February 22, 2010

Ray Stevens: We The People music video, Part Five

Inching ever so close to three million hits is "We The People", the current single from Ray Stevens. The play count now sits at 2,701,080. It's anyone's guess how many more plays the video will get on You Tube...I realize I was saying this same thing back when the music video had just gotten two million hits!!

It's a rainy and dreary day in this part of the country and most of the afternoon was spent looking up vintage newspaper articles about Ray Stevens. It's a hobby...well, not really a hobby...but it's fun nevertheless. I was looking through archives from 1987 when "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" was the current Ray Stevens single. I do a lot of this to get a feel of the news coverage, either local or national, when it came to Ray during whichever year I decide to focus on. I like to compare and contrast current coverage with past coverage and I like to see the changing moods of writers who do the write-up's just to see how poor or how well the authors are in their reporting and coverage.

Also, I like finding pictures of Ray that newspapers used when they did a Ray Stevens write-up. I won't be posting any of them but I've saved them for my personal collection. A lot of the pictures I've come across are rare, too. It wasn't until, I believe, the late '80s that newspapers began to use publicity pictures over and over of the artist. If a newspaper would happen to write something today about Ray Stevens they'd pull out any number of publicity pictures from the 1990's...that is, if they even use a picture at all. In today's world of cyber-news most write-up's shun using a publicity picture of the artist.

I will admit that a lot of newspaper articles, largely beginning in the early to mid '90s, aren't as flattering as, say, a write-up of Ray from the mid '80s or earlier. A lot of this, I believe, has to do with the evolution of the music critic/reporter. In an earlier time a reporter or a critic for a newspaper sometimes, but not always, acted as a publicity tool for whatever artist they were doing a write-up about. The writers that covered Ray Stevens were almost always gushy and filled with praise. Today's music columnists and critics are almost the exact opposite: the writers today more or less dog an artist, gripe about concert ticket or CD prices, gripe about the lack of concerts, or they put the singer on trial for being commercial.

The coverage, generally, is much more harsh and confrontational than it used to be. As the dedicated Ray Stevens fan that I am, I prefer to read positive write-up's about Ray's music and career...which I assume is true for those who read this blog.

Here's one of the stories I came across on Ray Stevens. The exact date was March 1, 1988 and so it's almost 22 years old. The item isn't actually a story but an opinion piece written by none other than Paul Harvey. Yes...you read that correctly...the late radio commentator devoted one of his opinion columns to the scandals taking place in the realm of religious television. Specifically televangelists...and even more specifically, Ray's 1987 hit "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?". The column wasn't an attack on the song...it basically used the song as a kind of window, or frame work, for the scandal that was taking place.

In another article I found elsewhere it quotes Ray as saying that the question being asked in the song isn't up to him to answer. Now, by saying this, he firmly established the fact that he's the singer asking a question...and that it's up to other people to form their own conclusions. It was eerie to read the newspaper article because of how it mirrors the current scenario of "We The People" and how those opposed to that particular song assume it's Ray's job to offer solutions instead of just offering opinion. In a recent article he states that it's up to the people to decide if they like Obama Care or not and that people are free to oppose the song if they choose but people are also free to agree with it. It's one of those history repeating itself moments.

February 21, 2010

Ray Stevens: Something Funny's in the Air

Can you smell it?? It's the smell of laughter! Something funny is in the air! I'm still on a Ray Stevens high after seeing him on Pop! Goes the Country over the weekend. The episode was from 1977. It airs for a third and final time Monday at 11:30am on RFD-TV. I hope to catch it one last time.

The music video, "We The People", has risen to 2,695,690 hits. Here's some more commentary about some funny stuff...

In Australia, RCA Records released the 1980 Shriner's Convention album under a different name: Even Stevens! The irony in this is there was once a 1968 album titled Even Stevens that Ray recorded for Monument Records. I'm curious why the album was retitled in Australia and why they used a different image for it's release instead of the image that appears on the America and Canadian releases of the 1980 album. As you'll be able to see from the song titles, the Australian release called Even Stevens is actually Shriner's Convention. I'm not too sure why there was a need for an album title switch and a different photo of Ray and so it's a mystery to me. If anyone out there has any idea's let me know. The picture of Ray that's used on the Australian release is the same picture that appeared on an issue of Country Song Roundup in 1980.

The only difference in the song sequences in the Australian release and the American release is "Shriner's Convention" kicks off the American release while in the Australian release "Shriner's Convention" is track number four on side one. My guess is RCA simply wanted to alter the song sequence just a bit. To make matters more confusing, the vinyl album of Shriner's Convention features the song "Coin Machine" as the last track while the cassette version in America has the song as track two.

