March 2, 2010

Ray Stevens: 45 at 20...

Welcome to my latest Ray Stevens blog entry! This time around I'm going to write about a certain song that was recorded and released by Ray in 1990. The song is "Help Me Make It Through the Night". The song had been around for decades prior to Ray recording his version of it. This marked the second time that Ray recorded a song written by Kris Kristofferson. The first time around was in 1969 when Ray became the first artist to record "Sunday Morning Coming Down". Ray's take on "Help Me Make It Through the Night" became much more popular as a music video in 1990 than it did a radio hit. His performance of the song is clearly the most wild interpretation and it's what the country music audience came to expect and appreciate from Ray. The song was also a sort of unofficial tip of the hat to Spike Jones...more than any previous novelty song from Ray Stevens, this one contained an abundant supply of sound effects and noises. A 45 RPM was released to disc jockey's only. Sometimes that DJ promo copy can be found for sale on-line. The promo features the same song on both sides of the single as was the custom for promo singles. The color of the paper is white...which is another indication that the single wasn't originally meant for commercial use. Ray rarely performed the song in concert and my guess is due to the over-dubbing and the sound effects that are heard. It's been said that on a television show it's difficult to time a song because of the nature of commercial breaks and the possibility a sound effect not working when it's suppose to, which can throw off a performance. I've only seen Ray perform the song once...and it wasn't technically a full-length performance. Here's the story...

Back in 1990 Ray appeared on an episode of Nashville Now. He was there to promote his latest album and his first for Curb Records, Lend Me Your Ears. While there, Ray began to croon the first few lines of "Help Me Make It Through the Night" and then out walks the host of the show, Ralph Emery, dressed up as the Southern Colonel. Ralph complained that the song was going too slow...afterward the screen faded to black and the music video of the song began playing. The song, for those who hadn't heard Ray's version, is an up-tempo performance. Then, just as the video was about to transition to the final scenes, the screen faded to black and we see Ray at the piano on the Nashville Now set closing out the song, in crooner style, and Southern Colonel Ralph expressing his appreciation at the upbeat tempo of the song. That was the first and only time I'd seen Ray perform the song anywhere and as I was mentioning it wasn't technically an actual performance because the music video was edited in and that's what the people at home and in the studio audience were watching.

Later on in this same episode Ray sang "Barbeque". How I wish I had the foresight to tape these programs where Ray Stevens made an appearance!! I'd love to see them over and over and over again.

This is a song you don't hear much about. It was released as a single in 1968 and it's from, as you can see, his Even Stevens album. The song is about a man who's excited about heading home after a stress filled day at work. He considers being away from the city and out in the country as his great escape. The song has no connection to the movie of the same name from the early '60s. "The Great Escape" in hindsight should have been the B-side of the single but it was pushed as the A-side when it hit the market. This is not to be taken as a slam against the song but when you hear it and then hear the B-side, "Isn't It Lonely Together?", you may also come away thinking the same thing. The B-side is a tragic story of a couple who have to deal with the consequences of a one-night stand. The woman in the song becomes pregnant and the man wrestles with the idea of doing the right thing and marrying her. Modern-day listeners may cynically wonder why there's a dilemma at all when abortion is an option and the man or the woman can be independent from one another...but, don't forget, that kind of a mind set is of modern-day while this song is from 1968. Modern-day listeners should also realize that the song can be interpreted as being pro-family and anti-abortion...and modern-day listeners should also realize that this was five years before the landmark abortion case, Roe v. Wade, came to it's conclusion. In hindsight I think the reason why "The Great Escape" was pushed as the A-side is because the subject matter couldn't be construed as being controversial.

Speaking of care overhaul, also known as ObamaCare, seems to have a life of it's own, still. In spite of the common sense belief that the health care bill will do more harm than good and in spite of the fierce polarization that's taken place between the two political parties and among the American public in spite all of that and in spite of loud messages to Congress and to the President to start over on health care, the Congressional majority plan on continuing down the path they're on. Even a scaled-back version of ObamaCare is not what the doctor ordered. The entire thing needs scrapped. In the meantime, the ObamaCare song from Ray Stevens, also known as "We The People", is currently sitting with 2,730,025 views on You Tube.

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