October 31, 2011

Revisiting Ray Stevens, Part 14...

Halloween day...October 31, 2011...I posted a Halloween themed blog a couple of days ago where I spotlighted some of the songs Ray recorded with a Halloween overtone. Search the archives on the right side of the screen for the blog titled The Entertaining Ray Stevens, Part 2. In this particular blog entry I decided to post the other side of The Best of Ray Stevens, a compilation that Mercury Records issued on Ray Stevens in 1970. This release features material Ray recorded during the years of 1961 through 1963. It's a combination of album songs and single releases. The collection is notable for a very rare recording of "Ahab the Arab" from some point in the early '60s. I do not know, even to this day, when this performance was recorded. The recording is made more rare by the fact that country music personality, Ralph Emery, is heard at the beginning introducing Ray to a small audience. My guess is this is an audio taken from a television program...I know Ralph hosted a pop music program at one time in the mid '60s and perhaps that's where this audio comes from!? Wherever it comes from it's an obscure recording. Purists are dismissive of the recording and complain that it doesn't belong on a collection like this but I have a differing opinion on the matter.

The liner notes, as you see here, were written by someone named Bob Scherl. Since the collection was released in 1970 the liner notes slip in references to some of the songs Ray recorded in the late '60s (which aren't part of this collection). Tracks 6, 7 and 11 were originally released as commercial singles exclusively and weren't part of his 1962 or 1963 albums for Mercury, which is where 7 of the songs on this 1970 compilation comes from.

The songs on the collection were all written by Ray Stevens:

1. Ahab the Arab
2. Funny Man; 1963
3. Harry the Hairy Ape; 1963
4. It's Been So Long; 1963
5. Speed Ball; 1963
6. Santa Claus Is Watching You; 1962
7. Butch Babarian; 1963
8. Loved and Lost; 1963
9. The Rock and Roll Show; 1962
10. Jeremiah Peabody's Green and Purple Pills; 1961
11. Bubble Gum the Bubble Dancer; 1964

Ray's 1962 album for Mercury is titled 1,837 Seconds of Humor. Tracks 9 and 10 in the above collection are from that album. His 1963 album for Mercury was titled This Is Ray Stevens...tracks 2 through 5 and track 8 are from that album. Track 1 was previously unreleased while tracks 6, 7 and 11 were issued as single-only releases. Some of Ray's singles featured b-sides that have not yet appeared on any commercially released album. His version of "When You Wish Upon a Star" is the original b-side of "Scratch My Back" from 1962. The b-side has never made it to any LP or CD in the last 49 years. "Scratch My Back" never made it to the Hot 100 but was released as a follow-up to "Jeremiah Peabody's Green and Purple Pills".

"Don't Say Anything" is the b-side of 1963's "Butch Babarian". "It's Party Time" is the b-side of 1963's "Speed Ball". A song that I commented about several blogs ago, "Laughing Over My Grave", is the b-side of 1964's "Bubble Gum the Bubble Dancer". A couple of other singles, both the A and B side, that Ray recorded for Mercury have never been available since their original release: 1965's "Rockin' Teenage Mummies" and it's b-side "It Only Hurts When I Laugh" as well as "Mr. Baker the Undertaker" and it's b-side "The Old English Surfer". The releases in 1964 and 1965 came after he had signed with Monument Records. The recordings took place at some point in the early '60s when he was still with Mercury.

October 30, 2011

The Entertaining Ray Stevens, Part 3...

In the embed below you'll hear a fairly recent interview that Ray Stevens gave. The interview took place on October 27, 2011 on a radio program called Conscience of Kansas hosted by Paul Ibbetson. Ironically, the embed has the image of Ray's 1983 album, Me, which I wrote of in the previous blog entry.

Since the interview took place on a politically-driven program the focus was on his political comedy and politics in general. The host relates a story of how he first heard of Ray Stevens and strangely enough it nearly mirrors how I first heard of Ray Stevens, too, except I learned of Ray nearly 12 years afterward in the mid '80s.

The current video smash, "Mr. President - Mr. President", is nearing 300,000 on-line views. The up to the minute total so far is 294,118 on-line views. Those who've been asking if he'll put out a DVD of his political music videos will get their wish in a couple of days. An upcoming DVD from Ray will feature all 10 music videos that he's released since December 2009. I've seen commentary from fans during the last several months wishing to have these videos on a DVD collection that they can play on their TV so they won't always have to be at a computer in order to watch them. The collection is titled Internet Video Hits and it'll become available November 2!! As I said...the release of the DVD will be in a couple of days!

Before anyone can ask...yes, you can pre-order it at Ray's web-store and here's the link...

Internet Video Hits.

Now, obviously, while you're there you can also wander on over to the CD area and read information about his latest CD, Bozo's Back Again, which I wrote about in my previous blog entry.

October 28, 2011

Ray Stevens...Bozo's Back Again...

