May 29, 2009

Ray Stevens: Don't Laugh Now

Released in 1982, this was Ray's third and final studio album for RCA Records. The album's title was very appropriate during this phase of Ray's career as he was continuing to speak up for his more serious songs. Although in concert Ray sang both the serious and comical songs, on records for the most part as you read in my last blog entry he continued to remind music buyers that there was more to him than a chuckle or belly laugh. That serious expression on Ray's face on the album cover...if one were a newcomer to Ray's career at that time you wouldn't expect such comical songs as "Bridget the Midget", "Ahab the Arab", "The Moonlight Special", or a chicken-clucking rendition of "In The Mood" coming from this man because of how serious he carried himself on this RCA album. I will admit that the picture on the back of the album breaks the "serious" mood that Ray's suggesting...and I'll post the picture of Ray from the back of that album later in this blog.

This is what the music industry refers to as a promo single. A promo single as I've touched upon in blog's past is a single that's only available to radio stations or jukebox operators and not sold to the general public. The fact that once the vinyl era ended as a form of commercial resources in the music industry a lot of DJ's and radio stations started selling their "promo only" singles at flea markets and a lot of the promo singles are in the public domain. They're all over eBay and other on-line auction sites. A lot of the promo singles had a white label to distinguish it from the commercial single out in stores. This is a unique promo single in that the vinyl is gold colored. Vinyl colorization wasn't anything new but because of it's uniqueness and the fact that commercial singles rarely were colorized it brings a certain amount of demand from vinyl album collector's...given that it's a promo single almost for certain will increase it's value. I don't own this single, though. The image was sent to me in an e-mail from those who know I "collect" images of Ray or items about Ray. The single is "Written Down In My Heart", the lone Top-40 country hit from the DON'T LAUGH NOW album. It was a slow love ballad and it fit in well with the style of country music that was still flying up the charts in the aftermath of the Urban Cowboy era.

The entire album featured a variety of love ballads of various tempo's and genre's. As you can see in this image of the cassette version it includes Ray's cover of an R&B hit called "Such a Night". I have seen Ray in concert twice within the last year and both times he opened up his concert's with that song. "Oh Leo Lady", the other song spotlighted on the front of the cassette, is a song Ray wrote which is a clever tale about a couple that find love in spite of their conflicting horoscope signs. The woman is a Leo and Ray is an Aquarius {Ray really is...he was born in late January}.

A second single from the album, "Where The Sun Don't Shine", was also released in gold vinyl like "Written Down In My Heart". However, shades of "Where The Sun Don't Shine" were is a break-up story. The man is fed up and goes through the song telling the woman where she can take her love, along with everything else that's associated with her. It's a bouncy sing-a-long song...more off-beat than 100% comical or 100% serious, in my opinion.

Note that on the back of the album, smiling Ray is holding a frown mask while on the front of the album serious Ray is holding a smile mask. I wish I could've gotten rid of that glare when I took the picture with my digital camera...but it turned out good, I think, and there's never been a picture of the back of the album on-line anywhere and so I went ahead and took a picture of it. The title track, "Don't Laugh Now", is another song written by Ray. It tells the story of a man confronting a woman he's always had feelings for but she's only seen him as a clown and a funnyman and during their confrontation he tells her to not to laugh at him because of his feelings. Deep songs from Ray Stevens...of course...those who follow his career know how serious a lot of his songs can be.

In addition to the songs I've touched on, we also have "Take That Girl Away" which is actually an up-tempo song about Ray warning another man that he's going to take the woman away from him if there continues to be mistreatment. "Always There" is a feelgood song about a man expressing how much he appreciates a woman always being there for him. "This Old Piano" is the big ballad of the it Ray sings of a man who's love life has been destroyed due to the success of life in the music business and on the road. A lot of Ray's fans who hear this song feel that Ray recorded it because of the divorce he went through in 1980.

"Country Boy, Country Club Girl" is a song about two social classes coming together while "Why Don't We Go Somewhere and Make Love" pretty much in it's title explains what the song is about. It's a Kenny Rogers kind of song and it's a good love ballad to close out the album.

1. Such a Night
2. Written Down In My Heart
3. Take That Girl Away
4. Always There
5. Where The Sun Don't Shine
6. Oh Leo Lady
7. Don't Laugh Now
8. This Old Piano
9. Country Boy, Country Club Girl
10. Why Don't We Go Somewhere and Make Love

May 28, 2009

Ray Stevens: Examining the Serious Works

In a companion blog examining the comedy of Ray Stevens this one offers a look at the serious side...a side of Ray that may surprise a lot of people who discover this blog starting with this entry without having read any of the previous blog entries that I've written. Ray recorded a lot more non-comedy songs than many realize and throughout a good portion of his career he fought valiantly to be recognized as a serious artist who happens to have a sense of humor.

The fight ended in a draw...Ray eventually had a lot of success with non-comedy material during the early to mid 1970's but because of the occasional comedy song the typecasting continued. Ray's legacy is his comedic material. When he signed to MCA Records in 1984, as far as research indicates, he signed as a country comedian and due to this turnaround in his career he enjoyed some of his biggest album sales up to that time. Previously, his singles greatly out-sold the LP's...which was the story for most artist's in country music.

Ray's serious work can be found on a whole host of albums for all the record labels he recorded for. There was never a time when he was completely comical...even on MCA...his final album for them at the time featured five non-comedy songs, which marked the first time in 6 years that non-comical recordings were found on his albums.

