October 29, 2010

Ray Stevens sings...

Halloween always causes me to highlight Ray Stevens recordings that have a Halloween theme of some kind. He's rarely recorded songs about ghosts, ghouls, goblins, and the like but there are a few exceptions sprinkled throughout his career. The earliest happens to be 1963's "Laughing Over My Grave" which takes the concept of the love song to extremes. In it we're told of a couple who've hit bad times...the man's caught cheating and the wife wants to seek revenge on her husband. The man's guilt is reflected in the song's title as he says that's what he can hear her doing. It reaches a climax when the wife approaches him holding a gun...ready to pull the trigger. I have no information about when the song was actually recorded but I'd say 1963...it appeared as a B-side to a single that Mercury Records issued on Ray titled "Bubble Gum the Bubble Dancer". The catalog number is Mercury 72307. The single was officially issued in 1964 even though Ray had ventured to Monument Records in 1963. I believe Mercury still had the contractual rights to release singles on Ray for a few more years...and I believe Monument had to wait until his recording association with Mercury wrapped up and that's why Monument couldn't release any singles on Ray until 1966...at least that's how it appears. I take it that Ray was free to play on sessions for any record label in addition to working with artist's on the Monument label...all the while recording for Mercury Records through 1965.

Anyway...a couple more releases on Mercury also carried a Halloween theme...first off is 1965's "Rockin' Teenage Mummies" about a band of mummies that become rock stars. For bandages they wear band-aids...which create a fury of excitement amongst the band's female fans. Along the way we hear a brief impression of Ed Sullivan...as the band made their way onto his television program. Their singing style, perhaps as a jab at rock bands of the time, features nothing but groans and howls with an added touch of scat singing. It's catalog number is Mercury 72382. That particular single was an A-side...and he followed it up with another Halloween style 1965 novelty, "Mr. Baker the Undertaker". That particular song deals with the happenings at a mortuary where Mr. Baker and his owl assistant, Al, eagerly await each call from the local doctor. Throughout the song we're treated to some undertaker jokes and light-hearted references about death. It reminds of the kind of song that could've been sung by Digger O'Dell from the Life of Riley radio program given all of the morbid, yet funny, one-liners about death. It's catalog number is Mercury 72430.

Much later Ray recorded the bluesy ode to all things Halloween in "The Booger Man". This song was issued in 1988 and can be found on his comedy album I Never Made a Record I Didn't Like. In the song Ray sings about a monster that never got much recognition or fame but it's a real creature preying and spying on people...and much of the reason why the monster slips by without much fanfare is because his victims don't survive the attack. Two years later, 1990, Ray issued "Sittin' Up With the Dead". As of this writing that's the last Halloween-style recording from Ray Stevens. The song deals with an old-time tradition of sitting up with dead people in an effort to make sure the departed isn't robbed or taken advantage of in the hours or days prior to an undertaker arriving and taking the body to the funeral home. The song is funny, of course, and it takes a slight detour from the innocent sitting up with the dead concept and makes a turn toward the surreal. Ray sings about an uncle that's so affected by arthritis that when the uncle died he was stooped over so much that they needed a chain to keep the body laying flat in the casket. However, a thunderstorm erupted and the chain snapped and the Uncle sat up in the casket! This was followed by a loss of electricity, which created more chaos. The song was made into a music video in 1990...and it's available on You Tube. Shifting gears...

This particular single has a catalog number of CBS-7235. Barnaby Records material was at one time distributed by CBS. There were also associations with GRT and the Janus label, too. This particular picture sleeve accompanied the release in France and the more I think about it the more I assume that since "Bridget the Midget" is written in big, bold letters that it's the A-side and "A Mama and a Papa" is the B-side in spite of how the songs are arranged on the picture sleeve. I assume "A Mama and a Papa" was recorded at some point in 1971 around the time he recorded "Turn Your Radio On" and "All My Trials" and when it came time to issue "Bridget the Midget" in France they tacked on "A Mama and a Papa" as the B-side. In case some didn't know, "A Mama and a Papa" reached the Adult-Contemporary charts here in America in 1971...peaking in the Top-5 during the summer. The chart was officially referred to at the time as Easy-Listening. It's B-side is a very rare, obscure recording with the unique title of "Melt". This song, as far as I know, has never appeared on any Ray Stevens compilation and it's only available as a B-side on that 1971 single. The "Melt" song is a love ballad in spite of it's title...it has to do with a romantic and the way he feels whenever the woman in his life gets around him. The very first time I heard the song I instantly loved it.

I know rattling off all of those single releases may sound confusing to some but this may help...

"Bridget the Midget" originally was issued with "Night People" as it's B-side late in 1970. Then along came "A Mama and a Papa" in the summer of 1971 and it was issued with "Melt" as it's B-side. Then, later, "Bridget the Midget" gets released overseas where in this case the B-side is "A Mama and a Papa".

October 27, 2010

Ray Stevens and the Government...

One of the funniest songs on the Ray Stevens CD, We The People, is "We Are the Government". I've written about the song before but I felt like spotlighting the song one more time less than a week before election day. It's one of the songs that I hope, hope, hope becomes a music video at some point. Although a lot of it's bite is directed at the current Congress it's still a funny song...and the facts remain that the current Congress will continue to be in office through January 2011.

If things haven't changed the newly elected members will be sworn in on January 3, 2011 and based upon what happens this coming Tuesday there will either be a whole lot of new additions or quite a few new additions. I'm not a predictor but common sense says that the national mood comes across as annoyed and bitter over what's taken place over the last 2 years or so from the members of Congress. It's ironic that it took a lesson in 12th grade Government, on a national level mind you, to open people's eyes to the radical policies set forth by the President and his party leaders in Congress and the blatant abuses of the Constitution that accelerated when the President took office.

"We Are the Government" goes a long way at describing the aftermath of a far-reaching Federal Government. Of course the song is all based on opinion and assumption but common sense would indicate that the song is right on target. You can check the song out on his We The People CD. The song is also available as a digital download for 99 cents at Amazon...and hopefully it'll be a music video one day!

Expressing the Ray Stevens fandom, Part 2...

Good Wednesday morning all the Ray Stevens fans out there! This time around we mostly focus on a new video upload of Ray having a great ol' time at a Tea Party rally.

Uploaded on You Tube yesterday by a member named BransonRadioLive comes this video clip of Ray Stevens from the Tea Party rally that was held in Branson, Missouri this past Saturday. The actual date was October 23, 2010. This was also the day that he wrapped up his concert series at the Welk Theater.

Wasn't that great??? I liked the way he addressed the song, "Throw the Bums Out!", by making it clear that there's good and bad politicians...and that the song is dedicated to those bad ones. I liked the joke about the word "politics". I liked the video, of course, and here's hoping Ray continues to appear at various Tea Party-themed rallies for quite some time to come.

The mid-term elections are inching ever so close...next Tuesday will be here before anyone knows it: November 2, 2010. In my opinion We The People, the CD that Ray issued back in the early part of this year, would make a great Christmas gift for the politically-oriented in your family. Actually, one doesn't really have to be a political junkie to be entertained by the songs. Many of the songs on the CD state common sense solutions and it's this "common sense/everyday man" approach that allows the CD to be entertaining and political/patriotic at the same time.

But, I will say that hard-core leftists, liberals, and or progressives probably won't be too happy after giving this CD a listen...I'll go further and say the liberal-progressives probably won't even listen to the CD's opening track all the way through before they start seeing red. So it's best if given to somebody that leans center-right politically. In other words it's the perfect gift for the conservative and Tea Partier in your family.

Let's back up 49 years...yes...that's not a typo! It was 49 years ago that Ray Stevens hit the national Hot 100 for the very first time. 1961 saw the release of a comical song with a rather strange title. We come to call it simply "Jeremiah Peabody" or "Jeremiah Peabody's Green and Purple Pills". The full, complete, official title is "Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsaturated Quick Dissolving Fast Acting Pleasant Tasting Green and Purple Pills". Ray had been issuing singles since 1957 but this is the first one that hit the Hot 100...even reaching Top-40 status. Next year the single, of course, will celebrate it's Golden Anniversary...50 years of Jeremiah Peabody! The single was released in July of 1961 and reached it's Top-40 peak in September. And so, next year around July 2011, I'll throw a party for the single's Golden Anniversary.

October 24, 2010

Ray Stevens...and those 45 singles...

