April 30, 2010

Volume Two of Ray Stevens Greatest Hits

This popular Greatest Hits album from Ray Stevens hit stores in 1987. The concept of the baseball attire of course fits into the "hits" reference. I don't know who the other people are in the picture...my guess is they're people Ray knows or they're people hired for the photo shoot by the photographer. Officially titled Greatest Hits, Volume Two this 10 song collection has always been in the shadow of it's predecessor...also released in 1987, simply titled Greatest Hits. I've written extensively about both 1987 albums but with all of the resurgence of interest in Ray Stevens' career due to his immensely popular You Tube political music videos I decided to shine the spotlight on Volume Two once again. At the time of it's release Ray was amidst his 30th year in the music industry. His first recordings date back to 1957. Perhaps as a tie-in with the 30th Anniversary is why there were three compilation albums all released in 1987 on top of an all-new album, Crackin' Up. The focal point of this collection was it's lead-off track, "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?". That particular single had become a controversial but popular recording in the months prior to this album's release...hitting at a time when televangelists were all over the national news.

One of the song's writers, Chet Atkins, often reminded journalists and critics that he and Margaret Archer wrote the song months before scandals had hit the evangelists and long before the word "televangelist" had left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths. The song had debuted on Crackin' Up and it became such a surprise national hit that to my way of thinking the label pushed out a hits album to not only capitalize on the hit but to also re-introduce quite a few older songs to Ray's newer fans. Aside from the relatively new "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" being on the album there is another song that was actually brand new: "Mama's in the Sky With Elvis". That particular song would later find itself on Ray's 1988 album, I Never Made a Record I Didn't Like. This 1987 volume two hits collection features:

Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?; 1987
Can He Love You Half as Much as I?; 1986
The Blue Cyclone; 1985
I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow; 1979
Mama's in the Sky With Elvis; 1987
Mr. Businessman; 1968
The Haircut Song; 1985
Jeremiah Peabody's Green and Purple Pills; 1961
Freddie Feelgood; 1969
In The Mood; 1976

It's anyone's guess why 1986 is represented with a song that wasn't actually a chart hit. Although the song is very popular in concert the actual chart hits from 1986 were "The People's Court" and "Southern Air". The latter featuring Jerry Clower and Minnie Pearl as guest vocalists. My guess is that such a thing as time constraints may have been an issue. Each of those 1986 songs are well over 4 minutes in length meanwhile "The Haircut Song" is over 6 minutes in length and "The Blue Cyclone" clocks over 5 minutes. If we look at the time constraint scenario it makes sense as to why the label picked "Can He Love You Half as Much as I?"...it's much shorter in running time than the actual 1986 chart hits.

April 29, 2010

"Come To the USA" suggests Ray Stevens...

Although the material on Ray Stevens' We The People CD collection was recorded well in advance there is a song on here about the current hot item in the news right now: illegal immigration. I do not know if this song will be a single or a music video at some point or not but just in case it isn't I felt the need to mention it. Listening to it is like hearing the national newscast given how much coverage illegal immigration and Arizona in particular is receiving. This isn't a debate blog and so I'll say no matter which side of the issue a person is, illegal immigration is a big problem. "Come To the USA" is a very funny song about a serious subject. In my review of the CD I mentioned that liberals and progressives, if they hear it, will probably throw more fits than they already have over the political songs that Ray's recorded so far. In the song Ray sings about the weak stance on illegal immigration from the federal Government. Of course, given how the anger and protests have ratcheted up over the Arizona Governor signing an illegal immigration bill into law, this song has a sense of timeliness to it and it fits the immigration situation like a glove.

The song features some jazzy scat-singing interludes as I call them. There's an underlying jab at ACORN that runs throughout the song, too. The humorless, I don't think, will be able to see the irony or the exaggeration contained within the lyrics. There's a lot of exaggeration for comic effect but the overall sentiment is crystal clear: Federal Government...stop turning a blind eye to illegals and either deport them or demand they become legalized citizens. I find the song very funny and satiric. Why do I find it satiric? Well, it's because the song in a humorous way deals with the truth...an unspoken or not too widely distributed truth...but upon hearing the song any number of people will see the reality of the situation and perhaps maybe become embarrassed over how honest the song really is.

"Come To the USA" is available on We The People as I mentioned. It's available on-line in digital form at the moment. You can purchase a CD copy at Ray's on-line music store. As most people who buy digitally are well aware you can pick and choose which songs you want to purchase. If that's what you choose to do, okay, but you'll be missing out on a lot of other great political and patriotic material...but "Come To the USA" is a song definitely worth checking out!

April 25, 2010

Ray Stevens Whimsical Humor

In this short blog entry I'm taking a look at whimsical humor in Ray Stevens songs down through the years. In my definition, whimsical humor is light-hearted and filled with humorous twists of everyday situations.

Don't let the serious look of Ray fool you...the two songs on this single release are hilarious. "Hey There" is a song that dates back to the 1950's...it was a #1 pop hit for Rosemary Clooney in 1954 and a whole line of artists have recorded the song through the years. Ray's version of the song is certified lunacy. I have no doubt that Ray woke up one night or woke up one morning and had the idea of spoofing the sad "Hey There" but showcase the song with a completely different take. This was released as a single in 1980 but not here in America...it was available as a single in Canada and in the United Kingdom. You'll note that Ray's picture appears in an illustration of a radio. A radio figures prominently in Ray's version of the song. I don't want to give away too much for those who hadn't heard the song before. The song is featured on Ray's 1980 album, Shriner's Convention. The b-side is also a cute sing-a-long...but it has a double meaning. It's a clever song mixing the state of Florida with the sexual appetite of a single man during Spring Break. The title is eye-catching..."You're Never Goin' To Tampa With Me".