In his early years during the late 1950's through the early 1960's he was somewhat of a teen idol...he never managed to grab the headlines in such a way as Fabian or Tab Hunter or any number of singers...but he commanded that young audience due to the material he recorded at the time. A lot of the the songs were what is now known as teenage ballads...or teen pop...songs that typically found appreciation from teenagers. The earliest recording was "Silver Bracelet" which was an obvious love ballad aimed at the teen audience. This song was on the Prep label and it was released in 1957...and Ray often mentions how big the song was in Atlanta "but nowhere else".

Ray continued on recording teenage love ballads for Prep and then Capitol Records. He moved to the NRC label in 1959...more teen pop followed...then in 1960 he wrote and recorded a novelty single which came real close to being a national hit, "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon". This near-brush with national fame caused Ray to wonder that if he did more comical songs he'd get national exposure...and he was right. The very next year, now on Mercury Records, he put out "Jeremiah Peabody's Green and Purple Pills" and it became a Top-40 pop hit. The next single in 1962, "Ahab the Arab", made Ray a pop star...and even though he released a couple of love ballads in 1962 and 1963, they went virtually un-noticed. The songs in question were "Furthermore" and "Funny Man". However, Ray continued getting positive publicity for his love ballads and his comical songs but it was the comic songs that were hitting with the public...his "Santa Claus Is Watching You" was a holiday hit while the comical "Harry the Hairy Ape" in 1963 became a major Top-20 pop AND r&b addition to that, the comical story of the motorcyclist, "Speed Ball", became a Top-30 r&b hit as well.

Ray's success with his comical work came as a mixed blessing...and the fact that "Ahab the Arab" became a million selling Top-5 pop hit and was still just as popular in 1963 and 1964 I assume was just too much and Ray stopped recording. He left the Mercury label and went to Monument where he worked on recording sessions and did just about anything record producer's wanted done in the studio.

Ray quietly returned to recording in 1966 when Monument released a single called "A-B-C" which was a love song. Monument continued to believe in Ray and with the exception of one release, single after single throughout 1966 and into 1967 never reached the national charts. A total of four singles were released on Monument during the 1966-1967 time frame: "A-B-C", "Devil May Care", "Freddie Feelgood", and "Mary, My Secretary". The one single that reached the national charts was, you guessed it, the comical "Freddie Feelgood".

The fifth single Monument released on Ray came in 1968, "Unwind", it ultimately became the biggest charting non-comedy single for Ray up until that time. It reached the mid 50's on the Hot 100...higher than any serious song for Ray had gone before. The next single? Why, it was "Mr. Businessman", also released 1968. This single carried a bit of social wasn't comical, was topical. The song hit a chord with a lot of people who either mistrusted or felt contempt toward the businessman prototype in America. The single rose to a very lofty Top-30 on the Hot 100, the highest position of any of his recordings since 1963. This single became one of Ray's biggest songs during that period of his career and it wasn't without it's share of critics, either, who took offense to the song's "stereotypical" view point of business leaders. I happen to think that those who were critic's of the song were simply afraid of it's power within an age group that the older generation wasn't able to connect with, whether they admitted it or not. The song spoke the opinion of a lot of younger people at that time.

Just as ironic, though, Ray's greatest claim to fame with his non-comedy songs would not be with the younger crowd or the teenage set. Instead, Ray was having quite a time on the adult radio stations that played music that appealed to people over 35, mostly over 40. While Ray maintained a youthful audience, on the radio his singles were hitting stronger on Easy-Listening formats across the country. Top-40 played his songs, too...but his biggest showing on the national charts came on the Easy-Listening side where his crooning style of pop music was more appreciated. After Ray had a Top-30 hit with "Mr. Businessman" and the country saw his serious side once and for all, he decided to release a comedy song again and "Gitarzan" became a million selling Top-10 pop hit in 1969 and it shown once again that Ray's biggest commercial success came with his comedy material. He followed this with "Along Came Jones", a Top-30 pop novelty.

Ray went serious again with a mostly covers project called HAVE A LITTLE TALK WITH was designed to showcase a brand-new song called "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" that Kris Kristofferson had written. The single did lukewarm in the sales department...stalling in the Top-85 on the Hot 100...and as far as airplay, it received some airplay...enough to help it reach the country charts, Ray's first ever single there...but it didn't reach the Top-40 portion.


1970 was a banner year for Ray...this was the year that saw Ray break out of the United States and become an international pop star thanks largely to "Everything Is Beautiful" which became one of Ray's biggest hits. The single itself sold over a million copies...close to three million by some reports. It easily went to #1 on the Hot 100...making this his first #1 hit and making it the biggest non-comedy hit of his career. Ray had been a recurring performer on Andy Williams TV show in 1969 and in 1970 he became the host of the summer replacement show for Andy...and that show needed a theme song and so Ray wrote "Everything is Beautiful". Gospel singer Jake Hess recorded a version of the song. Ray and Jake Hess both won Grammy awards in 1971 for their separate recordings. Jake won in a Gospel category, Best Sacred Performance, while Ray took home the Best Pop Vocal Performance.