45 single of "Bridget the Midget, the Queen of the Blues" released in December 1970 on Barnaby Records. This was back in the days when CBS was handling Barnaby's distribution. Those newcomers to Ray's career may wonder about his association with the record label and I go into detail in a few of my previous blogs located in the archive section. Barnaby is what you'd consider an independent label...it required distribution from either a larger company or one that had way more financial resources than the independent label did. In a lot of ways an independent label gave the artist's more freedom when it came to song selection and recording possibilities but there was still an element of expectation from whichever company acted as a distributor...so, the way I see it, independent labels didn't completely experience an entire hands-off approach from the major labels unless there was that rare occurrence when a label distributed it's own product completely independent from a distributor affiliated with a major label. Ray's record company, Clyde Records, is an example of this kind of situation where Ray self-finances his own releases without interference from other companies who may have their own agenda or pre-determined goals to achieve.

I'm not exactly sure off the top of my head at what point this single was issued in 1974...the official statistics indicate that "The Moonlight Special" was the A-side and "Just So Proud To Be Here" was the B-side. Each song is from his all-comedy album from 1974: Boogity-Boogity. That particular album featured "The Streak" for the first time...as the album was named for the slang phrase 'boogity-boogity' heard throughout the song. Some people mishear the enunciation of the boogity-boogity phrase and proclaim it to be "look at that, look at that" by mistake. For those still unfamiliar "The Moonlight Special" features a tour de force vocally for Ray in that he does impressions of several celebrities all centered around a spoof of the hit television show of the time, The Midnight Special. Ray does impressions of Gladys Knight and the Pips, an alternative rock singer whose name is a spoof of Alice Cooper, and a killer impression of the Killer himself: Jerry Lee Lewis! If all this wasn't enough Ray of course does an impression of the show's announcer, Wolfman Jack! Oh, we hear Ray's natural voice too...it's the voice heard singing the song's chorus. The song opens up with a rapid fire of heavy drum beats...and those drum beats serve as the cue for the various interludes of the song's chorus throughout the performance.

Another single demonstrating Ray's skill at character voices is this spoof of the television court program "The People's Court". Issued in 1986 on the MCA label it featured the dominant label design seen on countless MCA singles and LP's for years...that of the rainbow and clouds. The song was written by Buddy Kalb, Jack White, and David Slater. I assume the two writers named Jack and David worked for Ray's songwriting company during this time period. The song can be found on Ray's 1986 comedy album, Surely You Joust. In the song Ray plays the part of a man, woman, court reporter, and the Judge. Interestingly the voice that Ray uses for the court reporter is more associated with Jim Peck, the hushed voice court reporter on Divorce Court. I assume Ray performed the song on television...I'd never seen footage of it...but I assume he performed it on Nashville Now or Hee-Haw. I know that he performed another song from the 1986 album, "Can He Love You Half as Much as I", a lot of times on his television appearances.

This particular video upload located below is not brand new...it's been available since March of this year. It's Ray Stevens performing his hit single, "Honky Tonk Waltz", from a 1977 television appearance. The single was a hit during the latter half of 1976 and typically most singers promote their most recent hit in addition to their most recent recording whenever appearing on a television program. The performance has it's comical moments as you'll see even though the song itself is non-comical...

The song originates from Just For the Record, the debut album from Ray Stevens on the Warner Brothers label. I can't say enough about that particular album...it's one of my favorites...and mostly every song on that album deals with the subject of music in some aspect or another. For those who want to read more in-depth information about Ray's years on Warner Brothers {1976-1979} seek out my archives off to the right hand side of the screen and search for blog entries specifically dealing with songs or albums Ray recorded in the late '70s.

October 23, 2010

Let's get Happy with Ray Stevens...

Good Saturday afternoon all you Ray Stevens fans! Today there's a real treat in store...I came across a You Tube upload of a single entitled "Happy" by a singer named Steve Alaimo. When you hear this song you'll all instantly recognize it's connection to Ray Stevens! Ray wrote and arranged this song in 1966 according to the video uploader and even more obscure is that it was relegated to the B-side. Now, of course, you all know that A-side and B-side doesn't mean much when it comes to Ray Stevens as a lot of work and detail is put into his recordings...some songs naturally have a more commercial sound and those get promoted on the A-side but there's always a whole lot more wonderful magic featured on the B-sides of many singles from Ray Stevens.

Although I have no information about the back-up vocals it sounds to my ears that Ray Stevens his own self is singing harmony...but given that Ray is known to over-dub a lot on his own recordings this could be a scenario where the singer, Steve Alaimo, over-dubbed his own harmony since it's something that Ray himself would do. But...when you listen to the song you'll clearly hear a harmony singer and the way the words are enunciated makes me think of Ray.

This "Happy" recording is not the only Ray Stevens-associated upload that's available on You Tube...come to find out last month there were two more uploads but this time it features arrangement work from Ray instead of songwriter contribution. First up is a song called "A House With No Windows" on the MGM label by a singer named Ray Peterson. Secondly there's a song by Ronnie Dove entitled "Put My Mind at Ease". Each song features music arrangements by Ray Stevens...

Put My Mind at Ease

House Without Windows

On the MGM single the producer appears to be Jim Vienneau...I can't make what the actual print says but it looks as if Vienneau was the producer. It makes sense, too, given that Vienneau was the producer on all of Conway Twitty's MGM recordings in the late '50s and early '60s. In the Ronnie Dove recording the song was written by Neil Diamond...ironically released on the Diamond label...which had no connection to Neil Diamond at all. The label, according to research, was started by Phil Kahl and Joe Kolsky.

Other songs arranged by Ray Stevens for Ronnie Dove include "A Little Bit of Heaven", "If I Live to Be a Hundred", "Kiss Away", and "Where in the World" among others. Ray, if I recall correctly, was Ronnie Dove's assigned music arranger and so chances are Ray arranged just about all of Dove's material during this time period of the mid '60s...but that's just me guessing.

My 300th Ray Stevens blog entry!!

I wrote about this particular souvenir item several blogs ago. I can't really recall when...but I know I touched upon this item. This is one of those road books, some refer to them as tour books, where an artist is highlighted with pictures often taken of the singer in concert or in a concert setting. Although this is officially billed as a "programme", note the British-style of spelling, it serves the same function as a road book in that it hypes the artist. Actually, another artist, in addition to Ray Stevens, is hyped in this booklet. Del Shannon is the other artist written about...he was appearing with Ray at a venue in England in 1977. Their appearance obviously was the reason behind this souvenir booklet. There are several obscure pictures of Ray throughout the booklet and it even has reference to his aspirations of being a playwright with an adaptation of Johnny Appleseed.

The back of the booklet is a picture of Ray that was used for his 1976 album, Just For the Record. I came across this booklet on eBay several years ago and I bought it...and if any of you want a chance at owning this same booklet I suggest you go to eBay. There is an eBay member from Ireland currently selling a copy of the booklet...it'll be posted for just four more days...so anyone seriously wanting a copy of this 1977 booklet that you see me hilariously showing-off now would be your opportunity!! When I bought my copy I had to send an International money order to the seller as he lived in England somewhere. Unfortunately eBay doesn't offer a check/money order option and everything's PayPal whether you want to use your credit/debit card or not!!

What could I possibly be looking at?? Hmmm, is there an image of a female streaker in the booklet? Now, of course there isn't such a thing!! But what in the world could I possibly be looking at? Okay...I'll give a hint...it has something to do with Ray Stevens. Does that narrow it down for anybody? Okay, here's a better hint...1970. That's my last hint. It could be anything from 1970...lots of things were happening in Ray's career in 1970...but yes, 1970, is the best hint I can give without giving away what's hiding in the center of the booklet. All in all the booklet/program/programme is great although I did wince at the swipe at Hee-Haw, though. It wasn't a vicious remark or anything but it did carry a condescending tone, based upon the words being used, as if the writer was irritated that the show was still on the air. I'm not going to expect the impossible and hope that one day the show will get respect universally...no one person can be hopeful that long. Anyway...9 times out of 10 those who make fun of the show only do so because they feel it's a hip thing to do or worse yet all they've really known is to make fun of the show...whether they've actually seen a complete episode or not.

