January 30, 2012

Ray Stevens and some of Those Great Albums...

Feel The Music, from 1977, continues to be one of the great albums from Ray Stevens. The album itself features a musical display of easy-listening pop and a couple of jazzy-country recordings. The label Ray recorded this for was Warner Brothers. I got ahold of this particular album several years ago from eBay and up until that point in time I had never saw what the back of the album looked like. On the back there's a publicity picture of Ray along with an illustration of the back of a stereo speaker. As you can see, the image that's on front of the album is the stereo speaker. The album contains 10 songs...9 of the 10 were written by Ray Stevens while the lone exception, "Set The Children Free", was written by Buddy Kalb. Interestingly, though, during the time that this album was released the music on here was considered mainstream country. This had to do with the simple fact that most major country music radio stations in the mid to late '70s were playing mostly up-tempo or slow ballad songs with a decidedly pop production and instrumentation. This style of pop-country being released by a whole host of country music acts inspired the creation of the television program, Pop! Goes the Country. In hindsight the music on Ray's 1977 album is much more in step with easy-listening and soft rock than it is with country music but nevertheless it was marketed at country music audiences in 1977 and as a result the album and the singles charted country. The album reached the Country Top-50 while "Dixie Hummingbird" and "Get Crazy With Me" were released as singles. "Get Crazy With Me" is a great song and it incorporates a lot of funky musical accompaniment...enabling some of the instrumentation to become non-verbal hooks. It reached the lower half of the Top 100 Country chart in 1977 during a chart run of less than 7 weeks. "Dixie Hummingbird", in the meantime, was the complete opposite. It's jazzy-country arrangement and uptempo delivery created a catchy recording that enabled the single to knock on the door of the Country Top-40, mostly through sales and steady airplay during the single's first few weeks on the market. Sadly, though, it peaked several slots below #40 on the Country single charts and didn't get the chance to really compete with the airplay heavy Top-40. It hung around on the charts for nearly 10 weeks, though. Some of the other songs on this album are "Alone With You", "Road Widow", "Save Me From Myself", the title track "Feel the Music", and "Junkie For You".

This Warner Brothers album from Ray Stevens, Be Your Own Best Friend, released in 1978, came into my collection in the late '90s. At that point in time I was beginning to track down Ray's vinyl albums but I never really had much of a chance to really expand on that until I got on-line in 2002 and was able to visit on-line auction sites and music stores that sold vinyl albums regularly. Up until 2002 I only had a couple of Ray's vinyl albums that a local flea market had for sale. This was one of the first vinyl albums of Ray Stevens that I was able to get my hands on in the late '90s. I had only heard a few of the songs on this album (thanks to the 1995 3-CD project that Warner Brothers issued!). I was obviously interested in hearing the songs whose titles I had long known of but up until then had never heard. "With a Smile" is a slow ballad and one that fits the mood that the album, overall, I assume was attempting to convey. "You're Magic" became one of my all-time favorite songs after I heard it the first time. You can also add "Comeback" to that category, too! In this song Ray sings like a man possessed...in the song he plays the part of a man who definitely wants the woman in his life to comeback to him. He makes this fact perfectly clear! I love the way the chorus goes and the sing-a-long feel. The album contains 9 songs and I think a lot of that has to do with the running time of quite a few of the songs. "Comeback", for example, is lengthy as is "L'amour", "Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right", "The Feeling's Not Right Again", and the title track, "Be Your Own Best Friend". Each of those songs are well over 3 minutes in length...with some close to 4 minutes.