Ray followed this single with "America, Communicate With Me" which reached the Top-50 on the pop chart but it had a stronger following with the over 40 audience, causing the single to reach the Top-20 on the Easy-Listening chart. The single was about tolerance and wishing everyone could get along. It was very topical...mentioning the assassinations of world leaders recently, how the rebel rousers confuse their followers with half-truth's from both political parties, and how everyone needs to see things more openly. It's quite a performance but today's listeners are turned off by this kind of's a song seen by some as "disturbing" because of it's commercialism of social events. As you could guess, I don't hold that same philosophy. I feel anything is fair game.


Another non-comedy performance from 1970, "Sunset Strip", didn't connect as much with Top-40 listeners but for those who fondly recalled the sounds of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, it was a worthy tribute and it, too, reached the Top-20 on the Easy-Listening chart. Ray closed out 1970 with a brand new novelty song called "Bridget the Midget The Queen of the Blues". In this very funny recording Ray sped up his voice to mimic the Chipmunk sound effect as he played the role of go-go dancing sensation, Bridget, who only stood 2 feet tall. Naturally, some people are put off by such outrageous forms of entertainment, not to mention some feeling that the sound effects were belittling to midgets, no pun intended. However, the single did have it's share of fans and while it graced the lower portion of the Hot 100's Top-50 here in America, it danced up to #2 in England in early 1971...

This isn't to say that the British population was very fond of this recording...but those who were buying music at that time loved the song enough to send it to the runner-up position. Naturally, you had the critic's in fits about the song and wondering "what happened to good music?". Again, that's the art of novelty love 'em or hate 'em.

Ray dabbled with gospel music late in 1971...he found success with "Turn Your Radio On", "A Mama and a Papa", and "All My Trials". Each single did well on the Easy-Listening charts throughout 1972...and "Turn Your Radio On" even went into the country Top-20. It was his second Top-40 country hit after "Everything Is Beautiful" crossed over. After Ray had some success with his "Nashville" single and album of the same name in 1973 it was back to comedy...this time with "The Streak", a novelty that capitalized on the streaking fad of 1974. The song, as I've mentioned elsewhere, became the biggest single of his career...staying at #1 on the pop charts for multiple weeks and reaching five million in overall sales. The rest of the decade saw Ray record non-comedy songs for the most part, including a 1975 Grammy winning performance of "Misty" recorded as a Bluegrass song. He did slip in two novelty singles by the end of the 1970's. "In the Mood" and "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". Each of those singles reached the country and pop charts...and "In The Mood" charted in England as well in 1977.

Photobucket This is a poster that was released in 1976 to promote Ray's debut album for Warner Brothers, JUST FOR THE RECORD. This album was sensational if I do say so myself. It features a lot of songs whose titles suggest music/rhythm in some way or another like "One Man Band", "Can't Stop Dancing", "Honky Tonk Waltz", and "Country Licks". Other songs from the album include love ballads like "Cornball" and "Once In Awhile" and the bluegrass version of "You Are So Beautiful".

Photobucket This particular album featured slow love ballads for the most part...but there were a few exceptions...a few of the songs were mid-tempo and one in particular, "Comeback", was quite the performance. I like all of the songs but for me the standouts are "L'amour", "You're Magic", "Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right", "The Feeling's Not Right Again", and the title track, "Be Your Own Best Friend".

Photobucket "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" was a spoof of one of the biggest pop singers of the day. The single reached the Top-20 on the newly named Adult-Contemporary chart in 1979. The image you see of Ray on the picture sleeve is a spoof of Barry Manilow's second album, from 1974, called BARRY MANILOW, II.

Photobucket This was the album that contained "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". Warner Brothers and Ray, apparently, were caught by surprise when the single became a hit and with no album to support it they decided to go through his 1976, 1977, and 1978 albums and pick what they felt were the best non-hit songs and build an album around "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". The fact that Ray, in 1978, had recorded a song called "The Feeling's Not Right Again" gave inspiration to name the 1979 album after that song and because Barry himself once had out an album called TRYIN' TO GET THE FEELING why not just spoof that album cover the way they spoofed his debut album, BARRY MANILOW II, for the picture sleeve on the single. This FEELING'S NOT RIGHT AGAIN album is how Ray ended his association with Warner Brothers...on a high note.

Within months he was recording at RCA records.

Photobucket An often used publicity picture of Ray during his RCA years, 1980-1983. Ray made the country charts with a series of non-comical songs for RCA, his biggest being "Night Games" which hit the country Top-20 late in 1980. It fit right in with the Urban Cowboy music of the era. His biggest hit for RCA, though, was the comical "Shriner's Convention" early in 1980.

Photobucket Photo from Ray's non-comical 1981 album, ONE MORE LAST CHANCE, for RCA. It featured the late 1980 hit "Night Games" and the Top-40 country title track, with a glorious steel guitar featured throughout.

Ray continued to perform non-comedy songs on his albums up through 1983 prior to his move to MCA in 1984...from that point forward he purposely released comedy recordings since those were his biggest selling throughout much of his career.


He recorded a fine collection of serious material that gets over-looked with the exception of "Everything Is Beautiful", "Misty", and "Mr. Businessman". His singing is impeccable and his delivery is all his own. Bluesy country is what I once seen applied to the style of country music Ray sang throughout the late '70s and early '80s. Check out the material he recorded for Warner Brothers and RCA, 1976-1982, and his Mercury album in 1983, simply titled, ME. His 1970's albums on the Barnaby label, 1970-1975, are filled to the brim with non-comical recordings.