Inside this issue we get to read about the latest happenings in Ray's career at that point in time. His new home was RCA Records and the write-up about Ray concentrated on the success of "Shriner's Convention" and how there's more to Ray than comedy. A lot of write-up's about Ray seemed to follow that same pattern throughout the '70s and most of the '80s before he decided to become a full-time comedian on records. Several write-up's would show us an artist grappling with enormous success with comedy songs but longing to have that same kind of success with non-comedy material. As I touched upon in previous blog entries, much of Ray's biggest years had a touch of bittersweet sprinkled throughout. Luckily for all of us, Ray decided to market himself strictly as a comic when he joined MCA Records in 1984. From that point forward Ray stuck with the image that the public in general had come to recognize and appreciate the most.

February 19, 2010

Ray Stevens guests on Pop Goes the Country...

On Friday February 19, 2010 I caught an episode of Pop! Goes the Country. RFD-TV airs the show on Friday, early Saturday morning, and on Monday. This week an episode starring Ray Stevens aired. The show will repeat two more times. A little history about the television program...it premiered in 1974 as a syndicated program. It aired on the weekends...typically in an afternoon time-slot. The show lasted nearly a decade...ceasing production in 1982. The host of the show for the bulk of it's run was Ralph Emery, 1974-1980. The national television audiences of the '70s who watched country music programming were introduced to Ralph Emery on that show...even though Emery had long been a country music disc jockey and host of a local Nashville television program for years prior to Pop! Goes the Country debuting.

Now...on to the episode...

Ray opened up the show singing a soulful rendition of "Honky Tonk Waltz", his Top-30 country hit from 1976. When he opened the show with that song I figured the episode was from 1976...but it wasn't. Ray played the guitar AND piano during the song. While at the piano he had a guitar strapped to him and he'd play the guitar a little bit and then play the piano, back and fourth, throughout the song. As mentioned, he didn't sing it exactly the way it was recorded.

During the song Ray got up from the piano during the instrumental solo. For those who are familiar with the recording you'll know what part of the song I'm referring to. Anyway, during the instrumental break, Ray left the piano and began "waltzing" with Donna Fargo and then, for laughs, he tried waltzing with the show's host, Ralph Emery. After the song, the interview segment came next. Ray and Ralph sitting side by side chit chatting...it wasn't an in-depth interview like Ralph was known to do on radio and on Nashville Now in the 1980's and 1990's. Instead, Ralph brought up "In the Mood" by The Henhouse Five Plus Too. When Ralph brought that song up I knew the episode had to have been from early 1977. Ralph then told Ray that he had a gift for him in honor of the success "In the Mood" had achieved. What was the gift?? Well, Ralph pulled out a gigantic chicken mask. Ray put the mask on and then began to cackle "Thus Cacked Henrietta"...showing that the chicken clucking performance that appeared on his 1985 album had been in the planning stages way back in 1977.

Ray told everyone that he had plans of doing a lot more chicken clucking songs...including one to the tune of The Lone Ranger, "The William Tell Overture"...but then he also said that he may not do anymore...to date, "Thus Cacked Henrietta", from 1985, was the last recording Ray did under the guise of chickens.

Elsewhere on the show, Donna Fargo sang "Mockingbird Hill". Ralph made a small slip-up prior to introducing the song, though. Ralph innocently remarked to Ray that he should think about recording that song for himself...even though Ray had already recorded the song on his 1975 album, Misty. Of course, such a statement by Ralph would only be caught by those who are serious Ray Stevens fans.

It was Ray's turn to sing again...his second song of the episode was "Get Crazy With Me". By now it was clear that the episode was indeed taped in 1977. Randy Barlow sang a song...after Donna Fargo sang her second song, "Don't Be Angry", Ralph asked Ray to close the show and as the credits rolled Ray sang "Feel the Music" while wearing a top hat with the letters CAT written across the front.

This particular episode with Ray Stevens will repeat tomorrow at 2:30am Eastern time on Saturday the 20th. Two and a half hours after midnight tonight to be more specific in case those of you who have RFD-TV in your channel line-up decide you want to set your VCR or DVR for the re-airing.

Now, for those who come across this blog at some point later on Saturday or Sunday, don't fear. The Ray Stevens episode will repeat for a third time on Monday the 22nd at 11:30am Eastern time. If anyone out there who reads this blog has that channel you won't be disappointed in seeing vintage Ray Stevens from 1977 entertaining the audience in the studio and the viewers at home.