Here's one of the more recent albums from Ray Stevens released on his own label, Clyde Records. 2010's We The People came together as a result of the viral success of his You Tube music video, also titled "We The People". The subject matter is political and as a result the video/song has it's fans and it's detractors. The album contains 22 songs which convey a political message but there are other songs on the collection that express patriotism and offer recognition to what's called small-town America and the values that consist in 'fly over country'. In fact, there's a song on this album called "Fly Over Country" which highlights the practice of some politicians who leave their relatively smaller hometowns for Washington, D.C. and only return to their hometown several weeks prior to election day. This album is not a ha-ha let's have a lot of fun kind of project even though the music videos of some of the songs on here, available on You Tube, are visually whimsical and light-hearted. The music video releases from this album include: "We The People", "Caribou Barbie", "Come to the U.S.A.", "Throw the Bums Out!", and "The Global Warming Song". Ray's 2004 single, "Thank You", was added to this 2010 album to add to the patriotic material. The other patriotic songs on here are "Let's Roll", "Stand Up", "The Fallen Ones", "Midnight in Baghdad", and his "Pledge of Allegiance/Star Spangled Banner" medley. Small-town America gets recognized in "Fly Over Country", "Safe at Home", "Dear Andy Griffith", and "Kings and Queens". The rest of the songs, in addition to the ones that were made into music videos, are strictly in the political vein: "We Are the Government", "Solar Powered Song", "Three Fractured Factions", "Obama Nation", "Sucking Sound", and "If 10% Is Good Enough For Jesus". If you're counting that's 21 songs, yes? There is one song on here that has nothing to do with politics or the military...it's his updated version of "Mr. Businessman" which was lifted from a concert a few years ago. He dedicates the song to a certain businessman who epitomizes the lyrics almost to a tee.

Released in 1985, this overview of Ray Stevens on RCA features 8 recordings. Collector's Series was the umbrella title for a lot of artists who recorded or still recorded for RCA at the time. Each release featured 8 songs and so that's exactly the amount of songs you get in the album spotlighting Ray Stevens. Unlike the other artists given the Collector's Series spotlight, Ray recorded for RCA for just three years: 1980, 1981, and 1982; although research shows he was under contract with RCA from late 1979 through early 1983. With only 3 studio albums to choose material from we get 3 recordings from his 1982 album, Don't Laugh Now, 3 recordings from his 1980 Shriner's Convention comedy album, and 2 recordings from his 1981 One More Last Chance album. A track list of 8 songs on a compilation album, no matter the artist, is something that I imagine is difficult to assemble. This 1985 release came into my possession in the early '90s. I already had a 1987 version of this album which removed 1981's "One More Last Chance" in favor of 1980's "Put It In Your Ear". This meant that the 1987 re-issue featured 4 songs from 1980, 1 from 1981, and 3 from 1982. The 1987 re-issue was released on CD in 1992. This collection was my introduction to 7 of Ray's RCA recordings...previously I had only heard "Shriner's Convention". His RCA recordings (1980-1982), like the Warner Brothers recordings (1976-1979), have never been kept in print for any extended amount of time. This 1985 release and the 1987 and 1992 re-issues remain the only compilations to focus exclusively on his RCA recordings. His Warner Brothers recordings haven't been in print since 1995...except for the Mp3 release of those 1995 CD's a few years ago. As far as studio albums go there's not been any CD re-issue of any Warner Brothers or RCA album by Ray Stevens...and for a lot of fans it just doesn't make much sense why those studio albums have yet to see the light of day in CD or Mp3 format.

January 29, 2012

Ray Stevens and Obama Money, Part 17...

Good early Sunday morning!! We are a week away from the Super Bowl. The Pro-Bowl is tonight and I may or may not watch it. It all depends on the broadcaster's moods. Usually we get broadcasters who belittle the Pro-Bowl and attempt to take the joy out of watching it with their caustic comments. Even though people say that broadcasters shouldn't spoil the mood if a person really wants to watch a sporting event the truth is that broadcasters CAN spoil the mood if their style isn't harmonious with the viewer and that's why for me a broadcaster is important when it comes to whatever sport I'm watching on TV or hearing on the radio.

