May 28, 2010

Ray Stevens at 1.5 million and Climbing

The success of the latest music video from Ray Stevens, "Come to the USA", continues to build as it shows 1.5 million hits on You Tube. It's no longer a distant possibility of the video topping 2 million hits in a month's time considering that the actual play count of 1,583,982 has been obtained in 2 weeks time...who's to say the music video won't obtain the 400,000+ hits in another 2 weeks time? If it does go beyond the 2 million mark in a month's time it will match "We The People". In a recent interview Ray remarked that a lot of people feel the latest music video, "Come to the USA", will actually top "We The People". Time will tell...that music video is currently resting at 3.1 million hits and practically every other day someone pops up on Twitter, for example, with a link to the music video and using language to suggest the person just came across the video on You Tube all these months later. The "We The People" video was uploaded on You Tube early in December 2009 but without fail someone discovers the video almost on a daily basis. This isn't a bad thing, either. I imagine a singer with music videos on You Tube doesn't mind which videos of theirs are being viewed...just as long as they're being viewed.

Ray's emphasis is primarily on the music videos that have become viral hits on You Tube...songs that are featured on his current album, We The People. Lost in the overwhelming success of the You Tube videos is the actual album itself. It's been a Top-10 Mp3 success on Amazon's web-site for a couple of weeks now but there's not really been any official sales numbers released and as of this writing it hasn't charted in Billboard. I have no idea if it's because the album is released on an Independent label or if it's because of policies at Billboard which prevent it from gaining exposure on their national music charts. I had these same scenarios playing around in my mind earlier this year when Ray issued the "We The People" single and how successful it was at the various on-line music stores, achieving Top-5 sales rankings for several weeks, but yet it never shown up on any digital single chart published in Billboard. Perhaps this album needs to be issued to retail stores at some point? I remember back when Ray was selling the home videos on television those projects never entered Billboard's video charts until they became available in retail stores nearly a year later. His 1992, 1993, and 1995 home video projects charted in 1993, 1994, and 1996. If there is a retail plan in the works I don't think Ray will wait until 2011 to re-release We The People, though. If I were in charge of product release I'd wait until August/September and then try and get the collection into retail stores...that way it would be in stores a couple of months before the mid-term elections. We'll wait and see what actually happens, though.

May 26, 2010

Ray Stevens: 45 at 35...

Well, here's some discussion about a couple of 45's from 35 years ago...back in 1975 Ray Stevens was amidst a streak of hit singles that had started in 1968. In 1975 he was on the pop and country charts with "Misty" and later that year, "Indian Love Call". A lot of ink is given to "Misty" and rightfully was a Grammy winner for Ray. However, not much attention is given to the other songs that populated the Misty album that year. "Indian Love Call" is a wonderful vocal performance...the melody is changed from what one may be accustomed to and there's some high tenor love calls heard throughout. The calls are not as high or shrilly as Slim Whitman's worldwide hit version but the vocal dynamics from Ray more than make up for it. The arrangement is jazzy, almost doo-wop like. The recording became a country hit and it crossed over to the pop chart as well. It didn't get much pop radio airplay but the strength of it's sales enabled it to rank among the Top-70.

This single's catalog number is Barnaby-619 and it's b-side is "Mockingbird Hill". The single didn't enter the country or pop music charts but nevertheless it's from the 1975 Misty album. This was a follow-up to Ray's version of "Young Love", which hit the country Top-50 in late 1975. Ray's version of "Lady of Spain" is quite a departure, vocally. In the song Ray comes across sounding a lot like Fats Waller in some places. The original version of the song was a crooning love ballad performed by a host of pop music artists but in the hands of Ray Stevens it was turned into an uptempo party song. The Spanish music introduction in Ray's version soon fades away to an urgent early rock and roll arrangement. Ray seems to be completely wrapped up in the free for all performance that he excitedly hollers out "blow it, Norman!!" to the album's saxophonist, Norman Ray, prior to the instrumental solo. I would've loved to see him perform the song, in this arrangement, in concert. Heck, I would've loved to have been in the studio while he was recording this song! It's one of my favorites from the Misty album. The Mp3 digital album of Misty is available at Amazon but their sound clip doesn't necessarily convey the mood of "Lady of Spain" because it's, after all, a sound doesn't represent the song as a whole. It cuts off right before the rocker instrumentation kicks in.

The Laughs never Stop with Ray Stevens...

The laughs never stop when we're discussing Ray Stevens...from the latest smash music video, "Come to the USA", to the earliest comical outings of the early '60s which include "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon", "Jeremiah Peabody's Green and Purple Pills", "Ahab the Arab", and "Harry the Hairy Ape". In between the laughter there was a lot of dead serious recordings as well...those who stumble upon my blog can browse through the archives for in-depth analysis of Ray Stevens' serious work. I write a lot about this 1978 album, Be Your Own Best Friend. I love the album! Right from the start of the album on through it's last song...the album, to my ears anyway, provides an escape. The sound is lush and smooth...yeah, some would call it "elevator music"...but I like the music featured on the album.

Just prior to Ray's newly acquired success with You Tube music videos he had issued a Christmas CD with all-serious recordings. Prior to that release he was promoting his trucker CD, One For the Road. The promotion included hype centering around "Cooter Brown". This particular song amassed a modest following on-line...but it wasn't a music video. Several months later "We The People" hits You Tube and it spreads all over the internet...changing, for now, the focus of his career. Highly political and patriotic, Ray's recent music video successes defy critical explanation. Those who simply have no clue as to why or how Ray Stevens is enjoying such incredible mainstream success right now will perhaps continue to remain clueless.

In the early 1990's when Ray was having widespread mainstream successes with his home video releases it always baffled the critics...perhaps they felt an artist of Ray's longevity was immune from mainstream viability? Maybe even the most crass or cynical are able to let go with a belly-laugh when appropriate? It's okay to laugh at Ray's's okay to hum along to "Ahab the Arab"'s okay to giggle when Ray performs "It's Me Again, Margaret"'s a lot of fun watching Ray perform "The Streak" and deliver the catch-phrases we all know and love.

