February 14, 2010

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.

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