Good Friday morning! I checked the mail this morning and the CD that I ordered last Friday had arrived. Actually, though, I never checked mail on Thursday and so it arrived yesterday. The CD in question is Bozo's Back Again from Ray Stevens. It consists of 12 tracks...one of the songs, "Priceless", has never been available before. The song is about the little things in life, their costs, and life's excesses and their costs, but Ray tells us that there's one thing out there that's "Priceless". Now, going into it, I knew that the songs on here were re-recordings of past songs that Ray had done...on his web-page he mentions that these are some of the best songs you've never heard. His statement is accurate in terms of general audience...the dedicated fans are familiar with these songs...but that doesn't take away from the enjoyment one gets listening to the songs. I loved each of the songs...I grinned a lot while listening to them. The songs marked with a double asterisk were written by Ray Stevens.

1. Bozo's Back Again (Ray and Buddy)
2. Priceless**
3. Just For The Hell Of It**
4. Oh, Leo Lady**
5. Game Show Love**
6. Another Fine Mess (Ray and Buddy)
7. My Dad (Dale Gonyea)
8. Me**
9. Kings and Queens**
10. Dixie Hummingbird**
11. Written Down In My Heart (W.T. Davidson)
12. Ruby Falls (Buddy Kalb)

One of the things that stands out is that all of the songs...each and every one of them...are non-comical. Also, given that a majority of the re-recorded songs on here cover material from the early '80s, there's not that big of a difference in the vocalizations. As we all know Ray's earliest recordings featured a somewhat deeper vocalization (specifically the late '60s and into the early '70s) and by the late '70s onward his voice become smoother. Since this CD contains songs from Ray's past it's not a big surprise to the dedicated fans that he's the writer/co-writer on a lot of the songs. I love that several of the songs from his obscure, under-rated, and tragically ignored 1983 album, Me, are spotlighted on here. Ray gives us "Me", "Game Show Love", "Kings and Queens", and a stellar re-recording of the emotionally charged "My Dad"...all four of those songs originated on that 1983 album. Admittedly I don't own the soundtrack to the Cannonball Run movie so I don't know if there's a longer version of "Just For The Hell Of It" on that soundtrack or not...but I'm familiar with the recording that played in the movie. This re-recording features an opening verse that wasn't heard in the movie version and so I was surprised to hear this additional part of the song.

Much of the songs written on Bozo's Back Again, as I mentioned, originated from Ray Stevens himself. On several of the songs his long-time songwriting partner, Buddy Kalb, is credited as one of the writers. The clever final track, "Ruby Falls", was written by Buddy. Although the general public may not know who Buddy Kalb is he's no stranger to a lot of the fans of Ray Stevens. His name has appeared as many times as Ray's in the songwriter credits...much of Ray's songs during the last 25+ years were either written by Buddy, written by Buddy and his wife Carlene, or written by Ray and Buddy...and yes, there's even been a few songs where Ray, Buddy, and Carlene are the credited writers. In the songwriter credits his name appears more formally as C.W. Kalb, Jr. but almost everyone refers to him as Buddy.

A few days ago I was alerted to the release of 3 CD's from Buddy...he's recorded 3 CD's of self-written songs...quite a lot of the songs were recorded at various points in time by Ray Stevens but the recordings on the CD's will be of Buddy himself. Also, there are many songs that have never been recorded by Ray featured on the CD's. The curious who want to take a look at the material can click the following Buddy Kalb CD's and be taken to the page that displays the 3 CD's. You'll need to click the More Info button to see the song titles.

As mentioned, quite a lot of the titles will be familiar to Ray Stevens fans. The one who alerted me to the CD's is the same one who interviewed Buddy recently. I've posted a link to the interview before but here it is again... Jeremy Roberts interviews Buddy Kalb.

October 24, 2011

The Entertaining Ray Stevens, Part 2...

One of the CD's from the Entertaining Ray Stevens is New Orleans Moon, a collection released in 2007 which features marvelous recordings from Ray centering on all things Louisiana...specifically New Orleans and it's music/culture. I've written about this big easy CD several times so I won't spend a lot going over what I've already covered. I'll supply a link to Ray's web-store for those who want to purchase a copy of the CD. On Sunday Night Football the New Orleans Saints clobbered the Indianapolis Colts by a score of 62-7! In reflection of that I decided to highlight Ray's New Orleans CD from a few years ago once again. I remember quite well when this CD was released...and I remember the confusion I felt when very little hype/publicity came for the CD outside of the New Orleans area. I don't know if Ray did any concerts in the Southern states or not that year...but the CD deserves to be known by more people than just the dedicated fans. The collection features the one new song, the title track "New Orleans Moon", and the rest are his versions of songs associated with Louisiana. The song was written by Ray and Chuck Redden. Those who pay attention to songwriter credits will recognize Chuck's name on several other songs that Ray's recorded within the last several years. Chuck wrote "Midnight in Baghdad", a song found on Ray's We The People CD from last year. On Spirit of '76, Ray's CD from early this year, Chuck co-wrote "November Storm" with Ray and Buddy Kalb. On the Hurricane CD that Ray released in 2008 Chuck wrote "Down Home Beach" and co-wrote "Bubba, The Wine Connoisseur" with Ray and Buddy Kalb. Ray and Buddy rewrote a lot of the lyrics of Chuck Redden's "The Real Battle of New Orleans" in 2005. Ray released it as a CD single under the alternate title "The New Battle of New Orleans".

Here's the link to Ray's web-store where you can see a track list for the New Orleans Moon CD.