The bottom line is Ray Stevens makes us laugh...the humorless, well, I'll never figure that bunch out. There are those people out there who just don't laugh or find anything amusing but they're thankfully the minority. Continue on, Ray Stevens...never stop doing what it is that you do.

May 25, 2010

Ray Stevens: Misty is 35!

Dedicated Ray Stevens fans...I should say longtime fans...know the story of how Ray decided to record his version of "Misty". According to various recollections from Ray it all happened in a recording studio while rehearsing for an upcoming television program. The "Misty" song was being performed in an upbeat delivery...much different from the slow style that pop audiences were familiar with from Johnny Mathis. The uptempo delivery of the song started to sound good, according to Ray's recollection, that he called up the necessary people to the studio and recorded the song...and the arrangement won Ray his second Grammy. The song would become a Top-20 pop hit and a Top-5 country hit in 1975. I happen to love the arrangement...I'm sure purists have a different opinion altogether and they perhaps prefer the slow, half-awake rendering...but I happen to like Ray's wide-awake, toe tapping arrangement of the song. Here's a performance from 1975...

I just love that arrangement!!! Can you sit still while that steel guitar is picking away like that? "Misty" is among the list of signature songs for Ray Stevens. There's an imaginary list of songs that are very popular with audiences/fans and those are signature songs. It doesn't require that the artist is the writer, though. The requirement is basically popularity with consumers. A certain kind of popularity that stands the test of time long after the commercial viability of the song wears out.

You can find the song on dozens of compilation projects that various labels, both major and Independent, have issued on Ray Stevens through the years. Ray re-recorded the song for an animated music video in 2006 and this recording usually appears on recent collections instead of the 1975 original. The 2006 animated music video first appeared on the Teenage Mutant Kung Fu Chickens DVD that Curb Records released.

Ray Stevens...The Collection

In this Collection of songs we get to hear a wide variety of styles and moods from the career of Ray Stevens. The project features 14 songs and is notable for including a few songs that have rarely gotten much exposure on the wide variety of compilation releases that have been issued on Ray Stevens through the years. This release, from February 1993, features 8 recordings from the mid-late 1980's in addition to 6 recordings from what critics consider Ray's classic period. "Shriner's Convention", which takes place in Hahria, Georgia, was a huge hit for Ray in early 1980. There were two different recordings of the song floating around during this era. One version shows a 1979 copyright and another shows a 1980 copyright. The recording featured in this Collection is from 1979...considered to be perhaps the "single version" while other compilations feature a more mid-tempo recording of the song.

Track three, "Mississippi Squirrel Revival", takes place in Pascagoula, Mississippi. This recording debuted on the 1984 album, He Thinks He's Ray Stevens, but it didn't reach a wide audience until the spring of 1985. This song is notable for being the final recording of Ray's to reach the radio-dominated "Top-40" portion of the country music chart. It would ultimately reach the Top-20.

"Surfin' USSR" and "I Saw Elvis In a UFO" were recorded in 1988 and 1989 respectively. Their inclusion in this Collection represented a willingness on MCA's part to highlight fan popular, though mainstream obscure, recordings. "I Saw Elvis in a UFO" was a regular feature throughout Ray's concerts in Branson, Missouri in the early '90s. He once performed the song at the 1989 edition of the Music City News awards program...and this may have been the debut of the U.F.O. prop. The stage performance of the song played out like a music video...and given how popular Ray's music videos are you'd think that he would have made an official music video of this song but he never has.

The 14 songs on this Collection are...

1. The Streak; 1974
2. Shriner's Convention; 1980
3. Mississippi Squirrel Revival; 1984
4. Gitarzan; 1969
5. Ahab the Arab; 1969 (re-recording)
6. It's Me Again, Margaret; 1984
7. Santa Claus Is Watching You; 1985
8. The Blue Cyclone; 1985
9. Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?; 1987
10. Freddy Feelgood; 1966
11. Surfin' USSR; 1988
12. I Saw Elvis in a UFO; 1989
13. The Haircut Song; 1985
14. Everything is Beautiful; 1970

Ray Stevens and those Viral Videos

Here's a glimpse of the plays that Ray Stevens' music videos on You Tube have obtained so far. As most longtime readers are aware I'm only factoring in the videos from "We The People" onward...

1. Come to the USA: 1,224,334
2. Throw the Bums Out!: 188,686
3. Caribou Barbie: 113,143
4. Thank You: 136,157
5. We The People: 3,106,658

Ray's been busy over the last several days...earlier today he participated in an interview on the Steve Gill radio program. A few days ago the first verse and chorus of "Come to the USA" music video was played on Bill O'Reilly's television show. There is a write-up featured on Ray's web-page in the News section and it's about the viral video success that Ray's been enjoying. In reality he's always had some success on You Tube...nearly all of the music videos that he's uploaded have at least a hundred thousand hits or more...but it wasn't until "We The People" and the millions of hits that the video enjoyed that more focus was given to Ray's on-line music videos.

So we come to the most recent video, "Come to the USA". I'm not above bragging...I was one of the people wishing that the song would become a music video when I heard it for the first time and to see it become a music video a couple of weeks ago was wonderful. I had this gut instinct that if it were released that it would possibly become as big of a viral video as "We The People" and from the looks of things that's indeed what may happen. For those who may have forgotten...the "We The People" music video achieved over 2,000,000 hits in a month's time. "Come to the USA" has been uploaded for almost 2 weeks and has 1,224,334 hits so far. Will history repeat itself? It certainly looks that way!

The fact that Ray's had million hit success with two music videos in the span of five months time, without the help of a major record label pushing the video's popularity, is an even bigger story. The fact that all of this viral video success has come without a mainstream advertising campaign is something more for critics to analyze. As was the case with "We The People", the cable television publicity and talk-radio publicity for "Come to the USA" didn't happen until the video reached nearly a million hits. It's tempting for the critics to say that the videos are only popular because they've been exposed on a Fox News program but the truth is the videos were highlighted on O'Reilly's show after they became sensations on the internet.

By-passing the conventional method of advertising is not something new to Ray Stevens. Think back to the early and mid 1990's...Ray was selling millions of home videos thanks to magazine, newspaper, and television commercials. Today it's almost the same scenario...Ray is getting his music out there by way of You Tube and in some cases millions of people are tuning in.