So, there is plenty of opportunity to tape or catch the show in case you missed the 4:30pm airing earlier today. RFD-TV is available on cable and satellite. For those who have digital cable you may want to click the program guide button on your remote controls and check a lot of the channels in the higher number bracket. Here where I'm at RFD-TV is in the 220 range on my channel list. I have digital cable...which is almost like satellite television but without all the extra's...but I think a lot of people have RFD-TV but don't realize it yet.

February 18, 2010

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 6

Walking through Nostalgia Valley today I decided to take a look at this CD once again. The collection was released back in 1996 as a cassette and a CD. The cassette copy featured 8 songs while the CD featured 11. The label in charge of it's release was Polygram Records, a division of Mercury. This meant, for those who are serious Ray Stevens fans, that the bulk of the material would be lifted from the early 1960's. This is one of the few collections released during this time period to feature original recordings and not the more widely distributed collections of re-recordings that are still floating around. 9 of the 11 songs featured on here were recorded for Mercury Records. There are 2 songs that come from the RCA label**.

1. Ahab the Arab; 1962
2. Butch Babarian; 1964
3. Funny Man; 1963
4. Harry the Hairy Ape; 1963
5. Jeremiah Peabody; 1961
6. My Dad; 1983
7. Santa Claus Is Watching You; 1962
8. Speed Ball; 1963
9. One More Last Chance; 1981**
10. Furthermore; 1962
11. Shriner's Convention; 1980**

"Funny Man" is one of my favorite Ray Stevens songs...when it comes to the non-comical songs from this era. It was issued as a single in 1963 and it peaked below the Top-60 on the Hot 100. In spite of it's lack of commercial success, it's still a great recording. As I've touched upon time and again throughout the many entries of this blog, Ray has often remarked that he rarely made recordings that he thought would sell hundreds of thousands or millions of copies. His goal, according to vintage newspaper clippings and interviews I've uncovered, was to make the best recordings he could. This is why there was a lot of production in his later recordings in the '60s and beyond...he wanted his songs to sound as great to the ear as possible. Fortunately for us a lot of his singles became chart hits and they had just enough appeal, commercially, to allow him to continue to make the kinds of records he wanted to make. His Mercury recordings of the early '60s, several of which appear on this CD, serve as an introduction to the manic, zany recordings that were the epitome of early '60s novelty music. As most of you know, Ray's non-comical side went hand in hand with the funny songs, and "Funny Man" is one of those non-comical songs that tells the story of a man known for being a comic who hides his depression and sadness in an effort to please those who expect him to be a funny man.

February 17, 2010

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 5

I believe I have touched upon this CD at some point in my many blog entries. The collection came along in 1998 and it features 10 songs...5 of the songs by Ray Stevens and 5 by Roger Miller. Interestingly fan wars have come in and out of fashion down through the years when it comes to these two talented individuals. Those in the Roger Miller camp say their guy is the funnier comedian while those in the Ray Stevens camp say their guy is funniest. One of the things that the Roger Miller devotees are quick to point out, though, is the abundance of songs that mainstream country artists recorded of Miller's. This, I think, is more about Roger having the talent of writing country songs that could fit just about anyone. Ray Stevens, on the other hand, admitted that the songs he wrote could only be believable if he himself recorded and performed them. I mean...can you imagine anyone other than Ray Stevens singing a song called "Gitarzan", for example, and have it be as entertaining? That's where Ray's talent comes across. All of those novelty songs he wrote and recorded in the early 1960's...they were all written to fit his performing style and no one else. Even the non-comical songs that Ray wrote during that time period were so distinct in their lyrical content that they were not as easy to adapt to other forms of music as Roger Miller's songs were.

I happen to give each performer equal status...in my mind the two of them had parallel careers, pretty much, and each of them excelled in songwriting. Ray went beyond that and became a wizard in the recording studio, too, and a businessman, of sorts, with a publishing company and several other ventures including his own recording studio, his own record label, and his own music video studio. Roger Miller became a legendary figure on and off stage. Ray kept his off-stage life private. There are no famous Ray Stevens stories...but there's plenty of famous Roger Miller stories floating around. Roger won a sack load of Grammy awards for a couple of songs and albums...Ray won two and was nominated for several more. Roger and Ray were both involved on variety shows in the late '60s. Roger was the host of his own show while Ray was part of Andy Williams' show. Ray would later host the 1970 summer replacement program for Andy Williams.