From the sounds of New Orleans we travel back to the sounds of screams...1965's spooky novelty single from Ray Stevens titled "Mr. Baker, the Undertaker". It's Halloween week all across the country...climaxing on Halloween night: October 31st. A lot of towns celebrate Halloween on the actual holiday...but a lot of other towns do the annual Halloween thing on the Thursday preceding the holiday. On October 27th it will be what's called Beggar's Night around here...where people dress up in costumes and go door to door getting candy. As mentioned, other places do this Beggar's Night on the actual Halloween night. I have no idea why Beggar's Night has always been on Thursdays in my area but that's the way it's been for decades upon decades. "Mr. Baker, the Undertaker" tells the story of a mortician's love for his work. It's filled with a lot of mortician jokes and funeral home references as one could imagine. The song features a repetitious background choir of voices singing the title of the song after almost every line. You'll be able to tell that the choir of voices is Ray who often over-dubbed his own voice to create a harmony effect. He doesn't do this a lot these days but once upon a time he did.

In addition to "Mr. Baker, the Undertaker" Ray's also recorded other Halloween-style songs. "Laughing Over My Grave" is currently available as an Mp3 on Amazon. It became available in August and I mentioned it a few blogs ago. The song isn't comical in the same way Mr. Baker is but it has it's funny moments. It's more or less a love song about a woman who's had enough of a man's lying and cheating and she's out for justice. The comical aspect comes from how Ray delivers some of the lines when he's playing the part of the fearful husband and what his wife may be capable of doing to him. You can purchase the Mp3 for only 99 cents at Amazon's Mp3 store.

It was around this same era when Ray recorded the "Rockin' Teenage Mummies" as well. That particular novelty song dealt with a group of mummies that make it big as rock singers...eventually leading to an appearance on Ed Sullivan's show. It wouldn't be until 1988 that a Halloween theme found it's way into a Ray Stevens song and it was accomplished with "The Booger Man", a bluesy comical song describing the legend of many people's nightmares. The song is on his 1988 album, I Never Made a Record I Didn't Like, which is out of print. The CD version was released in 1990...which has long been out of print. There has never been an Mp3 reissue and so a lot of people's best bet is to track down the album on eBay and invest in a record player as I did several years ago. In 1990 Ray recorded "Sittin' Up With the Dead" and to date that's been the last song he's recorded that could fit in with the overall Halloween concept of scary stories, ghosts, graveyards, etc. etc. He made a music video of the song in 1990 and given that it's been kept in print you can easily find an Mp3 of the song on Amazon. The video that Ray shot in 1990 and uploaded onto You Tube in 2009 is located below. Those familiar with 1992's Comedy Video Classics will know right away where this video was lifted from.

The Entertaining Ray Stevens...

It's Monday morning already!?!?

According to several people the two Ray Stevens concerts in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee over the weekend were an entertaining experience. A couple of people on Facebook commented that they loved the show and I saw a few tweets echo the same sentiments. The shows were either sold-out or near sell-outs...there was never a final word given on the sales status but chances are the venue was a near sell out.

The next stop for Ray on the concert trail is the IP Resort, Casino, and Spa in Biloxi, Mississippi. This concert will happen on November 19th at 8pm. The venue's Facebook page suggests that it'll be a 2-hour concert and run until 10pm but the Casino's main page doesn't list a concert duration. In fact, if you click Ray's name at the Casino's main page it takes you to the Facebook link I provided above. The tickets for this concert went on sale back in the summer...according to the venue July 15, 2011 was the date.

There's not been any word if this particular show is a near sell-out or not but those in that vicinity and want to see the legendary Ray Stevens during his limited concert series should check things out when you click either of the links I provided.

Ray closes out November appearing in Canada at the Winter Festival of Lights concert series at the Scotiabank Convention Center on November 28th and November 29th. Here's the promo at the venue's web-page.

The most recent look at the view total for Ray's current music video, "Mr. President - Mr. President", is 273,380. The song comes from his CD, Spirit of '76.

A few blogs ago I mentioned that Ray has a new CD out called Bozo's Back Again. It was a surprise release as there were no advanced alerts that a CD was on it's way. I put my order in for the CD on Friday. I ordered the CD from Ray's web-store this past Friday so I'm hopeful that it'll arrive no later than the first week of November...hopefully it'll arrive by the end of the month considering that the 31st is a week from now and by that time my order will be more than a week old. I'll post about the CD's arrival, of course. Here's the link to the CD...

Bozo's Back Again.

As I touched upon in a previous blog, the songs on the CD are re-recordings of little known album tracks from Ray's past. There's one song, "Priceless", that I assume is brand new. At least I hadn't heard a song from Ray Stevens with that title before. I look forward to hearing all the songs and can't wait to review the CD, too!!

October 23, 2011

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 29...

An upload I came across on You Tube this morning is this...a song called "Baby The Magic is Gone" by a group known as The Velvets featuring Virgil Johnson. Research shows that the group used the lead singer's name to eliminate confusion with another group known as the Velvets.

The recording, according to the upload information, comes from 1965. Some internet sites say it was recorded in 1966. As you can see from the video it's a Monument recording and it was produced by Ray Stevens. From time to time I embed You Tube videos by artists or groups that feature production work from Ray Stevens. I also like to embed videos of songs that were written by Ray Stevens but recorded by other artists (specifically the recordings made in the '60s). Given that the embed is small...I downsized the original embed because it was too big for the page...but given the size of the embedded video you may or may not be able to see Ray's name on the right side of the screen under the producer credits.