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 10...

I'm pretty sure that this item, sheet music for one of Ray's hit songs, was issued in early 1971. This single spoofed Go-Go dance clubs which were prominent all over at the time. I wrote about this recording several blogs ago and pointed out that it reached the Top-5 in England in the spring of 1971. It's a very funny recording if you've never had the opportunity to hear it. Ray's comical side shines bright on this song...he plays the part of the singer (obviously!), the emcee, Bridget, and the crazed fan from the 'audience' who tries several times to get up on stage. Also appearing are the back-up singers for Bridget...they go under the name of Strawberry and the Short Cakes. Barnaby Records issued a Greatest Hits album on Ray that I wrote about in my last blog entry and "Bridget the Midget" made it's debut on an LP on that collection.

Ray has only recorded one gospel album believe it or not. The album would feature songs that would go on to appear on various gospel-related albums issued on Ray. "Turn Your Radio On" became a Top-20 country hit in had followed the gospel success of a couple of earlier songs from Ray entitled "All My Trials" and "A Mama and a Papa". Each of those songs reached the Adult-Contemporary Top-10 and not long after Barnaby would issue a gospel album, Turn Your Radio On. The album would reach the Top-20 on the Country albums list in 1972. The song listed as the B-side on this picture sleeve is "Loving You On Paper" which is a very romantic but sad song about a soldier in the war...and we're to assume Vietnam is the war being sung about even though Ray doesn't directly state the locale of the soldier. The song was lifted from his 1970 album, Unreal...

I wasn't able to get the entire picture of the album in camera shot but I'm glad with the results. I snapped this picture with my cell-phone camera. I was going through my Ray Stevens vinyl collection and I decided to take a picture of myself with this 1970 album, Unreal. This album consists of a majority of songs written by Ray...and it's two singles became smash Adult-Contemporary hits in the latter half of 1970. "America, Communicate With Me" reached the Top-20 on the Adult-Contemporary list in the summer of 1970 while the follow-up, the smooth sounding "Sunset Strip", reached the Top-20 on the Adult-Contemporary list in November 1970. At the time, the Adult-Contemporary radio format was called Easy-Listening. The chart wasn't named 'Adult-Contemporary' until 1979.

In recent news...Ray has hit the million play plateau on You Tube. I wrote about this in a previous blog but it's worth repeating: The latest music video from Ray on illegal immigration, "Come to the USA", has obtained more than a million hits on You Tube. The actual play count as of now is 1,161,028. This marks the second music video from Ray to achieve a million or more plays...and "Come to the USA" appears to be a potential 1.5 or even 2 million viral success when it's all said and done.

May 24, 2010

Ray Stevens and a Million Cacti...

Let's all congratulate Ray Stevens' latest accomplishment. His latest music video, "Come to the USA", has vaulted past the million hits mark on You Tube in 11 days. This puts the music video in the elite company of another Ray Stevens music video, "We The People", which itself is sitting at 3.9 million hits and climbing. The specific play count for "Come to the USA" as of this writing is 1,038,146. Now you all can understand why I title this particular blog entry the way I do.

Q: Is this the first time Ray has ever recorded a song with an Arizona or southwestern backdrop?

A: No...Ray has recorded a couple of other songs highlighting this part of the United States. One song in particular is called "The Ballad of Cactus Pete and Lefty". The song is about a codger and his pet sidewinder, Lefty. Throughout the song Cactus Pete tells us about his various adventures in the desert with Lefty. One of the running gags in the song is the Maraca sound effect which indicates Lefty's communicating with his master. Every time Cactus Pete mentions animals we hear a Maraca which indicates Lefty's excitement. This prompts Cactus Pete to remind Lefty to settle down. The song can be found on Ray's 1987 album, Crackin' Up. Ray made a music video of this song a couple of years was an animated music video. It can be found on the Cartoon Carnival, Volume One DVD that Ray has for sale in his on-line store. A second song with a southwestern flavor is "How Much Does It Cost to Fly To Albuquerque?". That particular song is from the Hum It album from 1997 and it's an exaggerated spoof on airline companies. Ray plays the part of a singer who's interested in doing a concert in New Mexico and he calls up the travel agent who proceeds to give Ray all sorts of headache about prices and deals, etc etc.

Ray's We The People album is currently ranked in the Top-30 on Amazon's sales list of country music CD's. As far as comedy Mp3 digital albums are concerned the album is ranked in the Top-5 this hour.

May 23, 2010

As Hot As an Arizona desert...Funny Man Ray Stevens!!

Ray Stevens is as hot as an Arizona desert right now!!! Since my last blog entry on the 20th of May, the Ray Stevens illegal immigration music video, "Come to the USA", has quickly accumulated over half a million hits on You Tube. The current hit count, as of now, is 831,103 in 10 days time. It only needs 168,897 hits to enable the music video to achieve million play status. The reason why I use the word 'only' is because with the way the video has been racking up the play totals it shouldn't take long for the video to cross the million play promiseland. One would think a video that can rack up more than 300,000 hits in 2 days time can certainly amass over 165,000 in no time at all. Should the video hit a million it would be Ray's second video on You Tube to accomplish this. The first music video of Ray's to accomplish this was "We The People", which set the Ray Stevens train in full gear back in December 2009. That music video, as you all I assume are aware of, went on to reach a million hits on You Tube and then it reached two million hits...and then a couple of months later it had obtained three million hits. The official play total as of now is 3,087,110.

In between "We The People" and "Come to the USA" there were three music videos released and each of them all obtained viral status but neither of them hit the stratosphere of "We The People". The first of three music videos arrived in early 2010 and it was a military video, "Thank You". This video has gotten 129,119 hits so far. The next upload from Ray was a song about Sarah Palin, "Caribou Barbie". This video has a hit count of 101,635. After ObamaCare was signed into law Ray uploaded a reply: "Throw the Bums Out!". This politically charged music video has received 159,098 hits so far.

After Ray issued his new album, We The People, he uploaded a commercial...and this commercial has gotten 17,386 hits.