This obscure single came along in 2005 as one of the new songs on the Box Set release. You can find this song on 2008's Laughter is the Best Medicine as well. That particular CD was originally for sale at hospital gift shops but in January 2009 it became more widely distributed. "We're Havin' a Baby" is a light, comical look at your run-of-the-mill couple expecting a baby but the proud parents insist on having the baby the natural way. The couple decide to enroll in classes, of course, and they spread the news around to all of their friends. The mother goes along with the plan until reality sets in. Ray walks us through the entire ordeal as only he can...telling us all about the experience. Surprisingly, "We're Havin' a Baby" was never made into a music video but I think it would have made a funny one.

It doesn't get anymore whimsical than this song. Ray had a hit with this in 1963...reaching the Top-20 on both the pop and R&B charts. The song is dressed up as a light and bouncy sing-a-long but it isn't until the final verse that the pay-off line can be heard and the song becomes a commentary on AM pop radio of the time period. The song is about an ape named Harry, who's hairy, and he's escaped from the zoo. He encounters several people while on the loose and this allows topical references to be dropped in the song. The near-sighted DJ encounter sets up the jokes about then current rock music and AM radio. Ray re-recorded the song in 1969 and made it even more funnier. That recording is what usually appears on all of the various compilation CD's released on Ray Stevens. It was recorded for the Gitarzan album. The original 1963 hit recording on Mercury Records seldom gets a lot of distribution anymore.

Ray Stevens: Favorite Album Covers, Part 2...

Part 1 of this series was posted last year during July 2009. I've finally gotten around to supplying a part 2. It's really quite simple...all I do is post images of my favorite Ray Stevens album covers.

This 1981 album is ballad heavy and it features a couple hit songs: the title track, "One More Last Chance", and the album closer "Night Games". I've liked the album cover from the moment that I saw it. For those who may be wondering: "who's the woman?". I have no idea! The album features a couple more extra's in the background. The setting, of course, is a bar. I believe night-club is the more widely used phrase, though. This album came along during the Urban Cowboy era in country music. I know country music purists despise this era and the music but I have a fondness for it. I was raised on country music of the early and mid '80s and as a kid I wasn't old enough to really differentiate between one kind of music from another...I liked what I heard is all that I knew. Years later I learned how hated the Urban Cowboy era was after reading a lot of critical and fan-based commentary on country music as a whole. Obviously, though, I don't let what others say sway my opinion much. The back of this album shows Ray wearing the cowboy hat and grinning. Some of the songs include: "Melissa", "Pretend", "Just About Love", and "Let's Do It Right This Time".

The clever concept of Ray playing the part of a painter in my opinion is one of Ray's most inventive. On this 1983 album cover we see Ray decked out in modest attire...sweat shirt and blue jeans...looking at a painting he is supposedly painting of himself all the while having an oval mirror next to him showing us a profile. As you can see, the entire front of the album is made to look like a painting you'd see hanging on a wall in a museum. The album is simply titled, Me, and the album cover depicts this title rather strongly. The album features ten songs...almost all of the selections were written by Ray. There was one chart hit from the album but yet the promotion effort from Mercury Records was lackluster at best. I say this because during my research of Ray's career through the years I have yet to find any major write-up for this particular album. Some of the songs include: "Me", "Game Show Love", "Piece of Paradise Called Tennessee", and the chart hit "My Dad". Dale Gonyea wrote "My Dad" and C.W. Kalb, Jr. wrote "Piedmont Park". The rest of the songs were written by Ray.

This is one of my favorite album covers because of the detail. There's the stormy sky overhead and the twisty way the line is written coming out of Ray's mouth. The line is a phrase heard throughout the title track, "Hurricane". The album in fact does contain 12 comedy songs that'll blow you away. There was a redneck theme that permeated through a good portion of the songs...the album is much longer than the 12 songs would suggest given that several of the songs are well over 3 minutes in length. One song, "Bubba the Wine Connoisseur", runs more than 5 minutes. In a lot of ways "Hurricane" is a reworking of "The Streak". Once you hear "Hurricane" you'll understand what I'm talking about. "Hey Bubba, Watch This!" is a very funny song about a do-it-yourself kind of man named Junior who apparently considers himself a world-class inventor. It doesn't help matters that Junior's a nut-case. His inventions result in disaster for Bubba. "Sucking Sound" originated on this album and in it Ray sings about the work force in America and the visions from Ross Perot during the 1992 Presidential election.

From 1973 comes this Nashville album. The direction in Ray's career by this time had gone into the country direction. Ray, even today, says that he doesn't actually set out to record songs or write songs that'll fit specific music formats. He insists that he records music that he likes and that he hopes is commercial in some way. Of course, at the same time, he admits that having an attitude like that never really allowed him to become disciplined. By this I think he means that he isn't confined inside a box when he goes to record songs...some artists only want to sing one style and that's it. Ray has always been an artist that's sang just about anything. The music on this album you'd think would be wall-to-wall country, right? Aside from the title track, "Nashville", the only other song on the album to sound deliberately country is "Piece By Piece". The rest of the songs on here are arranged in a pop-country style pretty much. Ray does a funny rendition of "Never Ending Song of Love" on this album but gets dead serious on "Undivided Attention". Some other songs on the album are "Golden Age", "Love Me Longer", and the instrumental, "Float".

This is the current album from Ray Stevens. 2010's We The People shows Ray dressed as a founding father...the picture comes from a publicity still taken from the music video of the same name. The music video of "We The People" is nearing 3,000,000 hits on You Tube. The album features 22 songs of political and patriotic flavor. There is another release available which features a CD and a DVD...the DVD features four music videos. The same picture of Ray appears on each release. I like the album cover because it shows Ray in costume...most of Ray's recent releases feature him in stage clothes. This is the first release in awhile to show Ray in costume which used to be something of a tradition on his album covers. Also it showcases a contemporary picture of Ray...some of the recent releases dig into the archives and use past publicity pictures of Ray on the album covers. The 2008 Hurricane CD, for example, used a 1992 picture of Ray taken from Comedy Video Classics. Some of the songs on We The People include "Caribou Barbie", "Obama Nation", "Come to the USA", "The Fallen Ones", and "Throw the Bums Out!".

