June 26, 2011

Ray Stevens: Look Back at 8-track, Chapter Three...

The 8-track version of Shriner's Convention comes up for sale a lot on-line. I know of nobody personally who has an 8-track player anymore but I'm sure some people out there still have one. A few of the mainstay's of flea markets are 8-tracks, vinyl albums, and record players. There's never been a flea market yet which doesn't offer at least one of those items. Those familiar with 8-tracks can perhaps explain the reason behind the inclusion of the song "The Last Laugh" twice. As you'll see on the back of the 8-track the song is listed twice. I assume this is because the company wanted an even amount of songs...and considering "The Last Laugh" is the shortest one of the bunch it's the one that got picked as a duplicate but that's just my guess. Perhaps they made a mistake and listed the song twice? As I've written about before...I've got the vinyl album and the cassette version of Shriner's Convention. It officially has 9 songs on it but the duplicate on the 8-track gives it 10. There was once a time when it was hard to find a vinyl copy...the cassette copy is even harder to find. I came across a vinyl copy on a web-page years ago and the price was right and so I sent off for it. A couple of years ago, out of the blue, a cassette copy became available on eBay. I bought it right away! I am always interested in finding cassette tape from the late '70s and early '80s of my favorite singers. I'd love to find cassette versions of One More Last Chance, Don't Laugh Now, and Me. I've got them on vinyl but the completest side of my brain would like to have the cassette releases, too. "The Last Laugh" and "Coin Machine" trade places depending on which format you own: the cassette has "The Last Laugh" closing out the collection while the vinyl has "Coin Machine" as the album's closer.


Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 25...

One of the various colorized singles that were released by record companies through the years. This single came along in 1982 on the RCA label...titled "Written Down In My Heart" he performed this on several television programs of the time period. In the early '90s The Nashville Network used to air reruns of Barbara Mandrell's television program and I remember seeing Ray perform this song on her show. The tint is bright and I imagine that when played on a record player it would look like a small sun. This song became a Top-40 country hit for Ray in 1982 and it was his last non-comical Top-40 country hit. The song comes from the Don't Laugh Now album...which also contained another chart hit, "Where the Sun Don't Shine". That particular recording was labeled a novelty song by music critics...and I guess it was...for underneath the bouncy, old-fashioned gospel sing-a-long arrangement were lyrics that were laugh out loud funny in places and amusing in others. It was definitely a contrast in styles compared to the sentimental "Written Down in My Heart". The 1982 album was co-produced with Bob Montgomery. This is one of the few albums in Ray's career in which a co-producer is on hand.

In the early years, before Ray became his own producer, obviously others were on hand to produce the recording sessions. Shelby Singleton immediately comes to mind as Ray was on the Mercury label in the early '60s. Bill Lowery had an early guiding hand in Ray's career and later, Fred Foster and Jim Molloy on Monument Records, played a part in Ray's career, too. However, since 1970, Ray produced his own recordings...but that changed in 1982 when Bob Montgomery helped out with Don't Laugh Now. In 1983 Ray returned to the Mercury label for the first time in twenty years and Jerry Kennedy was the co-producer of the Me album. Upon signing with MCA in 1984 Ray became his own producer once more and has never worked with a co-producer since 1983. I should mention that even during the times when Ray worked with a co-producer he was still the arranger on practically every song he recorded. With few exceptions Ray arranges all the songs that he records.

Ray wrote new lyrics for the song, "L'amour", which had been a huge hit for a French artist named Gilbert Becaud in his native language under a different song title. In an interview Ray gave at some point in the early '90s he was asked if he had ever written songs with anybody from other countries and he commented how he had heard what he called a lovely song while in France years ago and he loved the melody so much and one thing led to another and he ended up writing lyrics to it. Ray recorded the song and put it on his 1978 album, Be Your Own Best Friend. In the songwriter credits it lists both Ray and Gilbert as the writers...although Becaud's contribution was his existing melody.

Ray Stevens and the Spirit of '76, Part 4...

A recent interview done with Ray Stevens made it's way on-line a couple of days ago. The interview is broken into 3 parts and it was conducted by Jeremy Roberts. Google the National Pop Culture Examiner and once you enter their site look up the author's name. Afterward, open his profile and you'll find the interviews. If attempting this is a bit too much you can simply Google "Ray Stevens + Examiner" and the interviews will show up in the search results. The first part of the interview was published on June 18, the second part came along on June 24, and the third part was published on June 25.

The "Obama Budget Plan" is sitting at 316,756 views...the music video was uploaded by Ray Stevens on April 25...yesterday marked the 2 month anniversary of it's You Tube arrival. The video continues to rack up anywhere between 6,000 to 10,000 views weekly. The song comes from his current CD, Spirit of '76. Elsewhere on that CD is a song poking fun at cap and trade...with a song cleverly titled "Cap'n Trade the Pirate". Cap and Trade is not a subject that's on a lot of people's minds even though it may become a subject on a lot of people's minds at some point.