On paper, Roger did indeed have much more mainstream success...but this isn't to say that Ray Stevens pales in comparison. It's like comparing apples and oranges. Two artists who the public at large would consider "comedy singers" but two artists who spent the bulk of their careers writing and singing serious material...with just the novelty songs gaining attention. Roger, according to his career time line, was frustrated by the lack of attention or respect his serious works were getting and by the late '70s he semi-retired. Ray Stevens, also, faced similar circumstances in the early '80s when he felt his non-comical releases weren't getting much mainstream attention but Ray shifted gears and began marketing himself as a country comedian to capitalize on the image the public at large had always viewed him to be. Roger, in the meantime, re-emerged in the mid 1980's on the national level. He wrote the music for the Broadway hit Big River, which won Roger a Tony Award. It was the last major accomplishment, as far as national recognition is concerned, during his lifetime. He passed away in 1992 from cancer. He was 56.

Ray Stevens, on the other hand, once he became clearly identified as a country comedian in the mid 1980s, he recorded a string of high charting comedy albums on the country music album charts during the mid to late 1980's. Two albums that Ray recorded during this time period were certified Gold while two others were certified Platinum. The readers of Music City News named Ray their Comedian of the Year, starting in 1986 and running uninterrupted through 1994. In the 1990's Ray shifted focus to Branson, Missouri where he opened up a theater and at the same time debuted as a comedy music video star. His music video releases, via television commercials, became another source of success for Ray. Ray shut down the theater in 1993...but returned to Branson, Missouri off and on during the last half of the '90s. You can read much more about Ray Stevens within the archives of my blog page.

This CD collection, I feel, does Ray Stevens a great disservice. The 5 songs that the label chose to spotlight from Ray include one original recording and four songs lifted from his 1969 Gitarzan album. The puzzling thing is if the label was able to get the rights to Ray's 1961 single why couldn't they get the rights to the 1962 and 1963 songs as well? The 1962 and 1963 songs on here are re-recordings from the 1969 album...plus there's two songs from the 1969 album that weren't even singles. As far as the Roger Miller selections are concerned...each of the five songs are familiar with music buyers in general.

Here are the songs from this album...Roger Miller recordings are italicized...

1. King of the Road

2. Ahab the Arab {1969 re-recording}

3. England Swings

4. Alley-Oop {1969}

5. Dang Me

6. Harry the Hairy Ape {1969 re-recording}

7. Engine, Engine Number Nine

8. Yakety Yak {1969}

9. Chug-a-Lug

10. Jeremiah Peabody {1961}

February 14, 2010

Ray Stevens: Notice the Difference?

Each of these Greatest Hits CD's have the same songs on them but each of them feature a different cut-out picture of Ray. Curb Records issued this collection in May of 2008. The ten songs on this collection were lifted from the Box Set collection, a project that was issued in the middle of last decade. It's my understanding that the CD on the left was issued second while the CD on the right was issued first. I really don't know, other than from a collector's point of view, why Curb issued the CD with different pictures. My guess is future collectors may want to have a copy of each CD since the cut-out of Ray appears different on each release.

"Losin' Streak" is the name of a song and an album that Ray issued in 1973. The song is about a guy who can't give up his gambling addiction. It isn't a slow ballad...on the contrary, it's an electric guitar heavy up-tempo number. The Losin' Streak album is the one Ray once remarked that he put a lot of money into and recorded it in a brand new state of the art recording studio, by 1973 standards, but none of the songs became hits. The album has yet to be re-issued on CD. The rest of Ray's material on the Barnaby Records label, 1970-1975, is readily available on CD and Mp3 except the Losin' Streak album. The album featured a first...a big picture of Ray Stevens with a beard.

When I obtained my copy of the album several years ago it was like finding gold...well, I should say it was like finding gold when I came across it on-line for sale. When I played the album it was wonderful to hear and I won't hide how I felt...it was exciting hearing a lot of songs of Ray Stevens that up until that point in time I had never heard. The album ran the gamut of emotions, too. To this day I have no idea why it's never been re-issued on CD for exposure to a current audience. I feel that the lack of hit songs doesn't diminish the album one bit. There are 11 songs on the album. A few of the songs do find their way onto compilation projects from time to time but as far as an official re-issue of this album on CD there's been no such luck...as if the album is literally on a losin' streak.

1. Losin' Streak
2. Just One Of Life's Little Tragedies
3. Inside
4. Things Work Out
5. Bye Bye Love
6. Being Friends
7. Idaho Wine
8. This Is Your Life
9. Laid Back
10. Easy Lovin'
11. What Do You Know

The physical copy of the Ray Stevens single, "We The People", arrived in my mailbox a few days ago. The single as you can see is issued by Clyde Records. I do not know if Curb Records will at some point issue the upcoming CD to retail stores or not. Curb often releases Ray Stevens CD's to retail stores several months after the original release on Ray's own label. The music video hit count at You Tube is 2,668,402 as of this writing. As we get closer to late February I'm hoping that we hear an official release date for the upcoming album. As of now I'm still holding late February as the time frame for the release. I am also hoping more music videos will be forthcoming, too! In the back of my mind I have an idea of what the follow-up song will be and if I'm correct I'd love to see a music video made of it.