A second recording by the group, whose lead singer was a man named Virgil Johnson, was actually uploaded back in January 2010 but because the uploader didn't use Ray's name as a tag I had no idea of it's existence until this morning. This recording, "Let the Fool Kiss You, But Don't let the Kiss Fool You", is the B-side of "Baby The Magic Is Gone".

Wasn't the production of those songs wonderful? The singing was good, too. While listening to the songs you can't help but imagine Ray singing them. Since he used this certain kind of sound for a lot of his own recordings during the mid and late '60s it's easy to imagine Ray singing these songs, too.

Ray recorded for Monument Records between the years of 1966 and 1969. Monument released their last commercial single on Ray early in 1970. Anyone care to guess what single it was? It was his version of "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight". The b-side is "The Fool on the Hill". The single number is Monument-1187. Each song comes from his final studio album for Monument titled Have a Little Talk With Myself. I've got that album...on the back it shows Ray playing piano and in another picture laughing along side the album's co-producer, Jim Malloy. The previous Ray Stevens album from 1969, Gitarzan, featured a three person production team: Ray, Jim Malloy, and Fred Foster. Ray's first studio album for Monument, Even Stevens, hit in 1968. It featured Ray and Fred Foster as the producers. Here's a bit of amusing irony: Jim Malloy's son, David, became a highly successful record producer and was involved in a songwriting partnership trio. Eddie Rabbitt was one of those songwriters and the other was a writer named Even Stevens! I always found it sort of amusing that one of David Malloy's songwriting partners had the same name of an album Ray Stevens recorded during a point in time when David's father, Jim, was associated with Ray.

This year in Ray Stevens history looks at 1994...this was the year that Ray won his 9th and final Comedian of the Year trophy from the fan-voted Music City News awards. Ray had been selected as the top comedian in country music by Music City News readers for the previous 8 consecutive years starting in 1986. In 1994 he won for the 9th consecutive year. Music City News continued to hand out awards through 1999. The winners of the comedian category during the awards final years (1995-1999) were Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall, and Gary Chapman. Foxworthy, if I'm not mistaken, won in 1995, 1996, and 1997 while Engvall won in 1998 and Chapman won in 1999(?) but don't quote me on any of that information. After Ray didn't win in 1995 or 1996 I lost interest in the awards and so I didn't pay much attention to who won or lost. Ray had won it so many times it was almost expected that he'd always win it but as history shows that wasn't the case. I don't believe Ray was nominated during 1998 or 1999!? I could be wrong about that. All I know is there was all of a sudden a rush of country comics, all built around the Jeff Foxworthy 'redneck' routine, that had emerged in the mid '90s and it was simply impossible for a more traditional country comedian to dethrone that style of humor once it took off across the country. It reached a peak when the Blue Collar comedy tours started happening during much of the following decade (2000-2009).

In the meantime, during the Music City News final years, rival magazine Country Weekly had started a fan-voted awards program called the Country Pick Award. Ray won in the Best Comedian category in 1995...but lost out to other country comedians in the years that followed.

Meanwhile, after the demise of Music City News in 1999, the awards became affiliated briefly with Country Weekly, and then CMT took over and since 2002 the telecasts have largely been built around music productions and the award categories honor music videos now instead of audio recordings. This, of course, means that the nominees would be only the videos that CMT airs...leaving out a lot of videos by other artists that don't make the CMT playlist.

The CMT awards telecasts, if played back to back with a Music City News awards telecast, would be like night and day as far as similarities. Classic episodes of the Music City News awards are available on DVD. Commercials for the DVD often appear on the RFD-TV network.

Elsewhere in 1994...Ray Stevens received a publishers award for "I Can't Reach Her Anymore", a huge hit single for Sammy Kershaw. 1994 is also the year that Ray Stevens Live!, a home video release from 1993, became available for purchase in retail stores following the year long mail-order exclusive. After it hit retail stores it was eligible to appear on the weekly Billboard charts and it eventually reached the top...competing against his previous home video from 1992, Comedy Video Classics.

Lastly, in 1994, Ray began working on what would become the movie, Get Serious!. The movie, for the longest time, didn't have an official title. I have fan club newsletters from late 1994 and early 1995 where it's referred to as something like LFSDCVM. I don't have the newsletters in front of me at the moment to supply the actual acronym but it basically stood for Long-Form Story-Driven Comedy Video Movie or it could've been Long-Form Story-Driven Comedy Music Video. Whichever the case it wasn't referred to as Get Serious! until some point in 1995 prior to it's late summer/early fall release. The movie, 110 minutes in length, stars Ray and a host of other performers. Sandwiched between the spoken dialogue are 10 music videos. Several of Ray's music friends made cameo appearances: Chet Atkins, Johnny Russell, Charlie Chase, George Lindsay, and James Gregory. Jerry Clower appeared several times throughout the movie playing the role of Ray's manager. Connie Freeman and Michael Airington co-starred as Charlene MacKenzie and Damien Darth. Ray's songwriting partner, Buddy Kalb, appeared as Bubba/Dudley Dorite while Tim Hubbard appeared as Deputy Coy. In the "Shriner's Convention" music video, lifted from this movie, Ray plays both Bubba and Coy. A few days ago Ray made the announcement on Facebook that they're thinking about releasing the Get Serious! movie onto DVD for the first time. The movie had previously only been available on home video so it's long overdue at getting a DVD release.