I once had this album cover as my desktop background on my computer. This picture of Ray was used as a publicity picture on and off in the late 1980's. This collection features songs at random from Ray's MCA years. The CD was released in 1994 and it features 12 songs...four songs from each of the following years: 1984, 1987, and 1989. It's anyone's guess why MCA chose those particular years to highlight but all 12 songs that were selected are great. Also, they're among some of the longest songs Ray recorded during that time period. "Erik the Awful" is 4 minutes, 34 seconds. "Gourmet Restaurant" is 3 minutes, 45 seconds. "Your Bozo's Back Again" is 3 minutes, 51 seconds. Other songs include "I Saw Elvis in a UFO", "It's Me Again, Margaret", and "Doctor, Doctor Have Mercy on Me".

Nashville Cat Ray Stevens, Part 2...

The Nashville Cats program was everything I had hoped it would be. There was a lot of discussion about Ray's years as a session artist and as a music arranger...as well as his songwriting and music publishing. The program was hosted by Bill Lloyd and it ran an hour and a half. Practically every facet of Ray's career was touched...a lot of the conversation as I mentioned was directed at Ray's behind-the-scenes work.

Ray spoke about all of the important people in his career from Bill Lowery to Chet Atkins and all of the artists whom he produced and did sessions with. Throughout this special program they would show pictures of Ray at various times in his career and they'd also show pictures of album covers and 45 RPM's. One of the recurring segments was the audio sample. The host played audio clips of 1957's "Silver Bracelet" and 1958's "Cat Pants". Ray's years on NRC was mentioned and this led into a discussion about Bill Justis and Ray's almost hit single, "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon". Shelby Singleton and Jerry Kennedy were spoke of frequently during this portion of the program...which brought us to 1961 and Ray's signing with Mercury Records.

The host brings up the recording sessions that were increasing as well as Ray's move to Nashville in January 1962. Ray mentioned that in one recording session he was part of three future hit singles: Joe Dowell's "Wooden Heart", LeRoy Van Dyke's "Walk on By", and his own recording, "Ahab the Arab". The host, as well as Ray, remarked how amazing and unusual such a feat is especially compared to today when a musician might play on 30 recordings and maybe 1 or 2 in that stretch of session dates becomes a hit. The host plays audio clips of some of the songs being talked about and remarks to the audience that "Jeremiah Peabody" was Ray's first national hit song.

Some new information that I wasn't aware of was discussed as well...during Ray's talk about his career as an A&R man he informs everyone that he discovered the song "Don't Go Near the Indians" which would become a huge hit for Rex Allen. Ray relates a story about how when he was at the studio he was wearing some badly worn shoes and Rex happened to take notice of them. After Rex had a hit with the song Ray found, according to Ray's recollection, Rex bought Ray a brand new pair of shoes as a gift. The conversation then turns to Brook Benton...specifically a song Ray and Margie Singleton wrote, "My True Confession". The host plays an audio sample of the song and this leads into a segment about the other songs Ray had a hand in creating for other artists. There are audio samples of a Dusty Springfield recording, "If Wishes Could Be Kisses" and then a Charlie Rich recording in which the string arrangement was put together by Ray.

The conversation next turns to Chet Atkins...the host brings up "Frog Kissing", a song Chet sang with harmony from Ray. Ray talks of Chet's influence and how Chet would keep him busy on recording sessions. They play an audio sample of Skeeter Davis' single, "Sunglasses", in which Ray was the piano player on the session. Chet was the producer and one of the guitar players on the song...the others were Ray Edenton and Jerry Kennedy. The session happened in the summer of 1965. A year earlier, at another Skeeter Davis session, Ray shared piano duties with Floyd Cramer on the song "Let Me Get Close to You". Also on that session was Jerry Reed, Ray Edenton, and Wayne Moss on guitar. Pete Drake on the steel guitar and Buddy Harman on drums.

The connection to Dolly Parton was brought up around this same time. The host plays an audio sample from a Dolly session that Ray produced. The host brings up Elvis Presley and this leads into discussion about the only Elvis session that Ray played on...a song that enlisted the talents of Charlie McCoy as well. The irony of the whole situation is Ray and Charlie were called on to play instruments neither were noted for. The two of them played trumpets! Ray is a multi-instrumentalist but the piano family of instruments is what many people associate him with...while Charlie McCoy is noted for his harmonica playing. The host plays the recordings where the trumpets can be heard. We've made it up to the late '60s where Ray and the host have been discussing more session work, the Monument years, as well as "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down".

One of the most unique things that happened was the presentation of a black and white clip of Ray singing "Everything Is Beautiful". The performance was taped in 1973 for a Dean Martin program. The short film featured Ray and a bunch of kids near a lake or a beach...it was sort of like a music video. I had never seen the footage until then. They discuss the song and the Andy Williams summer show that Ray hosted. It's mentioned that the song won Ray a Grammy. The host names off several more hit songs from Ray prior to showing a video clip of Ray from 1975 singing "Misty", another Grammy winner. It's the video from the Pop! Goes the Country DVD collection. It was right about then when the host named off several more of Ray's hit songs for Warner Brothers, RCA, and MCA and then the second part of the salute was underway...Ray singing several songs.

He sang "Everything Is Beautiful"; he sang a line of "Have a Little Talk With Myself" which an audience member suggested...a song Ray wrote/recorded in 1969 and perhaps had never sang in concert since the early '70s I might add!! Predictably, Ray didn't know the words since he hadn't sang the song in decades but he did sing a line of the song and thanked the audience member and remarked he was flattered that someone remembered the song. Ray also sang "Safe at Home", a shortened version of "Turn Your Radio On", and to close the show he sang "Mr. Businessman", dedicating it to Bernie Madoff. It was an outstanding program from start to finish!!