When illegal immigration became the hot news item...specifically during Arizona's drafting of a bill that eventually became law concerning illegal immigration...all of the sudden, for Ray Stevens, it was like a member of the defense in a football team having a pick 6. In football terms a "pick 6" is slang for an interception returned for a touchdown. Anyway, by sheer coincidence, Ray had recorded a song about illegal immigration for his recently released We The People album. While listening to the album I was being entertained by the various songs and then I heard "Come to the USA" and thought to myself that it's just another hilarious recording from Ray. Little did any of us Ray fans know how the subject matter of illegal immigration would become so huge in the weeks following the album's release in early April. So, without any warning, Ray found himself with a hit on his hands out of pure coincidence and a music video soon followed.

"Come to the USA", as I pointed out in a couple of other blog entries, was issued as a music video due to the timeliness of the subject matter and it's payed off big time with nearly a million hits on You Tube and the We The People album sitting high in the Top-20 on the Amazon sales lists.

May 20, 2010

Ray Stevens...Comedy Legend...

Don't mind that crazed, obsessed look...I was hamming it up for the camera. I do tend to go a bit overboard when it comes to Ray Stevens, though...but that picture is strictly for laughs. I wrote about this collection a couple of blog's ago and on Wednesday this CD arrived in the mail. The collection, titled 12 Hits, was released back in 2002 and it's on the Varese Sarabande label. I already have those songs and that's why I never purchased the collection when it was new. However...I began to wonder if someone may have written liner notes for the release and so I sent away for it. The price was super cheap in my opinion...after all the CD is 8 years old. After opening up the CD my suspicions were does feature an essay about Ray's career. The credits show that the liner notes were written by someone named Howard Evets. I know this may sound incredibly obnoxious, arrogant, or egotistical but whenever I read liner notes on Ray Stevens I always play like I'm the editor...looking for omissions, errors, or unfair comments. If I spot any of that in the liner notes I usually warn potential consumers whenever I write a review of a CD. I do that to allow the more dedicated fans of Ray to be alerted ahead of time because they, like myself, are easily annoyed if an essayist or author goes too far.

Usually you don't come across liner notes that make the singer look bad but there are rare instances where a writer's finished project looks forced and uninteresting and you can tell the writer didn't necessarily want to promote the singer or the album. This is why I favor the idea of liner notes being written by fans/admirers of the singer...this way the writer is approaching the project in such a way that his or her words will connect with the target audience: the fans. In some cases a record label releasing a project will employ their own person to write liner notes...whether that person really likes the artist or not. Thankfully on this CD there's liner notes written by someone who apparently did their homework on Ray's career but there was not much attention given to quite a few songs on this CD. As a result, this sort of patched together essay makes the liner notes come off as a mini-biography, where key points in an artist's career is highlighted. I prefer liner notes to include some sort of extensive positive commentary, from the note writer, about the featured songs...and perhaps some information about the songs. For example...there was no mention of Ray winning two Grammy awards for a couple of songs contained in this collection...the two songs being "Everything Is Beautiful" and "Misty". There was also no mention of "Gitarzan", "Everything Is Beautiful", and "The Streak" being multi-million selling singles.

Given the liner notes were written at some point in 2001 or even 2002 when the CD was issued there was no reference to Ray's phenomenal sales of home videos in the early to mid '90s and there was no reference to Ray's hit single and music video back in early 2002, "Osama Yo' Mama". The 12 Hits CD was released on September 10, 2002 which as you all know was a day before the 1st year anniversary of 9/11. So, it's a little odd to me that the liner notes didn't really bridge the gap between the classic hits on this CD and the contemporary goings-on of Ray Stevens at the time. However, the writer did give a nod to Ray's ability to remain in the public eye and come up with inventive ways of attracting legions of fans no matter how many times critics may want to write him off as nothing more than a novelty act.

What exactly are those 12 Hits on this CD??? Here's what you get...

1. Ahab the Arab: 1969 re-recording
2. Harry the Hairy Ape: 1969 re-recording
3. Unwind: 1968
4. Mr. Businessman: 1968
5. Isn't It Lonely Together: 1968
6. Gitarzan: 1969
7. Along Came Jones: 1969
8. Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down: 1969
9. Everything Is Beautiful: 1970
10. Turn Your Radio On: 1971
11. The Streak: 1974
12. Misty: 1975

Bridging the gap from discussion of classic Ray Stevens recordings to discussion of contemporary Ray Stevens recordings we find ourselves once again inserting the topic of illegal immigration into the mix. "Come to the USA" continues to rake in the hits. As of now it's sitting at 287,709 plays in a week's time. Even more impressive is the music video is the recipient of five 'honors'. Honors are given whenever a video performs at an exceptionally high level. Information on how to get We The People, which contains "Come to the USA", can be obtained at Ray's web-site.

May 19, 2010

Ray Stevens on Illegal Immigration!

Welcome one and all to my latest fan-created blog entry on Ray Stevens. I couldn't think of a title for this blog entry...I already used a couple of similar sounding titles already when writing about Ray's illegal immigration song. At this very moment the fire's raging and Ray is reaping the rewards of his latest smash hit music video, "Come to the USA". I did a general overview of Ray's music at Amazon's web-site and quite a few of Ray's CD's from the past have risen high among best-sellers in the "comedy music" area. No doubt the exposure of Ray's current music video is fueling that fire...also, the on-going success of his previous four music videos continue to help promote his CD's. I'm going to throw some numbers at you all so you'll be able to get a glimpse of how hot Ray Stevens is at the moment...

Ray's 1990 album, Lend Me Your Ears, is charting in the Top-60 of the country comedy list at Amazon. That 1990 album was re-released in CD format in 2005. Doing even better than that, on that same list, is the CD version of Ray's 1987 album titled Crackin' Up. That particular release is in the Top-10 among best sellers. Ray's 1993 release, Classic Ray Stevens, is sitting in the Top-20 among best sellers in the country comedy format. The Box Set collection from 2006 is sitting way high...#3 among country comedy releases. It's also ranked in the Top-30 best sellers when it comes to box set collections of all formats.

Here's some other Ray Stevens titles that are among the Top-100 best sellers of country comedy at Amazon: His All Time Greatest Comic Hits, 1997's The Best of Ray Stevens on the Rhino label, 1987's Greatest Hits, and several more.

