasant category. It's basically a song about a pair of friends who aren't quite lovers yet but are on their way if they remain being friends. It's a nice song.

On the opposite side of the coin is "Idaho Wine", my favorite song on the album. This song deals with a couple who are wrong for each other but find out after a non-disclosed amount of time. "Seems like a crime after all of this time" Ray sings "we're like California potatoes...and Idaho Wine...".

Ray's rocking out appearance on the album cover, complete with dark beard, makes me think he's suppose to be singing the title track, "Losin' Streak", or the funky "This Is Your Life". Either song finds Ray in a rocking mood...the title track takes place in Las Vegas. It's about a man who has a gambling problem but continues to think he's going to clean out Vegas at some point...telling his wife not to worry because he knows his bad luck has changed. It's a departure from what you'd typically hear from Ray Stevens and I think that's probably why he recorded the song and titled the album after it AND included this song, "This Is Your Life", which he himself wrote but he performs it very out of character if that's the proper way to put it...not what you'd expect to hear...lots of heavy rock instrumentation and vocals...the chorus of the song is the loudest, though.

"Laid Back" in an instrumental. Another song in the pleasant category is "Things Work Out". An intellectual song finds it's way on here, "What Do You Know?". Ray re-recorded one of his earlier songs for this album and included new lyrics in places and made it into almost an entirely new song by doing so. "Just One Of Life's Little Tragedies" is the love ballad I am referring to and it's about a man whose girlfriend breaks up with him and he tries to rationalize things as a result. Ray wrote five of the 11 songs. He wrote "Just One Of Life's Little Tragedies", "Inside", "Laid Back", "This Is Your Life", and "What Do You Know?". Layng Martine, Jr wrote "Being Friends" and "Idaho Wine". Felice and Boudleaux Bryant wrote "Bye Bye Love". Tupper Saussy wrote "Things Work Out" while Freddie Hart wrote "Easy Loving" and Nick Van Maarth wrote the title track, "Losin' Streak".

1. Losin' Streak
2. Just One Of Life's Little Tragedies
3. Inside
4. Things Work Out
5. Bye Bye Love
6. Being Friends
7. Idaho Wine
8. This Is Your Life
9. Laid Back
10. Easy Lovin'
11. What Do You Know

More Ray Stevens

Here are the back covers of the Barry Manilow and Ray Stevens albums. The first picture of Barry and the dog next to Ray and the dog. An interesting tidbit of information about Ray's shirt. I have no way to confirm it but "I Love Bagels" may in fact be in reference to Barry Manilow's beagle, whose name was Bagels. I found this out reading Barry Manilow's autobiography called "Sweet Life" that I have in my collection. When I came across the section of Barry's book that mentioned a beagle named Bagels, I immediately thought of Ray's shirt on the back of his 1979 album. So, "I Love Bagels" may be in reference to Barry's beagle or, of course, it could simply be a joke on Barry's New Yorker upbringing and the stereotypical treat for many are bagels. Anyway, in the "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" song that Ray recorded, it included a line about the beagle biting the Vet. Isn't it nice to have someone like me rattling off such trivia!

November 3, 2008

Ray Stevens: motorcycles, hotels, shriners...

Shriner's Convention is a 1980 single from Ray Stevens that told the story of a couple of shriner's who were staying at a hotel. The recording is a one-sided phone conversation between straight-laced shriner, Bubba, and the happy-go-lucky shriner, Coy. The inspiration for the song according to Ray came about when he spent a sleepless night at a hotel and the shriner's happened to be there partying into the night. This was the debut single and album for Ray on RCA Records. This was also Ray's first full-blown comedy album in six years, his last being Boogity-Boogity in 1974.

The album consisted of nine comedy songs...why nine? I suppose it's because two of the songs on the album are over 5 minutes in length and as a result took up too much space on the vinyl album. "Shriner's Convention" hit the country Top-10 as did the album. The back of the album had a collection of comic strip panels depicting the song's antics. A cartoon drawing of Ray appeared on the back talking to Bubba. The woman on the motorcycle doesn't have a name. In the song, Coy is discovered to have been at the hotel's swimming pool in nothing but his underwear with a bunch of waitresses from the lounge. As an added note, Coy has a tendency to rev up his motorcycle engine during his phone calls with Bubba. Ray had a motorcycle put together to resemble the one that appears on this album cover. There are many instances where he'd ride the motorcycle onto the stage at the start of this song. Although it happened years after the single's release, Ray did a music video of this song in 1995.