Photobucket This collection comes from the Warner Brothers label...released in 1995. THE SERIOUS SIDE OF RAY STEVENS features songs at random that Ray recorded during his stay with the label, 1976-1978.

May 27, 2009

Ray Stevens: Examining the Comedy

Photobucket Irreverence is a term applied to something that is viewed as a whole host of different things. Most commonly it is the opposite of reverent. Reverent takes on the meaning of showing reverence to something or someone...irreverence, on the other hand, often times displays intentional dis-respect for comical purposes.

Well, instead of offering my own definition of irreverence I thought I'd highlight some of the adjectives that are associated with irreverence. In several on-line dictionaries they often indicate irreverence displays one, or all, of the following characteristics: disrespect, impertinence, saucy, mockery, derision, impudence, flippancy, cheekiness. A lot of humor comes from irreverence, ironic as that sounds. On the other end of the spectrum, irreverence has a negative reputation depending on the subject matter that's being ridiculed. Some find it harmless to poke fun at certain institutions while others find it objectionable.

Ray Stevens has recorded his fair share of material through the years. I've often heard that a successful novelty song creates contempt and anger as much as it creates laughs or giggles. Why? A theory of mine says that topical material, specifically, has the rare ability to capture a public's mood and when a novelty song becomes successful it more often than not annoys those who take seriously what the novelty song is ridiculing, or, people tend to be annoyed at novelty songs in general because of the reputation they have for being "mindless", "stupid", "mind-numbing", "shallow", "juvenile", "sophomoric" get the idea. I'm sure some out there who read my blog's out of curiosity sake perhaps hold those feelings of contempt and anger toward "silly little songs that make no sense".

Photobucket This comedy album comes from 1988 and it featured several comedy is the case with Ray's comedy albums, there's a display of the various forms of comedy that are spotlighted. In this album, parody and mockery serve as the leading forms of comedy. The album kicks off with a funny spoof of The Beach Boys in a song called "Surfin' U.S.S.R" which features a deliberate arrangement recalling the sounds of actual Beach Boys records while the title is often considered a parody of both "Surfin' USA" and the Beatles "Back in the USSR". There is a darkly funny song on here about a big fan of Elvis who dies while dancing on a balcony with an Elvis inflatable doll. The song is "Mama's in the Sky With Elvis". There are still more comedy styles a-plenty on this album. "Bad" is a wickedly hilarious parody of Michael Jackson. It's the exact same song that Michael recorded barely a year earlier but here we have the Ray Stevens treatment. Ray is known for saying that he doesn't often do parodies...which is true...but when he does them they're always entertaining. Satellite TV is the target in "Language, Nudity, Violence, and Sex". The album's closing song is a bit of a memory trip for some. The song is a satire, of sorts, centering around the hippie culture of the mid to late '60s. "Old Hippie Class Reunion" could also qualify as irreverent because of how it pokes fun at the hippie culture...a couple of hippie's converse back and forth as an acid rock sound system is blaring away in the background. One of the hippie's is hard of hearing but both of them recall fondly of all the thing's they've smoked. Those who revere the hippie movement and all of what it stood for will more than likely be repulsed when listening because it takes dead aim at the hippie culture and the images that accompany it: flowers, psychedelic music, spaced out teenagers, drugs, granny glasses, loud music, etc etc. Ray doesn't sing in his natural voice during the entire song...instead, he sings in a Bob Dylan-like voice.

Although Ray's biggest hit singles were topical in nature, not all of the novelty songs Ray has recorded are topical...quite a few of them are satirical and a whole lot of others are simply is the case with a 1989 song he co-wrote called "I Saw Elvis In a UFO". Now, for those who are unaware, there was a point in time where tabloid's would relentlessly make-up eye-catching headlines of Elvis Presley being spotted at Burger King and countless "eyewitness" stories of seeing Elvis in UFO's.

Performing the song at his Branson, Missouri theater we see Ray in full Elvis attire. The novelty song captures the 'Elvis is Alive' fad and we hear a witness who spotted a UFO outside of his Winnebago. The reporter, a pun on Geraldo Rivera's name, Renaldo Riviera, asks the witness, whose name is R.V Frisbee, to tell everyone what he saw. Frisbee says that he saw Elvis in a UFO. Ray performed this song pretty much at all of his concerts from 1989 through at least 1994. It was a fixture at his theater. On the awards shows in 1989 he performed the song...complete with a UFO hovering overhead. As you can tell from the picture, he elaborated a whole lot more at his own theater. The only real controversy, if you could call it that, that this single ever created came several years after it was released when people who heard the song, perhaps on a fluke, objected to Ray's stereotypical accent for Renaldo Riviera. Rumor has it that martians objected to the song because it described them as being pink instead of the more traditional color of green...but this was only a rumor.

Photobucket Satire appears in several of the comedy songs found on this 1987 album. The album rode the success of it's controversial/topical/irreverent/comical lead-off song, "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?". The single took aim at televangelists and for their penchant of asking for money from viewers. The fact that televangelists were mostly all embroiled in scandals during this era caused the single to be even more topical and with this comes controversy from those who didn't find the humor in the song. This viewpoint was largely held by those, obviously, who were taken in by a lot of the religious sermonizing on TV and wouldn't accept how mis-leading a lot of those shows were. Nearly all of the religious shows on Sunday mornings ended with messages asking for money, or, donations as they put it. I wouldn't say that the single was an unexpected hit but it was the sort of hit that comes from out of nowhere...and sums up what most people are thinking. I believe the music industry calls them sleeper hits.

"Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" became like an anthem for those that had suspicions of televangelists. The song was written by Chet Atkins and Margaret Archer. According to news reports I read from 1987, Chet and Margaret had written the song well before the televangelists were rocked with scandals and when Ray was alerted to the song he jumped on it...and it became a good-sized hit for much of a hit that it was nominated for a Grammy in early 1988. Another satirical piece from that 1987 album is "Doctor, Doctor Have Mercy On Me" where the doctor's of the country are targeted for their the fact that some doctor's feel they're holier-than-thou because of their profession. Also, some doctors have a tendency to be viewed as hypocritical because of how they preach a way of life for their patient's to follow but they don't hold this same lifestyle themselves. In the song, the hospital is referred to as a "club" where doctor's show up in their fancy cars. There are other sources of humor on that album: "Cool Down, Willard" targets Willard Scott, the TV weatherman, as seen through the eyes of a jealous family man who endures the women of his life swooning and going ga-ga at the weatherman. "Sex Symbols" is a parody of Willie Nelson and Julio unlikely, but successful, duet career.

Photobucket Ray Stevens as Coy, one of the characters from a satiric tale from the pen of Ray Stevens....inspired by a sleepless night in a hotel where Shriner's were holding a convention.

If ever there was a display of satire in a Ray Stevens novelty song it was on full display on this particular single which was a huge hit for Ray. A lot of younger people, due to the passage of time, just don't realize how popular this single was. A lot of time I come across internet web-sites and message boards...and even blog sites...that condemn this song and, again, it's a case where satire and irreverence come head to head with a crowd who take themselves too seriously. We're back to what I started this blog entry off with: irreverence in the form of poking fun at something someone else may deem reverent and serious. The single was a polarizing is most any novelty song due to human nature of everyone having a different sense of humor and what's funny for one person may be appalling to someone else.

"Shriner's Convention", the name of the single and the album Ray released in 1980, enjoyed quite a lengthy run of popularity throughout the early part of 1980. The single reached the Top-10 on the country music charts and the album peaked in the Top-5...the song is all about a couple of Shriner's. Coy is the goofball Shriner who wants to have fun and play around while Bubba is the straight-laced Shriner appalled at Coy's lack of reverence and seriousness of being a Shriner. A lot of the fussing about this song that goes on today on the internet is from a public misunderstanding the song by thinking that it's degrading and disrespectful to the Shriner organization...I suspect some hold this view without having heard the song for themselves. If one were to search Google news archives and look up vintage newspapers from April and May 1980 a lot of people who don't understand the song and condemn it's existence will be surprised at just how popular and well-loved the song was and still is. Hahira, Georgia in fact proclaimed it be "Ray Stevens Day" on May 10, 1980 because of the publicity the song was giving the town. In Ray's own words back in early 1980, he witnessed some Shriner's having a lot of fun in and around the pool area and practically in every spot in the hotel and so he made up the song after his sleepless night. The song has nothing whatsoever to do with making fun of what the Shriner's mission's simply a song about two very different Shriner's at a convention having a phone conversation where one Shriner is reprimanding the other for his behavior. It's that simple.

Elsewhere on the 1980 album was "The Dooright Family", a hysterical song about a traveling gospel family that I wrote a blog entry about recently. The humor was pointed for the most part...something that's very touchy with the more devout. Some feel there shouldn't be any form of humor whatsoever surrounding religion or religious images but we can debate that until everyone's blue in the face...the bottom line is the song is hysterical and it's perceived irreverence comes from those who find no humor in religion. Trust me, once you hear the song, you'll be laughing at the outrageous goings-on.

So, the comedy of Ray Stevens covers practically all the bases. There's satire, parody, cornball, and wacky/off-the-wall recordings all blending together. The music arrangements that accompany his comedy songs are top-notch. He spends a lot of time working on the song's arrangements...once saying that he feels the sound of a song can help tell a story just as well as the lyrics can. There's so many comedy recordings from Ray...take a listen for yourselves.


May 26, 2009

Ray Stevens: Gather 'round that Radio...

In this particular blog entry I'm focusing on a specific comedy song from the Ray Stevens 1980 album, Shriner's Convention. The song is the hysterical, outrageous, irreverent, and some even may call it blasphemous: "The Dooright Family". The song at it's basics is simply a spoof of those religious revivals that are commonplace, typically in the deep South, but they're no stranger to other parts of the country. To examine the song even further, if one is inclined to do so, the opinion one has after they hear it is mentioned, people who hear it are either amused or outraged by the satire and humorous goings-on within the song. For instance, the family is in constant competition with each other...they talk over one another...they're very proud of their radio's made clear that the family is on a traveling tour spreading the gospel as they see the country in their lavender bus. In a reference to money, the Dooright's bus comes complete with a shower...big doing's for a deep South gospel family out on the road.