The current Ray Stevens album, We The People, is charting in the Top-20 of comedy Mp3 albums. The CD counterpart earlier today was in the Top-100.

As if all of those stats weren't eye-popping enough it's with great pleasure to relay to all of you that his current music video, "Come to the USA", has obtained a whopping 148,116 hits in nearly a week's time on You Tube. The video was uploaded on May 13th. Some of the other activity from Ray's other music videos are as follows...and as you can see, "Come to the USA" has already surpassed "Throw the Bums Out!" in viewer hits in nearly a week's time. The numbers will continue to grow but here's a glimpse...

Throw the Bums Out!: 116,755 hits

Caribou Barbie: 83,964 hits

Thank You: 118,150 hits

We The People: 3,054,962 hits

The illegal immigration debate continues to be a hot item and Ray's hit music video captures all of the frustration and annoyance a lot of us have when it comes to America's reluctance to secure it's borders from illegal immigrants who want to come here not to "find work" or "find a better life", that's the liberal argument. Instead, statistics show the majority of those who come into America illegally by crossing the United States-Mexico border enter the country for illegal behavior...most common is drug smuggling and some say anti-American sentiment spawned from envy to full-blown insane jealousy of our way of life is another reason why the borders should be much more secure.

As Ray Stevens points out at the end of the music video...there's nothing wrong with immigration...just as long as it's done legally...

Here's that blazing hot "Come to the USA" music video one more time...

May 16, 2010

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 9...

Why, yes, you all are correct! In case you're wondering this is my third or fourth blog entry dedicated to the new Ray Stevens music video hit, "Come to the USA". The video is spreading like fire...much in the same rapid rate of "We The People" in late 2009/early 2010. Time will tell if "Come to the USA" rakes in the million plus hits of "We The People" but in the short term the latest music video has obtained 14,683 hits in 2 days time. Not only that...the latest music video has been added to hundreds of You Tuber's "Favorites" and has, to date, obtained 234 viewer ratings...227 "like" the video and a humorless 7 "dislike" the video. I predict as time goes by the likes will continue to out-number the dislikes simply because illegal immigration is a major problem and rational thinking Americans agree that it's a problem that's been ignored for far too long. I feel illegal immigrants give legal immigrants a bad reputation. I'm sure others feel that same way, too. I will also go out on a limb and say legal immigrants have no problems with the police arresting those who are in the country illegally.

Wouldn't it be hilarious if the President, for example, is giving a speech and he makes the claim that Arizona's law will mean doom and gloom for "all immigrants" and some immigrants stand up and say something like: "That's such a lie, Mr President! We're here legally...we've got nothing to worry about."

If I do say so myself this is a great picture of Ray Stevens. An on-line friend of mine sent me this's taken from a 1980 performance. As you can partially see, Ray was amidst his Urban Cowboy phase where almost every country singer at one time or another wore cowboy clothes and cowboy hats. There were some hold-out's of course by several artists you just couldn't picture wearing a cowboy hat...artists like Conway Twitty, George Jones, Charley Pride, and Glen Campbell are just a few that never wore hats while on stage. Ray never wore a cowboy hat, either, until this trend swept country music. I often compare Ray's stage appearance during this era with Johnny Lee. It was easy to visually confuse the two from a distance if one happened to be a casual fan of country music. However, that's where the similarities ended. Johnny has a distinct voice as does Ray.

I purposely like to mix and blend the contemporary Ray Stevens with the vintage Ray Stevens. I feel that by doing this it allows those who know of Ray for comedy music videos and country comedy in general to become exposed to a more serious side of Ray Stevens. In Ray's current series of topical songs, each featuring a hefty dose of political humor, some of the people who discover those music videos on You Tube may not even know about Ray's incredible catalog of music...stretching back to the late 1950's. So...that is why in this "Nostalgia Valley" series of blogs I deliberately focus on the vintage and the contemporary Ray Stevens.

May 15, 2010

Ray Stevens: The We The People Album, Part 4...

Ray Stevens as you can see is the cover subject of the May 2010 issue of a classic country catalog titled Country Music Greats from Pure Country Music. The appearance of Ray in his now famous Founding Fathers uniform is a good publicity tool, obviously. I have ordered from this company several times and I get a monthly catalog in the mail...and I was surprised to see Ray on the cover! Why? Well, several blogs ago I lamented the lack of publicity/attention his political songs had gotten up to that point among country music circles. I had theorized that due to the political nature of the songs...and the fact that it's the music videos that had grabbed people's attentions...I figured that the country music media would over-look Ray's success because the attention was being gained through alternate resources...specifically, You Tube and the internet in general. So, with a catalog that sells classic country items, at least a segment of the country music audience is being exposed to Ray's current project.

Right now the Amazon sales list has indicated that the Mp3 version of the We The People album has reached #6 among comedy releases and #76 among country music releases. Those sales lists are updated hourly and the chart placings can vary from hour to hour. As an example...a release ranked at #6 one hour can easily rank #306 the next hour. The CD counterpart doesn't rank as high as the Mp3 and this is more than likely further evidence that digital music/Mp3's are the preferred music choice and has been for the last 6 or 7 years. The music, after purchase, is easily downloaded onto your trip to a music store and no physical CD to carry around. The music can also be easily adapted to a person's cell-phone or other device. It hurts the sales of physical CD's no doubt but like the DVD and the VHS tape...innovations typically always render a previous item obsolete.

I'm excited over the runaway success of Ray's latest music video about illegal immigration, "Come to the USA", as if you couldn't tell from my last blog entry!! When I started this particular blog entry the hit count at You Tube was sitting at 2,520. The video was uploaded the evening of May 13th and so it technically has only been available for a day and a half. This is the typical fiery response to Ray's politically charged music videos. His last release, "Throw the Bums Out!", is sitting comfortably at 106,506 hits. It leads "Caribou Barbie" by nearly 30,000 hits. The "Caribou Barbie" video has raked in 78,886 hits.