Throw the Bums Out!

We The People commercial

April 24, 2010

Nashville Cat...Ray Stevens!!

It's already April 24th here in this part of the country...I am hoping it will be a purrfect day for all Ray Stevens fans. Why that kind of spelling? Well, as you can tell from the blog entry's title, Ray Stevens is being saluted as a Nashville Cat later today at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The program will be streamed live at the Hall of Fame's web-site. The show begins at 1:30pm Central time, 2:30pm Eastern time. For those who perhaps stumble across this blog out west that's 11:30am Pacific time, April 24th. I do not know how long the show will last but from the description at the Hall of Fame's web-site it looks to be like a This Is Your Life-style program with heavy emphasis on Ray's behind-the-scenes session work.

Ray had a secondary career throughout the '60s and half of the '70s as a session player and sometimes music arranger for other artists. He also produced recording sessions for quite a few acts and a lot of up and coming artists on the Mercury and Monument label recorded songs that Ray either wrote or co-wrote. Interestingly, though, none of the songs that he wrote for others to record have ever been recorded by the man himself...his producing, arranging, and songwriting careers will be the bulk of the conversation on the Hall of Fame special program. Ray in his career worked with the likes of Dolly Parton, Brook Benton, Patti Page, Brenda Lee, Dusty Springfield, Joe Dowell, Joe South, Jerry Reed, Billy Joe Royal, and Tommy Roe. A lot of the acts were heavily involved in the Atlanta, Georgia music scene during the 1960's as to why Ray, himself a native of Georgia, was capable of having connections to all of those artists. Chet Atkins was an instrumental figure in helping Ray around the studio in the "early days" as they say.

And so...be sure to catch the program on your computer later today. Check the Hall of Fame web-site for specific details.

Ray is not a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame but he is a member of the Nashville Songwriter's Hall of Fame, the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, and the Christian Music Hall of Fame. I believe changing policies at the Country Music Hall of Fame has perhaps made it impossible for artists primarily known as country comedians to have a shot at Hall of Fame induction but you never know...never say never.

Now here's a look at contemporary Ray Stevens...and the latest random check of You Tube video hit totals...

We The People: 2,979,723 hits

Thank You: 108,257 hits

Caribou Barbie: 71,783 hits

Throw the Bums Out!: 89,448 hits

In addition to the serious music on Ray's latest CD, We The People, there are some very hilarious political songs featured. "We Are the Government" is one of the songs I hope is a single. It's a very catchy song! Illegal immigration is a hot topic...and "Come to the USA" offers some hilarity about the problem. Oh, another song, "Obama Nation", falls into the catchy category as well.

What- Nashville Cats: Celebration of Music City Musicians
When- April 24th
Where- Country Music Hall of Fame web-site
Time- 11:30am Pacific; 1:30pm Central; 2:30pm Eastern

April 20, 2010

Ray Stevens: The We The People Album, Part 3...

This collection is, of course, inspired by the overwhelming on-line popularity of "We The People". For those who read this and perhaps have no idea what I'm talking about you probably don't frequent social network and or video hosting sites regularly. If you did, and if you look up 'Ray Stevens', chances are "We The People" would be among the first songs to come up in your search. Why? Well, back in December 2009 Ray released a music video on You Tube called "We The People". The music video took off...spreading all over the internet...and by doing so it had racked up nearly a million hits in a couple day's time. A 'hit' for those unaware is what's referred to as a play, or, a viewing, of a video posted on-line. The music video would indeed reach 1,000,000 hits in no time at all and it continued to build as it hit the 2,000,000 mark on You Tube. As of this writing the music video's hit count is 2.9 million no doubt on it's way to 3,000,000 or so. The song is about the health care bill...referred to as ObamaCare by pretty much all of the health care overhaul's critics. Ray released a CD single of "We The People" a week or two after the music video became a hit.

This collection, though, features 22 songs...all of the songs carry either a political or patriotic message/theme. Some of the songs have catch-phrases that I bet you'll be singing to yourself at some point after hearing the music. Also, because there's 22 songs I'm not going to take on each song one at a time but I'll mention them as I write. A good mixture of comical and serious songs abound here...the serious works are patriotic in nature but there's a couple that can be considered nostalgic. "Dear Andy Griffith" and "Safe at Home" are the two that compare contemporary life with the by-gone days of the past. "Safe at Home" is a song that Ray often performs in concert...he was one of the music attractions at the April 15th Tea Party rally in Washington, D.C. and he performed the song. "Fly Over Country" is another serious recording which uses small-town America as a backdrop. It's a song about high-brow people in all walks of life not having enough time or respect for small-town America except when it benefits them. A reference about a politician only returning for votes is brought up and as soon as he feels he's got enough support he flies away to his own reality.

A lot of the songs have a funky music arrangement...maybe countrified jazz?

The Federal Government gets slapped down in several songs: "We Are the Government" is laugh out loud funny in that we're told the story of an ever-growing Government that squeezes the life out of everything it touches. The song starts off with an ode to Saturday Night Live of all things. The melody will be familiar to a lot of you I bet. The song's title is repetitious and you'll catch yourself singing it. It's one of the funniest songs on the CD.

"Throw the Bums Out!" is a rip at the politicians that have lost their way and have no connection to the voter. It is filled with quite a few catch-phrases and it takes aim at a Congress who insists a bill passes before it gets read. It's a music video on You Tube with over 85,000 hits so far. "Caribou Barbie" is about Sarah Palin...those who follow politics and Sarah will know that right away. In fact, a lot of these political songs may be enjoyed even more by those who are politically tuned in. Joe Average, for example, who doesn't really pay much attention to politics and political figures, will miss a lot of the humor in these political songs, I think. For me they're hilarious and satiric in places but for Joe and Jane Average the humor will probably go over their heads.

