September 9, 2009

Ray Stevens: Vinyl Digging

This is a cropped picture of a poster that was offered in 1977 with the purchase of Ray's Feel the Music album. The full poster was a fold-out, of course. When I bought my vinyl copy of the album several years ago it wasn't sealed. It was a used copy but it's in fine condition. I have a couple of record players and sometimes I play some of my vinyl Ray Stevens. Vinyl digging, as this blog is titled, is a reference to finding vinyl albums of Ray on-line at auction sites from all over and web-sites. As in the case of finding buried treasure once I find buried vinyl treasure on Ray Stevens I proudly put it on display. Yeah, yeah, I can already hear it from critics saying "if it's buried, just leave it there". Fortunately there are those like myself who won't allow such a thing to happen. I've posted that 1977 image before, I think? The picture of Ray that you see is the one that appeared on the back of Feel The Music. The front of the album didn't feature his picture.

As you can see with the Greatest Hits features the same photo, only in black and white. This particular vinyl album features the usual material, picked almost at random. It would be my guess to say that the album was released in 1977 or 1978...judging by the material on the album. There are no selections on here recorded after 1975 which of course is a give away of when the album could have been released...1976, 1977, or even 1978.
The lettering on the album is dated...I think it would be considered kitsch? I happen to like the a nostalgic sort of way. As I've touched upon in other blogs Ray had no control over all the compilation albums that were being released on him. Small label subsidiaries often issued 2 or 3 compilation albums per year and this continued into the CD age. One of the many subsidiary labels was Polygram Records. It's in the Mercury Records family of labels. Ray recorded for Mercury during 1961-1963 and again in 1983. Polygram and other subsidiaries were known to issue collections on Ray spotlighting various songs he recorded for Mercury. BMG usually issues collections that feature a song or two that Ray recorded for RCA Records, 1980-1982. Some collections are built around 3 or 4 chart hits and the rest of the album filled out with non-hit songs that have become popular down through the years. A perfect example is the song "The Dooright Family". Ray wrote and recorded the song and it appeared on his 1980 Shriner's Convention album for RCA. The song never entered the country or pop charts in 1980 but yet it appears on several compilation albums...because it's become a popular song in his career...and it's hilarious. Another example is "Can He Love You Half as Much as I?", a song from 1986. It appears on several MCA compilation albums even though it was not a "hit song" in the conventional way. It appears on his 1987 Gold album, Greatest Hits Volume Two and Ray sings it in concert all the time.

This is a 45 RPM single of "Unwind", a pop single for Ray in 1968. It is notable for being the first non-comical song to reach the Hot 100 for Ray...his previous chart singles were novelty/comedy songs. "Unwind" was the lead off single from Even Stevens, a collection of serious songs highlighted by "Mr. Businessman", Ray's first non-comical Top-40 hit. The picture sleeve for the single comes from overseas. It was the German issue of the single. The b-side, "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow", borrows the familiar lyric of "for he's a jolly good fellow which nobody can deny" and applies it in an entirely different setting. This new setting happens to be a love song about love gone bad...and that brings me to this...

Barry Manilow, known for his sad love songs even though he's recorded all kinds of songs, got the parody treatment in 1979 from Ray. I did a photo trick and put Ray's 1979 single next to Barry's 1974 breakthrough album as a visual comparison to just how detailed the parody had gone. The parody was all centered around "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow", a song from Dale Gonyea. The song parodies, melodically, "I Write the Songs", one of Manilow's biggest hits. I did a blog several months ago about Ray's parody of Manilow but I can't recall if I put up those pictures or not. I know that I posted Ray's 1979 album and Barry's 1975 album for visual comparison purposes.

Ray Stevens: Look Back at 8-track...another chapter

The 8-track has a polarizing effect on music buyers. I should say it has that kind of effect on those who experienced the 8-track. You can find places on-line and even at flea markets and yard sales where 8-tracks are in abundance. I'm not into 8-tracks but I know that there's an audience out there that buys them. I buy CD's and vinyl albums...sometimes cassette's...I've never had a nostalgic feeling about the 8-track but given that this is my Ray Stevens blog I thought I'd put up some 8-track images. I've did blog entries before about 8-tracks but in this entry I plan on putting up several images of Ray Stevens 8-tracks. In a lot of instances the 8-track was a good idea and it gave music buyers a new way to listen to music that hadn't been done before. The idea of continuous play without having to flip it over to the other side I think was the main selling factor. The drawback as I touched upon months ago was the continuous play tended to wear out the magnetic tape to the point where other songs could faintly be heard in the background. If an 8-track was severely over-played the tracks would jump and you could be listening to a song and then it would click to another song and then go back.

The image you see above is a music/song book promoting "Sunset Strip", a Top-10 Adult-Contemporary hit for Ray in 1970.