Backing up 41 years for a minute or two we find 1969 to be the year Ray released the album, Have a Little Talk With Myself. The album featured just a few original recordings amongst a collection of songs that had been recorded by other artists. On that album Ray did his versions of songs made famous by The Beatles, Bob Dylan, as well as Blood, Sweat, and Tears among others. Monument Records, in 1970, issued Ray's version of "But You Know I Love You" as a single in the United Kingdom. This song is from the aforementioned 1969 album. The b-side of that single is "The Minority", a song from Ray's 1968 album, Even Stevens. Ray's does a wonderful job with "But You Know I Love You" in my biased opinion. The song was made popular in 1969 by The First Edition, a psychedelic rock group headed up by future country singer, Kenny Rogers. The song's writer, Mike Settle, was a member of the First Edition. In country music circles that same year the song became a huge hit for Bill Anderson. Ray, as mentioned, did his version in 1969 as well. 11 years later in 1980 it was recorded by Dolly Parton and her recording of the song hit #1 in the summer of 1981. For those curious...neither a CD nor Mp3 digital album has ever been issued on Ray's Have a Little Talk With Myself. It's one of the few studio albums from Ray during this era that has not received the re-issue treatment...the other being 1973's Losin' Streak.

May 14, 2010

"Come To the USA" suggests Ray Stevens, Volume Two...

As I had hoped and championed for several weeks now, Ray Stevens has emerged with a new music video focusing on the illegal immigration topic that's been a hot news item for a little less than a month. I had written an earlier blog entry with a similar title...that was when I first heard this song on the We The People album. When I heard it I loved it...and then a few weeks later illegal immigration is all over the news in a big way and several of us wished that this song would become a You Tube music video and sure enough it has!!

In the music video, Ray offers a lot of sight gags...especially the name of the airline when he sings about Arabia. This is also a music video that allows Ray to get even more visually creative as he uses the split screen camera trick by having three images of himself on-screen singing/scat-singing at the same time. He did a similar thing on his "Freddy Feelgood" music video from 1999 where five images of himself all appeared at the same time on screen, interacting with one another

Illegal immigration isn't a new phenomenon but the fact that Arizona passed a law combating the problem opened the flood gates for a barrage of protests, boycotts, racial insinuations, racial accusations, and all around chaos in southern Arizona and in other places across the country who have decided to make political statements concerning the State law. Rational thinkers don't play the race card but nevertheless there's a fear among quite a few that police will go rogue and break the law and start racial profiling any chance they get. Talk about faith in the police! Wow!

The bottom line is the liberals and the progressives are fanning the flames based upon an unproven fear of what could happen if, for example, a lone cop acts on his own and decides to play Mr Enforcer without any regard for the Arizona law. If anything, the Arizona law has caused the Federal Government to tackle illegal immigration whether they want to or not. News of other states following Arizona's example are popping up as well...what will happen with those states is anybody's guess, though. Hindsight is easy...if the Arizona law proves to be a success and not a law mired in racial profiling I bet other states will gladly follow Arizona. However, in the worst case scenario, you can believe that no other state will tackle the subject again.

May 12, 2010

It's Waltz Time with Ray Stevens...

In this priceless performance, Ray Stevens sings his hit single, "Honky Tonk Waltz", to the delight of the other guest, Donna Fargo, and Pop! Goes the Country host, Ralph Emery. The performance took place in 1977, several months after the song had hit. The actual single had been released in the latter part of 1976. Ray performed what was then his current single, "Get Crazy With Me", later on in the program. It was during this era that Ray, as you can see, incorporated a guitar into his stage performances and he'd switch from piano playing to guitar strumming on various songs. He was never credited with playing guitar on his albums, though. I believe the guitar was used as an eye-catcher in an attempt to offer the audience something unusual and wasn't everyday you saw a singer at a piano with a guitar strapped to him.

One of the You Tube videos that I came across last month is this one from 1982. It's almost like a candid interview with Ray Stevens conducted by The McCain Brothers. As of this writing the video has only gotten 91 plays and I thought for sure that it would at least get a thousand or more hits but it hasn't and so I'm embedding the video again in this blog in case some missed it the first time around. The video is about the art of songwriting which is something Ray knows a thing or two about. After this video was uploaded I did some research and learned that The McCain Brothers were a duo from Texas who hosted a local television program in Oklahoma for quite a few years but now they're in Los Angeles.

In the above video you'll hear quite a lot about songwriting and you'll also catch a glimpse of how serious Ray takes his career. Even though he's long been associated with comedy material underneath it all beats the heart of a serious musician and Yeah, although some people might not apply the word of "actor" upon Ray Stevens it's worth noting that he had a phase of his career, specifically the late '70s through the mid '80s, where it wasn't uncommon to see Ray pop up on a prime-time show and even a soap opera. He often played fictionalized versions of one appearance, though, he tackled the role of a singer and demonstrated a dramatic side in one scene by slapping another person across the face. This scene happened in an episode of The Fall Guy. The episode was titled The Pirates of Nashville and it was taped at some point in 1983 and it aired in November of that year. In the episode Ray plays the role of Webb Covington who's estranged from his son, a role played by Leigh McCloskey.

The son, Webb Covington, Jr., happens to be the character who gets slapped in the face. Son insults father and before you can blink an eye...SLAP!!...goes Ray's hand across McCloskey's face. Throughout the episode there's appearances by Dottie West and Charlie Daniels who play themselves. Ray performs "Piece of Paradise Called Tennessee", a song from his 1983 album on Mercury Records entitled Me. His stage attire mirrors the shirt he wore on the 1983 Greatest Hits album that RCA issued. The episode was once uploaded in five parts on You Tube but it has since been removed by it's uploader and that's why it's so fresh in my mind. I never got to see it the first time around in 1983 when it aired on television but I knew of his appearance after having researched his television appearances.

Have any of you purchased your copy of We The People yet? This is the image of Ray that appears on the back of the case. The collection was released last month back on April 1st. The only place you could purchase the collection at that time was at Ray's on-line music store at his web-site. A week or two later it became available as an Mp3 digital album at Amazon. The CD version won't be available for purchase at Amazon until June 8th...however, the CD version's been available at Ray's store for a little over a month now. I suspect there will be more publicity for it's release next month when the CD version goes on sale across the country on-line. At the moment several on-line stores have the CD available for pre-order. The Mp3 digital album was released on April 15th, tax day, even though in the product details it shows that the Mp3 album won't be available until June 15th. This kind of confusion will easily confuse consumers, too.