I won't get into all the complexities and technicalities of Cap and Trade but for those who want to know about it you can easily find information on-line. It's more or less an environmentalist issue...critics charge that Cap and Trade is simply a back door way of shutting down refineries across the country and after looking at the basics of Cap and Trade you can see where critics come to that conclusion. The environment is one of those touchy subjects because it's a double-edged sword...on the one hand you don't deliberately want to pollute the atmosphere but on the other hand you have to be cautious and alert if a Government becomes too powerful and too expansive. The last thing a person wants is to have a State or Federal Government controlling a person's every move. That's not what America's all about.

However, America has seemingly always had economical competition with Japan...and on this 1991 CD we hear the very satirical, economical, and infectious "Working for the Japanese". The song closes out #1 With a Bullet. The single reached the country charts but by this point in time country radio had passed over the comedy song...pop radio had long since stopped playing comedy songs...but Curb Records nevertheless released a promo single to radio stations. Ray performed the song on Nashville Now...on the same episode Ray performed "The Sheik of R&B" (track 6 on the 1991 CD). In addition to those two songs I've also seen Ray perform on television a couple of other songs from that 1991 CD: "Power Tools" and "You Gotta Have a Hat".

That particular song, a spoof of the hat acts in country music, can also be seen on the 1993 home video, Ray Stevens Live!. The home video was a million seller but it has never been released on DVD. The home video consistently comes up for sale on eBay. Curb Records released an audio CD soundtrack of the home video in 1995...but nothing beats seeing Ray on stage so all that the audio CD will do is cause you to thirst for the home video counterpart.

Songs performed on the home video are as follows:

1. Shriner's Convention (second verse omitted)
2. Can He Love You Half as Much as I?
3. I Saw Elvis In a U.F.O.
4. Ahab the Arab (partial performance)
5. Information Man (alternate title of "Secret Agent Man")
6. Gitarzan
7. Sex Symbols
8. You Gotta Have a Hat
9. Amazing Grace (abbreviated performance)
10. Misty
11. The Streak
12. Everything Is Beautiful

Ray is brought out on stage by way of introduction from his brother, John. Ray enters the stage riding the famed 'Coy' motorcycle and wearing a Fez and Hawaiian shirt. This, of course, is a visual enhancement during his performance of "Shriner's Convention". Although the show takes place at his own theater he still has the concert timed out and so the second verse is omitted. An elaborate production is put forth during the performance of "I Saw Elvis In a U.F.O.". The song opens with video footage of Ray playing the part of the evening newscaster in addition to field reporter Renaldo Riviera and U.F.O witness Mr. Frisbee. After the witness gets through explaining what he saw out in the woods the action returns to the stage and Ray appears dressed in full Elvis costume and is later joined by pink space aliens while a huge U.F.O. hovers overhead...the song climaxes in a bit of high theatrics as we see Ray being beamed up into the U.F.O. as the audience goes into fits of laughter.

Not surprisingly this performance was written up in several columns by Branson, Missouri writers of the time period...I recall one review stating that Ray's performance of "I Saw Elvis in a U.F.O." was the hottest thing in town and that it became something of a must-see performance by those who were on vacation down there. The song originates from Ray's 1989 album, Beside Myself.

Later, he comes riding out on stage in a camel costume after having sang the opening lines of "Ahab the Arab". He doesn't continue with the song, however. He instead launches into a mini-standup comedy routine by telling jokes. This is followed by a black and white video presentation of Ray as a James Bond-style character...upon it's conclusion Ray comes back out on stage decked out in a white tuxedo and carrying a gun.

He tells a few more jokes before launching into a brief song called "Information Man", clearly patterned after "Secret Agent Man". On the back of the home video it gives songwriter credits to those who wrote "Secret Agent Man". Obviously I don't want to write an entire review of the home video and so I'll stop here.

The follow-up, More Ray Stevens Live!, was not widely released but people could purchase it through Ray's fan club and at the gift shop at his Branson, Missouri theater. The follow-up home video inserted comic bits, songs, and performances from his road band that were not shown in the first home video. In actuality it was one concert performance at his theater, filmed in 1992, and broken into two separate home video releases in 1993. The concert was 1 hour and 40 minutes in length. The first home video ran a total of 56 minutes and the second Live! home video ran 44 minutes. Also, "More Ray Stevens Live!" featured solo performances by Janice Copeland and performances by Ray's stage band. The band was called The French Fried Far Out Legion...and in the opening number Ray's brother introduces all members of the band who go on to perform a brief instrumental. This is followed by Janice Copeland's portion of the show. Ray makes an appearance and performs "Cletus McHicks" before another jam session gets underway with "Orange Blossom Special". Ray performs "Turn Your Radio On" and then the entire band lip-synches "In the Mood" as Ray's chicken-clucking performance is played over the P.A. system. Some of the band members get into the clucking and cackling which is greeted with laughter by the audience. Janice Copeland returns in character as Beulah the Bag Lady...Ray's brother plays the straight-man to her rural jokes. Eventually she performs "R-E-S-P-E-C-T". Ray closes out the home video performing "The Haircut Song", "Mississippi Squirrel Revival", and "It's Me Again, Margaret".