Photobucket There are some very strong personalities amongst the Dooright particular Brother Therman who is notorious for going into manic fire and brimstone-style preaches. Daddy Dooright tries to hold the family together as the chaos ensues all around him. Brother Virgil, the family's deep bass, has one specific job and that's punching Mama Dooright when she goes off into one of her uncontrollable fits of laughter after preaching her sermon on sin and temptation. Rounding out the family are Sister Doris and Sister Dewdrop. Brother Therman has a memorable sermon in the song...speaking out against sin and discotheques in particular...protesting at how people gyrate around. Brother Virgil, thanks to Therman's sermon, decides he wants to check out those discotheques for himself. Therman's in horror while Mama interrupts with her sin and temptation speech...and once again to shut her up, Brother Virgil punches her. This "punch" is heard on the recording...the listener is suppose to imagine Mama being punched and she falls face forward into the piano, which creates a gunshot sound effect. There is a reference to "speaking in tongues" and we hear a woman {Ray} speaking in tongues to comical effect.

Ray portrayed all of the characters in this recording. The dubbed-in laughter and applause was a part of his comedy records for years.

Photobucket In 1995 he re-recorded this song and made a music video of it, changing pieces of the original song in the process. The music video appears on his VHS movie, GET SERIOUS. In the music video, however, Ray only portrays Daddy Dooright while co-stars from the movie portray the other characters, lip-syncing to Ray's recording. In the music video there isn't any reference made to "speaking in tongues". That reference was edited out in favor of an alternate line...but the music video is still hysterical.

Shriner's Convention featured nine songs:

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

May 18, 2009

Ray Stevens: 35th Anniversary of The Streak

35 years ago today, "The Streak" was #1 for the first of three weeks. The interesting thing was the single made it's debut barely a month earlier, in April 1974. It reached the #1 spot in it's fifth week...leap-frogging over a lot of singles in the process in one of the quickest climbs to the top.


The single was all about the fad of running around with no clothes on. The fad most often happened on college campuses across the country but it also leaked it's way into everyday life, including streakers who'd streak just for the hell of it...some streaked for peer popularity on a dare...that sort of thing. The fad became notorious and streakers started to be a fixture on the daily newscasts...Ray got the idea of the song weeks before it became a national fad and ultimately released the song he wrote and it became the biggest single of his career.

A quick synopsis of the song is in order: Ray plays the part of an Action News reporter who wants to get the reaction of the average man on the street about the chaos taking place. Ray plays the part of the man on the street, as well. The reporter coincidentally runs into the same man three times in the song...prompting the by-stander to give his reaction and thoughts about the streaking event he witnessed. The by-stander's wife, Ethel, is never heard from in the song but he constantly warns his wife not to look when the streaker runs by. The catch-phrase "Don't look, Ethel!!" was born in this song.

Ray, as he performed "The Streak" in 1988. At the time of the performance he was enjoying a successful streak of hit comedy albums on the MCA label and thanks to a rather lengthy list of compilation albums issued from all sorts of record labels, his career continued to thrive as his older songs continued to be readily available...and in a testimony to the popularity of the song in his career "The Streak" was selected as the lead-off track on his Platinum selling 1987 album, Greatest Hits and his Gold selling 1990 album, His All-Time Greatest Comic Hits among many other compilation albums issued after 1975.

Ray continues to perform the song in concert...delivering the song almost exactly the way it's been delivered in concert the last 35 years with maybe a subtle lyric change here and there. The yellow CAT hat has become a permanent feature in the song...and anytime you see Ray in a CAT hat while he's on stage chances are he's singing "The Streak".

In recent years he's wore the hat in a lot of publicity pictures...for the cover picture of his 1991 album, #1 With a Bullet, Ray is wearing the CAT hat as well as for Comedy Video Classics a year later.

The song has spawned several catch-phrases: "yeah, I did" is the greeting given by the man on the street in all three occasions. "pardon me sir, did you see what happened?" is the phrase said by the reporter in all three encounters. "don't look, Ethel!!" is the phrase said by the man on the street afraid his wife is going to see obscene images. "boogity-boogity" is the phrase heard in the song's chorus and at other places in the song. Boogity-Boogity is also the name of the album that "The Streak" appeared on in 1974. The album's title is written in smaller print in the clouds of dust on the album cover. A lot of people mistakenly refer to this album's title as "Woosh" because it's written so prominently in big letters...but the actual album name is Boogity-Boogity.

Before you can ask if the album is available on CD or MP3, the answer is YES. The album was released on CD back in 2005 and then late last year it was re-released on CD as part of the "Only The Best of Ray Stevens" collection I wrote about in a previous blog entry.

May 17, 2009

Ray Stevens: Barnaby Records hit songs

Ray and Andy Williams; 1970 Barnaby Records came into existence in 1970 and the label was owned by pop singer/TV personality Andy Williams. Andy was a familiar face to millions of television viewers due to his long-running variety show than was on the air for 9 years, 1962-1971. Ray was a recurring guest on Andy's 1969-1971 programs and as many fans know and as most readers of this blog are aware, Ray was picked to host the summer TV show in 1970 that replaced Andy's weekly series. The official title of the summer show was "Andy Williams Presents Ray Stevens". It aired starting in late June 1970 and concluded it's run in August. Afterward, Andy returned after his summer break and Ray continued to make appearances off and on throughout the show's final year, 1970-1971.

Photobucket Each and every week on Ray's summer show the opening theme was a partial performance of "Everything Is Beautiful". Here you see me and the vinyl album containing the #1 single. The show itself had a lengthy cast of regulars, most notable among them were Steve Martin, the British singer Lulu, and Mama Cass from the pop group The Mama's and The Papa's.


