January 3, 2010

Ray Stevens: 45 at 50

With the temperature outside dipping down into the low teens I felt like adding another blog entry into my "45 at..." series. This time around we have a Ray Stevens 45 at 50. This single saw it's release in 1960 and for most Ray Stevens fans we all know the story behind this song and the fall-out it received at the time. Let's just explain some things for those who may not know. This particular single, "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon", is a novelty single about the character that at the time was one of the more successful live-action children's shows with considerable action and adventure. In most episodes Sgt. Preston would be in some sort of predicament or he'd need assistance at the last second and usually his dog, King, would come to the rescue. Preston, a fictional member of the mounties, became the prototype for just about every Canadian Mountie spoof and caricature throughout the '50s, '60s, and '70s. Mounties aren't spoofed much, if at all, anymore, because of dreaded political correctness, I assume, where people here in America tend to be overly sensitive about how other culture's and other ways of living are depicted on television and in movies. But that's just my theory.

Anyway...after Ray wrote, recorded, and NRC released the single in 1960, it shown some signs of becoming a national hit song. In fact, the single came close to breaking into the Hot 100 pop chart that year...but as word-of-mouth spread it must have spread to the owners of the Sgt. Preston character, too. The owners threatened a lawsuit unless the song was removed from distribution. As history shows, the song was pulled from the market and several months later NRC went bankrupt. Ray found himself on the doorstep of Mercury Records in 1961...well on his way to becoming a popular attraction and singer.

The obscure recording hasn't been well circulated on album or CD but once in awhile it will pop up on an oldies collection...one of the more prominent collections that the song appeared on was All-Time Greatest Hits, a compilation by Varese Sarabande in 2001. This CD is where I heard the song for the first time and I loved the dog howls and everything...the thing that makes me laugh the most besides the dog howls is the narration. Ray was 21 when he recorded the song.

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