"Caribou Barbie", meanwhile, is another You Tube video and as of now it's gotten over 70,000 hits. In the video there's a lot of sight gags that of course don't translate to audio. In the video, the backup vocals are supposed to look as if liberal talkers on cable-TV are doing the honors. It should be noted that both music videos were released within weeks of each other. "Throw the Bums Out!" was issued after ObamaCare passed and became law just when "Caribou Barbie" was becoming a viral video. So those two music videos, a patriotic video called "Thank You", and the big one, "We The People", are all enjoying widespread viral success at the same time.

Speaking of "Thank You", it's track #19. A music video of the song that Ray released on You Tube 3 months ago has gotten over 100,000 hits. It's a salute to the military...and there are a couple more on here: "Stand Up!" and "The Fallen Ones". There's another song, "Let's Roll", which incorporates a lot of American history and phrases spoken by political and military figures through the years.

"Come to the USA" will perhaps be the song that if progressives and liberals hear it they'll scream and throw fits even bigger than they already are. The song pokes fun at how America welcomes illegal immigration with open arms...it comes complete with an effeminate operator on a telephone bragging about how great it is that illegals get to enjoy all of America's goodies while in other countries illegals aren't welcomed at all. The song is a statement about National security and how America's weakness for being open to all who want to migrate here can turn around and hurt the country in the end.

"Obama Nation" is a slice of heavy hitting comedy aimed at the President, of course. It starts out with a zippy history lesson of America and then goes on remarking on all the things Obama has done or plans to do with the reflective line about we all knew what Obama had in store but he was elected anyway. Surprisingly, this song as well as "We The People" and "We Are the Government" are the only songs to really tackle the President. The other political songs are aimed at Congress and the media as well.

All in all this is a fabulous collection of songs and a collection not to be missed! You'll laugh and feel American pride all over. There's a whole lot of common sense that runs rampant in a lot of these songs if you listen close enough.

April 19, 2010

Let's enjoy Ray Stevens doing the laundry!!

20 years ago in 1990 Ray Stevens had just signed with Curb Records and immediately set the stage for his next success: music videos. Ray issued two back-to-back music videos of a couple of songs found on this 1990 release. The album is titled Lend Me Your Ears and as most people should know Ray is dressed as Julius Caesar on the cover. The album's title uses part of a phrase uttered by Mark Antony in the Julius Caesar Shakespeare play but it also has a secondary meaning...care to guess what that second meaning might be? Well, simply put, the phrase can also be a request to music buyers to lend their ears to Ray's latest comedy album. I spoke of this album quite awhile ago when I was writing about Ray's first years on Curb Records and the albums the label had released on Ray during 1990-1995.

Ray Stevens takes you on a trip to the laundry room in one of the songs contained on the 1990 album. "Where Do My Socks Go?" is a bouncy song about a man's curiosity of why his socks continue to vanish when he goes to grab his clothes from the dryer. It's one of those bachelor-type comedy songs Ray sometimes does and in this one we're to assume that the man in the song lives on his own and doesn't really care to know that much about washing machines, detergent, dryers, etc etc. Now, of course, static cling is the answer to why so many socks disappear...they're found hiding up shirt sleeves and down pants legs. That premise is exaggerated in this song as Ray insists that socks really have disappeared and it's much more than static cling...the dryer is almost UFO like in Ray's mind...but he lets us know about the certain kinds of socks that never disappear. Ray performed this song on an episode of Hee-Haw and I remember when the song was over the audience threw waded up socks at him...no joke! After the sock assault ended, Ray exclaimed something like: "so that's where they went!??!"

Eagle-eyed Ray Stevens fans will note that the cassette version of Lend Me Your Ears has track number five written as "Bwana and the Jungle Girl" while on the CD re-release the song's title is slightly altered as "Bwana and His Jungle Girl". The CD version was released in 2005...a full 15 years after it originally hit the market.

Track List:
1. Sittin' Up with the Dead
2. Jack Daniels, You Lied To Me Again
3. Help Me Make It Through the Night
4. Used Cars
5. Bwana and His Jungle Girl
6. Barbeque
7. Where Do My Socks Go?
8. This Ain't Exactly What I Had In Mind
9. This Is Your Daddy's Oldsmobile
10. Cletus McHicks and His Band from the Sticks

April 17, 2010

Ray Stevens: The We The People Album, Part 2...

Hello one and all...the music journey today takes us to the current Ray Stevens album titled We The People. For those, like myself, patiently awaiting our copy of the album to arrive in the mail, we of course haven't heard any of the new political songs that are featured outside of the ones that have been made into music videos on You Tube...well, I can only speak for myself though. I plan on holding off listening to the songs until the CD arrives in the mail. I say this because there are a couple of places on-line where people can purchase an MP3 copy of the album. As is the custom, digital albums/MP3's, have snippets of the songs off to the side for potential customers to click and listen to song samples. As I mentioned, I'm holding off and won't give in and listen. I purchased my copy from Ray's official web-site store and I'm awaiting it's arrival in the mail. To refresh the memory of some of you, here are just some of the songs on this collection: "Caribou Barbie", "Throw the Bums Out!", "The Global Warming Song", "We The People", "Midnight in Baghdad", "Three Fractured Factions", "Dear Andy Griffith...", and "We Are the Government".

One of the things you'll notice between the collection offered at Ray's site and the collection offered at Amazon is the DVD addition. The collection at Ray's site offers customers a DVD of four music videos in addition to the CD of music. The Amazon offering eliminates the DVD extra and just offers the CD. As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, there are 22 songs on the collection. In earlier times this would be a double album: 2 LP's worth of music.

