July 8, 2009

Ray Stevens: Favorite Album Covers

Photobucket Ray's debut album for MCA in 1984, He Thinks He's Ray Stevens, is one of my favorites...he's dressed as Napoleon, of course. There is a song on the album that deals with a viking, "Erik the Awful", and it tells the convoluted story of a band of vikings who pillage and plunder everything in their path...going all over the world...even making a stop in Hahira, Georgia along the way. This is the album that contains both "It's Me Again, Margaret" and the "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" for the very first time...two songs that have become standards in Ray's concerts.

Photobucket Issued in 1980, when I first saw this album's cover I immediately liked it. The front cover here shows Ray in character on a Harley Davidson, the preferred choice of a Shriner being depicted in the title track. Shriner's Convention became a Top-10 country hit both on the singles and albums chart and was his debut for RCA Records. During Ray's concerts, particularly at his Branson, Missouri theater in the early 1990's, he'd drive out on stage on a white Harley with the name 'Coy' written in blue letters across the side. He was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt...wearing a Fez...it was like the image on his album cover came to life. The only thing missing was the un-named woman that Coy's having an affair with...in the song her and Coy were caught in the hotel's swimming pool at 3am. Actually, it was Coy and a bunch of cocktail waitresses...but one of them became his lover and they both ended up leaving the convention...Coy ends his association with the Shrine, thinking over the idea of joining the Hell's Angels instead.

Photobucket What's not to like about this album cover?? Beside Myself from 1989 shows us the serious and comical side of Ray Stevens both in song and on the album cover. This album is highly under-rated, though. Among Ray fans it's notable for the songs "Your Bozo's Back Again", "There's a Star Spangled Banner", "I Saw Elvis in a UFO", "The Woogie Boogie", and "I Used To Be Crazy".

Photobucket Years ago when I was 10 or 11 I remember seeing the cassette tape of this album in a local grocery store and wanting it so much because I was in my early stages of being a Ray Stevens fan/nut-case. A few of the song titles on the album were familiar but a majority of them were not. This is the album where I first heard "Mr Businessman", "In the Mood", "Mama's in the Sky With Elvis", "Freddie Feelgood", "The Haircut Song", "The Blue Cyclone", and "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". The baseball theme is a nice touch as well...considering I like watching Major League baseball. This was released in 1987, Greatest Hits, Volume Two. My grandfather, who introduced me to the songs of Ray Stevens, already had the 1987 Greatest Hits release...but he never bought Volume Two and so my parent's bought it for me out of the blue for Christmas. Several years later I came across Ray's 1985 album, I Have Returned, and learned "The Blue Cyclone" was originally broken into two parts. The version on this 1987 hits album is the radio edit.

Photobucket This 1997 holiday album is filled to the brim with demented Christmas songs. The title, Christmas Through a Different Window, demonstrates just how left of center the material is going to be. In fact, Ray appears left of center on the album cover. I like the way the lettering looks fancy but you have Ray peeking into the window on the lower right. Ray once explained that the album's title was based on how when people drive through their local towns during Christmas time you usually see holiday displays through the window's of people's houses as you drive by. A lot of families put their tree up in their living room in front of a window. Some purposely set holiday displays in their windows. So, Ray wondered what it would be like hearing about Christmas through a different window...a window that may appear in fine shape on the outside but once you come inside the image shatters. So, a lot of these songs deal with dysfunctional families and they deal with the silliness of political correctness. This theme is hit on right at the start with the opening song, "Guilt for Christmas".

Photobucket I like the album cover...an obvious reference to his 1984 hit "It's Me Again, Margaret". When this collection came along in 1990, I had all but one song. The song on here that I didn't already have in my collection was "Bridget the Midget", the last song. My grandfather bought me this at some point in 1992 or 1993...so the collection had already been on the market a couple of years. This waiting until either my parent's or my grandfather would buy me a Ray Stevens tape or CD was annoying at the time...I liked to have a CD when it was brand-new. I remember once we were in a store and there was a Ray Stevens tape that I didn't have. It was costly, according to my parent's, and they never bought it. It was the 1989 Beside Myself project. Well, that album was scarce to say the least...I finally found another copy at some other store several years later and my grandfather bought it for me. By then the tape was 4 years old and the price had came down. Anyway, because of all the waits I experienced with not being able to have a cassette tape or a CD when it was brand new is probably why I'm the way I am now. Once I get word of a new Ray Stevens project being released, I never wait around too much after it's released...I buy it as soon as I can...often times I pre-order an item just so I'll have it when it's brand new.