Photobucket This is one of the double album CD's that Collectables Records released in 2005 on Ray. Combining "Everything Is Beautiful" and "Unreal", the two albums Ray had out in 1970 on Barnaby. In the collection below from last year Collectables grouped together the three double album CD's they had issued on Ray and packaged them into one collection and titled it "Only The Best of Ray Stevens" with a best-of collection added as a 4th CD which contained 10 songs, 5 of which already appear throughout the other 3 disc's in the package.


And so we move on to the hit songs Ray enjoyed on the Barnaby label between 1970 and 1976...for this list I factor in all of the major popularity singles charts: Pop, Country, Adult-Contemporary/Easy-Listening, and I include all the singles that reached the charts, period, not just the ones that reached the Top-40 or higher.

I won't specify the single's chart positions unless a single went #1. Instead, I'll write "Top-10", "Top-20", etc etc followed by the genre in which it charted...everyone ready??

Everything Is Beautiful; 1970 #1 pop, #1 adult-contemporary, top-10 United Kingdom, top-40 country

America, Communicate With Me; 1970 Top-50 pop, Top-20 adult-contemporary

Sunset Strip; 1970 Top-90 pop, Top-20 adult-contemporary

Bridget The Midget; 1971 Top-50 pop, Top-5 United Kingdom

A Mama and a Papa; 1971 Top-85 pop, Top-10 adult-contemporary

All My Trials; 1971 Top-70 pop, Top-10 adult-contemporary

Turn Your Radio On; 1972 Top-70 pop, Top-20 country, Top-30 adult-contemporary

Nashville; 1973 Top-50 adult-contemporary, top-40 country

The Streak; 1974 #1 pop, #1 United Kingdom, Top-5 country, top-20 adult-contemporary

The Moonlight Special; 1974 Top-80 pop

Everybody Needs a Rainbow; 1974 Top-20 adult-contemporary, Top-40 country

Misty; 1975 Top-10 country, Top-10 adult-contemporary, Top-20 pop, Top-5 United Kingdom

Indian Love Call; 1975 Top-40 country, Top-70 pop, Top-40 United Kingdom

Young Love; 1976 Top-50 adult-contemporary, Top-50 country, limped into the Hot 100

"Young Love" was issued as a single in January 1976 and it holds the distinction of being the final chart hit for Ray on the Barnaby label. Ray would leave the label not too long after this single was released and he would join the Warner Brothers label. Ray is noted as being the biggest selling act on Barnaby's roster as you can tell. This is just the single releases...not the album's that were issued on Barnaby.

May 16, 2009

Ray Stevens: "Legends and Lyrics"

SPOILER AHEAD...For those who hadn't seen Ray's appearance on the show and want to catch it yourself and be surprised at what he says and all of that, don't continue reading because the following review I wrote contains specific commentary about the program's contents.

Here's the review/re-cap of the show in general...

"Legends and Lyrics" aired it's premiere episode tonight on one of the local PBS stations and by luck I caught it...the channel's web-site didn't list the series air-dates or by luck I decided to check my cable guide and looked up the PBS stations in my area and found the show airing at 10pm Saturday night. I clicked "more info" on my remote and read the scheduled guests and sure enough it was the episode with Ray Stevens. I watched the whole show...the first half of the program was devoted to Randy Owen, Kris Kristofferson, and Patti Griffin. Each of the three sang a couple of songs and told stories about the songs. Randy tells a funny story about RCA's president at the time questioning him about some lyrics in "Mountain Music".

In between and after this audience in-the-round segment, each artist was profiled separately as they spoke to the camera.

The second half of the show kicked off with a segment called "Did You Know?" which featured a 5 minute essay on the late songwriter Harlan Howard and his philosophy on songwriting. After this segment was over with they went back to Randy, Kris, and Patti for a few more commentaries and then they all took a bow amidst applause and then the scene shifted to the "legend" segment...with last!

Ray's segment appeared nearly 45 minutes into the show and he spoke a lot about writing songs and his association with Bill Lowery. He went on to explain how easy songwriting is for him and how easy it can be for everyone. At one point in the segment he said that "even an idiot can write a song". He compared songwriting to a musical crossword puzzle and said that in a lot of the songs he wrote he never felt the pressure to come up with lines that rhymed. He said that he'd think about everything he wanted to say in a song and then once he figured that out then the words/melody came easily and without realizing it his lyrics would end up rhyming because it fit a melody he was writing to in his head. The camera then edited to a scene of him in his recording studio, I assume. He was sitting at the piano singing the second half of "Mr. Businessman". It shown the performance just on piano...and then once the song ended the scene faded out to another segment.

I enjoyed the appearance but it was brief and the show didn't spend as much time on him in the context of an hour's program as I would have liked.

Perhaps one day Ray will be among the artist's "in the round" and appear discussing his songs and performing them to the intimate audience like Randy, Kris, and Patti did in the show's debut's hoping.

May 3, 2009

Ray Stevens: Little Nashville Opry Review

Yesterday evening on May 2 at 6pm I was in attendance at the Ray Stevens concert in Nashville, Indiana at the Little Nashville Opry. I had a great time there in my own low-key sort of way...those who know me will know what I mean. I bought four publicity pictures...all of them taken during photo sessions for the upcoming trucker album "One For The Road". Unfortunately the new CD wasn't available...when you read the review you'll learn more. We'll all have to wait until late May to purchase it.