Ray Stevens: The Romantic Side...

In salute to Valentine's day, today's blog entry is going to be about the romantic love songs of Ray Stevens. Well, it isn't going to be a 100% devotion to love songs...because a lot of Ray's love ballads depicted couples that were splitting up or trying to overcome differences in their personalities. The romantic songs that Ray Stevens has recorded generally are lifted from his late 1970's and early 1980's period. Ray was on the Warner Brothers label during the late '70s and then he moved to the RCA label in late 1979. Ray's tenure with Warner Brothers was moderately successful. He reached the country or pop music charts in each year of his contract and it was during this time that Ray was deliberately recording a lot of songs that went against what the public at large may have come to expect. His 1976 debut on Warner Brothers was an album entitled Just For The Record. The album featured a mix of songs...several up-tempo songs geared toward country music listeners and a lot of other mid-tempo songs. There were a couple of ballads on the 1976 album but they weren't released as singles: "Once In Awhile", "Cornball", and the inspirational "One and Only You". Ray turned the slow love song, "You Are So Beautiful", into an up-tempo number. It became a Top-20 country hit that year. A second single from the album was another message dealing with love...this time around the setting was in honky-tonk where a man loses his girlfriend to someone else. The song, "Honky Tonk Waltz", was basically the "Tennessee Waltz" set inside a bar room instead of an upper-scale nightclub.

Ray Stevens continued on the romantic side during 1977 as well. However, he did make a return to the comical side of things late in 1976 with the release of "In the Mood". Warner Brothers released the song in America and the United Kingdom...which surprised Ray because according to interviews he gave around that point in time he had recorded it for private use but Warner Brothers executives heard it somehow and insisted it be issued as a single. The comical idea of clucking the instrumental like a chicken was the added touch. The song goes back to the 1940's...popularized by Glen Miller. To this day the chicken clucking version of "In the Mood" remains the only Top-40 pop single to be comprised entirely of animal sounds. We hear chickens, a cow, and a goat...the instrumentation was sparse. It featured a saxophone and a bass...and I believe that was it. Now, in keeping with the comical feel, the single was released in America under the pseudonym The Henhouse Five Plus Too. In England it was issued as a Ray Stevens recording.

After ruling the roost with his poultry parody, Ray was back to being serious once again in the early part of 1977. In a previous blog entry I wrote about Ray's 1977 album, Feel The Music. The album had it's share of love ballads...and one of the finest was the toe-tapping "Dixie Hummingbird". "Alone With You" has a misleading title while "Blues Love Affair" pays tribute to the bluesy sounds that Ray grew up listening to tied to a story of a couple splitting up. One of the more romantic songs on the album is "Daydream Romance" and then there is the bluesy "Junkie For You" about a man who's addicted to a woman and he's got to have his daily fix or else he'll start trembling and shaking...having withdrawal pains. In 1978 Ray put out two very distinct albums. One album was a salute to classic R&B music titled There Is Something On Your Mind. A second album was the soft-rock release, Be Your Own Best Friend. It is on the second album that Ray returns to the more romantic side of things with a series of songs: "You're Magic", "Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right", a re-recording of "You've Got the Music Inside" which was originally recorded by Ray in 1973, "Comeback" ventures into desperation and angst, and the album kicks off with the lovely big ballad, "L'amour".

Ray ended the decade of the '70s with a hit comedy song called "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". It would become his final hit for Warner Brothers in 1979...paving the way for his move to RCA Records. He debuted on RCA with a comedy album...titled after a big hit early in 1980 called "Shriner's Convention". On the 1980 album he did feature a couple off-beat love songs. "Put It In Your Ear" is performed as a legitimate love ballad but it's title, plus some comical interludes in Austrian-German dialect, prevent it from being considered a serious song. He does a comical version of the classic pop love song "Hey There" which features serious sounding vocals from Ray Stevens but with a touch of a lisp thrown in for comic effect.