Now, taking a look at the You Tube numbers we see that Ray's current music video, "Mr. President - Mr. President" is inching closer to half a million on-line views. It's current total is 462,039. It's been on-line for 4 months and I expect it to smash through the 500,000 mark at some point in February. A gap of a little more than 28,000 views separates it from the half a million mark. The President gave one of the most low-rated State of the Union speeches in history several days ago...commentators viewed it as a replay of 2009, 2010, and 2011's speeches with just a tweak here and there for topicality purposes. I didn't watch the speech...I heard snippets of it during newscasts on both radio and TV and that's all I needed to hear to form my own conclusion that it was the same old-same old speech instigating class warfare, highlighting so-called economic unfairness and so-called inequality, and how the Government should be the solution to everybody's personal and financial problems but a little ol' thing called the Constitution keeps getting in his way. In other words it was the same old garbage as before more or less...maybe more since the speech ran overtime.

Speaking of the President, the "Obama Budget Plan" music video from Ray Stevens is nearing 1.1 million views. At the moment it has 1,088,519 views. It was uploaded 9 months ago and was a slow climb to half a million views. The recurring battles about the budget and the debt ceiling in the latter half of 2011 pushed the video into the million views stratosphere.

A recent controversy surrounding Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and the TSA in a Nashville airport caused some activity for Ray's video titled "The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore". The video has 276,126 on-line views now and was the second single/video release from Spirit of '76 in 2011. The music video's been on-line for almost 1 year...11 months and counting. It's a lot closer to 300,000 views now than it was prior to the Rand Paul story. The TSA music video, as I theorized in a couple of blogs, hits home with those who travel frequently and have to deal with the screenings and invasive pat downs. The song's title refers to the phrase "fly the friendly skies" made famous by United Airlines. His 2010 anti-illegal immigration video, "Come to the U.S.A." is nearing 5.8 million views! The totals at the moment are 5,791,250! The Obama Care music video from 2009, "We The People", has 4,648,990 views. "Throw the Bums Out!" has 854,504 and "God Save Arizona" is in the 800,000 range too with 840,795 views.

A short 5 years ago Ray Stevens released this wonderful salute to the music of New Orleans. New Orleans Moon, from July 2007, features Ray's versions of many songs celebrating not only New Orleans but the entire state of Louisiana as well. There are 11 selections on the CD and like a few of Ray's albums in the past this one slipped through without a lot of fanfare. A lot of that presumably had to do with the simple fact that none of the songs are comical and as a consequence there's a large segment of the listening audience that prefer comedy and funny business from Ray Stevens instead of thought-provoking, serious work. This has long been the case...even when Ray was releasing only non-comedy albums year after year...there are just some people who expect/insist on Ray Stevens being the funny guy without a trace of seriousness. Now, of course, there are plenty of people who appreciate all the music from Ray Stevens...whether it's serious or comical. "New Orleans Moon", the title track, was written by Ray and Chuck Redden. As a side note, Chuck wrote "The New Battle of New Orleans", by the way. Ray and Buddy Kalb re-wrote a lot of the original lyrics in the song and Curb Records issued Ray's version in 2005 as a CD single in limited quantities. That song isn't on this 2007 CD but I decided to mention the 2005 single's existence anyway!

Meanwhile, the first track on New Orleans Moon is "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans". I purchased the digital download/Mp3 album of New Orleans Moon when it was brand new but have never purchased a copy of what they now call the physical CD. I plan on doing so at some point. On this CD you will hear Ray's take on "Basin Street Blues", "New Orleans", "Louisiana Man", "Louisiana", "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?", and "When The Saints Go Marching In" among several others. Pay attention for several impressions by Ray of Louis Armstrong.