Songs from the second home video are as follows:

1. The French Fried Far Out Legion
2. Bridge Over Troubled Water
3. Love Can Build a Bridge
4. Cletus McHicks and His Band from the Sticks
5. Orange Blossom Special
6. Turn Your Radio On
7. In The Mood
8. R-E-S-P-E-C-T
9. The Haircut Song
10. Mississippi Squirrel Revival
11. It's Me Again, Margaret

June 25, 2011

Let's Discuss Ray Stevens, Part 31...

A comical twist on Apollo-13 plays out in "Virgil and the Moonshot". The music video was put together in 1997 as one of two videos taken from Hum It, the comedy album Ray Stevens issued that year. Long time fans of Ray Stevens are familiar with the music video but for those who've discovered Ray by way of You Tube you'll no doubt get a kick out of the video. Ray plays himself, of course, in addition to Virgil. Ray uploaded the music video to You Tube exactly a month ago on May 25th. The second music video from the Hum It CD is "Too Drunk To Fish" which is available on-line, too. Buddy Kalb, longtime friend of Ray's and a songwriter, portrays the head of Mission Control in the Moonshot video. In "Too Drunk To Fish" Kalb is seen as Ray's fishing buddy at the start of the video.

On the same day, May 25, "Gitarzan" was officially uploaded onto You Tube. The video's been uploaded before by other people...but now Ray's company has uploaded the video and therefore this upload has become the official You Tube release. It was made in 1995 and was the opening music video on Ray's movie, Get Serious!, a movie that I've written about before (plenty of times!!).

For those curious here is the track list for the 1997 Hum It CD:

1. R.V.
2. I'll Be In Atlanta
3. Virgil and the Moonshot
4. She Loves Elvis Better Than Me
5. Sunday Morning
6. Too Drunk To Fish
7. Mama Sang Bass (featuring J.D. Sumner as "Mama")
8. My Neighbor
9. It Ain't Over Till It's Over
10. How Much Does It Cost To Fly To Albuquerque?

Ray's Get Serious! movie from 1995 features the following music videos:

1. Gitarzan
2. The Woogie Boogie
3. Shriner's Convention
4. Dudley Dorite of the Highway Patrol
5. We Don't Take Nuthin' Off Nobody**
6. The Dooright Family
7. Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens (duet with Connie Freeman as "Charlene")
8. Can He Love You Half as Much as I?
9. I Used To Be Crazy
10. Ahab the Arab

There was only a performance of the first verse and chorus for "We Don't Take Nuthin' Off Nobody". The full performance is available on the Get Serious! soundtrack which is still available for sale at Ray's web-site store. The product can be found here. In the movie there was also a brief music video of "The Day I Tried To Teach Charlene MacKenzie How To Drive" in which only the first verse was performed. It's anyone's guess why the complete recording was never added to the soundtrack, though. The song originated in 1988 on Ray's comedy album, I Never Made a Record I Didn't Like. There's a possibility that the song was simply used to briefly explain Charlene's history and her deafness...which is played out in the song's first verse. The character was played by Connie Freeman.

June 24, 2011

Ray Stevens in a Town near You...

The latter half of 2011 appears to be a jam-packed time on the road for Ray Stevens...some new tour dates have been announced. For those who hadn't stopped by his web-page yet I'm passing along the concert dates in this blog, too.

Given that the appearances are so far in advance indicates, at least to me, that the appearances have officially been set...but as usual appearances are subject to postponement or cancellation at any time.

A few blogs ago I made mention of an October appearance in Pigeon Forge at the Country Tonite Theatre. Ray will appear twice on the same day...obviously this means two shows. He will do a 3pm and 8pm show on October 21st.

On November 19 Ray will do a show at the Imperial Palace Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi at 8pm. On November 28 Ray will be in Canada! Judging by the traffic of my blog page I've noticed down through the years that those in Canada drop by frequently and if anyone's near Niagara Falls, Ontario on the 28th Ray will be appearing at the Scotia Bank Convention Center on two separate days. The first show will be on November 28th at 7pm and the second show will be on November 29th at 2pm. In late February 2012 he'll be doing a couple of shows in Florida. On February 21, 2012 Ray will be at the Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach, Florida. The show is at 7pm and information can be found here. The next day, February 22, he'll appear in Lakeland, Florida for two shows at the Lakeland Center. Those two shows are 2:30pm and 7:30pm and you can get your tickets directly from their web-site here. An additional appearance in Melbourne, Florida on February 23 at the King Center is listed at his web-site but there's not a concert time listed.

