October 17, 2009

Ray Stevens: Gitarzan Is 40

Turning 40 this year is the jungle sensation, Gitarzan. The lord of the jungle who fancies himself as a rock star made his mark in 1969. Gitarzan, along with Jane and a monkey make up this jungle answer to 1969 Top-40 music. The song, according to quotes from Ray himself, was written with the aid of a rhyming dictionary. The title of the song came from Bill Justis. When you hear the song you can tell that this "rhyming dictionary" came in handy because every line, well, almost every line, contains an end rhyme and along the way internal rhyming is at play. Some jokingly refer to it as primitive rap music because the song was out decades before that style became widely known. Looking at the promo picture on the single you can see that the art department, or the designers, didn't have enough room for Ray's last name. The "s" is written underneath the "n". This is just one of the promo pictures. There is an EP that was issued overseas that features a strange looking cover design. It's yellow and it features Ray's head attached to an illustrated body.

I don't know any Spanish or Mexican languages but looking closely at the words on this EP I will guess and say the other songs included are "Face the Music", "Sir Thanks a Lot", and "Bagpipes, That's My Bag". For those who know how to read that language you'll be able to tell what songs are on it. As far as "Gitarzan" is concerned it opens up with Ray's mimicry of jungle birds before the music rushes in quick and loud. Ray, in a laid back vocal delivery, then goes into the rhyming and tells us all about the jungle sensation. Strangely enough Jane's meddling father isn't part of the tale. Jane steals the show with her outrageous attempts at singing...and she turns out to be some sort of primitive prima dona chastising Gitarzan for not keeping quiet while she's trying to sing. After we hear Jane belt out her song about 'Baby' we then hear some more descriptive rhyming lyrics and then the monkey gets into the act. All three harmonize in the finale.

This single hit the pop Top-10 in 1969 and was certified Gold the same year. At this point in time a Gold single was for sales of 1,000,000 or more copies. Singles greatly out-sold albums and the public were buying this single like it was going out of style. Of course, this was the song that branded Ray as a comedy singer once again after having enjoyed a streak of serious songs in 1968. Ray issued a Gitarzan album in 1969 that featured a number of comedy songs including a re-recording of "Ahab the Arab". The album was issued on CD in the late 1990's and it went out of print in no time at all. A digital download version is available, though, at Amazon. In addition to the title track, Ray issued his version of "Along Came Jones" as a follow-up. This recording reached the pop Top-30 and afterward he set aside comedy recordings pretty much for the next four years with the lone exception being 1970's "Bridget The Midget", a pop Top-50 hit here in America and a Top-5 hit in the United Kingdom. During 1969-1973 Ray continued to perform his comical songs in concert but he was recording non-comedy songs for commercial release. After 1970's "Bridget the Midget" the next comedy song Ray issued was "The Streak" in 1974. Search my blog entries off on the right side of this page to see my writings about "The Streak".


  1. A very fun blog. I first heard and bought Gitarzan as a single. I then had several frustrating years of actually trying to find the album. Only when the Streak hit, and the album was reissued, did I finally have a vinyl copy of the LP.

  2. Thanks for the comment! I try and make things uptempo and lightweight as possible on this blog page.


Show your appreciation for the music of Ray Stevens...leave a comment...