This particular release features two CD's of Ray Stevens material. The songs come mostly from the 1970's. There are 26 songs...13 songs on two CD's. A good number of songs on this collection are album tracks that weren't commercially released as singles. This collection will give those who just bought singles a chance to hear several album songs from Ray Stevens that they were missing. The image of Ray on the CD's cover comes from 1975. One of the rare moments during this time period where Ray had a beard. The collection was released on the Madacy label in 2003. Since that time the full-length vinyl albums that Ray recorded for Barnaby Records throughout the 1970's have been released digitally at various on-line stores, most notably Amazon. Now, of course, you can perhaps still come across the vinyl albums on eBay. I have a nice collection of Ray Stevens on vinyl...both the LP and 45 RPM variation. This CD features material recorded between 1968 and 1975. Now, because of this, any song from the early '60s in Ray's career is instead represented via a re-recording. "Ahab the Arab", "Funny Man", "Harry the Hairy Ape", and "Just One of Life's Little Tragedies", all songs from 1962/1963 are provided on this collection by way of 1968, 1969, and 1973 re-recordings of those songs. A small list of the songs contained on the CD are as follows: "Sunset Strip", "Bridget the Midget", "A Time for Us", "Deep Purple", "All My Trials", "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head", and others.

April 16, 2010

Ray Stevens: Congressional Comedy...

As most of you Ray Stevens fans are aware of, he took part in the April 15th Tea Party rally in Washington, D.C. The event ran nearly 4 hours and from all indications it was a success. I caught most of it...I was away from home earlier in the afternoon and I made it home to catch the live video stream mid-way through. An on-line friend of mine informed me that Ray had already performed "If 10% Is Good Enough for Jesus" and "Safe at Home". Ray would also perform "Thank You" and "The Star Spangled Banner"...and then perform an abbreviated version of "Throw the Bums Out!" while holding the lyrics in his hand. He remarked that the song was so new and that he'd never performed it in concert yet. The music video of the song has gotten 83,480 hits on You Tube so far. "Caribou Barbie" has gotten 69,041 hits, "Thank You" has gotten 106,149 hits, while the video that I refer to as the big one, "We The People", is at 2,955,457 hits.

A commercial for Ray's new project, We The People, is available at You Tube as well...and the commercial as of now has gotten 2,443 hits. The unique thing about the commercial is that it runs much longer...and if it were ever adapted for television it would have to be edited down considerably. The commercial runs two minutes...the average commercial I think runs less than 50 seconds. However, back in the 1990's when he was selling his home videos on television, the commercials were like a minute and a half.

Just some of the speakers at the event were Victoria Jackson, Tucker Carlson, Ron Paul, Andrew Breitbart, and a whole host of others. In hindsight there were no vicious reports in the media...although the usual snickering and mocking took place by those in the liberal blogosphere who, for whatever reason, feel compelled to make fun of people who simply want limited Government and fiscal responsibility from those in Congress. As I've written about before...Ray isn't immune from the same kinds of insults that are thrown at the Tea Party in general. However, to single out any blogs that have insulting comments directed at Ray would be like giving those remarks credibility which is what I don't want to do. Here's hoping no other fans of Ray's out there lash out at criticism because it only pleases those who make the insulting comments. They want a reaction...and sometimes it's hard to resist...but if you ignore those kinds of hateful comments you'll find that the tormentors will give up because they're not having any fun.

April 10, 2010

Ray Stevens talks songwriting in 1982...

I do not know at what point in 1982 that this interview was conducted but it's a very good interview...it's an interview that sometimes plays out like one of those intimate 60 Minutes interviews and the reason I say this is because of the camera angles and the close-up's and the overall tone of the interview. There is some levity and jokes but for the most part it's a deadly serious discussion about songwriting. Ray talks about his inspiration for "The Streak" and "Everything Is Beautiful". Along the way Ray explains that he's been busy writing songs for what I assume is an upcoming album. If this is the case, depending on at what point in 1982 this interview was taped, Ray could have been talking about some of the songs he wrote for his 1982 Don't Laugh Now album or he could have been referring to the songs he wrote for his Me album, which was released in 1983.

The interview is conducted by the McCain Brothers and they ask about Ray's future projects. Newcomer fans of Ray Stevens who watch this may find it revealing that even in 1982 he was wanting to get into television regularly with a possible television program. This goal remained a constant throughout his career and it may have been fueled in the late '60s when so many pop/country singers were hosting their own television programs. Ray, in fact, became something of a regular on Andy Williams' show between 1969 and 1971...hosting the summer replacement show for Andy in 1970. In the early '90s Ray put together a pilot called Amazing Rolling Revue. It's long been out of print after initially being released on home video. The project was originally taped as a pilot for a television show. The title of the show referred to the way in which the comedy revue was presented. Based on the pilot, the show would feature skits and characters in addition to a special guest or two. Currently Ray sporadically tapes a series of shows called We Ain't Dead Yet which features a lot of country music personalities as regulars. It features a special guest each episode, too. This show is part of Ray Stevens Backstage, a subscription based service at his web-page.

Ray has appeared on countless television programs through the years. One of the things that I find interesting is back in the '60s and '70s the promotion departments of the various non-country music television programs would refer to Ray as composer/singer Ray Stevens. As the 1980's dawned, though, those same television shows would classify Ray as country artist/songwriter and then by the end of the decade he'd be referred to as a country comedian. Naturally, though, with the various style shifts in Ray's career through the years it makes sense.

April 9, 2010

Ray Stevens: Pop Goes the Country...1975!