In the meantime the "Obama Budget Plan" has gotten 312,384 You Tube views. Budget battles, debt, and deficit issues continue to be at the forefront of the Federal Government reaching a fever pitch the other day when several members of Congress walked out during budget talks and debt ceiling discussions. The Republicans in Congress are willing to raise the debt ceiling if certain conditions are promised (hopefully in writing!) and that no tax increases will be implemented.

Looking elsewhere "Caribou Barbie" has 413,967 You Tube views. "God Save Arizona" is at 754,049 while "Throw the Bums Out!" is close behind with 737,012. "Osama Yo' Mama" has 1,093,379 views and "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" has 1,183,865 views. "Come to the USA" is now up to 5,291,699 views and "We The People" has 4,412,345!

June 20, 2011

Ray Stevens and the Spirit of '76, Part 3...

I wrote a blog several weeks ago where I provided the track list for Ray Stevens' current Spirit of '76 CD but I decided to provide it again.

1. The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore
2. Mr. President - Mr. President
3. God Save Arizona
4. Cap'n Trade the Pirate
5. My Uncle Sam
6. November Storm
7. Mi Casa Su Casa
8. Grandpa Voted Democrat
9. Obama Budget Plan
10. News Machine
11. New Normal

As you can see there are 11 songs altogether. I came across some commentary on-line wondering why the CD is titled Spirit of '76 even though there are no traditional patriotic songs on it. To my way of thinking the CD's title reflects a modern-day battle for Independence from Obama's tyrannical big Government, nanny state policies. The iconic image that Ray reproduces on the CD's cover is an optimistic feeling that those who are putting up the fight will ultimately win in November 2012.

I'm sure many people know what tyranny is and so I won't spend much time defining it. When a Government becomes expansive and over-regulates to the point where it interferes with private enterprise and has it's hand in everything...that's just one loosely based definition of modern-day tyranny. America's economic system is based upon capitalism...when Government interferes and chunks of fatty socialism is added to the mix it presents a whole lot of problems for a capitalistic economic system. Based upon things that Obama has said in the past and things he's said in the present the big reason why the economy is so off and in decline is because he doesn't want to do anything to help America's businesses. He wants to punish successful businesses with over taxation...creating a burden on the very businesses who are instrumental in keeping the economy going.

On one hand Obama likes to hike taxes on all businesses large and small...and on the other he appears dumbfounded that unemployment continues to hover around 10%. Common sense says that you can't expect any business burdened with high taxes and domineering regulations to be willing to hire people. Like the domino theory...if a business is burdened with high taxes they're going to offer low wages...a company that offers low wages isn't going to attract much of a work force...resulting in continual high unemployment. Lower the taxes...then companies will be able to raise pay rates...and the work force will become more attracted to a company. It's that simple! Nobody is going to work at a company where much of their paycheck is going for fuel costs...there are a lot of scenarios where people can't afford to take a job offer if the pay is low. It's not always the case that a person is lazy or doesn't want to work...a company has to offer quality pay in an economy rife with inflation. Ray Stevens tackles this "New Normal" on his current CD!

June 19, 2011

Ray Stevens and Obama Money, Part 7...

Good late Sunday night...Father's Day is winding down...and it's now time to concentrate on the latest activity of Ray Stevens. On June 9th in a message on Twitter, Ray Stevens remarked that he hoped to have his 100+ song collection of the greatest novelty songs of all-time completed by July. Six days later, on June 15th, Ray remarked that he was putting the finishing touches on the collection and that he's getting ready to release it. The way he worded the June 15th message sounded like it would be released sooner rather than later. In a previous blog entry I made a remark that the collection may be released in August or September. I gave that assumption based upon the fact that many of his projects, when finished, are put on hold for a month or two prior to release but apparently the novelty song collection he's been working on will be released in a couple of weeks?!? He's been referring to the collection as the Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music and that's what I've been calling it. In a radio interview a couple of months ago he gave some specifics about what will be on the collection and he made it clear that the collection won't have any stand-up routines on it. The fans, as well as the radio personalities who've interviewed him during the first part of 2011, were more or less wondering if Ray would also cover stand-up comedy routines made famous by the likes of Bob Newhart, Jonathan Winters, Jerry Clower, and Bill Cosby just to name a few. For the most part, aside from a few song titles that he's mentioned in radio interviews, Ray's been tight-lipped about what will be on this collection. I can't wait to hear his versions of other artist's novelty songs!

For years there have been people who credit Ray with singing novelty songs that he actually never recorded...just today there was a tweet on Twitter by someone giving erroneous credit to Ray Stevens for singing "Wildwood Weed". Those who know of this song should be well aware that the artist is Jim Stafford...NOT Ray Stevens! I've touched upon this annoyance before but without fail someone on Twitter or You Tube attaches Ray's name to practically every novelty song that's ever been recorded. Obviously when Ray's greatest novelty songs of all-time collection is released we will finally get to hear Ray's take on a lot of the novelty songs that have long been erroneously credited to him. I have no idea if Ray covers any Jim Stafford hit songs but you'd think he would...Jerry Reed is another artist who I assume Ray will cover. We're all anticipating this Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music and with it containing at least 100 songs from Ray Stevens it's sure to become an instant classic in his career!!!