The on-line store, CD Universe, also has this collection available on June 8, 2010...but you can't purchase an Mp3 download of the entire collection as you can at Amazon. Ray's web-site store has started to offer an Mp3 collection, too. Originally only the CD/DVD collection was offered...which is what you see me holding in both pictures...but they've since added an Mp3 version to their web-site store. As of this writing the hat that you see me wearing is sold-out. The hat has the We The People phrase written across it. At one point the "We The People" single was also sold-out but they've since re-stocked. The music video at You Tube continues to rake in the hits. As of now it's sitting at 3,036,276 plays and it'll probably be raking in the hits around Election 2010 this November. It may surpass 4 million hits by the end of the year...who knows? My wishes for future music videos include "We Are the Government" and "Come to the USA". In the commercial for the collection that's running on You Tube it shows Ray in snippets performing several songs...but it's no indication that those songs will become music videos in the future. The video snippets could have been taped just for the commercial.

The snippets that appear in that commercial are "The Global Warming Song", "The Solar Powered Song", and "We Are the Government"; plus video clips of the ones already on You Tube: "We The People", "Thank You", "Caribou Barbie", and "Throw the Bums Out!". However, having said all of that, I can't see Ray going through the process of making three music video snippets for a commercial...very detailed clips I might add...and not have three full length music videos waiting in the wings. So it may happen that three more music videos will emerge from this collection as seen in the commercial. I uploaded the commercial in a previous blog entry.

May 6, 2010

The Many Sounds of Ray Stevens...

Revisiting a familiar topic of mine is the many different styles and sounds throughout the career of Ray Stevens. Some fans have this feeling that Ray has to act, look, sing, and or dress only a certain way. I'm in the category of it doesn't really matter...I just like to hear Ray sing and talk. It doesn't phase me what he wears or how he walks, stands, looks, etc etc. Does this mean I don't notice what he wears or whatever? Of course not! I just don't let it take over my fandom to a point where the music takes a back seat. Mostly all singers have various styles of fans and I'm just describing the kind of fan I am. This particular 1987 release originally was released in 1985. Collector's Series was a wide ranging series of albums that RCA released on it's roster of artists...both current and former. I suspect the current roster had their albums issued first while previous artists on the label were issued separately. As I mentioned, the original issue was 1985. As you all can see, the actual picture of the vinyl album appears on this cassette re-issue from 1987. The only difference between the 1985 and 1987 releases are two songs. In the 1985 issue "One More Last Chance" appears where as in this 1987 re-release, "Put It In Your Ear" takes it's place. The songs with the number 1 next to their title represent the songs from 1982 that were produced by Ray Stevens and Bob Montgomery. They come off of the 1982 Don't Laugh Now album. One of my favorite songs is "The Dooright Family". I've written about the two versions of Collector's Series in a couple previous blog entries. You'll find them amongst my archives here. The reason I start this blog entry with that project is because it represents the many sounds of Ray Stevens. I feel that open mindedness and toleration of all aspects of Ray's career is essential at truly appreciating his talents and understanding his music perspective. I feel this way because there are those who just want to hear the comical songs of Ray Stevens and then there are those who prefer to hear the early pop-oriented Ray Stevens prior to his country comedy image make-over in the mid 1980's. I like to hear all sides of Ray Stevens without limiting myself to just one facet of his recording career. In some small way I hope this fan-created blog creates an awareness of Ray's various talents.

While I was on a hiatus, Ray's You Tube video of "We The People" had crossed the three million mark!!

Ray's various talents are on full display in this 1995 movie, Get Serious!, which runs 1 hour, 50 minutes...nearly 2 hours. The home video had strong sales throughout the latter half of 1995...selling Platinum in the process through mail order which requires 100,000 or more in sales. Nearly a year later, in December 1996, MCA Records began to distribute the home video into retail stores across the country. The project became a strong sales hit throughout the first half of 1997...remaining on the Top Music Video chart in Billboard for over 20 weeks. This is the same chart that tracked Ray's enormous successes with Comedy Video Classics and Ray Stevens Live throughout 1993 and 1994 after each home video had been released to retail stores following each of their successful direct market/mail order campaigns. There are 10 music videos featured in this movie. For those interested, as I mentioned in a previous blog entry, you can purchase a VHS video copy of the movie at Ray's web-site store for the low, low price of $5.00!! The obvious reason it's that low of a price is because hardly anyone has a VCR anymore...I still have one, though. For those who still have a VCR in addition to a DVD player check the movie out! It features cameo appearances by quite a few of Ray's music business friends including Jerry Clower, Chet Atkins, Johnny Russell, Crook and Chase, George Lindsay, James Gregory, and several others. In my opinion you shouldn't want to be without this movie because at some point, as a fan, you'll perhaps grow envious of those who have their copy of the home video. In a lot of ways this is everyone's last chance to purchase the movie unless a DVD version becomes available which I suspect is highly unlikely...given that in the 15 years since the movie was released, a DVD version, if issued, must have quickly went out of print because I'm not aware of a DVD version existing. I've got the home video...I bought it when it was new and it still plays flawlessly. I believe the VHS home video of the movie is in limited for those wanting what has become a much sought after item now is your chance.

Some people today don't believe that this was an actual song until they look it up on the internet...and even still some would call you insane if you mention that it was a Top-5 smash hit in England in the first several months of 1971. It's true! "Bridget the Midget the Queen of the Blues" was issued as a single in America in late 1970...I believe December 1970. It reached it's peak, of course, in the next year. It was a huge hit in England and I'm sure over there, as is the case here in America, anytime a novelty or comedy recording achieves a certain level of mainstream attention it will go through a phase in which it will receive all sorts of critical punches and draw contempt from the elitists who populate much of the mainstream media. This is why novelty songs and those who specialize in comedy records operate outside of the mainstream. Anytime a novelty song becomes a mainstream hit, without fail, "all hell breaks loose" amongst reporters and music pundits who simply have no sense of humor or lack amusement in everyday life. This novelty song features the gimmick of sped-up vocals popularized by Ross Bagdasarian, the man who brought the world The Chipmunks.

