July 3, 2009

Ray Stevens: Star Spangled Banner

On the eve of the 4th of July I wanted to touch upon a couple of patriotic/political songs in the career of Ray Stevens. I often cite a song that's found on Ray's 1989 serious-comedy showcase album, Beside Myself. This was, at the time, Ray's last album for MCA Records and it was the first time in six years that Ray had put love ballads and serious songs onto an album. The first five songs on this album were non-comical and the last five were comedy songs. Ray had a hand at writing nine of the ten songs found here.

Track number five is a song called "There's a Star Spangled Banner" about a man in the military whose been captured by the enemy and held prisoner. The setting is Beirut/Middle East and the song is written from a POW's perspective hoping that America/the flag will ride to his rescue. Ray gives some commentary about how the flag is not respected in other parts of the country but no matter how much the flag goes through hopefully it'll continue to remain a beacon for the values that America holds. I love the arrangement and the song...now, I know, in this day and time with everyone sensitive over just about anything, a song with this kind of pro-America sentiment causes a lot of our own people to be offended. Things used to not be that way. You can find this song on Beside Myself and At His Best, which is a CD re-issue of the 1989 album.

In 1991 Ray recorded an entirely different song, but kept the same chorus and song title, "There's a Star Spangled Banner". This version of the song isn't about a man being held prisoner in Beirut. This 1991 version is about the flag itself and all of the battles and wars that it's fought in. The Gulf War and it's aftermath was the reason for the alternate version...but don't quote me on that. This version of the song can be found on the 1991 Curb Records compilation, Greatest Hits, which was released in April of that year. Looking through history I found out the cease-fire was in February 1991 so that puts it about the time the Gulf War was still in the headlines.

So, there are two versions of the same song out there and my advise to you is to click on the song sample at the on-line music stores and listen and see which version you're buying...since the songs contain different verses but the same chorus, buy both songs.


Late in 2001/early 2002, Ray had out the patriotic/political comedy song, "Osama Yo' Mama". It came complete with a music video and a more serious b-side, "United We Stand". The commercial CD single, which wasn't distributed heavily, sold enough to push the single to #1 on the Country Single Sales chart...it would remain the Top-5 for several months. "Osama Yo' Mama" of course is about Osama bin Laden and the disappointed he must be bringing his mother. "United We Stand" was originally a peace and brotherhood hit in the early 1970's in the latter years of the Vietnam War. Ray's version comes complete with grandiose arrangement, which a song like "United We Stand" needs. These two songs opened and closed the Curb Records CD, Osama Yo' Mama: The Album in 2002. The CD became a Top-30 hit.

"Hello Mama" was a sequel to "Osama Yo' Mama" and it featured the same melody but different lyrics. "Hello Mama" was also made into a music video...it can be found on the 2004 DVD release, The Complete Comedy Video Collection, as a bonus music video. "Hello Mama" is about Osama on the run in the Middle East and he consistently calls his mother with fears of being caught and sent to Guantanamo Bay. He's using cell-phones to contact his mother but finds that he has to destroy each one he uses because "Dubyah" might be tracing the call. It's just as funny but not as well-known as "Osama Yo' Mama". Each song was written by Ray and Buddy Kalb.


In 2004, with the country still engaged in war and conflicts over-seas, Ray and co-writer Larry McCoy offered "Thank You", a song about the military men and women who are fighting overseas voluntarily. Typically during a war or any kind of conflict, the soldiers and the troops are often over-looked because the media and most talk-shows focus on the politics and the controversies surrounding a war and they often lose sight of the soldiers unless a body count is being reported. So, "Thank You" is a song about not forgetting the soldiers who voluntarily joined the military and thanking all parts of the military for what they do. There was a music video produced in 2004 as well as a 11 song CD.

Photobucket Looking on the back of the CD they list the 11 songs. One of the songs is an instrumental called "Boogie Woogie", the final track on the CD. The CD is all-serious and Ray is credited as a songwriter on eight of the eleven tracks. Two of the tracks are re-recordings, though. "Be Your Own Best Friend", a hit single back in 1978, and 1983's "Love Will Beat Your Brains Out". The songs Ray didn't write are "It Won't Be Easy", "Boogie Woogie", and "Pledging My Love". The track list for the CD:

1. Thank You
2. Come On Home To Baseball
3. Blue Angel
4. Pledging My Love
5. It Won't Be Easy
6. Let's Roll
7. Be Your Own Best Friend
8. Love Will Beat Your Brains Out
9. When I Get Over You
10. Stand Up
11. Boogie Woogie

Several of these songs were later put on the 2006 Curb Records release, Box Set largely because the Thank You album wasn't highly promoted. Meanwhile, the Box Set became a Top-5 hit on the Comedy Albums chart...one of the alternative charts Billboard publishes. The project originally was issued on his own label in 2005 but Curb distributed it in 2006.

Backing up 30 some years to the early '70s, Ray recorded a couple of brilliant patriotic/political songs...songs that he wrote. One of them was "Talking" which was featured on his 1970 album, Unreal. In the song Ray sings about the war going on but all it seems that people in Washington were doing is talking and setting up conferences and meetings instead of doing any overt action. On this same album we have "Loving You On Paper", a love song about a man in the war who gets through the day writing love letters to his girlfriend or his wife. It's never explained if the woman is his wife or his girlfriend...but whatever the relationship, the song deals with loneliness.

The big song from that album, though, was "America, Communicate With Me". This single openly asks the country to explain it's actions and communicate in an open manner. It mentions the assassinations that took place and all of the protesting and everything else going on.


"America, Communicate With Me" became a Top-20 hit on the Adult-Contemporary chart. It peaked a few spots below the Top-40 on the Hot 100. These patriotic/political songs were grouped together under the protest song umbrella...although I wouldn't put Ray's war songs in that same category. While other war songs were pointed against the way the country was running, Ray's tended to be more about common sense...they were never in your face as far as political commentary goes...at least I don't think they were. Others may have a different impression. These 1970 songs were recorded during the time period Ray recorded "Everything Is Beautiful", which went to #1 and sold millions that same year.

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