Speaking of You Tube...Ray's latest music video spoofing the "Obama Budget Plan" crossed the 300,000 plateau early Sunday morning...it's gotten 301,044 unique views since it's debut on April 25th. This means that in six more days the video will turn 2 months old. Obama money...and debt...and domineering Government regulations have been the key factors in the slow death of America's economy. Major changes need to take place in November 2012...and we all know what that means!!

Ray's previous music video about the TSA, "The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore", was uploaded onto You Tube on February 17, 2011 and it's gotten 175,964 views so far. Each song is on the Spirit of '76 collection and it can be purchased here at Ray's music store.

Father's Day and Ray Stevens...

Given that Ray Stevens has long since had a reputation as a comedian/novelty song artist it makes sense to open up this Father's Day edition of the blog with commentary about a song Ray recorded in 1990 called "This Is Your Daddy's Oldsmobile". The song originates from his comedy album that year, Lend Me Your Ears, on the Curb/Capitol label. In the song Ray plays the part of a father who has a son that's just learning how to drive. The father comically taunts the son with constant reminders that the car's off limits...but toward the end of the song the father gives an ultimatum that if the son changes his ways he may reconsider and let his son drive the car. The song was written by Buddy Kalb and Russell Piburn. A few years earlier, in 1986, Ray played the part of a father that took his family on a "Camping Trip". As you can imagine the excursion was one misadventure after the other. The song originally appeared on Ray's 1986 comedy album, Surely You Joust. A limited animation music video was made of this song 20 years later in 2006 and it can be found on the 2009 DVD collection Cartoon Carnival, Volume Two. Ray co-wrote the song with Buddy Kalb.

A further song on Surely You Joust is the haunting and some may say creepy "Camp Werthehakahwee", written by Bobby Russell. In this song Ray plays a father who enrolls his son in summer camp. Ray spends much of the song explaining to his son what all to expect out in the wilderness in addition to going over the brochure that the camp mailed out. On the last day of camp the father heads off to the camp grounds to pick up his son...and you won't believe what happens next! In 1993 on the Classic Ray Stevens comedy album Ray plays a father who takes his family on an "All-American Two Week Summer Family Vacation". Surprisingly this comical tale hasn't been made into an animated music video although it clearly comes across as a song tailor made for one.

There are quite a few other comedy songs from Ray where he plays the part of the everyday man and father...including 1988's story of a father who gives in to family demand and gets satellite television installed. The song's title is based upon common descriptions found on many cable movies: "Language, Nudity, Violence, and Sex". I remember reading cable guides in the late '80s which would give brief movie descriptions and they'd all conclude with a variation of "this movie contains strong language, violence...". We're all familiar with that kind of thing. The song can be found on his 1988 comedy album, I Never Made a Record I Didn't Like.

On that same 1988 album Ray tackled the subject of single fathers in the darkly humorous "Mama's in the Sky With Elvis". In the song Ray plays the part of a father who loses his wife in a very peculiar accident. Suddenly single he has to raise his children amidst the many souvenirs and merchandise from his wife's Elvis collection. Along the way there are several names of Elvis songs and movies sprinkled throughout the story. If you've not heard this wickedly funny song then you owe it to yourself to get a record player and look for the 1988 vinyl album on eBay! I've searched Amazon's Mp3 store and it's not available as a digital download. Interestingly, the song was originally released on 1987's Greatest Hits, Volume Two but was also added to the 1988 album.

As you can see there are plenty of comical songs recorded by Ray Stevens about fathers but as far as non-comical, serious recordings go there is only one song recorded by Ray Stevens about fathers which is very under-rated but highly entertaining...

Without question one of the more emotionally charged recordings about fathers from Ray Stevens is "My Dad". Ray recorded "My Dad" in 1983 and included it on his Mercury album, Me. As you can see from the promo sticker it was one of the songs highlighted by the record company. The song was written by Dale Gonyea...the same man who provided Ray with "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" in 1979. "My Dad" is certainly appropriate for Father's Day and it has a surreal climax...one that will certainly take a listener by surprise. When I first heard the song in 1996 it gave me chills. A melody, coupled with the lyrical content, will do that kind of thing to a person every once in awhile. I've never seen Ray perform this song in concert or on TV...it was released as a single by Mercury in 1984 and I have reason to believe that there's televised footage of him singing the song because of his various appearances on Nashville Now in the early years of The Nashville Network. As I said I've never seen Ray perform the song but I assume he performed it on TV during that 1983/1984 time period and if he did I wish we could see it again.