As you can tell from the title of this particular installment of the blog this is my 300th Ray Stevens Music Journey post. This blog started toward the end of 2008...and here we are toward the end of 2010...only a couple more months left. I could've written 100 blog entries a year to reach the 300th right now. 100 in 2008, 100 in 2009, and 100 in 2010...but that isn't exactly the way it happened. As you all can see from the archive totals: 43 in 2008, 79 in 2009, and a whopping 178 in 2010!! Ray wraps up his concert series in Branson, Missouri tonight...this is also the day he appears at a local Tea Party rally in Branson! His You Tube music videos continue to gain hits...with his latest, "God Save Arizona", sitting at 481,898 hits. "Caribou Barbie", the song about Sarah Palin, is at long last getting close to 300,000 hits! I refer to this and "The Global Warming Song" as the forgotten music videos! You would think a music video centering around Sarah Palin would've gotten half a million or more hits within a month or two but after 7 months on-line the total is 291,174. This is still a good, healthy response but for those who had higher expectations, given the subject matter, you can't help but wonder what happened??

"The Global Warming Song" I don't think was meant to be a major music video upload given the lack of publicity and attention it didn't get. The song is cute but perhaps it only gains appreciation from those who are into ecology and the climate? Maybe the topic isn't a hot button issue...that could always be the case. That particular music video has gotten 60,200 hits. It was uploaded 3 months ago. My guess is the video was simply over-shadowed by it's predecessor: "Come to the USA" which is currently sitting pretty with 4,220,021 hits! "Caribou Barbie", uploaded on March 11, was over-shadowed by the video that followed it less than a week later on March 22: "Throw the Bums Out!". That music video has gotten 561,910 hits so far. So, here you have a case where two music videos are over-shadowed by other releases...usually over the course of time a forgotten video will ignite and find it's audience and that may be what ends up happening with "The Global Warming Song". The global warming video is sandwiched between "Come to the USA" and "God Save Arizona" and in music industry jargon the video of "The Global Warming Song" simply got lost in the shuffle.

October 20, 2010

Examining 1973's Ray Stevens...

Given the political/patriotic direction of Ray Stevens' latest music releases I thought I'd highlight some of Ray's material from 1973...this being the date in 1973 of the 'Saturday night massacre' where Nixon fired an independent special prosecutor on the same day both the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General resigned from office. All of this chaos stemmed from the aftermath of the Watergate break-in and the ensuing scandal. I wish the current Attorney General would resign!!

Anyway...I hardly ever keep track of things like that but I happened to be listening to a radio program on my way home from work this morning and that was one of the headlines in a "this date in history" segment.

So, what was Ray Stevens up to in 1973? Well, he released two albums that year which was something of the norm for most singers during this time period. Most artists released a single and if it became a hit then an album would be released built around the hit single...often times the hit single would end up being the only song issued commercially from an entire 11 or 12 song album. Some artists, though, had a bit more freedom in the studio and some labels, I assume, didn't particularly care if a single was a big radio hit or not provided that the artist was profitable and was consistent in sales...and sales could be obtained then, much like today, through television exposure and personal appearances. As I often say: don't let chart statistics fool you. In the subjective nature of the music industry even those acts who sell strong each release are at the mercy of a radio programmer or a consultant who analyzes demographics down to the very decimal point. I'm exaggerating...but maybe I'm not....

The bottom line is Ray Stevens' chart placings through the years belie his true popularity. It's always been the case of contrasts and public reception. Although Ray wanted to be thought of as a serious artist his comical recordings were too irresistible and catchy and for a period of several years he was "trapped" as a singer of comedy songs in the early and mid '60s in spite of routinely releasing love ballads and non-comical singles. The public wanted the comedy and so Ray would give it to them...meanwhile Top-40 radio by the late '60s had all but stopped playing novelty songs with the exceptions being those from Ray Stevens and Roger Miller, to name just two. Then by the late '70s novelty songs had really all but disappeared on commercial radio...leaving artists known for humorous recordings without much of a mainstream outlet.

Fortunately Ray Stevens, like Roger Miller, was a skilled writer and singer of both comedy and serious material...and while Ray had been able to have mainstream success as a serious artist throughout much of the '70s and early '80s it would be the comical recordings that would continue to gain the most attention...and given the fact that Ray's novelty songs weren't being played much on mainstream radio, although the songs were selling, the lack of airplay was reflected on the weekly charts. So, as I started out saying, Ray's chart placings belie his true popularity due to radio not willing to play comical songs anymore. Now that I got all of that off my chest...

The two albums that Ray released in 1973 were Losin' Streak and Nashville. Each album is totally different from one another and much of Ray's talent with mixing various music genres and covering well-known songs and delivering them in a brand new way is on full display on both albums. The image you see here is a B-side entitled "Inside". The song's A-side is "Losin' Streak" which didn't reach the charts. In spite of the single not reaching the charts there was an album of the same name issued which featured those two songs in addition to several experimental songs...by experimental I mean the sound and recording techniques. The album was recorded in a studio that Ray billed as The Ray Stevens Sound Laboratory. Ray covers "Bye Bye Love" and "Easy Loving" on the Losin' Streak album and some of those experimental sounds can be heard on "This Is Your Life" as well as "What Do You Know?".

The second album released in 1973 is the more commercially successful by comparison. Nashville features a much more country edge, which for 1973, meant pop-country. The title track, "Nashville", became a Top-40 country hit in November of 1973. It's B-side was the bouncy "Golden Age", a song about reaching the golden years in life. A second single from the album, "Love Me Longer", didn't reach the charts but the song was great nonetheless. It's B-side was the instrumental, "Float". Some of the other tracks include "Undivided Attention", the clever "Nobody's Fool", the marvelous "Never Ending Song of Love", and the ballad "You've Got the Music Inside". In the image, Ray is peeking from behind a tree trunk. You can't really see the tree very good in the picture but part of it is there. There are several other images of Ray floating around on-line of him posing near a funny looking tree. This particular image happens to be sheet music of "Nashville". Very rarely is sheet music on display...you may find them in musical instrument stores or in specialty shops but you typically aren't going to find sheet music on display at your local Wal*Mart store's music section.

October 17, 2010

A few more words about Ray Stevens...

In a small write-up in the October 14, 1988 issue of The Palm Beach Post there was mention of an upcoming Ray Stevens concert being held at West Palm Beach Auditorium which was located on the intersection of Congress Avenue and Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard. The small write-up offered a small mistake...the writer suggested that Ray's single, "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?", was still being talked about after nearly two years on the market. In reality, the single hit late in April of 1987 and this write-up occurred in mid October of 1988. Yes, technically, it was almost two years...April of 1989 marked that occasion. I think I know why the writer wrote it the way she did...to give more emphasis on how long of a shelf life the single had enjoyed. The song did indeed have a much longer life span than your typical comedy/novelty single...and three albums, all released in 1987, showcased the single: Crackin' Up, Greatest Hits Volume Two, and Get The Best of Ray Stevens. The song also appears on Curb Records His All-Time Greatest Comic Hits, MCA's The Collection and Millennium Collection. The song was nominated for a Grammy award in 1988...in the category of Best Comedy Recording. It was up against recordings from Robin Williams, Weird Al, Bob and Ray, as well as Jackie Mason. The winner was Robin Williams for A Night at the Met. The full name of the Grammy category was Best Comedy Performance: Single or Album, Spoken or Musical. The 1986 album from Williams apparently was released late in 1986 as to why it won a 1988 Grammy. There's an eligibility period and material has to be released prior to a cut-off date. If the Williams album would have been released earlier in 1986 it would've surely been nominated in the 1987 Grammy awards and maybe it would've given Ray a better chance of winning a Grammy in 1988...but who knows??

Let's Discuss Ray Stevens, Part Fifteen...

"Where Do My Socks Go?" asked Ray Stevens in 1990. Previously I had written a blog about going to the laundry with Ray Stevens and I delivered my thoughts on that comedy song...a song that almost everyone can relate to....where upon emptying a dryer there always seems to be a sock or two that goes missing because of how they slip up inside pants or shirts. In Ray's song, written by Buddy Kalb, socks literally disappear! The whimsical song is part of Lend Me Your Ears, the debut studio album by Ray Stevens on the Curb label. Technically the label was Curb/Capitol Nashville. Ray's official debut on Curb happened in June of 1990 when the label issued His All-Time Greatest Comic Hits which has since been certified Gold. An interesting trivia note is during 1990 and 1991 Curb Records on their own issued two compilation CD's on Ray Stevens...the aforementioned His All-Time Greatest Comic Hits in 1990 and Greatest Hits in 1991 while during those same years, paired with Capitol Nashville, they issued two studio albums on Ray: Lend Me Your Ears and in 1991, #1 With a Bullet.