Don't Laugh Now; 1982 RCA 8-track

As with cassettes, the 8-track was a compact device...a bit more bulky than a cassette...but it was popular with the crowd who didn't want to fool with flipping the record or cassette over and hearing side two. You'd shove the 8-track cartridge into it's player and there you'd have it...whenever you wanted to stop hearing the music you simply yanked the cartridge out of the 8-track player. Today the 8-track is synonymous with the '70s. Quite a few of these images aren't in perfect shape...but the point is to showcase the 8-track.

Feel The Music; 1977 Warner Brothers 8-track

This particular release as you can see didn't feature a picture of Ray on the cover. Ray's image appeared on the back of the album...and I've yet to find out why even though the album title is pretty obvious why his image didn't appear on the front. On this 8-track the song "Junkie For You" was the continued track. In most if not all 8-tracks, there was always one song or two that would have a beginning and then halfway through the song there would be a pause while the track jumped to the next sequence and the second part of the song would play. In albums and cassettes this sort of thing never happened unless a song actually had two parts. When I used to play my grandparent's 8-tracks I'd be singing to myself and then the inevitable break in the song would occur and then you'd hear a click and the second part would continue.

Losin' Streak; 1973 Barnaby Records 8-track

From the looks of this particular 8-track the songs are located on the back label. For those who don't know, the 8-track label would start at the top and run down the front of the cartridge and go up the back of the cartridge to a certain point. On most 8-tracks there were grip marks on the side where a person would place their thumb and one of their other fingers on either side to push or pull out the cartridge. I know that some tossed this kind of procedure to the side and grabbed the tape improperly and would yank the cartridge out. Sometimes, though, the improper removal of the tape from the 8-track player would do more harm than good. As you look down the 8-track you'll see that the label starts to curve around the cartridge. When 8-tracks were carried in stores they would be displayed much like cassettes were: the artist and name of the project would be written across the spine. Well, in books you'd call it the spine...I wouldn't know what you'd call it when referencing cassette or 8-track tape. Vinyl album jackets have a spine, too.

Have a Little Talk With Myself; 1969 Monument 8-track

Looking at this 8-track from 40 years ago I can see that there were no songs that had a break in the performance. In the previous image we see that one song had a (Beg) and a (Contd) which of course stood for beginning and continued. This is the album that featured Ray tackling 9 contemporary pop songs ranging from the Beatles to Blood, Sweat, and Tears. Three songs on the album, "The Little Woman", "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down", and the title track "Have a Little Talk With Myself" were original songs. "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" was at the time a brand new song from a songwriter named Kris Kristofferson. Ray was the very first artist to record the song. It became a minor hit for Ray but a huge hit for Johnny Cash the next year. I know rock and pop fans are pretty loyal and fierce when it comes to covers and re-makes...i'm sure rock and pop purists would have headaches or worse if they were to hear Ray's versions of "Help", "Hey Jude", "Aquarius", "Spinning Wheel", and others. The way rock and pop music fans and critics are so irreverent, though, they might have headaches hearing those matter who's singing them. This concludes the 8-track portion of the blog entry...

And now a few words about anti-Ray Stevens commentary surfacing on-line...

Obviously, this is a Ray Stevens blog site...and positive Ray Stevens commentary fills this blog site. I doubt anyone who has problems with Ray, both past or present, ever visits this blog. Chances are, though, the critics of Ray who find this blog site by accident probably have more than they can stomach and exit as soon as possible instead of taking the time to learn about Ray's career down through the years which brings me to this point:

The long silent critics of Ray I've noticed have ratcheted up their rhetoric lately in blogs of their, not in blogs dedicated to Ray but in politically charged blogs. Perhaps I'm becoming even more defensive and on the look-out for negative comments and have just now noticed? I happen to think that it's becoming a trend, though, to evoke Ray's name into arguments by pulling in songs or quotes to back up whatever statements are being made in the blogs.

A lot of it, I think, centers around a few appearances he's made on mainstream cable programs, specifically Hannity and Huckabee. Ever since the re-issue of "If 10% Is Good Enough For Jesus" I'm finding that Ray's name appears in passing or is name-dropped in a number of blogs...but due to the positive response from a number of people in various on-line blogs the critics come out of the woodwork and they feel the need to try and put a damper on things and bring out the old "Ray's not politically correct" label. I tend to think that these critics latch onto a popular misconception and feed it into the brains of most people. I'll bet that most people who call Ray politically incorrect have never really heard anything he's recorded straight through.