"My Dad" wasn't a Top-40 country hit for Ray but it did make the country charts for several weeks. It hit in early February 1984 and remained charted through early April. The song never appeared on any of the various compilation releases that came along in the 1980's but it did show up in a 1996 compilation titled All-Time Hits. This compilation was issued by a subsidiary of Mercury Records called Polygram. The unique thing about the 1996 compilation was that it incorporated a couple of Ray's hit singles for RCA Records: 1980's "Shriner's Convention" and 1981's "One More Last Chance". The latter was one of the three bonus tracks not found on the cassette version. The cassette version features 8 recordings while the CD version features 3 additional recordings. Also, because this compilation was released by a subsidiary of Mercury Records all of the early '60s recordings are the originals. Ray would re-record a lot of his Mercury recordings after he joined Monument Records and a lot of times his 1969 re-recordings of early '60s hits on Mercury would often show up on compilation releases. This is one of the few compilation releases to feature the original recordings of his Mercury material.

1. Ahab the Arab; 1962
2. Butch Babarian; 1963 (CD bonus)
3. Funny Man; 1963
4. Harry the Hairy Ape; 1963
5. Jeremiah Peabody's Green and Purple Pills; 1961
6. My Dad; 1983
7. Santa Claus Is Watching You; 1962 (CD bonus)
8. Speed Ball; 1963
9. One More Last Chance; 1981 (CD bonus)
10. Furthermore; 1962
11. Shriner's Convention; 1980

June 15, 2011

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 24...

Good morning all...on this day back in 1974 guess who was sitting at #1 in the United Kingdom...none other than Ray Stevens with "The Streak". Ray had reached #1 in America several weeks prior with the streaking single...but it became an international hit and eventually sold more than five million copies worldwide. The single reached #1 in America and England plus it hit #1 in several other countries along the way. The song was written, produced, and arranged by Ray and it became a longer lasting hit than the actual streaking phase. The streaking fad seemed to dominate the news during the spring and summer of 1974 (judging by my research) and here was a song poking fun at the craze. It may have been a surprise to critics when the single finished in the Top-10 among 1974's biggest hits of the year...but then again it may not have been a surprise as it was a huge commercial hit.

The music critics then, like today, are notorious for panning novelty songs and this one is no exception. Given that it was a multi-million selling hit it created even more contempt and disgust among many music critics. Some radio stations stopped playing the song while it was still in the Top-10...and most stations stopped playing the song by summer's end. The single was so topical, of course, that it wasn't treated like a recurrent. Usually the singles that get airplay are played solidly for a couple of months and then the airplay slacks off...but some of the songs continue to get played for months on end long after the song has dropped out of the charts. The songs that get this treatment are said to have gone "recurrent". "The Streak" not getting a lot of recurrent airplay caused it's year-end Top-10 ranking to be even more of a surprise to some.

You should never underestimate the power of sales...and it was a huge seller!

On the strength of it's initial chart performance in the spring and summer of 1974, combined with the millions in sales it obtained, "The Streak" was ranked among the Top-10 for all of 1974.

In 1992 Ray made a music video of the song and included it in his million selling home video, Comedy Video Classics. The video was uploaded onto You Tube in 2009 and it's gotten 1,011,287 views so far. Here's a brief snap-shot of Ray's successful music videos on You Tube. Below are the music video's from Ray that have gotten at least half a million views (so far):

1. Come to the USA- 5,266,126 views

2. We The People- 4,402,155 views

3. Mississippi Squirrel Revival- 1,161,865

4. Osama Yo' Mama- 1,085,266

5. The Streak- 1,011,287

6. God Save Arizona- 748,058

7. Throw the Bums Out!- 731,957

June 9, 2011

Let's Discuss Ray Stevens, Part 30...

Inching closer to the three hundred thousand mark...the "Obama Budget Plan" video has gotten 261,185 unique views at the moment. Earlier this morning the Spirit of '76, the current CD from Ray Stevens, was ranked on Amazon's Top-20 Singer-Songwriter best-selling list. The CD's been featured on that list's Top-100 for a couple of weeks. Earlier today on Twitter it was mentioned that Ray hopes to have his much-anticipated Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music finished at some point in July. My guess is a release date, should it be finished in July, will come at some point in August or September...perhaps later in the year. Although there's still the possibility that the collection will be released sooner rather than later once it's completed since it is a highly anticipated release among his fans and novelty song specialists in general.

One of the songs that Ray Stevens often performed in concert for years was "Sex Symbols". The song spoofed the unlikely but commercially successful duo of Willie Nelson and Julio. Ray doesn't vocally impersonate Willie but he does an impression of Julio in the recording. In performance Ray would use a dummy likeness of Julio and act like a ventriloquist. The Julio dummy makes a cameo appearance in Ray's music video of "The Blue Cyclone". "Sex Symbols" is one of the songs from Ray's 1987 album, Crackin' Up. The comedy album's biggest single was "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" but the remainder of the album is just as good if not as topical as the Rolex song. The B-side of "Sex Symbols" is a very funny western story called "The Ballad of Cactus Pete and Lefty" where Ray tells the story of a drifter and his pet sidewinder, Lefty. Cactus Pete mentions a few celebrities throughout the song but there's nothing topical among the conversation. The song was made into an animated music video nearly 20 years later in 2006 and can be found on the DVD, Cartoon Carnival, Volume One.