In 1993 Curb Records issued the studio album of new songs from Ray entitled Classic Ray Stevens...in 1995 the label issued a belated soundtrack to his 1993 home video, Ray Stevens Live!. Additionally in 1995 they issued a compilation entitled 20 Comedy Hits which was exclusive to CD. In 1996 they issued Great Gospel Songs which contains 13 songs with a gospel/inspirational overtone. In a lot of ways the collection is a re-issue of his 1972 album, Turn Your Radio On, with a slightly altered track list and two additional songs. After a brief return to MCA late in 1996, which culminated in 1998, Ray was without a major label to call home for the first time in years. This all changed late in 2001 with the release of "Osama Yo' Mama". Curb Records agreed to promote/publicize the future best-selling single and in early 2002 a CD of the same name also became a big hit. The single ranked as one of the Top-10 sales hits of the year...remaining on the Country Single Sales chart for more than 30 weeks while the CD reached the country Top-30.

There was a limited release CD single with "United We Stand" as the b-side...I say limited because I never saw it for sale in the record stores in my area. The CD single was sold with an identical picture sleeve...the only difference being underneath his name it shown the words The Single instead of The Album. Believe it or not there was a music critic who was greatly misinformed and in a write-up of the CD erroneously referred to the title as being called The Album. Now, of course, the actual name of the CD is Osama Yo' Mama: The Album to differentiate it from the single with the same picture sleeve. I believe it was a writer at Country Weekly that referred to the CD as The Album instead of it's actual title. A critic at All Music Guide gave the CD a paltry two and a half out of five stars. In the criticism the writer made the assertion that nobody would be paying attention to this CD if it weren't for the title track. After I read that line I thought to myself "No kidding!?!? Gee, thanks for telling us! ". His fans would be paying attention, though, but as I touched upon in a previous blog the media had stopped paying attention long ago so the critic was right in some aspects of his assertion.

The CD was specifically designed to grab attention so what better way to grab attention than by naming a CD after a terrorist!! Also, the single itself was designed to grab your attention so what better way than call the single "Osama Yo' Mama". The music video was also eye-catching and hilarious. Ray Stevens is known for his comical productions and so it really looks rather odd to criticize an artist for doing what he's well known for. In my way of thinking, criticizing Ray Stevens for singing comedy songs is like criticizing a magician for sawing someone in half.

Ray Stevens and the Media: A further Examination...

Welcome to the Ray Stevens Music Journey!! It's an early Sunday morning here and this week mark's Ray's finale in Branson, Missouri...for now. I wouldn't be too surprised to see Ray return to Branson at some point again in 2011 given how successful his run at The Welk Theatre played out. Typically any artist wants to play to their strengths and once again it looks as if one of his strengths is the concert stage. The last group of concerts begins on October 20th and it'll be one of the two show days on both the 20th and 21st...a 2pm and an 8pm concert. In other words, fans and concert goers will be able to catch Ray four times in two days. On October 22nd and 23rd Ray will do just one concert each night at 8pm and that'll wrap up his month long series of concerts at The Welk Theatre which had started in mid September.

One of the trends, I guess, when it comes to Ray Stevens and the general public of today is that there's not a lot of research that goes into Ray's latest happenings or if he's appearing at a venue somewhere. I'll guess and say there's probably some out there that didn't know that Ray was appearing in Branson, Missouri and for those who come across this blog entry weeks or months from now and are stunned to learn that Ray was in Branson, Missouri for a month of concerts and you missed your chance of seeing him...well, I hope it becomes a learning experience to pay attention to Ray's career and his music releases.

If a person pays attention then there wouldn't be a situation where you didn't know of a concert appearance or a CD or DVD release.

I speak about the general public, of course. The die-hard fans obviously are on top of what Ray Stevens is currently up to and are aware of music videos, CD releases, or concert appearances, etc. etc. The more passive audience, on the other hand, often find themselves out of the loop and learn about concert appearances and music from Ray Stevens months down the road...long after a concert has happened or a song/music video was released. Mind you, I'm not complaining about this kind of thing, but it is something I'd noticed over the last several years. The reason I bring it up is because those who stay out of the loop often end up complaining about not being informed on what's happening. I know that sounds ironic but for the most part it's true.

I've read posts from people on various message boards through the years who might be curious about Ray Stevens' latest activities; some wonder if he's going to appear in concert anywhere. When I see message board posts such as that I always wonder why they never think to check Ray's own web-site. Of course, some may not think an artist of Ray's longevity would actually have an active web-site...but he does!! His web-site offers a lot of information about tours, available CD's, a store section where people can purchase Ray's merchandise, and the news section. There's even a message board there where fans can read the comments from other fans of Ray Stevens and post comments of their own. It isn't a premium site, either, it's free to join...

Ray Stevens Web-Page

There's a link on the Main page to join Ray Stevens Backstage. This particular area is a premium based offer and once a month a person who subscribes will receive an on-line "newsletter" not available to the public at large. The newsletter typically features several segments that aren't included in the free web-site and sometimes they highlight pictures from Ray's past or show exclusive video or free download content.

As a fan of Ray Stevens I feel that we should be active in our fandom. I think a lot of us are active in it and remain in the loop...but my advice for those who are out of the loop is to become pro-active. Let's face it: we're not going to see stories about Ray's music or his concerts plastered all over the newspaper entertainment sections and we're not going to see write-up's and reviews from music critics in any great abundance anymore, either.

A lot of people only act upon things they see or hear about on TV or in a magazine/newspaper...and because coverage of Ray's career by those outlets isn't what it used to be it creates this false belief that Ray hasn't been active in years. The early '90s, for a lot of people, was the last time they heard about Ray Stevens...back when TV commercials for his home videos were showing all over television. We all know Ray continued to record and do concerts on into the late '90s and into the next decade but because it wasn't publicized all over the news the general public had no clue.

So that leaves the Ray Stevens fandom to be pro-active given the reality that the newspapers or television outlets aren't going to cover Ray's career. The media, it seems, decided on their own that Ray didn't deserve much ink anymore what with the emerging pollution known as political correctness hanging over the country like a thick layer of smog. Even though we all feel the politically correct crowd unfairly take jabs at Ray's comedy the reality is the politically correct attitudes that were taking shape on a small scale in the late '70s and raging on throughout the '80s and early '90s to the point of out of control wildness by the mid '90s, in my opinion, created this split in coverage of Ray Stevens music and I explain how...

For awhile there were favorable reviews of Ray's latest projects in the early '90s but as time went by and political correctness took over more and more of the country's intelligence and independence it seemed as if critics were afraid to giggle and laugh along with Ray's exaggerated humor for a fear of backlash from the political correct advocates. Newspaper publishers, advertising executives, as well as the top people in television broadcasting also became victims of political correct advocates. These advocates would threaten boycotts, protests, and all kinds of other mayhem and disruption if their social views weren't met. As I've written about elsewhere, the politically correct people deemed "Ahab the Arab", a song Ray wrote in 1962, as politically incorrect, offensive, and they collectively made the grandiose and sweeping statement that the song was hostile to "all Arab-Americans" and "Arabs all over the world".

In a lot of ways it was like Ray had become something of a dirty little secret that well-known music critics wanted to distance themselves from. That's the way I took it when noticing the change in media coverage of Ray's career. Perhaps a lot of that was out of their control. Critics and writers are often at the mercy of the publisher, whose often at the mercy of a special interest group of some kind. For example, if a publisher is being manipulated by a special interest group, in this case political correct advocates, then it'll be highly unlikely that anything that shows the special interest in a negative light will be published. In 1995 Ray released his direct-to-home video movie, Get Serious!. The video was promoted through TV commercials as two of his previous home videos had been...but the newspaper coverage was relatively slim. I wonder if the movie's overall plot of skewering political correctness had anything to do with the less than enthusiastic coverage? The home video nonetheless sold hundreds of thousands of copies over the course of the next two and a half years.

Since December 2009 Ray has almost exclusively utilized the unique service of You Tube to promote his music. The media, in general, had stopped covering him long ago and it would really be a tall order to get the media behind a song that questions Obama Care which is what "We The People" does. There's this little thing called media bias but that's an entirely different subject for an entirely different blog. Anyway...ever since the release of the "We The People" music video Ray has since returned to the spotlight and there's been some mainstream coverage as well...something that had been lacking since the mid '90s. Although there's been a steady stream of blogs both from the right and the left of the political spectrum focusing on Ray Stevens, the traditional newspaper columnists and music critics have yet to really offer an opinion...except two instances. There was actually a write-up by The New York Times of Ray's political/patriotic career shift. I don't necessarily recall it being negative or unfair. However, at the same time, there was a scathing review by some other writer for another publication, whose name will remain anonymous, and whose negative review I feel was over-the-top in it's unfairness and quite frankly the 'review' was uncalled for. I've yet to come across another unfair review of that magnitude and I hope I never will. There have been unfair criticisms since then, of course, but none quite like that particular review.

