January 8, 2009

Look Back at 8-Track

This isn't quite a look back at 8-tracks...I just wanted to name the title of the blog that because it rhymed. I am, however, going to talk a little about this particular 8-track. This project from Ray was released in 1970. The label that Ray was signed to was Barnaby Records, what some might consider an independent label now. The label had a series of distributors that would get Barnaby music into record stores and on radio. The distributor at the time of this album's release in 1970 was CBS, which as you can see, they were using the Epic banner, too. Epic was a label owned by CBS Records. The distribution of Barnaby material shifted from CBS to GRT by the mid 1970's. The change in distributors was evident on the color of the label paper seen on each album and single: the CBS era was solid blue, which you see off to the left, while the GRT/Janus era had a surreal color of bright yellow and an image of a tree with a melted record hanging over the side of a tree limb.

An 8-track tape gets a lot of jokes by those who remember them. The concept was devised to make it easy to listen to music without having to pull out a vinyl album and place the needle down on a record. Also, an 8-track was also suppose to make listening to music headache free because there was no skipping and hissing or any of that stuff that accompanies playing music on a record player. However, almost every new invention or every product that grabs a consumer's eye with claims to be "something new and different and much better than what's currently out there" often have their own brand of problems and drawbacks.

The 8-track tape jokes often center around how easily it was to hear pieces of other songs while listening to the current track selected. Often the sound would bleed into another song so that when one would hear "Everything Is Beautiful", for example, it wouldn't be far-fetched to make the claim that one could also hear another song from the album in the background. The 8-track had a variety of problems including vibration...I can still remember being in a car with my grandparent's and I pushed in a Dave Dudley 8-track and all you could hear a lot of the time was a thumping vibrating sound which affected the sound quality as you could imagine. Also a problem was the eating...the tape machine, usually portable, but often built into late '70s model record player sound systems, had a notorious reputation for eating the tape so that when you'd go to listen to a tape, you'd be in the car singing along and then suddenly you'd hear sounds you wish you didn't hear...the song would abruptly come to an end and you'd go and pull out the 8-track only to find inches upon inches of tape caught inside the tape player.

So, unless you had a knife or something in your car, the tape would just have to sit there until you returned home. Amazingly, though, 8-tracks because of their compactability and the elimination of having to turn it over to the other side to hear the rest of the album, they became an "overnight" success in the mid to late '70s. Cassette tape, I should point out, was also available at this time as well but those creations never caught on until the early to mid 1980's. In an example of companies attempting to make the population even more lazy, "auto reverse" was invented for cassette tapes...because people didn't want to simply turn their cassette's over, they'd let the tape run out to the very end and then you'd hear a 'click', the tape would rewind itself as it played songs from the other side of the tape...a process known as auto-reverse...so a person could leave their cassette in their machine and not even have to bother with flipping it over. Then CD's came along and eliminated the entire use for cassette tape altogether...on a CD you don't have to turn it over...it plays and plays and plays but due to it being a digital product, it is far more advanced than tape or vinyl.

Upcoming Releases

Here's a reminder of a couple of Ray Stevens projects being released soon. Later this month, a series of projects will be released to a more wider audience, projects that have been available so far on Ray's official web-site's store. "Laughter Is the Best Medicine" is among the projects being released. There will be two DVD collections of animated music video's issued as well. Each DVD will feature several best-of productions from the past plus a couple of new music video's. These collections are called "Cartoon Carnival, Volume One" and "Volume Two". This audio CD/digital album "Laughter Is The Best Medicine" whose picture appears to the left, will feature hospital and doctor-oriented comedy songs. The bulk of the songs are from the past but it boasts "The PSA Song" which has never been made available until this release. The song itself goes back quite awhile, sometime in the mid 1990's, around the time Ray was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which he battled and won. So, that project will boast "The PSA Song" among other songs. The always fluctuating fan base of Ray's often creates the need for me to make the statement: "for those who are new to Ray Stevens, these songs will be brand-new to you" and therefore you should purchase this CD. If "The PSA Song" becomes available as an MP3 by itself I'll be buying it...since it is the only song on that release that I do not have. I've been a fan for years and years so I often by-pass collections that feature songs I have already in my collection.

The DVD's will feature several music video's he did several years ago combined with brand-new productions. "Hugo the Human Cannonball", "The Camping Trip", "The Moonlight Special", "Smokey Mountain Rattlesnake Retreat", and a couple of others are only going to be available, for now, on the Cartoon Carnival releases later this month. The projects are all on Ray's own label, Clyde Records.