A third off-beat love song on the Shriner's Convention album is "Rita's Letter". In this song we hear the bizarre story of a couple where the man run's off to join a commune and he sends the woman he left, Rita, a letter, explaining all of the experiences he's had since leaving her. A fourth off-beat love song from the album is "The Last Laugh" where Ray tells of a couple on the verge of relationship ruin. The man has had enough and so he goes through thinking of all the things he's going to do to exact revenge...hoping to get the last laugh on the woman...even though his schemes carry possibilities of self-inflicted danger. After the success of the 1980 album, Ray was back to work recording serious songs once again. The results shown up in 1981 on the One More Last Chance album. That album was chock full of romantic love songs of all moods and descriptions. The album is ballad heavy and so it's a lot longer than his previous comedy release in 1980. He followed the 1981 album with two more albums geared toward serious material. Don't Laugh Now hit in 1982...it became his final RCA album. In 1983 he issued the Me album...it was on the Mercury label. Here's a random list of the love songs Ray recorded during 1981-1983: "It's Not All Over", "Take Your Love", "Just About Love", "Melissa", "I Believe You Love Me", "Let's Do It Right This Time", "Night Games", "Why Don't We Go Somewhere and Make Love", "Written Down In My Heart", "Country Boy, Country Club Girl", "Take That Girl Away", "Mary Lou Nights", "Love Will Beat Your Brains Out", "Kings and Queens", and "Special Anniversary".

After having moderate success with his previous two albums, Ray decided to make some sweeping changes in his career. Instead of purposely releasing serious, thoughtful music to show that he's more than a comical singer, Ray went ahead and decided to market himself as a country comedian. The gamble of course paid off as Ray went on to become the most successful country comedy singer during the rest of the 1980's and beyond. This blog entry examined the romantic side of Ray Stevens...the love songs...material that the modern-day music listener wouldn't attribute to Ray Stevens given the decades of comedy and zaniness that have become so well established in the psyche of most people. Let this particular blog entry inspire you to seek out the love ballads of Ray Stevens.

February 11, 2010

Ray Stevens and his Catalog of Music

One of the perks of having a massive hit...be it a music video or a CD or a song...is that if the artist in question has much longevity chances are their catalog of music is going to get exposed to some potential new fans, or, potential customers. On the best seller list for country comedy CD's at this hour, Ray Stevens appears several times and a lot of this has to do with the continued success of his music video, "We The People". The video is now sitting at 2,645,970 hits.

On the Top-100 best selling country comedy list at Amazon this hour you will find Ray sitting at these positions with various releases: #1, #11, #25, #32, #40, #51, #52, #54, #61, #70, #73, #74, #78, #86, and #99. Interestingly, his "We The People" single isn't ranked among the Top-100 country comedy best sellers. Instead, it's ranked in the general comedy best seller list...comedy releases of all genre's. On this Top-100 list the ObamaCare single is at #32 while he makes another appearance 20 places higher at #12 with an Mp3 digital release of an album he recorded 41 years ago in 1969. If anything, it shows that the material he recorded 41 years ago is still selling...and to think that critics in 1969 didn't think the album had a shelf life beyond 6 weeks...I guess Ray and us fans are having the last laugh!

I'm purposely not giving out the names of all the CD's that are ranked because I don't want to make those titles appear more worthy of purchase than other CD's that Ray has issued. Sometimes surveys, charts, lists, etc etc expose only a specific song or CD and there's little emphasis on a singer's catalog of music and in some cases a singer's catalog of music suffers as a result. So, with this particular blog entry, I simply wanted to spotlight the abundance of Ray Stevens music that populates the country comedy best-seller list...15 separate titles as of this hour populate their list.

February 4, 2010

Ray Stevens and Ahab...

Welcome to this installment of the Music Journey! A lot has been said of one of Ray Stevens biggest hit songs, "Ahab the Arab". I've written about this song before in a couple of blog entries, too. The single dates back to 1962 and a lot of it's inspiration according to Ray came from the early 1920's silent films. Rudolph Valentino, in particular, appeared in a film called The Sheik in 1921 and then a year later there was another silent film released called Burning Sands. I believe if people who have complained about this song at some point in time would realize that there is no deliberate malice at play and that it's basically a love story set in Arabia during the early 1900's I think a lot of the belly-aching would stop.

I'm not saying all of the belly-aching would stop because there are people out there who thrive on that sort of thing...but by and large the people who come across this music video nowadays should take into consideration the intent of the song's writer instead of automatically lumping Ray Stevens into the insensitive category. The music video here is the official release. I noticed that the video had several thousand hits, 29 ratings, but only two comments as of this writing. One of those two comments is my own. So, in an effort to continue and expose the music video that Ray's You Tube people uploaded last July I'm putting it in this blog entry. As of now it has 8,738 hits which is relatively low compared to how long it's been uploaded.