In the meantime, the latest You Tube hit count for "God Save Arizona" is 466,864. It's officially been available on You Tube for two months. The single, available as an Mp3, is also 2 months old. There is also a physical CD single available at Ray's web-site store. To get there you click the URL that I posted several paragraphs ago and once at his web-site click Buy and "official store". Once there everyone will be able to purchase CD's, t-shirts, hats, and DVD's.

October 15, 2010

Examining Ray Stevens on Monument, Part 2...

In part 1 of this blog I mentioned that "Unwind" was the fifth single release from Ray while on Monument Records. The previous single, "Mary, My Secretary", came along late in 1967 as a sort of precursor to "Mr. Businessman". In the secretary song Ray sings about the wandering eyes inside an office setting as a man can't fight his feelings for his secretary. The reason I say it's sort of a precursor is because as you can see Ray wrote the single...Ray wrote a lot of his songs during the '60s and '70s. But anyway...the poppy, bouncy "Mary, My Secretary", hinted at the deadly serious social commentary of "Mr. Businessman" the following year. "Mr. Businessman" was the breakthrough single that Ray had been waiting for...at long last he enjoyed a Top-40 single that wasn't comical or silly. This recording, in addition to "Unwind", were the focal points of Ray's 1968 debut album on Monument, Even Stevens.

The b-side of "Mr. Businessman" was the somber "Face the Music" while "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" was the b-side of "Unwind". The album featured quite a few pop ballads and a couple uptempo numbers. Ray wrote or co-wrote 9 of the 10 songs on the 1968 album. The lone song that Ray didn't write was "The Earl of Stilton Square". This particular song was written by Tupper Saussy. "The Great Escape" was released as a single later on in 1968...it's b-side, "Isn't It Lonely Together?", charted R&B for Ray but became a bigger hit for another singer, O.C. Smith. The album's opening track, "The Minority", later appeared as a b-side on a future single from Ray in 1969. As most readers of this blog are aware...I don't play favorites that much when it comes to Ray Stevens songs. I generally like all of the songs he's recorded and so I don't pick favorites. I typically say things like "all of them are favorites!!". I didn't post as many visuals as I wanted in my previous blog because I was running late and as a result part 1 was so short! So to make up for that I've added some visuals and obviously have added much more detail in part 2.

Now, after having some commercial success with non-comical material Ray stepped back into the comedy vein once more with the release of "Gitarzan". This particular single not only reached the Top-10 on the Hot 100 but it became a million seller and a worldwide hit. The song is based on Tarzan and Jane as if the couple were a husband-wife pop duo. The pet monkey is in on the act as well. The song was written deliberately with a lot of end rhymes and performed in up-tempo fashion. Bill Justis is credited with coming up with the title...while Ray wrote the lyrics. An entire all-comedy album was forthcoming...it featured several cover songs as Ray paid tribute to the Coasters, a group he is fond of saying were big influences. The all-comedy album, Gitarzan, would feature one more single. "Along Came Jones" was a hit for the Coasters in 1959 and now 10 years later it was a hit all over again for Ray. The single reached the pop Top-20 as Ray added some new touches to the song...Ray performed not only Salty Sam's dirty laugh and threats of violence to Sweet Sue but he also performed Sweet Sue who spent most of the time hollering and carrying on hoping her hero, Jones, would come to the rescue in the nick of time. The original by the Coasters lacked the wailing of the victim and the dirty laugh. The rest of the songs on the album range from originals to more covers. He covers "Alley Oop", "Mr. Custer", "Little Egypt", and "Yakety Yak". It was certainly a Coasters salute alright! One of my favorites is "Sir Thanks a Lot", a spoof of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table. Ray became a recurring guest on Andy Williams' weekly television program around this point in time.

Ray ended 1969 going back to being a non-comical artist once more with the release of "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down"...a song written by then-newcomer Kris Kristofferson. Ray's performance entered the country music charts...marking his debut on the country charts. It reached the Top-60 there...although there was no real serious push in the country direction until quite a few years later. Nonetheless Ray was becoming a presence on the pop, country, and easy-listening charts and this would continue through the mid '70s. Ray's final album for Monument Records arrived in the form of Have a Little Talk With Myself. This album featured mostly cover songs...there were a few originals...but most of the album was made-up of Ray's versions of other hit songs. The exceptions were the self-written title track, "Have a Little Talk With Myself", plus the self-written ode to family life, "The Little Woman". As mentioned "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" at that time was considered a brand new song as well. In fact, the picture sleeve used for that single is the same picture used for the 1969 album. Elsewhere, Ray covers the Beatles in the form of "Hey Jude", "Help!", and "The Fool on the Hill" and there is also Bob Dylan's "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight".

The material on this album is heavy duty and a fabulous trip back in time for modern-day listeners. "But You Know I Love You" was a 1969 hit for the First Edition, a group that included the song's writer, Mike Settle, along with future country singer Kenny Rogers. The song made the rounds that year and saw another hit recording of the song by Bill Anderson. Years later Dolly Parton would have another hit with the song. Ray never issued his version as a single. A further cover song on the 1969 album is "Spinning Wheel" and it, too, was a hit the very year this album was released...the group that had a hit with it in 1969 was Blood, Sweat, and Tears. As far as singles are concerned there weren't any Top-40 hits...but there were a couple chart hits: "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" hit the country Top-60 while the title track, "Have a Little Talk With Myself", hit the country charts as well. A third single release, "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight", backed with "The Fool on the Hill", didn't reach the charts. As I earlier mentioned...Ray had become associated with Andy Williams and had appeared on Andy's television program several times in 1969 and at the start of the new decade Ray would soon find himself even more professionally involved with Andy Williams...a change in record labels was first and foremost, from Monument to Barnaby Records, and then Ray was picked to host a replacement television show for Andy which would air in the summer of 1970.

...And with that this concludes the examination of Ray's stay with Monument Records! Those who are avid collector's of singles are likely to find 45 rpm's for sale on eBay and a site called Music Stack. I hadn't purchased anything from the latter web-site but it's a site I came across several months ago and they sell vinyl albums and singles in addition to CD's and other recorded music related items. Ray worked with the likes of Fred Foster and Jim Malloy while at Monument...on the back of Ray's Have a Little Talk With Myself album there's a picture of Ray laughing with Malloy in the recording studio.

October 14, 2010

Examining Ray Stevens on Monument, Part 1...

One of the more challenging things is getting a lot of detail about the Monument Records era of Ray Stevens. I know about the albums and the singles that he issued for the label but there was a period of two and a half to three years at Monument where Ray never released any material and was instead utilized as a session artist and music arranger. A lot of the artists that worked with Ray during the mid '60s are a who's who...some acts never broke out nationally while some later went on to achieve stardom. I guess the artist most associated with Ray during this time period is Dolly Parton as he was a singer/songwriter, musician, music arranger, and jack-of-all-trades in the recording studio and still is. Ray joined Monument Records according to most reports I've researched in 1963 upon departing Mercury Records...and it was on Monument where the behind-the-scenes aspect of Ray's career began to really take shape. By behind-the-scenes I mean the work that goes into making a recording that the general public typically doesn't think about: like the production, the arranging, the musicianship, etc etc.

Aside from working with the likes of Dolly Parton, Ray also worked with Brenda Lee, Brook Benton, Dusty Springfield, and Ronnie Dove. Some of the artists recorded songs that Ray either wrote or co-wrote. I wrote a blog several months ago when Ray appeared on a program entitled Nashville Cats which examined his behind-the-scenes studio work and so I'm not going to go over a lot of what I already covered in that blog.

Ray's former label, Mercury, continued to release singles on Ray during 1964 and 1965 and in 1966 the first-ever single on Ray from Monument Records hit the market. The single was "A-B-C" backed with "Party People". The b-side would eventually get re-issued on CD when Varese Sarabande re-issued Ray's 1968 Monument LP onto CD format. A succession of singles followed throughout 1966 and into 1967...one single in particular, "Freddie Feelgood", would become a cult-hit and over the course of time become synonymous with Ray's career. It wouldn't be until the release of "Unwind" in 1968, the fifth single issued on Ray from Monument, that Ray's commercial fortunes began to show signs of success. That single would reach the mid-way point of the Hot 100 and then the follow-up, "Mr. Businessman", would reach the Top-30 portion of the Hot 100 pop chart. This is the single that reinvented Ray's image in the minds of a lot of record buyers at the time...a much more serious Ray Stevens would become the norm throughout much of the last two years of the decade.