The rest of the album is your typical comedy from Ray Stevens. The other song of long duration in addition to the title track is "The Dooright Family". This particular recording is a hilarious story about a traveling gospel family. There's Daddy Dooright, Mama Dooright, Brother Therman, Sister Doris and Dewdrop, and Brother Virgil. The song is a satire of Sunday morning gospel radio shows but I don't believe any religious radio show was ever quite like this. Brother Therman's a fire and brimstone Orel Roberts-type shouting and carrying on about the sins and evils of disco's. Brother Virgil's the bass singer in the family group. Mama is the piano player. The sister's are the harmony singers. Daddy Dooright tries to keep everything together, running smoothly. He is the one who has to keep track of Mama, who can become rather giddy...prone to having fits of laughter...the solution to stop the laughing is for Daddy to simply command Brother Virgil to punch her. Upon Daddy's command, we hear a piano firing squad, making it sound like Virgil's knocked Mama face forward into the piano. This was re-created in the 1995 music video as well...with the camera panning into the shocked audience.

"The Last Laugh" is a song about a man who insists on getting the better of a relationship and tells the woman that no matter what, he'll have the last laugh on her for the way she's treated him. The humor comes from the bizarre ways he'll have the last laugh. For example, one of his idea's is to go to the Hollywood sign and jump off of it...proclaiming that he'll have the last laugh, never realizing the his own death will result in all of his idea's at getting even. A hook of the song is Ray's "ha ha ha HA" laugh.

There is a rather bizarre comedy song on this album. "Put It In Your Ear" is performed as a soft love ballad at first...but then it blends into a funny recitation from Ray in his exaggerated German accent. Another song that could fit into the bizarre category is "Hey There"...but this one is utterly bizarre...when you have bizarre and utterly bizarre on the same comedy album then it becomes a bona-fide novelty music lover's delight. "Hey There" is a spoof of a love ballad from the 1950's if i'm not mistaken. Ray's version features the sounds of Lips Liblonski crooning the romantic lyrics. To give the song an added touch, Ray starts the song out talking in a soft voice mimicking any number of DJ's heard on easy-listening radio.

"The Watch Song" and "Coin Machine" probably are for certain listeners who will understand the humor. On "The Watch Song" we hear the story of a man who loves his watch and couldn't stand to part with it...but conflict ensues and a fight breaks out and the man's watch is destroyed by a drunk cowboy. This causes the man to go berzerk and he ends up killing the cowboy. There's some jokes about Timex watches in here and of course Timex's spokesman, John Cameron Swayze, features in the song prominently as he is the man who has the ear of the watch lover who's on death row. "Coin Machine" carries an up-tempo delivery and it tells the story of a man who's at his wit's end with vending machines and proceeds to tell about his misadventures with them.

Florida figures a great deal in "You're Never Goin' To Tampa With Me", a love song/comedy song that finds Ray trying to hook up with women during spring break. The concept of the song has to do with the southern accent on the women he encounters and how they tell him that "you're never going to tamper with me", but in a southern accent it comes out as "you're never goin' to tampa with me". I think it's a clever song, using cities of Florida within the lyrics. One of the more subdued recordings on the album is "Rita's Letter" which tells the story of a woman who gets a letter from a former boyfriend who's ran off and apparently joined up with a commune of sorts...changing his name to Nirvana from Beauregard.

1. Shriner's Convention
2. The Last Laugh
3. Rita's Letter
4. The Watch Song
5. The Dooright Family
6. Hey There
7. Put It In Your Ear
8. You're Never Goin' To Tampa With Me
9. Coin Machine

In the cassette version of the album, track #2 and track #9 were switched and "The Last Laugh" closed out the cassette version.

Ray Stevens: The parody of Barry Manilow...

One of the aspects of Ray Stevens career and one that sets him apart from most other acts who are collectively grouped into the "country comedy" category is that Ray rarely did parodies and still doesn't for the most part. This album cover is a both color and letter design of a 1975 album from Barry Manilow titled Tryin' To Get The Feeling. I do not know who came up with the idea, maybe Ray, to humorously spoof Manilow's album cover but it's one of the most eye-catching album covers of this era of Ray's career. The album itself is built around the success of a certain single that was issued in 1979. The success of the single no doubt lead to the making of this album and they used a song found on a previous album as this album's title, which lent itself perfectly to the mocking album cover. Ray's album is called The Feeling's Not Right Again...a song that made it's debut a year earlier in 1978 on his Be Your Own Best Friend release. As you can see, Ray's 1978 song lent itself perfectly as the title track of this 1979 collection.