The single was released in 1962. It became a Top-5 pop hit and a Top-10 R&B hit that year and went on to sell over a million copies. A music video never materialized until 1995 and that is what you see here. The music video was part of a 1995 direct-to-home video movie that Ray released that year. The movie was called Get Serious and this music video was the last one featured before the closing credits rolled.

February 3, 2010

Ray Stevens: Country-Pop, Pop-Country?

The image that appears on the flip side of the 1977 Feel The Music album is a picture that became a publicity photo for a period of time. As it was pointed out to me several months back the front of the Feel The Music album is a close-up of a stereo speaker. I never paid much attention to the back of the album, aside from knowing Ray's picture is there, to grasp the stereo speaker concept. On the back of the album we see illustrated renderings of screws and made up product labels designed to mirror what the back of a stereo speaker looks like. It looks so obvious now after I spent several years not really knowing what the front of Feel The Music was suppose to resemble. I took both of these picture yesterday while browsing through my Ray Stevens albums.

Technically, it's the same picture. In the first picture I edited myself out so that the back of the album would have a larger exposure. This picture is the original with me in the shot as you can tell. The music on the album is mostly easy-listening...some may consider it pop-country or middle of the road, which is another name for easy-listening. Today this style of easy-listening isn't called Adult-Contemporary...it's referred to now as Beautiful Music. The phrase Adult-Contemporary at one time meant the songs and artists who recorded light/soft rock and easy on the ears music that wasn't too rock and roll and wasn't considered country. As time went on Adult-Contemporary radio apparently decided they wanted their own identity and that's why you won't hear John Denver, Glen Campbell, Barry Manilow, and others on modern Adult-Contemporary stations. Those acts have been pushed into that Beautiful Music format.

Is this album pop-country or country-pop? Easy-listening or Adult-Contemporary? Beautiful Music or inspirational?

Feel The Music isn't 100% any of those music genres. The overall flow of the album carries that easy sound but there are a couple of songs on here that are distinct in their sound. Those distinct recordings happen to be "Dixie Hummingbird", which carries a country music feel; "Junkie For You" is decidedly more bluesy in it's delivery. We have religious/inspirational numbers on here like "Set The Children Free", "Save Me From Myself", and the title track, "Feel The Music". There are straight forward love ballads like "Daydream Romance" and "Road Widow" and then we have the story of a couple in the songs, "Alone With You" and "Blues Love Affair". I consider "Get Crazy With Me" a pop song more than country. It's arrangement pretty much confirms this. In 1995 Warner Brothers issued a 3 set collection of songs that Ray recorded for the label. The only songs from this 1977 album that weren't spotlighted on those 1995 collections are "Junkie For You", "Get Crazy With Me", and "Road Widow". To date this album is the only place to find those songs.

Ray Stevens: We The People music video, Part Four...

2,582,851 hits have accumulated for the You Tube music video from Ray Stevens, "We The People". The video continues to rake in several thousand hits per day. This is February 3 and in nine days the music video will mark it's second month on You Tube. December 11, 2009 through January 11, 2010 is it's first month; January 12, 2010 through February 12, 2010 will mark it's second month. If you're going by a month by month basis, though, it's three consecutive months: December, January, and February.

There have been a lot of political dynamics at play over the course of the last several weeks in an attempt to push health care to the back burner but a decision in Virginia elevated health care back into the fray once again on Tuesday. The state legislature passed a bill making Government mandated health care illegal in Virginia. This is perhaps the start of a growing trend across the nation where other states take action well before Congress in Washington, D.C. has any opportunity to push through ObamaCare should the Democrats entertain the notion of doing so. Imagine the message it would send the Federal Government if states all over the country began drafting and passing bills in the State legislature that rejected the national health care bill proposal, affectionately known as ObamaCare, and in effect making it illegal. I don't think anyone has ever witnessed such an uprising in modern times from the State Government's toward the Federal Government should other states follow Virginia. Constitutional scholars no doubt will weigh in on these kinds of situations in the days to come.


From time to time I like to do these Ray Stevens through the years picture displays. The two black and white pictures of course originate from the 1970's. The first image was used as a publicity picture in the early to mid 1970's. It appeared on several picture sleeves of singles that were issued overseas. The picture, as far as hairstyle is concerned, is also similar to the one that appears on his 1973 Nashville album. The second image is from the mid 1970's. A variation of that picture appeared on the back of his 1975 Misty album. The image was also used in trade publications/magazines of that time period.