Photobucket This album is from 1975, The Very Best of Ray Stevens. I think the reason I happen to like this particular album cover is simply because it looks different than other Ray Stevens album covers from that era. Arms folded, leaning up against a tree in what could be Centennial Park down in Nashville, TN. Why this particular picture was chosen for a best-of compilation I have no idea but I happen to like it. There is another version of this album featuring a clean-shaven picture of Ray taken from the Turn Your Radio On album. I believe that release was in Canada and over-seas.

Photobucket I know of at least one person who doesn't care for this particular album cover. I happen to like it...the all white background and the white suit and the songs are really good, too. The album comes from 1978 and it's called Be Your Own Best Friend. All of the album covers are thumbnails and so you should click them for a bigger image. There were nine songs on this album and as was the case on a lot of Ray's albums, he's listed as a writer or co-writer on almost all of the songs. I'm not ranking the album covers in any particular order, though...and if you don't see an album cover it doesn't mean I hate it. This is just a small sampling of the album covers I happen to like.

Photobucket This comedy album from 1986, Surely You Joust, is one in a series of albums released by MCA on Ray during the mid 1980's that featured him in elaborate and eye-catching poses. Each of his first eight albums for MCA, including three best-of collections in 1987, show Ray in one wild costumed pose after the other. This 1986 album cover is no exception. Ray kind of had a theme going of dressing up as historical figures in both fiction and non-fiction. King Arthur is the subject on this album cover. There was no core theme to the song's, though. You had just about everything on this album. Everything from social commentary in the songs "Fat" and "Bionie and the Robotics" to TV show spoofs, "The People's Court", and a trio of songs about the great outdoors. One of the highlights is the "Southern Air" performance which features Ray and fellow country comics Jerry Clower and Minnie Pearl. Ray plays the part of a passenger, Clower is the talkative pilot/captain, while Minnie plays the stewardess.

Photobucket Released in 1997 a lot of consumers thought that Ray was dressed up like Norman Bates' mother from the PSYCHO movies when in reality he was spoofing Whistler's Mother...this is why a picture of "whistler" appears in the frame...it shows Ray blowing a referee's whistle and the idea of the album title comes from the scenario that Whistler's mother is tired of whistling and so she decides from now on she'll Hum It, instead of whistling, and that's where the CD got it's title. If you Google "Whistler's Mother" you'll see the portrait that Ray's spoofing. Of course, the artist of the painting in the 1800's, his last name was Whistler...but in modern-day comedy his last name is spoofed and taken literally. This is the album that features the songs "Too Drunk To Fish", "Mama Sang Bass", "Virgil and the Moonshot", and the Gone With the Wind song, "I'll Be In Atlanta", among others.

Photobucket On this 1990 project, Ray's dressed as Julius Caesar. The background images were shot at the Centennial Park in Nashville. A Parthenon sits up on a hill and is the main attraction of the park. Julius Caesar was noted for saying the phrase: "friends, Romans, countrymen...Lend Me Your Ears..." and so Lend Me Your Ears became the title of this comedy album. The phrase, of course, doubles in meaning because it could also be said that Ray's asking the consumers to listen to the CD. The rabbit on the cover goes hand in hand with the album's title...a rabbit's most recognizable feature are their ears.

Photobucket Here we have Ray as Wil Rogers. The album title is based on an expression Wil is famous for: "I never met a man I didn't like". This one came along in 1988 and it had it's share of topical material, notably "Surfin' USSR" plus the satire on the hippie culture, "Old Hippie Class Reunion". There was a song about satellite TV, which at the time was growing in popularity but was still a mystery for those who didn't have that sort of item. The song is "Language, Nudity, Violence, and Sex". Ray does a spoof of Michael Jackson on this album...covering the song, "Bad".

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