As I mentioned in previous blog entries, Crackin' Up is the album that some (not all) music critics described as R-rated (believe it or not). Their criticism was largely built on "Sex Symbols", "Three Legged Man", and "Cool Down Willard". In the case of "Three Legged Man" you'll hear a comical story of a man who steals another man's wife...not only does he steal the guy's wife he also takes the man's peg leg in an effort to persuade the man not to run after them (it hilariously backfires). "Cool Down Willard" tells about an envious man whose annoyed by all of the attention the women in his family give to Willard Scott. This song is topical in places...as it makes mention of Willard being the weatherman on the Today show and reference is made to Willard's segment on saluting birthdays of those reaching 100 or above. The 1987 album also contains "Gourmet Restaurant" which became an animated music video from Ray in 2006, too.

One of the unusual aspects of Ray's catalog of songs is that a lot of them have since become music videos...years and in most cases decades after they were originally released in audio form. Ray rarely made music videos prior to 1992...in fact there were only two music videos released by Ray during the 1980's - the decade many cite as being the birth of the music video concept. Ray's first music video was "Santa Claus Is Watching You" from 1985...then a music video for "Surfin' U.S.S.R." came along in 1988. In 1990 he put out two music videos: one was "Sittin' Up With the Dead" and the other was "Help Me Make It Through the Night". The latter video received some nice exposure on the various video programs on The Nashville Network. Then, in 1992, Ray came out with Comedy Video Classics which incorporated the four previously released music videos and added four new ones: "Mississippi Squirrel Revival", "It's Me Again, Margaret", "The Streak", and "Everything Is Beautiful".

Ever since the direct-market release of Comedy Video Classics in 1992 and it's subsequent retail release late in 1993 Ray Stevens has become uniquely tied with comedy music videos. Ray was definitely a pioneer in the commercial viability of home video and his string of home video releases in the 1990's: Comedy Video Classics, Ray Stevens Live!, and Get Serious! were immensely successful throughout the bulk of the decade. I don't have the precise stats but Comedy Video Classics spent over a year on Billboard's home video chart. The collection couldn't chart in Billboard until it became available in retail stores and so after a year being sold exclusively on TV and in print advertisements (1992-1993) it became available for retail purchase in shopping stores across the country in late 1993. It spent the rest of 1993 and nearly all of 1994 among the Top-20 best selling home videos.

Around the time Comedy Video Classics hit retail stores in 1993 a new direct-market offer became available: Ray Stevens Live!. This concert video was taped at Ray's Branson, Missouri theater and it became a million selling home video, too. Available as a direct-market release originally (1993-1994) it hit retail stores in mid 1994 and it remained a top selling home video through the rest of 1994 and into 1995. In fact there were many weeks in mid '94 where Ray's two home video releases would flip-flop chart positions and compete against the other. In mid to late 1995 Ray came out with Get Serious! which is a direct-to-video movie. Within the movie there are music video insertions...ten music videos are interwoven throughout which help add to the movie's unique presentation. The movie is 1 hour, 50 minutes long and it satirizes political correctness by shining a light on it's toxic influence. Political correctness is basically an extension of progressive liberal Utopian beliefs where "everybody gets along and there's no fighting, screaming, shouting, or war". While in theory a Utopian existence is ideal but in practice it's artificial and not the way of nature and that's why those like myself oppose political correctness. Humans need to fight...they need to argue...they need to joke and have fun without the fear that a bystander isn't going to "be offended"...political correctness is censorship...and censorship is never a good thing.

June 5, 2011

Ray Stevens and Obama Money, Part 6...

I hope you all caught the trio of interviews that Ray Stevens gave over the weekend. As I touched upon in my previous blog entry Ray was to appear on two programs that air on the Fox Business Network and then appear on a program that airs on the Fox News Channel. The shows that Ray appeared on were America's Nightly Scoreboard, Judge Napolitano's Freedom Watch, and Huckabee. The appearance on the Judge's program was brand new...earlier I had contemplated whether the appearance would be new or a rerun from earlier in the year. The appearance on Huckabee re-airs tonight at 8pm Eastern on the Fox News Channel. In a departure from the norm, Ray is the first guest on Huckabee. Usually a musical guest on a news program will appear toward the end of the show but this time around Mike had Ray open the show. Ray sang the "Obama Budget Plan" and the two of them spoke a little bit about Obama, music, and comedy.

I noticed that a certain theme took center stage in the trio of television appearances...the theme was the explanation of how important music is in everyday life. Ray commented that music helps a lot of people understand things that are going on and that people can usually remember things a lot more if it's presented in music form. Ray remarked that his political direction hopefully causes the non-politically active to become a bit more aware of what's going on in Washington, D.C.