Expressing the Ray Stevens fandom!!

With Ray Stevens being so busy in Branson, Missouri for a few more weeks I've actually decided to write a blog that simply celebrates the Ray Stevens fandom with pictures of some of my Ray Stevens items! I tend to write these blogs for those who are new to his material and want to see what he's all about. Perhaps someone discovers a song by Ray from the 1970's and may want to learn about it? Well, after that person checks Ray's own web-site for information I hope they also find this blog helpful, too. These blogs about Ray, from a fan's perspective, are also here for die-hard fans who like to read the opinion and or commentary from another Ray-fan. Of course, this Ray Stevens blog is also for those who keep up with Ray on a fairly frequent basis and pay attention to his latest projects. If you happen to be one of the ones that pay attention and keep up with Ray then that's wonderful! If you stop by just to read my quirky commentary and read about Ray Stevens songs then that's wonderful, too!

As most of you are aware, this is the latest CD from Ray Stevens. It's a CD and DVD collection...it opens up like a typical DVD would only that there's a CD in addition to the DVD inside. The CD/DVD became available in the spring of this year exclusively at Ray's web-site store. It was released nationally in June of this year and there have been a series of music videos stretching back to December 2009 that follow a similar theme of politics and patriotism. Those music videos are featured on the DVD extra...they can easily be seen on You Tube as well. I still feel that there are several more songs on this collection that deserve music video treatment: "We Are the Government", "Solar Powered Song", and "Obama Nation". There will be a DVD of his concert footage from Branson, Missouri as most of you regulars know...and as soon as Ray announces it's release date of course I'll make a big deal about it here! I predict it'll be available for the holiday season without a doubt.

I checked Amazon a few minutes ago and they have A Funny Thing Happened in Church Today listed among the available CD's even though for awhile it wasn't listed among those available. It states that the CD is available but alerts customers that "there are only 3 copies left in stock...order soon...more on the way." So, judging by that, my theory that there wasn't enough copies seems to prove accurate. As of now there isn't an Mp3 digital version and so those who purchase the collection must get the physical CD. Another theory is with Mp3's pretty much replacing the physical CD there's going to come a time where on-line stores aren't going to offer physical CD's and everything's going to be digital when it comes to music. I know that it may sound strange or bizarre to some out there but people still purchase actual CD's. I still purchase CD's at times. I purchase vinyl albums and vinyl singles as well. I'm not an avid buyer of vinyl albums, though. As many could guess the only vinyl albums and singles that I have are Ray Stevens, obviously, and a few other singers...but Ray's material greatly out-numbers other artists that I like listening to.

One For the Road, a CD that Ray released during the middle of 2009, is a CD that I've written about in my archives. I remember being very antsy and excited when I learned of this CD being upcoming and then the dismay of learning that the Pilot truck stops would have exclusive rights to the CD for a few months. There are a couple of those truck stops in my area but none of them carried the CD. So, like a lot of people, I waited until the CD became available at Ray's web-site store and across the internet. The CD, for those not aware, features quite a list of songs. Several of them are aimed at truckers and others are not. Some songs are simply about loneliness or escapades while out on the road such as the wild "Bon Temps Roulette". There's a very good ballad entitled "Hangin' Around" which is superb. I also love "Retired", "Cooter Brown", "The Right Reverend Road Hog McGraw", and especially "Convoy". The CD kicks off with the majestic, melancholy "Concrete Sailor" and I swear you'll be able to see the song play out in your head when listening to it...much like on "Convoy"!

You Tube at a glance...his Greatest...

1. We The People: 3,725,657 hits.

2. Come to the USA: 4,139,628 hits.

The current music video, "God Save Arizona", is sitting at 458,034 hits. "Throw the Bums Out!" enjoys 544,875 You Tube hits. A music video uploaded onto You Tube in 2009 but originating in 2001, "Osama Yo' Mama", is sitting at 649,409 hits. It was around this time 9 years ago that the Osama single was released. I believe the actual release was in November of 2001. It was a top selling single for Ray throughout the rest of 2001 and into early 2002. The album of the same name reached the Country Top-30 in early 2002 and the single was certified Gold. It's b-side was his version of "United We Stand". Doing the math 2011 will mark the 10th anniversary of that single's debut along with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 obviously.

October 12, 2010

Let's Discuss Ray Stevens, Part Fourteen...

This is something you don't see everyday...perhaps it's common but it's the first time I've noticed it. Earlier today I wrote about a new Ray Stevens compilation being released nationally. The CD is called A Funny Thing Happened in Church Today. Well, a funny thing happened at Amazon today! I just visited Amazon and seen a disclaimer message on the product page. This disclaimer indicated that the CD was temporarily out of stock. The CD had been available for pre-order as most CD's are prior to their official release date but usually you don't see a CD be listed as out of stock on the very day it's released nationally.

A part of me thinks that the pre-orders caused it to go out of stock...it's certainly a possibility. There's also a part of me that feels Amazon didn't have that many copies to begin with and were out of stock even before the CD went on sale but felt obligated to let everyone know the CD is out of stock since it's officially released now. Whatever the case I hope they get more copies available because there's audiences out there who specifically purchase compilation CD's...those kind of consumers feel that best-of and greatest hits compilations offer the greatest material from an artist and so usually they by-pass studio albums in favor of the compilations. I know of several people who are like that. Now, of course, people can always purchase the CD at Ray's web-site store. It's been available there for a few months.

I have no idea if people who read this blog actually visit Ray's web-page or not...I hope you all visit it at some point. It's a free web-site. You sign up with a user name and password and basically that's all you have to do. The site has a lot of members but ironically 98% of them that have signed up never say anything in the message board. It's always been puzzling as to why they choose to not say much if anything at all. I personally would like to see more activity in the message board area. Anyway, his web-site has a News section and there's an album and home video discography plus there's the message board and the store. The main page often displays the most recent music video...that being "God Save Arizona". There's also a link to join the Backstage club. Each month you can get access to pictures often unavailable to the general public and some months there's installments of his sit-com, We Ain't Dead Yet. There hadn't been any episodes recently. I think all of the excitement and publicity of the political music videos and now the concerts in Branson, Missouri have put the sit-com on the back burner for now. The link to Ray's web-site is here...the message board area is located on the top right side of the screen in between "About Ray" and "Buy"...

Ray Stevens Web-Site

Ray Stevens heads to Church...

Today marks the nationwide release of a Ray Stevens compilation entitled A Funny Thing Happened in Church Today, a CD of songs aimed at religion, church, and all things gospel. Down through the years the church has played a part in several of his comical recordings and quite a few of them have made their way onto this collection. This isn't a wall-to-wall laugh fest, though. There are a couple of serious songs along the way, too.

This particular collection had been available only at Ray's web-site store for the last several months but today marks it's release to a wider market. I look for this particular CD to become a best-seller as time goes by because it features songs you normally don't see on a lot of the various Ray Stevens compilations that seem to appear from out of nowhere.

1. The Mississippi Squirrel Revival (Buddy and Carlene Kalb)
2. Sittin' Up With The Dead (Buddy Kalb)
3. Smokey Mountain, Rattlesnake Retreat (Buddy Kalb)
4. Sunday Morning (Buddy Kalb)
5. The Dooright Family
6. Right Reverend Roadhog McGraw (Brent Baxter, Matt Cline, and Anthony Orio)
7. Turn Your Radio On (Albert E. Brumley)
8. Everything Is Beautiful
9. Mama Sang Bass (Carl Perkins and Luther Crabb)
10. When The Saints Go Marching In (Traditional)
11. St James Infirmary/Just A Closer Walk With Thee (Irving Mills, song 1; Traditional, song 2)
12. If Ten Percent Is Good Enough For Jesus (Hal Coleman, Ken Gibbons, and Roger Searcy)

Amazon has the songwriter credits all messed up for this CD. They have Ray listed as a co-writer on every song and they leave off other songwriter's names. The songs that Ray actually had a hand at writing or co-writing on this CD is "The Dooright Family" and "Everything Is Beautiful"...that's it! I added the correct songwriter credits in parenthesis after the song's title.