Revisiting Ray Stevens, Part 13...

If one takes a look at Amazon's search results for Ray Stevens CD's you'll come across three CD releases that according to the information will be released in January 2012.

Everything Is Beautiful
Turn Your Radio On

The bizarre thing about these releases is that they feature the same picture of Ray Stevens...two of the CD's contain the exact same picture, color scheme, and lettering while a third CD just features the same picture of Ray. The picture comes from 1970 during a performance on a television program. I'd say it's from his 1970 summer TV show. The CD's are being released by a label known as Pazzazz Records. As of this writing there is no track listing available and so it's pretty difficult to dissect the CD's without knowing what's on them...the second time around. The one titled Everything Is Beautiful features 2 CD's while the other collections feature just 1 CD each.

The ironic thing is these collections were previously available several years ago. The CD titled Misty was originally released in 2006 and it featured 15 songs. I'm assuming that with the resurgence of Ray's mainstream popularity, thanks to 2009's "We The People" music video on You Tube, that Pazzazz is hoping to tap into an even larger audience than before!?

To further explain what I just wrote read the following...

Prior to 2009 it's safe to assume that only the devoted fans, the dedicated fans, and comedy music fans in general were purchasing Ray's products and going to his concerts.

You see this happening much more in country music than in pop music but once an artist gets established and builds a fan base it's pretty much set in stone that no matter what happens in the music industry and whether a singer is on the radio anymore or not it's always been a safe bet that the fans would continue to show support for their favorite artist well after the general public's moved on to someone else. So, not surprisingly, the last thing the general public knew of Ray Stevens prior to 2009 were his early and mid 1990's TV commercials for a string of music video projects and they also recalled his Branson, Missouri theater (which he performed in during 1991 through 1993 and again from 2004-2006). What that means is that the general public knew very little of Ray's contemporary happenings and many assumed he retired years ago or assumed he was not even among the living. A lot of people were far more familiar with his older recordings than they were his recent recordings. Keeping all that in mind...December 2009 rolls around and "We The People" hits You Tube. The song/video became known as 'Obama Care' by many people who discovered the video...even today bloggers refer to the song as 'Obama Care' instead of it's actual title.

Anyway, once the video became an on-line hit, hundreds upon hundreds of people were shocked and they started asking one another "is this the same Ray Stevens who did The Streak?? I thought he died!". As I mentioned several blogs ago many people actually thought Ray died years ago. Since so many people, judging by their on-line comments, hadn't kept up with Ray's career I've since started referring to the period of 1999-2009 as the lost decade. In some of the comments at You Tube several people mentioned that they hadn't heard much about Ray since the days of "The Streak" way back in 1974! Since those comments came in December 2009 it meant that 35 years had passed between the release of that song and "We The People". I found it hard to believe that people hadn't heard much about Ray in more than 30 years but yet that's what a lot of people were saying.

Obviously with the video being political and a protest against what amounts to Government run health care there have been a long list of critics (liberal-progressives) who belittled the song and it's fans and marginalized Ray Stevens and his fans. Since the release of the video Ray's become associated with the Tea Party and often performs at political fundraisers sponsored by Tea Party organizations. The political direction in his career took some people by surprise...a very few early on pulled the familiar "I've been a long time fan but..." routine...yet by and large Ray's fans had no animosity toward his decision to do political comedy. If truth be known, much of Ray's political feelings mirrored his fans' political beliefs, so I've always felt that the ones complaining about the political overtones in his music are either not interested in politics at all or they never were fans to begin with and are just saying they were to create a negative perception that they hoped would be spread around and accepted as reality.

Fast forwarding to 2011...and 20,000,000+ on-line views later...yes, you read that correctly...according to the stats at Ray's You Tube channel his total upload views are 20,408,237. This is the total of the number of on-line views of each of his music videos added together. Five of his videos have gotten at least 1,000,000 views while quite a few others have gotten half a million. The current view totals for the Top-10 Ray Stevens video uploads are as follows...

1. Come to the USA; 2010: 5,609,434 views
2. We The People; 2009: 4,573,905 views
3. Mississippi Squirrel Revival (1992); 2009: 1,521,109 views
4. The Streak (1992); 2009: 1,347,695 views
5. Osama Yo' Mama (2001); 2009: 1,192,006 views
6. Obama Budget Plan; 2011: 828,182 views
7. God Save Arizona; 2010: 819,238 views
8. Throw the Bums Out; 2010: 817,419 views
9. Caribou Barbie; 2010: 455,319 views
10. Thank You (2004); 2010: 411,598 views

...and the current video, at the moment, is ranked #14 among Ray's most-viewed uploads:

***14. Mr. President - Mr. President; 2011: 269,288 views***

Notice the numbers gap between video #9 and video #8. Ray's current video's only been on-line for 3 weeks and we'll see how high it rises in the days and weeks to come. His previous video is ranked #6.

October 16, 2011

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 28...