Ray commented that comedy has always been a surefire way to create awareness and even though the subject matter of which he's singing about isn't a laughing matter the fact still remains that a lighthearted approach a lot of the time can go a long way. In a couple of the interviews Ray commented on the business of making music and how a lot of established artists had to adapt to the new ways of selling music or suffer financially. Gone are the days where a person goes to a record shop and buys something on vinyl...very rarely do people make mad dashes to a store to purchase a CD...a good number of consumers, of course, are purchasing music on-line and the audio files go directly to a person's computer or cell-phone depending on which device is making the purchase. Publicity was given to his current CD, Spirit of '76, which is currently ranked at #35 on Amazon's Singer-Songwriter best-selling Mp3 list. His previous release, We The People, is ranked at #27 on Amazon's Comedy best-selling Mp3 list.

In addition to those TV appearances Ray appeared in-studio on the Tom Sullivan radio program a few days ago. Fox News Radio uploaded the interview and here it is...

The above interview is by far the longest one given by Ray during the course of the last couple of days (Thursday, Friday and Saturday). Ray was in New York which explains why he appeared in-person on the radio show. A lot of times, of course, Ray calls in from Nashville. The "Obama Budget Plan" received quite a boost in You Tube over the weekend, too. The video now sits with 214,047 unique views in a little over a month's time. The video was released on April 25, 2011 but let's back up a few years...

The year was 1988 and this single paid tribute to the sounds of early rock and R&B while at the same time told a humorous tale of a man attempting to teach a deaf woman how to drive a '57 Chevy. Titled "The Day I Tried To Teach Charlene MacKenzie How To Drive" it was on the country charts for a couple of weeks in 1988 signaling one of Ray's final chart appearances for MCA Records. The single was lifted from his comedy album that year, I Never Made a Record I Didn't Like. As you can probably guess from the album's title Ray appeared in Will Rogers attire performing a rope trick. Throughout the song Ray tries to teach Charlene all there is to know about cars but she mishears quite a lot of information which causes minor accidents along the way...climaxing in the car finally coming to a stop...as a result from a crash, of course! In the 1995 direct-to-home video movie that Ray starred in, Get Serious, Charlene plays a substantial role in the story. The character was played by actress Connie Freeman. In the movie Charlene wanders into Ray's life after years of absence. She helps him evade the police, a mob of protesters, and a posse put together by a record company executive (played by Michael Airington).

Although the Charlene MacKenzie single reached the charts, the song from the album which received a bit more wider publicity during that time period was the album's lead-off, "Surfin' U.S.S.R.". The single was made into a music video...Ray's second (following the seasonal "Santa Claus Is Watching You" a few years prior). The song's video spoofed current events and it included exclusive content not found on the audio recording such as the opening spoof of a newscast and comical dialogue between Reagan and Gorbachev. As the two political leaders have small talk, Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev engage in a little pushing and shoving which ultimately results in a wild take-no-prisoners cat fight. Ray, of course, did vocal impressions of the two political figures. The Cold War was nearing an end (1991 is the year it officially ended) and all over the news, specifically during the latter half of Reagan's second term in office, were indications that the Cold War may soon be at it's end. The song itself was a mixture of several pop music sounds. On one hand you have the Beach Boys feel...the island music and the Mike Love-style vocalizing from Ray which instantly makes one think of the Beach Boys. Secondly there's a heavy use of Soviet references and the fact that the Beatles had once recorded a song called "Back in the U.S.S.R.". This connection is eluded to in the "Surfin' U.S.S.R." music video as all of the members of the crew hold up pictures of Vladimir Lenin...all except Ray's character...he holds up a picture of John Lennon!

June 1, 2011

Ray Stevens hits the TV airwaves...

The amazing, versatile, comedic, legendary Ray Stevens is set to appear on a trio of television programs starting tomorrow June 2. Kicking things off will be an appearance on the Fox Business Network's program, The Nightly Scoreboard, on June 2. The show's hosted by David Asman. The show starts at 9pm Eastern. The Fox Business Network is carried on just about every channel line-up so check your on-screen program grids for the channel in your area. On June 3 Ray will appear on Judge Napolitano's program, Freedom Watch, which also airs on the Fox Business Network. This program airs at 8pm Eastern but there's no indication if this is a brand new episode or if it's a rerun from earlier in the year when "The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore" was brand new. Ray appeared on Napolitano's program in April to promote the music video and discuss the TSA. On Saturday and Sunday, June 4 and June 5, Ray's appearance on the Huckabee program will air. The program airs at 8pm Eastern and it reruns on Sunday night at 8pm Eastern. A few weeks ago Ray was scheduled to appear on Huckabee's program but Ray's appearance was postponed due to coverage of bin Laden's death. The You Tube numbers for the "Obama Budget Plan" now sit at 188,114.