I happen to think a lot of people just jump on the bandwagon and see a song called "Ahab the Arab" and instantly say it's politically incorrect. "Shriner's Convention", his 1980 hit, has gotten such a beating during the last several years from people who don't really understand the song and only choose to see it as a mockery of Shriners and these people are ready to argue with anyone who has a positive view of the song. I don't know if it's still uploaded but someone on You Tube uploaded a 1995 music video of the song and there were scores of people roasting the song and accusing Ray of being "sick", "sacrilegious", "politically incorrect", "mean"...there were all kinds of verbal attacks directed at Ray all because of a harmless satirical song about a convention of Shriners and the one-sided phone conversation between the straight-laced Shriner and the one who likes to party. The song is very comical but it gets nothing but contempt from those who think Shriners are above being spoofed...which is how the critics of the song come across sounding.

September 7, 2009

Ray Stevens: The Off-the-Wall Comic

Photobucket In the dictionaries published by various publishing houses it states that someone who is off-the-wall can be synonymous with off-beat, way out, bizarre, novel, strange, and other descriptive words. Ray Stevens, as a person, isn't off-the-wall. However, the music in which the public at large is familiar with can be described as off-the-wall. Some describe the lyrics as being off the beaten path. There are plenty of songs of his that are comical that satirize or spoof contemporary events or trends. In recent years his comical recording of "Hang Up and Drive" spoofs the practice of talking on a cell-phone while driving. On his One for the Road CD, there's a song that examines what it's like to reach the retirement age in "Retired".

There was a serious recording from Ray entitled "Golden Age" that deals with the subject of growing older. The song was written from the viewpoint of a younger person, of course, because Ray was younger. "Retired" is written by younger writers, too, but because Ray is older, the song fits him...although retirement is far from his mind. I doubt anyone out there has heard a lot of the quirky comical songs that Ray has recorded that have never been issued as singles or performed with any regularity in his concerts...obviously.

"Kiss a Pig" is one of those quirky songs. In it, Ray sings about finding a pig...he actually stole it from a farmer. The song isn't really about kissing a pig but the title would have you believe that it is. In reality, the song switches the concept of having a pet dog or cat with a pet pig, which isn't unheard of in some places of the country. "Heart Transplant" is a song about...what else...a heart transplant. Ray sings about an older man who's given a young heart and the comical consequences of such an operation. "his heart wants to dance and make romance; but his body says sorry pal, no chance..."

Ironically Ray has yet to record or write a song that spoofs the reality show craze. I think it's because the reality shows are so stupid with the over-dramatics of "who's gonna be voted off tonight??" or "who's gonna be the last one standing??" that writing a comical song spoofing such nonsense would actually sound more serious than comical to certain people because viewers take those shows so seriously that they'd fail to grasp the humor in any potential song spoofing the reality shows...but it would be nice to see what Ray and or his writers could come up with as a comical send-off to those reality shows.

Did you know that Ray recorded a song dedicated to enemas? The song was called "The Cure" and it's about Ray as a little boy playing sick so he can stay home from school and how the remedy of an enema cured all ailments. The song is available on a couple of CD's. The first is 2008's CD, Hurricane. The other CD is Laughter Is The Best Medicine which was sold at hospital gift shops before it became available at Ray's web-site store. What subject hasn't Ray recorded about?? Cable TV was spoofed back in 1988 in the song "Language, Nudity, Violence, and Sex". There is a serious love ballad that Ray recorded that has a comical song title. The song is "Love Will Beat Your Brains Out" and some snobs out there declare that the song's title is one of the worst ever. The off-beat song title is what attracted me to it...and I was surprised that it was a love ballad. It's on his 1983 album, Me. He re-recorded it for his Thank You CD a few years ago.

Here's a look at the 8-track version of Ray's 1973 album, Nashville. This is the album that features the "Golden Age" song. Ray released this album and did much of it's publicity on Dean Martin's various TV shows. The album contained only one chart single and it was the title track, an ode to the country music capitol. The song also mentions points of interest all over the world but no matter where Ray happens to be he's always home-sick for Nashville. The song, of course, charted country. Top-40 pop radio had little interest in playing a song about a city that is known as the home of country music. Ray wasn't being marketed as a country performer yet but the music was country for a good percentage of the album. A few of the songs departed from the country setting like "Golden Age", "Float" {an instrumental}, and "Nobody's Fool". The other material featured steel guitar and other country music instrumentation. "Love Me Longer" was issued as a single but it didn't enter the charts. The song is a love ballad of one-night stand proportions...dealing with the temptations of life on the road.

I came across a web-site this morning, actually a message board of sorts, where a few people didn't even know Ray was still among the living. I assume people identify Ray with a certain decade and think he's no longer living or they're just so out of touch with Ray's whereabouts that they mistakenly assume he's stopped recording.

I've seen some web-sites where people would swear that Ray hasn't recorded anything since the 1980's and then there are some people who say that Ray quit recording after he sold his theater in Branson, Missouri. I get annoyed reading things like that because it shows ignorance on their part. In this age of the internet where official information is just a click away you'd think people who write or mention Ray you'd think that they'd at least do a little research.