Volume Four in the 20 volume series of Pop! Goes the Country DVD's arrived in the mail today. This one, like the two volumes I wrote about in another blog entry, features Ray Stevens. This particular episode comes from 1975...35 years ago...and Ray is at his all-time best yet again. He opens the show singing "Misty" and during the interview segment he sings a cultured, classical version of "The Streak" which has host, Ralph Emery, and the other guest, Sammi Smith, in fits of laughter. Sammi was on the stage preparing for her song when the camera would pan over to her and she'd be laughing...the classical version of the song continued on to it's conclusion and then Ralph introduced Sammi who had to quickly regain her composure before singing "Which Way Do You Wanna Go?". Later, Ray sings "Indian Love Call" and it's an incredible performance. If you've never seen him perform the song in a concert setting such as this you'll be in for a treat. This marked the first time I had seen footage of him singing the song. Ray had a Top-40 country hit with the song in the second half of 1975 here in America and he also enjoyed Top-40 success with the single over in England. It was his sixth Top-40 single in the United Kingdom..."Misty" had reached the Top-5 in the United Kingdom and the Top-5 on the country chart here in America...in addition to reaching the Top-20 on the pop chart.

Sammi Smith's second song of the episode was "Help Me Make It Through the Night", which was her biggest hit. Ray performed an up-beat version of "It's Twilight Time" and in my opinion he must have been thinking about recording the song for his MISTY album because it's arranged in a similar way to most of the songs on that album. Of course, the song never made it onto that album but it's a wonderful performance nonetheless. The album hit during the first week of July 1975 on it's way to a Top-5 finish.

This episode, according to the company that sells the DVDs, lists the episode as June 10, 1975. What I don't know is whether or not that's the day it was taped or if that's the day it was aired. Whenever it was taped or aired it's a wonderful appearance...and one that shows Ray with his beard, something rare during this era of his career. As a matter of fact, Ray is clean shaven on the MISTY album...but on a compilation released that same year he's full of beard as you see below.

The finale of Pop! Goes the Country features Ray and Sammi joking around with Ralph. Sammi plays a guitar and dedicates her rendition of "Misty" to Ray...she only sings a few lines while Ralph jokingly attempts to stop her performance; after which, she pretends to be offended that Ralph was talking over her dedication. Ray sings a piece of "Everything Is Beautiful" as the credits start to roll. There are five other episodes of the show on this DVD and they're all from 1975. I bought three of the DVD's because of Ray Stevens' involvement but these programs are a must for any country music fan. On Volume Four, in addition to the Ray Stevens-Sammi Smith episode, you'll also get episodes that feature Faron Young, Carl Smith, Melba Montgomery; there's episodes with the Statler Brothers and Susan Raye; Ronnie Milsap and Charlie Daniels appear on an episode; Johnny Cash and wife, June Carter, get an entire episode devoted to themselves. Bobby Bare is featured in an episode, too.

April 6, 2010

Spring into fun with Ray Stevens!!!

As mentioned in a previous blog entry, it's exciting being a Ray Stevens fan...April is turning out to be the month that Ray's heavy promotion work on his just released CD project, We The People, kicks into high gear. As of this writing I am still awaiting my copy of the CD/DVD package to arrive in the mail. There will be a couple of appearances by Ray this month that many of his fans already know about...he's already appeared on WSM's Opry Country Classics as well as the morning radio show hosted by Bill Cody. Each of these appearances were back to back, April 1st and April 2nd. Ray's next stop on what I call his promotional tour will be an April 15th appearance at a Tea Party rally in Washington, DC. Ray will be performing at the Mall in the nation's capital. The rally will start around 5:45pm and last through 9:30pm. The second appearance from Ray will be on April 24th at the Country Music Hall of Fame's Ford Theater. This is the same theater where Bill Cody hosted the April 2nd radio show that Ray appeared on. It is on the night of April 24th that Ray will be honored in the series Nashville Cats: A Celebration of Music City Musicians. Ray will be there to sing and talk about his career...and throughout the special there will be look-backs on his career via video clips, etc etc. On April 30th Ray will be in Franklin, North Carolina for two shows at the Smokey Mountain Center for Performing Arts. You can find out more about this and other Ray Stevens appearances on his official web-site. A link to Ray's site is located off on the right hand side of the screen and once there click on the various sections such as "news", "tour", "buy", etc. etc.

One of the funniest and wildest comedy songs from Ray Stevens is "The Moonlight Special". This particular recording comes from 1974 and it was written by Ray. The song is hilarious even if you don't know the subject being parodied...for a couple of years after hearing this song I had no idea about the 1970's/early 1980's show The Midnight Special. In my mind the song was hilarious and I could tell that Ray was impersonating Wolfman Jack and Jerry Lee Lewis but I really didn't know much about the television show it was spoofing...fast-forward many years later and having learned quite a lot about the television show it's even more hilarious when I listen to the song. The fans of Ray's hearing this song for the first time in 1974 were treated to his dog howls...although these howls aren't as howling as the howls that howled their way through his 1960 recording of "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon", the howls in his 1974 hit are nevertheless one of the various vocal hooks of the song. For those who still haven't heard the song you will get to hear Ray do impressions/spoofs of Wolfman Jack, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Alice Cooper, and Jerry Lee Lewis. A heavy drum pounding is heard at the start of the song and at the start of the chorus of the song. The drum is kind of like an indicator that the chorus of the song is about to be sung again. Throughout the chorus howls can be heard in the background while Wolfman, renamed Sheepdog, shouts and hollers in delight over the talent on display.

I can't stop saying great things about this particular collection of Ray Stevens songs on the RCA label. I've written about this release quite a few times over the years and here I am writing about it again. The collection features eight songs chosen at random for your listening pleasure. The years of 1980 and 1982 make up the bulk of the material...1981 is represented by one or two songs. The CD collection, released in 1992, features one song from 1981 while the original vinyl copy from 1985 features two songs from 1981. In the 1987 cassette re-release, one of the 1981 songs was replaced with a comical song from 1980. Each release is titled Collector's Series and both feature eight songs. The 1987 version was released on CD format in 1992 which is what you see here.