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 15...

I thought it would add some dimension to the blog if I post my Tower of Stevens once again. I posted this many blogs ago but I decided to bring it back. It's a cassette tape tower and on that side of the tower it's my Ray Stevens cassettes. I have much of that material in CD or Mp3 format now and so I don't hardly listen to the cassettes anymore...I just have them for collection sake. The same holds true for my Ray Stevens vinyl albums and 45 RPM singles...I don't play those vinyl albums and singles hardly at all but nonetheless I have them as part of my collection. I'd never part with anything, either! All of my Ray Stevens items are absolutely, 100% priceless. I say that in case anyone out there gets any ideas that I'm someone that likes to sell or trade and the answer is: NO! I'm a collector of Ray Stevens merchandise and therefore I keep everything I've bought through the years. I believe you can click the image for a bigger view but don't quote me on that. The original size of that particular image is way too big for this blog page and so I had to re-size it. I have more Ray Stevens items as I mentioned...vinyl and CD and now Mp3. I also have a few magazines with him on the cover and a couple of magazines with write-up's on his career. Country Weekly did some wonderful stories on Ray in the mid '90s and they also did a story on him late last year or earlier this year. The story was about his longevity and how active he continues to be. Country Weekly subscribers voted Ray their favorite comedian in 1995 during the Golden Pick awards. The magazine did a fabulous, in my opinion, write-up promoting his Get Serious! movie complete with still pictures from the film and commentary from Ray on the set. A year later they did a write-up about his hugely successful home video career and it shown his face popping through a pile of money. The money, of course, was a sight-gag from the movie.

A collection that I've written about before is this 2007 masterpiece, New Orleans Moon. The CD features Ray covering a lot of material associated with Louisiana and New Orleans culture. The title track, "New Orleans Moon", is the only original song in the collection. This ode to New Orleans was written by Ray and Chuck Redden. The rest of the material that Ray covers originated decades earlier by other artists...namely Louis Armstrong. Ray's versions of "Jambalaya" and "The Battle of New Orleans" are great as are "Louisiana Man" and the somber "Louisiana". Aside from those stand-out tracks we also have "When The Saints Go Marching In" which just about everyone has heard at some point or another. I sang this song in elementary music class but the arrangement was not quite like Ray's version of the song! The rock song, "New Orleans", is another stand-out. Ray slips in a quick vocal impression of Louis Armstrong on "New Orleans Moon" when the lyrics reference "Ol' Satchmo". Those who have never heard of this CD and are at least interested should go and get your copy and listen to it. It's a great salute to that part of the country and it's filled with reverence as well. It was released in the summer of 2007 but wasn't promoted as strongly as it should have been.

1. Way Down Yonder in New Orleans
2. New Orleans Moon
3. Basin Street Blues
4. When the Saints Go Marching In
5. St. James Infirmary/Just a Closer Walk with Thee
6. Jambalaya
7. Louisiana
8. Louisiana Man
9. New Orleans
10. Battle of New Orleans
11. Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans

October 11, 2010

Ray Stevens: Video Single Success, Part 3...

"Come to the USA" continues to rack up the You Tube hits!! As of right now it's gotten 4,112,864 hits since May of this year. There's been something of a resurgence in the hit count of "We The People" as it's now sitting at 3,712,273 hits and it looks as if that music video will eventually cross the four million mark! "Throw the Bums Out!" is already beyond half a million You Tube hits...it's sitting at 539,727 hits. His current music video, "God Save Arizona", is resting at 449,794 hits. Yes...it's nearing half a million hits...and with his concert series being a smashing success in Branson, Missouri's Welk Theater look for this music video to reach half a million perhaps in a matter of weeks going by the pace it's currently in.

Obviously with material centered around politics and social issues it's not only the Ray Stevens fans who are talking about him but it's others who are either surprised but enjoy the political shift or it's at the opposite extreme from those who are not only surprised but are irritated by the political messages. It's not a big secret, though, that any negative feedback he's gotten is dwarfed by the positive feedback he's gotten. The negative comments on message boards and other forums are the kind that tend to get the most attention because of how combative and insulting in nature those kinds of comments are but in reality the majority agree with Ray's political direction and the messages in the songs.

Ray's current concerts are split up into two parts: political/patriotic and classics. This means that the first half of the show concentrates on his political songs and the pro-America and pro-military songs he's recorded and the second half of the show focuses on his classics from the '60s, '70s, and '80s and these would be the songs that the general public, who may not pay a lot of attention to the latest happenings in Ray's career, will be more familiar with. Even so, Ray has commented that he feels his success on You Tube with his music videos over the course of the last 9 months is a big reason why people are showing up at his concerts today.

Someone in the blogosphere remarked that the average age demographic of Ray's concert series is post 50...of course this must have been a sarcastic reference to an older generation that populate a lot of the venues in Branson, Missouri but there have actually been pictures surface of his audience make-up and I saw quite a few young people there. When I saw him in concert there were a lot of younger people there and middle aged people in addition to the over 50 crowd. I truly believe that Ray's music transcends age and all a person needs to do is give it a chance and once they do they'll be hooked for life.

I've not come across any reviews or any blogs that gave much of a line-up of what he sings and I think a lot of this is due to how fast the show goes by. I'd seen some commentary by those who've attended his Welk concerts and they've said that the show flies by. I have no reason to not believe such a statement because in the two times I'd seen him in concert the show flew by super quick! When I saw him he did a 90 minute concert...lots and lots of comedy and joke telling took place. This was well before We The People came along and so he was not thought of as a political entertainer and he wasn't openly associated with any political party as he is now.

October 10, 2010

Examining Ray Stevens on RCA...

One of the things that a lot of us dedicated fans of Ray Stevens have been well aware of is the lack of availability of his RCA catalog. In this blog I'll attempt to break down his RCA period as I feel in other blogs I've written I haven't really concentrated too much on the albums themselves...instead I usually name a few songs here and there that Ray recorded from that time period. This blog entry intends to remedy that by examining Ray's association with RCA in a much more detailed fashion...here we go...

Ray joined the RCA label late in 1979 and immediately began working on what would be his debut for the label. This debut arrived in late February of 1980 in the form of a comedy album...his first all-comedy album in six years. The album was built around his debut single, "Shriner's Convention", which had been released late in January of 1980 and research indicates that it entered the music charts the first week of February 1980. By all accounts the debut album and single for RCA would become his biggest hits for the label. The album, also called Shriner's Convention, featured a cartoonish illustration of Ray as one of the characters in the song sitting on a motorcycle with one of the waitresses at the motel...the song takes place at a motel for those not familiar.

There would not be another single released from the album here in the United States even though his comical cover of "Hey There" was issued as a single overseas. The album features nine comedy songs...there are quite a few lengthy recordings and this may play a part as to why there's only nine songs as opposed to the standard 10 or 11 per album. In addition to the title track which runs well over 5 minutes in length we have "The Dooright Family" which runs a little over 5 minutes and then there's "The Watch Song" which is part singing-part narration where Ray plays the part of a man whose obsessed with his wrist watch so much that it plays a part in an accidental death outside of a bar room.

"Rita's Letter" sort of breaks up the comical mood even though it's a comical song...what I mean is, it's not really a nutty comedy song. Instead we're told about a couple who've since divorced but the husband's written his ex-wife a letter saying that he's returning to town a changed man and excited over his new-found inspiration and purpose in life. You see, Rita's ex, Beauregard, returns as a Guru...in love with the world and life...but an angry Rita doesn't buy in to her ex's new-found redemption and is none too pleased to see him show up on her doorstep. "Coin Machine" is one of my favorites...well, they're all favorites of mine...but this song in particular. It sounds almost like the type of song that Jerry Reed would have recorded and not surprising is the song's writer, Dick Feller, is responsible for Reed's "Lord, Mr. Ford" and a co-writer with Reed on "East Bound and Down". Feller is also the man who wrote "Makin' the Best of a Bad Situation" which Ray recorded later on. "Coin Machine" simply tells the story of how annoying and frustrating it is to lose money in vending machines of all types: food, pop, and cigarettes. Of course that last item will be lost on modern-day listeners who may find it hard to fathom a vending machine that carried cigarettes.

Clever word play is abundant in the comical love song "You're Never Goin' To Tampa With Me" which borrows heavily on Florida cities and the culture down there to tell a whimsical story about a lonely man on spring break. Buddy Kalb, a long-time associate and friend of Ray's, wrote the song.