I saw a blurb earlier about Ray's 1970 TV show. The writer of the description, well, any serious Ray Stevens fan could tell that the person doing the write-up was winging it and didn't really know anything about Ray at it is...and I quote:

"CTV produced this short summer series in 1970. After getting his start with "The Andy Williams Show", singer-comedian Ray Stevens now had his own program to let his brand of humor run wild. The skits tended more toward slapstick-style physical humor, interspersed with a number of Stevens' more well-known songs (such as "The Streak"), as well as some of his newer creations"

The first problem is that Andy's TV show didn't give Ray "his start". Ray became a recurring regular of Andy's show in 1969, hosted the summer replacement show in 1970, and remained a popular guest through 1971. Ray had been recording comical and serious songs long before he became associated with Andy Williams...Ray's recording career dates back to 1957. His first hit recording came in 1961...but he recorded a lot of interesting material prior to 1961 during his teen years. Ray turned 20 in 1959 by the way...meaning he was 31 when he hosted the 1970 summer show for Andy Williams.

The second problem that I have with the short write-up is that the writer mentions "The Streak". That recording hit in 1974...four years after Ray's summer TV show ended. Ray never performed that song on his TV show as it wasn't even thought of or let alone written in 1970. The streaking fad happened in 1974 and Ray's timing was perfect. Anyway, it annoys the crap out of me when I come across write-up's that are filled with inaccuracies. Ray's summer show in 1970 is notable for a couple of things. First, it's theme song provided Ray with a million selling Grammy winner, "Everything Is Beautiful". Ray wrote the song in about 3 days because he needed a song that could be used as a theme song.

Ray used the show to promote his songs and spotlight the talent's of his cast.

The second thing that is notable about Ray's 1970 show was the emergence of comedian, Steve Martin. The show has yet to surface in DVD format.

Ray Stevens: Christmas Is Here!!

The Ray Stevens Christmas CD arrived this past Saturday. I had hoped that it would have arrived on Friday, after having got an e-mail on Wednesday letting me know it had been shipped, but it arrived on Saturday. The CD is released on his own label, Clyde Records. I don't know if Curb Records will distribute it later in the year or not. Usually a few of his projects that he does on his own label are later re-released on a major label several months later. In a previous blog entry or two I wrote about the CD's availability and that I had sent off for it. The CD is all serious recordings and a sequel to his 1997 Christmas Through a Different Window comical collection. This latest CD doesn't give a musician credit list so I don't know who's playing on the CD. The saxophone is featured quite a bit, though.

Publishing wise, a lot of the songs are affiliated with ASCAP which to sharp eyed fans of Ray will notice is a departure of sorts. A lot of the songs that Ray sings are usually affiliated with BMI. Also, many of the songs found on countless Ray Stevens albums are published by Ray's own company: Ray Stevens Music, which is affiliated with BMI.

So, glancing through the songs that are on the holiday CD, you'll be able to see that it's weighted down with ASCAP material. Now, of course, this sort of topic about publishing companies and all that isn't really something the casual or even die-hard fan of any singer would notice or let alone feel it worthy of discussion...but there are some out there who do take notice when they examine a CD's credits and look at the technical information.

Getting back to the CD's material...

There is one original song here while the rest of the songs are your traditional choices for a Christmas project. "Deck The Halls with Teardrops" is the lone original song...from the pen of Ray Stevens. It's in the category of sad Christmas songs. There's a harmonica solo that is heard throughout the song at various times wailing out the "Deck The Halls" melody...but it isn't a parody of "Deck the Halls", it merely borrows the melody during the harmonica solo's.

His version of "White Christmas" features a unique arrangement. In it Ray blends the Bing Crosby style with the Drifters style and when I first began to listen I assumed that it would continue the crooner style throughout but it doesn't.

"Let It Snow!", the CD's opening song, features a jazzy arrangement. In fact, one of the things you'll notice are the arrangements are almost all non-holiday sounding. The lyrics are Christmas oriented, of course, but the arrangements are jazzy/big-band. "Jingle Bells" features a mixture of humorous Ray playing the part of the man riding the horse, calling out to the horse with the sounds of a whip in the background, "giddy up, horse! yee haw!!", but it's not a comical song.

One of the departures of the non-traditional arrangements is "Silent Night" conveys the religious sound throughout. "Blue Christmas" is done crooner style. "I'll Be Home For Christmas" is transformed into a talking blues style with some "let me tell ya..." lyrics added in. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" features an echo chamber and it's a perfect song to close out the collection.

Ray, if you ask him, usually will tell you that he grew up listening to R&B and blues in addition to country and that's why a lot of the songs he's recorded always had a hint of classic R&B in them...especially the material of late.