December 31, 2009

Ray Stevens: Misinterpreted Mr. Businessman

Some of you may wonder why I title this blog the way I did. I title it that way because I want to address some of the popular misconceptions about the Ray Stevens hit song, "Mr. Businessman". On the surface the song sounds very much like a full-on attack of the quote, 'American businessman'. Some listeners who've discovered the song within the last decade or within the last several years thanks to social network sites come away with this interpretation that Ray's anti-Capitalistic and is anti-Business, etc. etc. In reality, or I should say, in my opinion, Ray isn't attacking corporate greed or the wealthy. When I hear the song I hear an attack on see, greed isn't something that's automatically a character trait of anyone with wealth. The movies and TV shows...and even to paint a portrait of the greedy businessman and the "petty, hard-working average guy". What all of this means is it's a character study. We're back at that 'character' phrase again. This "Mr. Businessman" song is a social commentary on the character of some businessmen...and yes, there are sleazy wheeler dealers...but you have sleazy slime-balls in all walks of life, rich or poor. So, in my view, this song was never meant to be an indictment on the businessman in general...but instead I think it was intended for those who in fact do go too far and become immoral, amoral, or unethical...but not everyone's a scoundrel who's a businessman or businesswoman and I'm not in favor of doing away with capitalism just because of those who abuse it.

You'd be surprised, or perhaps not, by the amount of people in America who think it's best to wipe out capitalism in favor of socialistic beliefs. The core issue is jealousy and envy...the old "I wish I had what you have" scenario. It's taken to a higher level in this day and age with people demanding and insisting that the corporate world suffer and fail just because those on the outside looking in want to see 'the rich' "brought down to Earth".

The above 45 single is the original release on Monument Records. This 45 is a re-issue on the Barnaby label. I'm not a big shot when it comes to 45 RPM's, I just like to collect whatever I can of Ray Stevens...but for those who are into it much more than I am often you'll come across a 45 like this one. As you see it's on the Barnaby label with the memorable melted vinyl on the tree limb. For those brand new to vinyl terminology, this copy is what you'd call a re-issue because it isn't the original and it isn't even issued by the original record label. I'd guess and say that both copies have value to them, though, with more value placed on the Monument Records copy. For those who have still yet to hear the song you can check it out on any number of video hosting sites or purchase a digital MP3. The original recording is located on his 1968 album, Even Stevens. Before anyone can ask...yes, that album is available as a digital download. You can buy individual songs from the album or the entire album.

Known amongst critics of that time period as Ray's serious album...the first LP of his to concentrate on non-comical recordings exclusively came along in 1968. What the public-at-large didn't know is that Ray had been releasing 45's on Monument Records since 1966...and quite a few of them were love ballads and straight-ahead pop songs of the day. Much like the critics of today, the critics back then would only single out or highlight a big hit when it came to doing a write-up of an artist. Ray's big hits prior to "Mr. Businessman" in 1968 were a couple of comical recordings in the early '60s. In fact, the first single from Even Stevens was "Unwind" which hit and peaked in the pop Top-60. It was actually the commercial success of "Mr. Businessman" that gave the album much more wider exposure. The single hit the pop Top-30 and another, "Isn't It Lonely Together", hit the R&B Top-40.

The album featured a picture of Ray on the back cover sitting on a stool with a music stand next to him. The pose was to suggest that he was the consummate musician and singer...which in fact he was and still is. As I mentioned in other blog entries, Ray's talents at producing and arranging are hugely under-rated. His songwriting was finally acknowledged in 1980 when he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. The 1968 album was produced by Fred Foster and nine of the ten songs were written or co-written by Ray. Doing the math, this makes the album 41 years old.

1. The Minority
2. Funny Man
3. For He's a Jolly Good Fellow
4. Say Cheese*
5. Mr. Businessman
6. Isn't It Lonely Together
7. Face The Music
8. The Earl of Stilton Square**
9. Unwind
10. The Great Escape

*-written by Ray Stevens and Bob Tubert
**-written by Tupper Saussy

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