The single in question is "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". The song was written by Dale Gonyea and Ray recorded it...and along the way had an unexpected hit with it. I say this because Warner Brothers put this album out to support the single...the picture sleeve on the 45 single was also a parody of Manilow's album design on his second album, Barry Manilow II.

As a single, "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" hit the pop, country, and Adult-Contemporary charts in 1979. Predictably, the single wasn't a big hit on country radio because the subject matter wasn't appealing to country listeners. It peaked in the Top-85 on the country chart back when that chart was 100 positions. It did much better on pop radio, hitting the Top-50...but what is considered the most ironic is the single did even better on Adult-Contemporary radio, reaching the Top-20. The irony coming from the fact that Barry Manilow at that time was the undisputed king of the Adult-Contemporary radio format. Warner Brothers issued Ray's album, which consists of previously recorded material dating back to 1976, with only the Barry Manilow song as the only new recording. The back of Ray's album shown him sitting beside a dog. Ray has on a shirt that reads "I Love Bagles". This is, of course, a mock-up of Barry because on the back of his 1975 album it shown him sitting beside a dog and Barry's wearing a shirt that reads "I Love Beagles". That's how detailed the spoof/parody was carried out.

"I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" was the story of a man down and out on his luck and he turns to Barry asking for help. Within the lyrics there was the use of song-titles and catch-phrases from various Manilow recordings...much of that coming during a recitation near the end of the song. It's a very funny song using Barry Manilow's reputation for easy-listening love songs and for incorporating overly dramatic music into the recordings, to heighten a mood.

The single became Ray's last entry on the pop and adult-contemporary charts in 1979. This was also his final album for Warner Brothers, a label he joined in 1976. For those curious this is what the back of those two albums look like...

November 2, 2008

Ray as my desktop background

Gaze your eyes upon the 1975 Ray Stevens picture that I use as my computer's desktop background. This picture was shown inside a CD fold-out cover. The CD in question is the 1997 Rhino project The Best of Ray Stevens. I scanned the picture and saved it. I have no doubt that it was taken around the same time the other pictures of Ray were taken with the outdoors background.

I often use this picture in my You Tube video montages. There is another picture in that fold-out cover that I use a lot of, too. It's the picture of Ray sitting at his piano in a recording studio. He's grinning and full of beard. I don't have an exact year for that picture but I've often said it was 1973 since he appeared on his Losin' Streak album with his famous facial hair for the first time. I will do a spotlight on that album in the days to come.

When I'm Calling You-ou-ou-ou....

Photobucket Released by Ray Stevens as a commercial single in 1975, this cover of a pop standard appeared originally on his Misty album. The single wasn't a 'smash hit' but it did decent on the country music charts that year, reaching the Top-40.

The song "Indian Love Call" goes way back to the early 1920's when it was part of an operetta called, Rose Marie. The song has been recorded by numerous artists through the years, both local talents and national talents, but the version that most in a specific age bracket will recall is the 1952 recording by Slim Whitman. That particular recording was a huge pop hit. The songwriters are Rudolf Friml, Otto Harbach, and Oscar Hammerstein, II.

Ray Stevens recorded his take on the song in 1975 and did very different arrangement than originally heard. I suppose one of the unwritten rules in pop music or country music, music in general, is whenever an artist decides to cover a song, to always perform a song exactly the way the original sounded? In some cases, songs that are so well known it's almost impossible to find a new arrangement that'll add something different to the recording. In the pre-rock days of pop music, artists would almost always record everyone else's songs. As soon as a songwriter wrote a song, it got sent through the publishing houses, and before long an artist would perform the song...then another artist would perform the same song...then another, and another...often in the span of one calendar year. The thing was, the only difference a lot of times between a Sinatra performance and a Crosby performance of the same song was that one version featured Sinatra singing and the other had Crosby singing...the arrangements/melodies were the same.

Ray liked to dabble and play around with songs...a lot. If a song was popular up-tempo, Ray would cover it as a ballad...and the other way around...a popular ballad may be turned into a mid-tempo or up-tempo performance. This performance of "Indian Love Call" demonstrates Ray's ability to blend R&B/doo-wop and straight pop into one performance. I would imagine the purists who prefer "Indian Love Call" not be dabbled with and prefer it always sung the way Slim Whitman recorded it, I suppose that segment would consider it tasteless if one were to tweak with the song's melody. It's hard to tell.