1985 vinyl version:
Shriner's Convention; 1980
You're Never Goin' To Tampa With Me; 1980
Country Boy, Country Club Girl; 1982
Where the Sun Don't Shine; 1982
The Dooright Family; 1980
Let's Do It Right This Time; 1981
One More Last Chance; 1981
Why Don't We Go Somewhere and Make Love; 1982

1987/1992 version:
Shriner's Convention; 1980
You're Never Goin' To Tampa With Me; 1980
Country Boy, Country Club Girl; 1982
Where the Sun Don't Shine; 1982
The Dooright Family; 1980
Let's Do It Right This Time; 1981
Why Don't We Go Somewhere and Make Love; 1982
Put It In Your Ear; 1980

In closing...here are the most recent play totals for Ray's recent music video uploads at You Tube...

Throw the Bums Out!: 70,614
Caribou Barbie: 62,876
Thank You: 100,763
We The People: 2,903,585

April 3, 2010

Ray Stevens: The Bill Cody Appearance

This past April 2nd Ray Stevens was a guest on the Bill Cody morning show on WSM radio. The name of the show is technically Coffee, Country, and Cody and Ray was the featured guest during the show's last hour. The show was taped at the Country Music Hall of Fame and it included a small audience. The other guests were Anthony Smith and Donna Fargo...each appearing separately during the 8 and 9am hours respectively. Ray made his entrance during the 10am hour and here's my review of what all happened...

Bill kicked off Ray's portion of the show with the April 1st performance of "Everything Is Beautiful" from Opry Country Classics. During the interview segment Ray spoke about life in Georgia as a kid and Bill asked when Ray arrived in Nashville...January 1962 was the reply. This leads into a discussion of old Nashville compared to modern Nashville and this leads into the song, "Nashville", which Ray wrote while being homesick during a tour in Australia. The song was a country hit for Ray in 1973. Bill asks about The Carousel and Ray explains it was a club once owned by Boots Randolph. Ray talks about Boots, Chet, and Floyd due to the three of them being mentioned in "Nashville".

Ray recites a very brief poem about Congress that has everyone laughing and this leads the conversation into politics and the success of "We The People". The new music video, "Throw the Bums Out!", is talked about followed by the airing of the song. Afterward, Bill makes a joke about Ralph Emery's participation in the music video and Ray jokes about the doctor shovel. Later, Bill brings up "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" and Ray talks about the story behind the song and why he passed up the chance of recording "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" for a movie, which eventually B.J Thomas ended up doing. Ray jokingly said that his recording of "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" went on to sell 12 copies. Bill commented that the song would become a #1 for Johnny Cash; this allows Ray to explain the image factor and how Cash's image made the lyrics much more believable.

Bill brings up Ray's performance of "Running Bear" during Sonny James' induction ceremony at the Hall of Fame a few years ago. Ray and George Lindsay appeared on stage doing an elaborate production of the song during the ceremony...both dressed in Indian clothes. Pictures of this can be found on-line by doing a Google image search of Ray Stevens + Running Bear. During the ceremony, Ray quipped that he too once had a song out on the market about running bare. Ray and Bill continue to talk and this leads up to "Safe at Home", a song that Ray sings in his concerts which he had recorded in 2000 but after 9/11 the song to him gained even more of a meaning. Ray performed the song...hours after performing it on Opry Country Classics the night before.

Bill brings up "Mr. Businessman", Ray's pop hit from 1968, and Ray tells the story behind the song and afterward Bill played it to wrap up the show. A final promo for Ray's upcoming We The People full-length CD was also aired by Bill. Ray has put together a commercial for the project and here is the You Tube video. As you can see, it has a telephone number you can call if you don't want to order on-line. You can order from Ray's own web-site store as I did or the URL link provided on the screen. I think multiple URL addresses were created to avoid the possibility of web-page crashing!? Have your volume up when watching the commercial!

April 1, 2010

Ray Stevens: The We The People Album...

I still refer to full-length CD's as albums. Ray Stevens picked April Fool's Day to release his much anticipated political/patriotic album centered around "We The People". The album, also called We The People, features 22 songs and 4 music videos. It is a CD and DVD package. April 1st is also the day that my Ray Stevens items arrived in the mail. Here you see me wearing the We The People t-shirt and the hat. On the back of the shirt is the tender message: "Throw the Bums Out!". April 1st is also the day that Ray appeared on WSM radio's Opry Country Classics program. Ray sang four songs and told the story behind the song, "Misty". The show was 2 hours but Ray's segment was the final 15 minutes or so. Ray sang "Mississippi Squirrel Revival", "Misty", "The Streak", and "Everything Is Beautiful". Ray is scheduled to appear on Bill Cody's radio program on April 2nd. The show airs on WSM radio as well...and it's a morning show. 5:30am-10am central time, 6:30am-11am eastern time. Bill's show is being taped on location at the Hall of Fame's Ford Theater and from the information that I found the special guests will be featured during the 7am-10am central, 8am-11am eastern time frame. In other words, guests won't start to appear until after the first hour and a half has passed. Donna Fargo as well as Anthony Smith are the other special guests in addition to Ray Stevens. I'm predicting the April 2nd appearance on Bill's show to have emphasis on the We The People project that was released earlier today.

The track list features some brand-new songs and some previous recordings that fit in with the political/patriotic theme. The songs in bold italics are those that were recorded specifically for this collection...

We The People
Caribou Barbie
Stand Up
Three Fractured Factions
Dear Andy Griffith
The Global Warming Song
Let's Roll
Solar Powered Song
Fly Over Country
We Are the Government
The Fallen Ones
Come To the USA
If 10% Is Good Enough For Jesus
Kings and Queens
Obama Nation
Throw the Bums Out
Sucking Sound
Safe at Home
Thank You
Pledge of Allegiance / The Star Spangled Banner
Mr. Businessman
Midnight in Baghdad

The four music videos that appear on the DVD are...

We The People
Caribou Barbie
Throw the Bums Out
Thank You

You can purchase this CD/DVD package at Ray's web-site in the link below...the collection will be on display in the top left side of the screen with a "buy now" link underneath.