December 30, 2009

Ray Stevens: Ahab the Arab revisited

"Ahab the Arab" goes back to 1962...which is something most if not all serious Ray Stevens fans know off the top of their heads. I've touched upon this song several times in my music journey blog entries and I felt like touching upon it once again. The song became synonymous in the career of Ray Stevens and at one time he was introduced on television shows as Ray 'Ahab the Arab' Stevens. Even today, if one is old enough, they'll refer to Ray as "that Ahab the Arab singer" because for some people that song will always remain linked to Ray no matter how many hit songs, both commercially popular or word-of-mouth popular, that he went on to have.

It was in that 1962 hit that Clyde the Camel came into existence. Since then, Clyde has become something of a mascot and in the 1990's through the present-day a Clyde logo has accompanied the home videos, CD's, and DVD's released on Ray's own record label, named Clyde Records, of course. It's been said that Ray got the idea to name the camel, Clyde, in reference to Clyde McPhatter of The Drifters fame even though McPhatter had been an R&B act prior to forming that group. A few of the songs that he was associated with ended up being covered by Ray Stevens through the years: "Sixty Minute Man", "Money Honey", and "Such a Night". Ray's version of "Sixty Minute Man" is part of a trio of songs that make up a 1978 recording called "The Banned in Boston Trilogy" on the R&B tribute album from Ray titled There Is Something On Your Mind. Ahab became the name of Ray's music publishing company for almost a decade...known as 'Ahab Music Company'. It switched over to the more officially sounding 'Ray Stevens Music' in the late 1970's.

In recent years, specifically in the early 1990's and in interviews this decade, Ray has often spoke up for "Ahab the Arab" after political correctness single-handedly hand-cuffed a previous generation of humor and it's humorists. In a more recent interview Ray is less defiant and states that he can see where some think there's political incorrectness within the song but doesn't support the idea that those who condemn the song should have control over those who see nothing offensive with the overall idea behind the song. The bottom line is most people who have problems with the song either don't understand it or simply object to the way the word Arab is pronounced. Some more affluent and high-brow choose to pronounce the word as "air-ub" instead of "a-rab". Yes, it sounds silly to dismiss a song simply on the way a singer chooses to pronounce words doesn't it? Even in high school, teachers would throw a fit if a student would say "a-rab" instead of "air-ub". When asked what the big deal was, a teacher would actually say "air-ub sounds better". But try singing along to lyrics such as "a-hab the air-ub" just doesn't come out quite right! This is why it stays forever "a-hab the a-rab".

This 1987 album is where I first heard the sounds of "Ahab the Arab", "Gitarzan", "Along Came Jones", "Everything Is Beautiful", "Turn Your Radio On", "The Streak", "Misty", and "Shriner's Convention". The other two songs, "It's Me Again, Margaret" and "Mississippi Squirrel Revival", I'd heard already on a previous album. Look at that album cover! It's quite great, isn't it! The spoofing of Bonnie and Clyde...and perhaps it's only coincidence that Clyde is the name of Ahab's camel, too. A 'hit' in gangster lingo and in some police jargon means a selected target...meaning that if a hit is placed on someone it means that someone's a target for murder. Of course everyone, I think, is well aware of the various meanings of the word 'hit'. That particular 1987 album has since been certified Platinum for over a million copies sold.

This 1992 release was in limited distribution but in reality 10 of the songs contained on the release are identical to those found on a couple of albums issued in 1989 spotlighting the material Ray recorded for Mercury Records in the early 1960's; plus there's a couple of songs included on here that he recorded for the label upon his one album 1983 return. There's 12 songs in all ranging from 1961, 1962, 1963, and 1983. This is the only compilation release, that I'm aware of, to include "Game Show Love" among the tracks. That recording took place in 1983 and is one of my all-time favorites. It uses a lot of game show titles and catch-phrases in the lyrics...and for game show fans it's right up your alley. I used to watch game shows...A LOT...back when I was a kid and a teenager. The USA Network used to air vintage game shows on their schedule throughout the afternoon and into early evening. I'd watch them during summer vacation. The label that issued the 1992 CD is an independent named Special Market affiliated at the time, I assume, with Mercury Records or Polygram.

I'll leave you all with Ray Stevens' current hit single, "We The People", all about ObamaCare. This 2009 music video was done 47 years after the debut of "Ahab the Arab"...I say this just to give some perspective on just how much longevity Ray has had in the music business.

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