In more serious news...Nashville, Tennessee experienced it's biggest flood in decades. Some reports say it topped the flood of 1975 by several feet. The Cumberland River, due to a huge amount of constant rain fall, overflowed it's banks and flooded much of Nashville. The businesses along the riverside were almost completely destroyed or water soaked to the point where the buildings have become unsafe even after the water recedes. The Grand Ole Opry and the Hall of Fame and other places of interest were flooded. The Opry complex it is reported won't be open for business for at least 6 months or longer. In the meantime the Opry radio show and WSM radio have relocated to other studios until it's safe to return. Ray's office and studio as far as I know wasn't damaged much at all. In a small write-up Ray remarked that he had water in his basement at his house but mentioned that earlier in the day he was in his recording studio and so from what I could gather from the article his office in Nashville was spared any damage. You can look up videos on the flood devastation to get a heavy dose of the incredible damage that took place.

This is what the music industry called a promo single. It often featured the same song on both sides of the single and it's label was white in color. During the mid '70s, Warner Brothers labels were multi-colored but by the late '70s the label color became an off-white. Most singles featured a color label...a white label color was almost always used to differentiate between a commercial release and a promo copy. In the case of Warner Brothers singles if it happened to be a promo copy it would say so on the label. The catalog number, 8849, indicates that "Get Crazy With Me" was the B-side to "The Feeling's Not Right Again" on the commercial release. This single was issued in 1979...interestingly, though, each song had previously been released. "Get Crazy With Me" was first introduced in 1977 on Ray's Feel the Music album...and this song was a single that same year. "The Feeling's Not Right Again" comes from Ray's 1978 Be Your Own Best Friend album. What had happened was in 1979 Ray had an unexpected mainstream hit single with "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". Warner Brothers rush released an album to capitalize on the song even more. The album released in 1979 featured a design that was a visual spoof of a 1975 Barry Manilow album, right down to the fancy lettering and Ray's position at the piano. Ray's 1978 song, "The Feeling's Not Right Again", was similar in title to Manilow's 1975 hit, "Tryin' To Get the Feeling Again"...and that's why Ray's 1979 album is a spoof of that particular Manilow album. Due to people out there who get a kick out of seeing the spoof from Ray Stevens side by side with it's target here are a couple of pictures to illustrate how detailed the parody was played out in 1979...

May 1, 2010

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 8

I've written about this before but in case some don't know of it's existence you may want to seek this CD out. It's simply called 12 Hits and it was released on Varese Sarabande. This label has issued quite a few Ray Stevens CD's in the past...mostly obscure and out of print material from Ray's pop music days. This CD features nothing but chart hits...ranging from 1968's "Unwind" and "Mr. Businessman" through 1975's "Misty". Consumers must realize it by now but the material Ray recorded for Monument Records and Barnaby Records during 1968-1975 has become widely distributed...much more so than any other material Ray's recorded for other record labels. These hit songs can be found on other compilation CD's...specifically a mammoth collection called Only The Best of Ray Stevens which is spotlighted below. I'd say the picture of Ray on the 12 Hits CD comes from 1975 but it could be from 1979. Here are the songs that are on the CD:

The Streak
Everything Is Beautiful
Turn Your Radio On
Along Came Jones
Mr. Businessman
Ahab The Arab
Harry The Hairy Ape
Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down
Isn't It Lonely Together

In my previous blog entry I had remarked that in 1986 the two singles that were released on Ray Stevens happened to be "Southern Air" and "The People's Court". It always helps to have visuals whenever I compose a blog entry. Sometimes I leave the images out of the blog entries and sometimes I incorporate them. People must be living under a rock if they don't realize that "The People's Court" single is a spoof of court shows on television. Although it uses the name and the Judge in the most popular show it nevertheless pokes fun at Divorce Court as well. That show, along with The People's Court, were hugely successful. Court programs were so successful that NBC aired the comedy show, Night Court, as a spoof of court programs. In drama NBC aired L.A. Law. Today several of those 1980's court programs have been revamped with different judges and air in syndication as before. Some cite the continuous coverage of the O.J. Simpson murder trial in 1994 as the impetus for the on-slaught of court programs as well as a cable channel devoted to court cases. "The People's Court" throughout the 1980's and early 1990's were as popular as Judge Judy became when she first hit the air. In Ray's recording he plays the part of Arlo Druckert, the owner of a small convenient store. He and his wife, Myrna Louise, seek to get on television and air their problems for the world to see. It's suspected that Arlo assumes everyone must appear on "The People's Court" in order to get a divorce given how enthusiastic he seems when 'talking' on the phone to Judge Wapner. We only hear Arlo's side of the conversation. Ray plays Arlo, Judge Wapner, Myrna, and the unnamed court reporter. The reporter's voice is based on the whispered tones of Jim Peck from Divorce Court instead of the flamboyant vocalization from Doug Llewellyn. Does anyone who hasn't heard the song want to guess who made it out of the divorce sitting pretty?

This collection of material, Only the Best of Ray Stevens, was put together by Collectible's Records and it consisted of six vinyl albums on three CD's. It also contained a fourth CD with randomly selected songs...some of which already appeared on the other three CD's. The two album on one CD series had been released separately on Ray Stevens by Collectible's Records but then the label decided to package all three of the CD's in one collection, with the addition of a fourth CD, and offer it for sale once again...this time as a big collection of songs. Admittedly this collection was released in limited quantities...and so a lot of consumers may not be aware of it's release. The six vinyl albums that are featured on three of the CD's are as follows: Everything Is Beautiful, Unreal, Nashville, Boogity-Boogity, Turn Your Radio On, and Misty. Those who pretty much have Ray's album discography memorized will notice the one Barnaby studio album missing from the party: 1973's Losin' Streak. That album has yet to be re-issued in CD or Mp3 format and I don't understand why it never has.

Fast-forwarding from 1973 to 2010, this is a commercial that's running on You Tube for Ray's latest album, We The People. Click and enjoy...