The concert was everything one would hope for...there were a lot of medley's like the last concert because of the time limit of a 90 minute show and there was no down time during the entire 90 was 90 full minutes and they blew by real fast. He performed the obvious songs one would expect to hear at a Ray Stevens concert: "The Streak", "Gitarzan", "Mississippi Squirrel Revival", and the comedy song that gathered the most applause: "It's Me Again, Margaret". His timing was razor sharp because in between the songs he'd deliver comedy jokes...several whose origins were older than Ray that I had heard on HEE-HAW and on old-time radio...but because of his delivery and his timing everyone was howling with laughter. There was one person behind us that couldn't control their laughter most of the time...I'm not saying if it was a man or woman, though.

There was some surprises, too, which is usual at his concerts. He stopped the show during one of his comedy routines because someone in the audience had hollered "sit down!!" and Ray looked over and went "what in the world's happening over there...". He didn't say anything more...because nothing more was made of it...and everyone started laughing. Some people had to stand up and walk out into an aisle way because an older woman had to use the restroom and because of the seating style, well, it caused some people to stand and block some people's view for just a brief second or two. There was another part in the show after he finished a ballad he started scratching his beard I assume because it was itchy and someone hollered out "you're hot!" and everyone laughed and clapped.

The seating was okay but the rows were built so close together that I had to keep getting up out of my seat so that others could walk through to their seat. It was that compact. It made me think of the classic Warner Brothers cartoons, specifically a cartoon short called "She Was An Acrobat's Daughter" where a theater is populated by animals and someone is always wanting to leave his seat for whatever reason and so he has to push his way through the row of people saying "pardon, pardon, excuse me, pardon, pardon...". Anyway, this getting out of my seat a few times happened before the show started which was a relief.

The seats were almost like church pew's...but they were lined with cushions.

You all be careful...Ray Stevens is behind the wheel...
Photobucket Ray slipped in "If 10% Is Good Enough For Jesus" to a rousing applause and he changed a lyric here and there but I won't spoil it for those who read this and hadn't yet gone to see his show yet. He performed the following songs, not in this order:

Such a Night
It's Me Again, Margaret
Mississippi Squirrel Revival
Everything Is Beautiful
Thank You
Mr. Businessman
The Streak
If Ten Percent Is Good Enough For Jesus
Safe At Home

Medley: Sgt Preston of the Yukon/Jeremiah Peabody/Ahab the Arab/Along Came Jones

Shriner's Convention partial performance

Almost every song had a story behind it and he told stories that would lead up to the songs he'd sing.

While in the concession area I looked all over but there were no copies of "One For the Road" available. Instead, I bought four pictures of Ray taken during the photo session for the trucker CD. A fellow Ray fan at the concert told me that Buddy Kalb, Ray's long-time friend and songwriting partner, told her that they'd start selling the trucker CD at the concert in a week or two before it's available to the public at large. Who was standing behind the concession counter you may be asking...none other than Buddy Kalb himself and a few other associates!! I handed him my money for the pictures I bought plus I went ahead about bought "Laughter is The Best Medicine" and "The Ones That You Want" because I'm somewhat a completest when it comes to Ray and like to have whatever's available.

Photobucket On our seats when we arrived was a small advertisement for Ray's upcoming trucker album indicating that it would be available at Ray's web-site and the Pilot Travel Center truck stops. Click the image for a bigger view of the advertisement card.

Elsewhere on this advertisement I see that on June 16 it states that Ray will be a guest on Sean Hannity's TV program on Fox News Channel. "Hannity" is what it's called since his on-air partner, Alan Colmes, left the network. It airs here at 9pm. So, there were no copies of Ray's trucker album and the only things they had to sell were CD's and DVD's. There were no shirts or hats or anything. I thought about having one of my pictures of Ray autographed but I backed out at the last second. I stood and watched everyone give one of the road people their items they wanted signed and I thought about having the Ray picture signed but I stayed back in the distance. I did keep looking back to see Ray's people parading in and out of his tour bus.

One of the unique things is a small section in the back of the venue off to the right had vacant just looked odd seeing every seat in the house filled but one little section in the back right corner...I assume the venue didn't offer those seats because not a soul was sitting there. It was something like three empty rows. The Nashville Opry itself looked like the Boar's Nest on the outside...the place on "The Dukes of Hazzard" where Daisy worked and where a lot of the action took place. On the inside, the Nashville Opry looked like an upscale theater.


All in all it was a great performance and I doubt that there was any media or local radio people there...although on my way to and from the venue I was able to pick up a local Indiana radio station that played classic it's hard to tell if that station had anyone there. I didn't see any radio car's or van's so it's safe to say there wasn't any reporters/media types there...but it was a great show...and chances are the later concerts will have him promoting his trucker CD and you'll perhaps get to see him perform "Concrete Sailor" in person. If this concert were just 2 weeks later we'd be in the middle of the trucker CD publicity...but I'll be buying the trucker CD when it becomes available.

Click the thumbnails for a bigger view...


Photobucket I will be updating a previous blog entry of mine called "Let's Truck With Ray Stevens" just as soon as the trucker CD is released. So, for any that want to know my thoughts about the CD once I listen to it, you'll have to go back to the previous blog which will have my edited commentary.

Ray is featured on a PBS series called Legends and Lyrics. I still have not seen the program air on any of the three PBS stations that I get...I check almost daily and no program with that name comes up in the TV schedule.