You all may be wondering...why wasn't any more singles released off of the Shriner's Convention album?? It was a Top-5 hit album so it looks as if more should have been released...why wasn't there? Well, my explanation for that is as follows...it's all my opinion, too...

This was still at a time in his career where he tirelessly fought against the comical image and given that it had been six years between comedy albums for Ray Stevens you can tell how serious he was at being thought of as a singer/songwriter/musician and not "a half-crazed novelty act". Ray has this unique ability, in my opinion, to effortlessly go from serious to funny and in both cases come off genuine and sincere. When he's singing a ballad, for example, during that stretch of 3 or 4 minutes he pulls you into the performance and you're left wanting more. At the other extreme if he's singing any number of comedy songs he pulls you into that performance and you're left wanting more. It's a rare talent to sound like a pro in both serious and comical performances...so few people can pull it off.

The track list for the 1980 album is as follows:

1. Shriner's Convention
2. The Last Laugh
3. Rita's Letter
4. The Watch Song
5. The Dooright Family
6. Hey There
7. Put It In Your Ear
8. You're Never Goin' To Tampa With Me
9. Coin Machine

At the height of the success of his 1980 album Ray began working on a much more serious follow-up which he hoped would return his image back into that of a serious artist. The new music began to surface in the form of a brand new single in the fall of 1980, "Night Games". This single, also written by Buddy Kalb, was the first from a then-upcoming album. The song was quintessential for the times: it took place inside a bar and tied in with the growing Urban Cowboy trend in country music. The album containing the excellent "Night Games" would eventually get released early in 1981...showing Ray decked out in fancy western wear with a leering woman over his shoulder. The title track, "One More Last Chance", is a majestic power ballad complete with electric guitar solo's and steel guitar solo's.

Unfortunately the One More Last Chance album didn't make the country album charts in spite of it boasting the hit single, "Night Games", in addition to the hit title track. Ray took a songwriting break for this album...whether it was did intentional or not is anyone's guess. This was one of the few albums in his career up to that point which featured no songs written or co-written by Ray. He was still the record producer and arranger and so he was able to put his creative stamp on the songs. Some of my favorites from the 1981 album are "One More Last Chance", "Night Games", "Take Your Love", "It's Not All Over", his cover of "Pretend", and "Melissa". I also like "Certain Songs" but you'll have to turn the volume up during the song's opening lyrics because it's so quiet and softly sung...but it then transforms and becomes louder until it reaches power ballad status with swelling orchestration effect.

The track list of the 1981 album is as follows...

1. One More Last Chance
2. Just About Love
3. Certain Songs
4. Melissa
5. I Believe You Love Me
6. Pretend
7. It's Not All Over
8. Let's Do It Right This Time
9. Take Your Love
10. Night Games

This album and the material on it, if anything, did indeed return Ray to the role of the serious singer and in a nod to the trend of the day he began wearing a cowboy hat during some of his concerts and TV appearances. He'd remove the hat during comical songs but then put the hat on again when he was crooning love ballads. Ray appears on the back of the One More Last Chance album wearing the cowboy hat that the woman on the front of the album is wearing. It's a visual indicator that Ray was able to get another chance...at least for one night.

Ray's third RCA album came along in 1982 and while the 1981 album was heavy on the ballads the 1982 album was more even with the number of ballads and up-tempo songs. Don't Laugh Now, appropriately titled, features 10 songs of various tempo all delivered in the signature Ray Stevens style. The album, like it's 1981 predecessor, didn't make the charts either. In spite of a couple of singles reaching the charts in 1982 this album received next to no publicity outside of it's initial promo's upon release. I've scoured newspaper articles from 1982 and looked up quite a lot of archival information on Ray Stevens in 1982 and this album rarely got much attention from critics or the media in general. I did come across one write-up, rather small, which was reprinted in other publications. The album contained one Top-40 single and one chart hit. The difference between a Top-40 and a chart hit is simple: if a single places at #40 or higher then it's generally referred to as a "Top-40" single. If a single charts but doesn't go higher than #41 then it's referred to as a "chart hit"...meaning it hit the charts but didn't reach the radio-dominant Top-40 portion. There were once 100 positions on the country singles chart and then it was cut to 75 for a long time and then cut further to 60 positions.

In the Don't Laugh Now album we're treated to his cover of "Such a Night" and in recent times he's opened up his concerts with that song. The Top-40 hit of the album, "Written Down in My Heart", is easy-listening and was written by a writer named W.T. Davidson. Unlike the 1981 album this one features a couple of songs written by Ray: the title track, "Don't Laugh Now", and the clever astrological love ballad "Oh Leo Lady". In "This Old Piano" we're told a story of a musician who loses his family while on the road and now his only comfort and companion is the very same piano that cost him his wife and children due to his being away from home all the time. Ray sounds very Kenny Rogers-like on this recording.

Ray hit the charts with a second single from the album...this time around with the borderline novelty "Where The Sun Don't Shine". The song is about a couple that's getting a divorce and the man decides to not put up a fuss and offers to give the woman everything and suggests she take it all...but there's a twist to the offer and that brings us to the title of the song. Nothing more needs to be said...it's a very catchy toe-tapping sing-a-long presented with a gospel overtone.

The songs from the 1982 album are as follows...

1. Such a Night
2. Written Down In My Heart
3. Take That Girl Away
4. Always There
5. Where the Sun Don't Shine
6. Oh, Leo Lady
7. Don't Laugh Now
8. This Old Piano
9. Country Boy, Country Club Girl
10. Why Don't We Go Somewhere and Make Love

A fourth album released by RCA on Ray Stevens arrived in 1983...it was a compilation called Greatest Hits which I wrote about several blogs ago. This particular album reached the lower portion of the country album charts and then he parted ways with the label...re-joining Mercury Records later in 1983. The hits compilation, by the way, featured 10 songs...8 of the songs were classics from the '60s and '70s while the other 2 were fairly recent recordings Ray did for RCA in 1980.

Afterward, in 1985, RCA released a compilation series on all of their artist's both past and present. The series, titled Collector's Series, was a low-budget affair concentrating on a small number of songs that the artists recorded while at the label. Ray got his showcase with a 1985 release which featured only eight songs...I think eight songs was the maximum in all of the releases in that series. The songs covered the years of 1980 through 1982 with high emphasis on 1980 and 1982. There's been a lot of understandable confusion about Collector's Series due to RCA releasing two versions with nearly identical track lists but different album pictures.

1985's Collector's Series track list is as follows...

1. Shriner's Convention; 1980
2. You're Never Goin' To Tampa With Me; 1980
3. Country Boy, Country Club Girl; 1982
4. Where the Sun Don't Shine; 1982
5. The Dooright Family; 1980
6. Let's Do It Right This Time; 1981
7. One More Last Chance; 1981
8. Why Don't We Go Somewhere and Make Love; 1982

In 1987 the label re-released the collection but dropped a song in favor of another one...

1. Shriner's Convention; 1980
2. You're Never Goin' To Tampa With Me; 1980
3. Country Boy, Country Club Girl; 1982
4. Where the Sun Don't Shine; 1982
5. The Dooright Family; 1980
6. Let's Do It Right This Time; 1981
7. Why Don't We Go Somewhere and Make Love; 1982
8. Put It In Your Ear; 1980

In 1990 RCA put out a compilation on Ray and titled it Everything Is Beautiful and Other Hits. It featured just one song from his RCA period while the remaining tracks were pulled from the '60s and '70s. It was re-issued on CD in 1992.

Collector's Series, the 1987 edition, was issued on CD in 1992...and since that time the CD has gone out of print. However, it continues to be the only collection released to exclusively spotlight material that Ray recorded for RCA Records. BMG issued an obscure release in Canada called Lassos 'N Spurs which featured 10 songs...6 of them were recordings Ray did for RCA and four of them were his classic hits. In 1999 BMG issued The Last Laugh...which features 10 songs but only one of them, "Shriner's Convention", is an RCA recording. Ironically Ray recorded a song called "The Last Laugh" on his 1980 RCA album but strangely enough it isn't included on the 1999 compilation CD of the same name.

It's a shame that his 1980, 1981, and 1982 albums have not gotten their proper acclaim and attention in the digital age. I'll continue to gripe and complain about the lack of availability of Ray's RCA material...it makes no sense whatsoever that the material he recorded for them continues to remain out of print in an era where it's become commonplace for vinyl albums to be digitally remastered for CD's. One day I hope to see his RCA albums get the CD re-issue treatment that they deserve.