Originating in 1976 is the Ray Stevens version of "You Are So Beautiful". The single is known among pop audiences as a hit for Joe Cocker but Ray turned it into a bluegrass sing-a-long in the tradition of "Misty". Ray's version of "You Are So Beautiful" reached the country Top-20 and it was his debut single for Warner Brothers, the label he joined upon the conclusion of his lengthy, successful stay on Barnaby Records (which had begun in 1970). It was with Warner Brothers where his singles started to become more and more marketed toward country music stations and it's where the appearances on country music television programs became even more frequent than they'd been in the past. Ray had what I'd call a peculiar track record when it came to single releases. He was almost exclusively a pop music commodity from his earliest recordings in the late '50s and on into the early '70s. It was where his singles and albums were having their biggest impact. Within the pop music umbrella he was experiencing some success on the R&B charts (early '60s) and the Easy-Listening format (early to mid '70s). Then, almost like a natural progression, Ray's singles and albums started to have their greatest impact with country music audiences (mid '70s onward). I've studied and researched his career and there's nothing that comes up from the early '70s to explain how his singles were getting country music acceptance while at the same time he was maintaining a pop music reputation/image. Several of his singles in the early '70s charted exclusively country even though he wasn't actually being marketed as a country singer at the time. It's one of the truly unique things you'll see. It's also one of the genuine forms of pop-country crossover success as well. In today's music climate singers and record labels deliberately release a "pop version" and "country version" of a song...but it used to be a pop or country song, as recorded, would crossover if lucky enough...and without any re-mixing for either format.

The image of Ray comes from his 1976 album, Just For The Record. From time to time I like to spotlight his Warner Brothers era simply because I love the songs, first and foremost, and I love to hype material that I feel is under-rated. As I mentioned before in earlier blogs that's why I rarely write much about the signature songs of Ray Stevens. I feel that people already know all there is to know about those songs and so I try and spotlight obscure hits and album tracks that the public at large is unaware of.

Ray recorded four studio albums for Warner Brothers in addition to 3 additional tracks released independent of an album. Here's the breakdown:

Just For The Record; 1976
Feel The Music; 1977
There Is Something On Your Mind; 1978
Be Your Own Best Friend; 1978

Late in 1976 Ray released the single-only "In The Mood" backed with "Classical Cluck". Each recording consisted of chicken clucks, cow sounds, and goats. The recordings were released as the Henhouse Five Plus Too. In 1979 Ray released the single "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". Originally available as a single-only, the success paved the way for a compilation release which featured the hit single as the only new song on the collection. The rest of the album consisted of songs Ray recorded between the years of 1976 and 1978. The album was titled The Feeling's Not Right Again. The album cover is a parody of a release from Barry Manilow in 1975 titled Trying To Get The Feeling. I've posted the images of each album a couple of times in my archives. Ray was with Warner Brothers through mid 1979 and many compilation releases that came along from 1980 onward singled out his Henhouse Five Plus Too recording of "In the Mood" and the 1979 Manilow spoof but overlook his other recordings for the label. This was the norm until 1995...

In 1995, nearly 20 years after Ray joined Warner Brothers in 1976, the label released three separate collections on Ray: Cornball, Do You Wanna Dance?, and The Serious Side of Ray Stevens. The collections were long overdue in my opinion and it introduced a lot of fans, myself included, to a bulk of recordings Ray did for the label that had been out of print for nearly 20 years. I heard a lot of his Warner Brothers recordings for the first time in 1995. I was still several years away from starting my vinyl album collection and so those 3 1995 releases were a goldmine for me. Imagine the excitement I felt hearing how he performed "You Are So Beautiful", for example! Not only that but he also recorded "Money Honey", "Talk To Me", "One Mint Julep", "Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash", among others. More great songs include "Save Me From Myself", "Set The Children Free", "L'amour", "Cornball", "Two Wrong's Don't Make a Right", "Once In Awhile"....I could name them all but you get the point. Since I've got his vinyl albums from this period I've been able to hear the songs that didn't make it on the 1995 collections. The only songs from Ray's late '70s albums not to appear in the 1995 releases were: 1976's "OM" and "Gimme a Smile"; 1977's "Junkie For You", "Get Crazy With Me", and "Road Widow"; and 1978's "With a Smile", "You're Magic", "Comeback", "There Is Something On Your Mind", and the "Banned in Boston Trilogy". The first three songs from 1978 are from his Be Your Own Best Friend album. The latter two are from There Is Something On Your Mind. It's anyone's guess why those nine recordings were omitted. There were 29 recordings issued in total on those 1995 collections. As you can tell, one release featured 9 songs while the other two featured 10. Unfortunately, the only way people will be able to hear those omitted songs is by tracking down the vinyl albums on eBay or other on-line shops. In hindsight those 9 omitted recordings could've been featured. One collection could've had 13 songs, another with 13 songs, and the third with 12 songs...but that wasn't the way it happened. Maybe Warner Brothers will re-issue those collections and tack on those omitted songs the second time around!? I wouldn't hold my breath, though!

I also wouldn't hold my breath when it comes to the President getting his priorities in order...

Ray Stevens sings all about it in 2011's "Mr. President - Mr. President"...

Ray Stevens and the Spirit of '76, Part 9...