In February his Sinatra CD will be released nationally...previously only available exclusively at his web-store and concert appearances. The CD features Ray's versions of several Sinatra standards. In some of the performances he shortens the songs...making them almost "samples" instead of full performances...but he does perform full-length versions of Sinatra too. Ray, as I touched upon, hits the concert trail again this year. I have plans on attending the May concert in Nashville, Indiana. I already have the tickets and so that's already out of the way. The concert is on a Saturday and it starts at 6pm so that means my sister and I will have to be on the road several hours prior...the trip won't be as far as Renfro Valley, Kentucky which is where she and I went last year to see Ray.

January 3, 2009

Happy New Year

Happy New Year...2009...this is the first blog of the year and I wanted to start the year off with a blog about the very few drinking songs that Ray has recorded through the years...which ties in with the New Year's Eve celebrations from a few days back.

Don't mind the promo picture for GITARZAN...this promo picture was circulated throughout the various magazines in 1969 as a way to promote the single, which hit the Top-10 on the pop chart that year and ended up becoming a Gold record as a result.

Now...looking at the few drinking songs, we start off with a couple of songs from the early to mid 1960's. These two songs are not classified as drinking songs but they deal with that sort of lifestyle. "It's Party Time", a b-side of one of Ray's early 1960's hits entitled "Speed Ball". The a-side was a novelty song about a motorcyclist. The single hit the pop Top-60 and the R&B Top-30 in 1963. The b-side, "It's Party Time", is a song about a broken relationship.

A few years later, "Party People" was recorded. This particular song is about the people who party their lives away searching for fun and thrills and never really doing any kind of living at all. This, too, isn't a drinking song in the stereotypical sense. In 1969 he recorded and released his version of "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down", a song about an alcoholic man facing a morning-after scenario...a hang-over, to put it bluntly, having beer for breakfast and dessert...easily allowing listeners to assume the man has beer at all times of the day. Although Ray's recording I felt was wonderful, his image couldn't sell the song...so it didn't become a Top-40 hit for him although it was commercially successful enough to make the charts, reaching the lower regions of the Hot 100 and hitting the country chart, marking this single as his debut on the country charts. The song, of course, went on to become a country classic for Johnny Cash.

"Idaho Wine" uses cultural references to explain why a couple are different as night and day. It's not a drinking song, but it features alcohol in it's title. It's from his 1973 album LOSIN' STREAK. In 1978 Ray recorded his version of "One Mint Julep", which was a hit for Rudolph Toombs, it's songwriter, as well as a hit for Ray Charles. Shift six years to 1984...Ray recorded a humorous but bittersweet song about drinking: "Happy Hour Is The Saddest Time of the Day". On this recording we're treated to a one-sided conversation between Ray and a woman as we hear him ask her why she's left him and through the use of alcohol references and other memories, he tells her that Happy Hour is now basically "sad hour".

A few years later, "The Day That Clancy Drowned" was recorded. This novelty song is about a man who worked at a Milwaukee brewery but died on the job when he fell into a vat of beer. That recording is from 1987. Later, in 1990, he recorded "Jack Daniels, You Lied To Me Again". This particular recording has a boogie-woogie/honky-tonk feel...very up-tempo...it's a song about a man who has bad luck with women in spite of the often-held belief that alcohol gives any man courage and success in love. Each encounter always leads the man to regret it the next morning and he blames it on the whiskey.

In 1997 he recorded and made a music video for "Too Drunk To Fish", a comedy song about a couple of guys who go fishing. Ray packs and gets ready for a typical fishing trip out on the lake while his buddy, Harold, packs the alcohol and takes it along. Harold, however, gets drunk while fishing and gets the two of them in one predicament after the other...by the end of the song Harold mistakes a search-light on a rescue helicopter as a message from God and pleads that he's swore of alcohol. Ray plays both characters...Harold doesn't have a speaking role until the end...pleading for the Lord to spare him. The same year Ray recorded "The Annual Office Christmas Party" which features shades of alcohol references as we're taken to a company party and how wild the people get as the night goes on, due to the drinking.

As you can tell, none of these are what you'd call "drinking songs" in the same category as those by George Jones or Moe Bandy, for example, except "Sunday Morning Coming Down"...but by and large, those Ray Stevens recordings feature alcohol references...so Happy New Year.