January 1, 2010

Ray Stevens: 45 at 30

Oh yes...this being my first blog entry of 2010 I feel the need to put the spotlight on some singles that hit the big 3-0 this year. It's almost hard for some to believe that it's now been 30 years since Ray Stevens debuted "Shriner's Convention". The single hit in early 1980...30 years ago, give or take a month or two. The actual day and year it hit the charts was the week ending February 9, 1980 meaning that it was issued at some point in January of that year as a single, which you see above. This particular single as you can see is red vinyl and wasn't released to the general public. "Promo copy" singles were typically meant for radio stations. There were two versions of the song...the long version clocking in at 5 minutes, 33 seconds and the shorter version which clocks in at 4 minutes, 2 seconds. There weren't any lyric edits in the shorter version. The only difference is in the longer version of the song Ray speaks at a more slower rate of speech and allows for pauses where as in the shorter version Ray speech pattern is in a more faster rate and there's not much pausing going on which saves in total 1 minute and 31 seconds. As far as compilations are concerned, the shorter version can be found on RCA's Collector's Series release, both in 1985 and 1987. The longer version can be found on RCA's Greatest Hits release from 1983, MCA's Greatest Hits from 1987 and Curb Records 1990 release, His All-Time Greatest Comic Hits. I've written about this song in various blog entries...some as recent as last month, I think? In a previous blog I titled "45 at 39" I spotlighted a December 1970 single from Ray called "Bridget The Midget the Queen of the Blues" and so I thought that I'd open up 2010 with the similarly titled "45 at 30".

After the Top-10 success of "Shriner's Convention" in the spring of 1980 on the country singles chart, Ray enjoyed similar success with the album of the same name. The album also reached the Top-10 on the country albums chart...hitting on March 8, 1980 and remaining a best-selling album for over 20 weeks. It remains somewhat of a mystery as to why no other song from the comedy album was issued as a single...in England the fans were treated to the single "Hey There" but it wasn't issued here in America, though. The song, "Hey There", dates back quite a few years prior to Ray recording his version of the song. The music sounds soft and romantic but vocally it's hilarious. It's anyone's guess why RCA issued the single overseas instead of in America where I believe it would've been well-received if publicized correctly given that most pop audiences are/were familiar with the original recording of the song back in the 1950's.

A follow-up in America arrived in September of 1980 and it was a serious song...the fantastic "Night Games", a bar room inflected toe-tapping story of complete strangers who meet at a singles bar. When the single was released country music had been experiencing a huge spike in sales thanks in part to the Urban Cowboy movie. "Night Games" is a song that fit right in with the honky-tonk and cowboy romanticism that was sweeping the country at that time. It was a time when the guys and gals in the cities were dressing up like cowboy's and experiencing in their minds what it was like to be country. This mood/trend wasn't lost on Ray and he, too, began wearing a cowboy hat in concert and on television appearances during late 1980 into 1981. I wrote a blog entry many months ago called "One More Last Chance and the Urban Cowboy" if any of you want to search the blog archives here to read up on what I wrote. "Night Games" was available as a single-only throughout the rest of 1980 until it became part of Ray's 1981 RCA album, One More Last Chance.

This shouldn't be too unfamiliar to those who've read my blog entries for awhile. It's the picture sleeve for "Hey There". It's b-side is the funny and clever, "You're Never Goin' To Tampa With Me". This is the same song that is featured as the b-side of "Shriner's Convention", too. The picture of Ray that's used on this single's sleeve became a popular publicity photo. A full-sized version shows him sitting on a stool. An image of this appears on a low-budget release by RCA/BMG in 1990 called Everything is Beautiful and Other Hits...the collection was re-issued in 1992 on CD. The cassette tape release featured dark green as it's prominent color but when the CD version came along the dark green was gone. The image you see below of the three Ray Stevens pictures side-by-side-by-side was used for a collection called The Last Laugh in 1999. Only one picture was used for the 1990 Everything Is Beautiful and Other Hits release.

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