Good early Sunday morning all Ray Stevens fans! Yesterday the 1972 performance of "Along Came Jones" by Ray Stevens was uploaded on You Tube. The performance comes from his first appearance on Hee-Haw and it can be seen by clicking this link. Specifically, this was the second performance from Ray during the episode. His first performance was his current single at the time, "Turn Your Radio On". That performance is also on You Tube and I posted about it in my blog several months ago. Hee-Haw was a fun show to watch no matter who the special guests were. Whenever a singer that I was a fan of appeared as a guest then it made the show even more fun. The show currently airs on the RFD-TV network on Sunday nights at 8pm Eastern, the Sunday night episode re-airs Monday mornings at 10am Eastern, and then episodes typically pulled from 1969-1971 are shown Thursday evenings at 6pm Eastern.

For the curious, Ray's current music video titled "Mr. President - Mr. President" has gotten more than 240,000 on-line views in 2 weeks time. As of this writing Ray hasn't appeared on any TV or radio program to promote the video even though a part of it was played on a couple of Fox News programs: Fox and Friends along with The O'Reilly Factor. The song was played in it's entirety on Mark Levin's radio program a couple of Friday's ago while Tom Marr was a guest host. Ray's previous video, the "Obama Budget Plan", has 811,420 on-line views. That particular video was uploaded 5 months ago and it appears the current video will more than likely reach 300,000 within the upcoming week based upon the pace that it's on. By comparison, Ray's current video having more than 240,000 views in 2 weeks is higher than the total on-line views of "The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore" released on You Tube by Ray 8 months ago. That particular video, as funny as can be, has 236,099 on-line views at the moment.

As I touched upon in earlier blogs during the spring of 2011 the big reason why, I think, that particular video hit real big in it's first couple of weeks and then faded was mostly due to the controversial full-body scans at airports being in the news nearly 24/7 for a couple of weeks and then other things came along to push it from the headlines. As most people realize topical songs are only as big as the topicality of the subject matter. Once the topic of a song gets pushed from the headlines then often what happens is any song, story, or commentary about that topic gets swept under a rug. Also, given that millions of people don't even step foot inside an airport it was perhaps difficult to translate to those who don't have experience with airport security procedures. Nevertheless the video hit a nerve at the right time as evidenced by it's meteoric rise in views during the spring of 2011. "The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore", "Obama Budget Plan", and "Mr. President - Mr. President" are on his Spirit of '76 CD. The CD also contains his emotional song, "God Save Arizona". A video of that song has more than 800,000 on-line views.

On the subject of Ray Stevens and his tour schedule...I'm a bit baffled that those who attended his concert in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina back on October 8th never wrote any blogs, posted on any message boards, or wrote on Ray's Facebook or Twitter page about their experience attending the show. The show took place at the Alabama Theater and I've periodically checked Facebook, Twitter, and Google's blog results but still there's not been any commentary/review of the concert from those who attended unless those who've written their reviews aren't using 'Ray Stevens' as a keyword in their tag box or label box. If this is the case their review(s) won't show up when people do searches for Ray Stevens on the internet. Anyway, like I said, I'm just a bit baffled why nobody's come forward (yet) about their time at Ray's concert.

Ray's next concert will be October 21st in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee at the Country Tonite Theatre. Ray will do two concerts that day. The first show will be at 3pm and the second at 8pm. According to a post on Ray's web-site back on October 10th, the 8pm concert was nearly sold-out...those who've not bought any tickets to the show yet and you're wanting to attend I'd suggest you call the venue and see if there's any tickets left for the 8pm show and obviously if it's sold-out get tickets to the 3pm show. Everything you want to know is located in the Event section of Ray's web-page located here. Ray's page gives what I assume to be the local number for the venue. At the Country Tonite page they also list an 800 number for tickets: 1-800-792-4308.

October 12, 2011

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 27...

It's a rainy Wednesday morning...but those Ray Stevens fans in Florida have a lot to cheer about. Three additional concerts have been added to Ray's line-up for early 2012. Previously only the Daytona Beach concert on February 21, 2012 was posted but now there are going to be 3 additional concerts in 2 cities. On February 22 he'll do 2 concerts at the same venue in Lakeland, Florida. As you can imagine it's a day and night performance at the Lakeland Center. The first show is 2:30pm and the second show is 7:30pm. The details are here. On February 23 he'll do a concert at the King Center in Melbourne, Florida. At the moment his web-site indicates the concert is at 1am but that's obviously a typo. This appearance in Melbourne hasn't been added to the venue's web-page yet. I'm often suspicious/skeptical of future concert dates that aren't listed at the venue's page yet but I assume once they go on sale his name will be added to the King Center's web-page. In total this brings his appearances in Florida to 4 concerts during the month of February: 1 in Daytona Beach on February 21 at the Peabody Auditorium; 2 in Lakeland, Florida on February 22; and 1 in Melbourne, Florida on February 23.

Meanwhile...the current music video hit from Ray Stevens, "Mr. President - Mr. President", is continuing to obtain tens of thousands of views each day. In my previous blog I mentioned the video had 177,232 on-line views and that it needed a little over 20,000 additional views to crack the 200,000 mark. The video surpassed that plateau a couple of days ago. When I checked the numbers after my previous blog it was up to 185,843. A further check saw the video with 197,758 views. Still, another check of the numbers the following day saw the video at 208,155. A few minutes ago I looked at the totals and as of now the video's got 218,008 views. As mentioned it's getting tens of thousands of views daily.