In the images above we see a publicity picture of Ray from the early 1990's. The image appeared on his 1991 Greatest Hits album that Curb Records released. I do not know if that album is where the image originated or not but since then it's appeared all over the internet and in country music reference books. Of course, the fourth image is the current single, "We The People".

Has anyone ever thought to take into consideration just how much Vice President Joe Biden has strikingly similar facial expressions to former President, Andrew Johnson? Are the two of them descendants or anything? Google images of both Andrew Johnson and Joe Biden and see the similarities. Joe Biden does smile more...but pretty much they both have that withdrawn, somber, down in the dumps expression.


It's one of the eeriest similarities that I've come across...as far as this sort of thing is concerned. You can click on each image for a bigger view.

February 1, 2010

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 4

As we take a fourth walk through Nostalgia Valley we come across the Urban Cowboy era in country music. I've touched upon this late '70s/early '80s craze in other blog entries and recently commented on this 1981 album. For further reading go check out my blog archives for the entry titled One More Last Chance and the Urban Cowboy. It was during this time that Ray was still battling the public perception of his image and the undeniable commercial impact he enjoyed with comical songs compared to love ballads. In interviews during this time period Ray was often remarking on how much he wished his more serious works would obtain the same kind of commercial success that his comical works had obtained. A year earlier, in 1980, he enjoyed Top-10 success with a single and Top-5 success with an album named for the single, Shriner's Convention. It was an all-comedy album...his first all-comedy album since 1974's Boogity-Boogity. This 1981 album didn't make the country albums chart. I happen to believe that the album sold well but it lacked the media attention and hype that in theory causes consumers to buy an album in droves. It's a shame, too, because there are some very emotional love ballads on this collection of songs...the highlight of the album is the inclusion of a late 1980 hit entitled "Night Games" which reached the country Top-20.

The fact that Ray closed out 1980 with a much more serious release amidst the hype of his Top-5 comedy album indicated how quickly, at that time, he wanted to get back to being serious. In my fascination with Ray's career I'm always coming across magazines articles and interviews that have been uploaded onto the internet from years ago that really help explain some of the frustration that took place under the surface in Ray's career.

If you do a Google news search for Ray Stevens check out the "archives" option on the left hand side of the screen. After clicking archives type whatever year you want and chances are you're going to get a lot of vintage newspaper articles and interviews and write-up's in your search results. I do this once or twice a month just to see if any new old write-up's about Ray Stevens have been added to the search results. In a lot of these pre-1984 interviews you'll see Ray excited over his comical recordings but at the same time remind readers that there's much more to him than comedy. A lot of these interviews touch on the comedy versus the serious side of Ray Stevens. In 1984 when he signed to MCA Records as a country comedy act a lot of his interviews post-1984 had language in them that allowed a reader and the fan to clearly see that he had made the decision to market himself in the most commercially profitable way and that was with comedy songs. His demeanor on stage and in interviews had gone from being the piano playing crooner with a sense of humor to a silly, almost clown-like stage presence with props and other effects. Of course, those who were never fans of Ray Stevens in the first place never took him seriously with anything he recorded anyhow, so I'm excluding those people from my commentary. Ray's career rebounded big time in 1984/1985...all of the comedy albums that were to come throughout the rest of the decade forever labeled him a comedy act...and the sales success he was enjoying with those MCA albums far outsold the sales of his albums in the first half of the '80s while on RCA. The big reason why I highlight Ray's RCA material a lot and his Warner Brothers material is because a majority of those songs didn't get a lot of hype and publicity during their initial release and so I like to spotlight the material on occasion to introduce it to a new audience.

In fact, just two releases on RCA made the album charts for Ray. The first being the Shriner's Convention album which hit the Top-5. The album entered the charts early in February 1980...literally 30 years ago. His 1981 and 1982 albums didn't make the country album charts but an RCA compilation album simply called Greatest Hits hit the charts in the summer of 1983. That compilation contains just two songs from Ray's RCA period and the rest of the album contains material from the late '60s through the mid '70s. The image of Ray on this 1983 release became something of a publicity picture...and fans loved the picture. The album features 10 songs and was charted for five weeks...which is five more weeks than Ray's previous two albums on RCA had enjoyed.

In my continued quest to promote the Ray Stevens music video, "We the People", this is the latest hit count for the video: 2,569,708. This is the month that Ray is to deliver the much-anticipated political/patriotic CD also called We The People. According to the interviews that he has given all indications point to a mid or late February release. I wish it were released sooner because politics is fluid but I can see why a full-length CD is released later. In some theories it creates a demand to have a single appear months before an album. Those in the loop, such as myself, are anticipating the CD big-time and can't wait to hear more songs along the same lines as "We The People".