There was no denying that Ray had a hit on his hands, though. The single reached the Top-40 on the country chart in 1975 as the follow-up to his previous hit, "Misty". On the pop chart it reached the Top-65. The picture at the top of this entry is of a songbook that was released as a promo item. I do not know where the picture was taken but I have a guess that it was in Centennial Park in Nashville, Tennessee or it could have been taken in Ray's back-yard for all we know.

Also, there is a picture of Ray in the woods on the cover of a compilation LP called The Very Best of Ray Stevens issued on Barnaby the same year. So my guess is the pictures were taken at his house or maybe a local park somewhere.

November 1, 2008

follow-up post...

This is the 1985 version in LP format of "Collector's Series". It took me about 5 minutes to find it on my computer. This is the version with One More Last Chance as track seven. I have a picture of myself with the 1985 cassette edition but the image is too big and so I never posted it and opted for this smaller LP picture instead.

Ray wrote two of the eight songs: "Shriner's Convention" and "The Dooright Family". Those two songs appeared on his 1980 comedy album, "Shriner's Convention" that I'll get around to spotlighting in a future update. Ray's brother, John, is a co-writer of "Country Boy, Country Club Girl" with Buddy Kalb. One of the earlier songwriter's associated with Ray is Layng Martine, Jr. Layng supplied Ray with several songs in the early 1970's and at one time released "Rub It In", a song later a huge hit for Billy 'Crash' Craddock. Ray had produced Layng's recording.

Layng wrote "Put It In Your Ear", the 1980 comedy song that replaced "One More Last Chance" on the 1987 re-issue. Layng would later supply Ray with a future recording...1987's "The Flies of Texas Are Upon You".

C.W. Kalb, Jr also known as 'Buddy' Kalb, wrote two songs on his own spotlighted on this release. "You're Never Goin' To Tampa With Me" and "Let's Do it Right This Time". Kalb grew up with Ray and came aboard in the mid 1970's as a songwriter. The first Buddy Kalb song that Ray recorded and put on an album was "One and Only You", an inspirational song, found on Ray's 1976 album "Just For The Record". Kalb became a bigger songwriting presence in the mid 1980's when Ray joined MCA Records.

One of the interesting things is, even in cyber-space, these recordings are the only RCA selections available for purchase. RCA, for whatever reason, has never put out his material in any abundance. I grew up listening to Ray Stevens, pretty much, on the cassette tapes my grandfather owned...if it weren't for this "Collector's Series" project that my grandfather bought me years ago in the early '90s I wouldn't have heard six of the eight songs until I started building up my Ray vinyl collection. So, the RCA material is scarce...fortunately I have his vinyl albums and have been able to hear all of Ray Stevens...those album tracks that were never issued as commercial singles...songs rarely highlighted or promoted...much like six of the eight songs on this collection from RCA...

The Collector's Series

I have a better image than this but I don't have the patience to find it right now. Anyway, "Collector's Series" is the Ray Stevens project i'm spotlighting today.

RCA Records released a wide variety of albums under this name...Ray, having been one of RCA's artists for a couple of years, had an album issued on him in 1985. There are two versions of "Collector's Series" that one should be aware of. There is the 1985 original release with the 1981 love ballad "One More Last Chance" featured and then there is the 1987 re-issue which replaces that song with a 1980 comedy recording, "Put It In Your Ear". Each release has the same title but features a song switch.

The picture above is a 1992 CD re-issue of the 1987 re-issue...and so it contains "Put It In Your Ear" instead of "One More Last Chance".

Ray recorded for RCA, 1980-1982, and this collection contains only eight performances. The fact that two of the performances are over five minutes in length make it's time total comparable to a standard 10-11 song collection. The music...

1. Shriner's Convention; 1980
2. You're Never Goin' To Tampa With Me; 1980
3. Country Boy, Country Club Girl; 1982
4. Where The Sun Don't Shine; 1982
5. The Dooright Family; 1980
6. Let's Do It Right This Time; 1981
7. One More Last Chance; 1981 {1985 LP}
7. Why Don't We Go Somewhere and Make Love; 1982
8. Put It In Your Ear; 1980 {1987 LP}

In both the 1985 and 1987 releases of "Collector's Series", 1981 was not a well-covered year. In the 1985 release, two of his 1981 songs were featured while the 1987 re-issue removed one of the 1981 songs in favor of a 1980 song. I was always baffled why RCA only limited the song selection to eight. I'd seen other artist's under this same title and they too have eight songs...four songs on each side of the cassette or LP. In the CD age, all eight are presented back to back to back, etc etc. Now, in the cyber age, songs can be bought individually from most on-line stores...even songs that aren't even official singles...there's options for consumers to pick and choose what they want from an album's worth of songs.