On October 11th (yesterday) a new CD from Ray Stevens became available for purchase. The release came from out of nowhere and I was alerted to it by another fan of Ray's. The CD is a collection of songs that are from his past and apparently is designed to introduce a lot of his younger/newer fans to some of the songs that he originally recorded at various points in his career that are no longer in print and are hard to find. Those like myself who have almost everything he's recorded in some format or another (vinyl, cassette, CD, and Mp3) will recognize a lot of the song titles. At Ray's web-store he's posted a note about the CD and he uses the word "re-produce" and so it's a safe bet that the songs are all re-recordings. The original recordings are often owned by whichever label he recorded them for...and a lot of artist's in Ray's generation often have to re-record previous songs just to keep the material in print and available. Since Ray published and produced/arranged just about everything he's recorded he technically owns the actual songs but the recordings are owned by a record company. It gets complex/confusing to a lot of people who don't differentiate between the ownership of the written song and the ownership of the recorded performance of the song. However, there's a slight chance that the CD features the original recordings with new instrumentation.

I plan on purchasing the CD at some point and when I do I'll write a review about it.

This CD is titled Bozo's Back Again. Longtime fans will immediately recognize this song. There is one song on the CD that I've never heard and I believe it's the only new song on the whole CD. It's the song called "Priceless". You can check the CD and it's contents at his web-store located here. As you'll notice, the CD's got 12 songs altogether. Several of the songs date back to his 1982 and 1983 albums. The oldest song on here to get re-recorded is 1977's "Dixie Hummingbird".

1. Bozo's Back Again
2. Priceless
3. Just For The Hell Of It
4. Oh, Leo Lady
5. Game Show Love
6. Another Fine Mess
7. My Dad
8. Me
9. Kings And Queens
10. Dixie Hummingbird
11. Written Down In My Heart
12. Ruby Falls

October 8, 2011

Let's Discuss Ray Stevens, Part 34...

Good Saturday afternoon!!

CONCERT ALERT!! Ray Stevens performs tonight in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina at the Alabama Theater!!

The show kicks starts at 7pm.

Those who attend the show I hope will blog about it or give commentary on-line about the show and what he sang or what he spoke about. Obviously I'm envious of those who can go! Ray isn't appearing anywhere near my locale this time around...hopefully in 2012 he'll stop at a venue a wee bit closer to me. For those who live nearby and want to go at the last minute here's the link to the concert page...

Alabama Theater

In the meantime, the current on-line video from Ray Stevens "Mr. President - Mr. President" is a smashing success. It's gotten more than 177,000 views since it's debut on September 27th. On the October 7th episode of Mark Levin's radio program the fill-in host, Tom Marr, played the song. Mark's program is heard by millions of people daily. The video's been getting anywhere between 10,000 to 20,000 views per day since it's arrival as to how it's nearing the 200,000 mark in little more than a week's time. Specifically the video's gotten 177,232 views. 22,768 is what's separating it from the 200,000 plateau. Given that the video's been getting at least 20,000 views per day it wouldn't be out of the question for the video to reach that mark rather quickly.

Stepping back a few years, though, we come to an obscure song from Ray Stevens called "Laughing Over My Grave". Originally released as a single-only...the b-side of "Bubble Gum the Bubble Dancer" in the mid '60s on Mercury.

As you can see, I've got the vinyl single but the b-side's never been kept in print. However, to tie in with Halloween, a record label's issued a low-budget various artist CD of Halloween-style songs. Ray's mid '60s b-side, "Laughing Over My Grave", is one of the songs chosen for the project. You can click the Amazon link below to get more information about the song's availability...

Amazon Mp3

October 3, 2011

Ray Stevens and the Spirit of '76, Part 8...

After having been uploaded on Wednesday September 28th I'm excited to report that the latest on-line music video from Ray Stevens, "Mr. President - Mr. President", has obtained more than 70,000 views during the last 5 days. The exact numbers at the moment are 72,946. It'll need a little over 27,000 additional views to reach 100,000 and I feel it'll accomplish this within a matter of days. The song, as I mentioned in a previous blog entry, comes from his current CD titled Spirit of '76.

This CD already boasts several other songs that have become music video hits: "The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore", "Obama Budget Plan", and "God Save Arizona". It's anyone's guess if there will be more music videos to emerge from the collection but there's certainly several more that would make funny videos, though, but for now "Mr. President - Mr. President" is the big video at the moment.

Ray began his phenomenal on-line music video success in the late winter of 2009 when he issued a music video of "We The People" which called out Obama Care for what it is. Since the release of that music video in December 2009 Ray's been asked to appear at numerous political fund raisers and political gatherings generated largely by local and national Tea Party groups.

In addition to these appearances he's also been a frequent guest on several programs on the Fox News Channel and it's sister station, the Fox Business Network. Sometimes he'll give an interview but sometimes just a snippet of his latest video will be shown. Earlier in the year he made the rounds on a couple of Fox Business programs promoting the "Obama Budget Plan" video. That video's gotten close to 755,000 views since it's arrival back on April 25, 2011!