This was a comedy album released in 1988 from Ray Stevens. I recently came across commentary about the album and some of the songs from it and so I decided to give some spotlight to it again. I Never Made a Record I Didn't Like is based upon a phrase attributed to Will Rogers that went something like: "I never yet met a man I Didn't Like". Given the connection it makes sense for Ray to dress up as Will Rogers on the album's cover. Consisting of ten recordings the material runs the gamut from satellite TV curiosities and Hollywood scandals to hippies and boogie men to the Beach Boys, Michael Jackson, and Elvis...and everything else in between. First things first is "Surfin' U.S.S.R." which became a music video. The video features an extended comedic routine at the start with parodies of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Ray supplies the voices for both. There are also parodies of their wives who get in a fight in the background as their husbands talk about U.S. and Soviet relations...leading up to Reagan inquiring about Malibu, California and why there happens to be a Soviet sub there. Cue the main song as the two start dancing. The audio recording doesn't feature the Reagan and Gorbachev parody, though, it's only available on the music video. "Blood and Suede" is the story song about a Hollywood car crash between a drunk driver and a singer. The singer was listening to his own album real loud while the drunk driver, in a Mercedes, plowed into the Porsche. The song carries satirical undertones about the fast living and fast cars image of Los Angeles and it's surrounding area, cut throat lawyers that exist everywhere but are glamorized in Hollywood movies, and the egotism that exists amongst celebrities in general (the singer, afterall, was listening to own Greatest Hits album prior to the crash). For those who have this album, as I do, take a more closer listen to the song. When I originally heard it for the first time in the early '90s I didn't soak in everything that the song addresses. At that time I was mostly fascinated with it's melody and Ray's hushed small town hamlet storytelling narration. On this particular album Ray performs songs in various vocalizations. There's the Beach Boys style in "Surfin' U.S.S.R.", a talking blues style on "The Booger Man", a broad exaggeration on Bob Dylan in "Old Hippie Class Reunion", Michael Jackson enunciation parodies in "Bad", and of course in "Blood and Suede" we have the hushed storyteller delivery. There are songs in Ray's natural voice, too: "Mama's in the Sky With Elvis", "I Don't Need None of That", "Ethelene the Truckstop Queen", "Language, Nudity, Violence, and Sex", and "The Day I Tried To Teach Charlene MacKenzie How To Drive". The song about Charlene MacKenzie was released as a single and it charted on the Country Top 100...but it peaked in the low-80s on the charts. "Surfin' U.S.S.R." didn't reach the country charts but it was issued as a commercial single and music video. The album reached the Top-60 on the country charts in the fall of 1988 and remained a best-selling country album for more than 15 weeks.

One of the great recordings of Ray's career is his take on "Indian Love Call". Aside from the obvious vocalization there is the standout arrangement of the song which is unlike any version. Whereas usually the song is performed as a mid-tempo love ballad with the love calls being a trademark, in Ray's version we get the love calls but we also get the R&B flavored, doo-wop harmony in the background. As many Ray fans know he often over-dubbed his own voice on his earliest recordings and the choir of doo-wop vocalizations heard in the background are his own voice. When he performed the song on television around the time it was a single he'd use a click track which integrated his over-dubbed background into the live recording. Ray's only performance of the song on television, that I'm aware of, is a 1975 appearance on the Pop! Goes the Country program. I'm aware of this because I own a DVD which features the 1975 episode in it's entirety. Ray, with a full beard by the way, sings "Misty", "Indian Love Call", "Twilight Time", and does a duet with the other guest, Sammi Smith, on "Everything Is Beautiful" as the show's credits roll. I'd written about the Pop! Goes the Country DVD collections many blogs ago. You can look up the information about them by searching their web-site, Country Music DVD. The 1975 episode with Ray Stevens is on DVD Volume 4. There are a couple more DVD's featuring episodes with Ray, too. On each DVD there's multiple episodes featuring all sorts of country music celebrities as guests but for the purposes of this blog I only highlight the DVD releases with a Ray Stevens episode. "Indian Love Call" reached the country Top-40 for Ray in 1975 and was one of his last single releases for Barnaby Records prior to his switch to Warner Brothers in 1976. His ballad rendering of "Young Love" reached the country Top-50 in early 1976 while the wonderful "Mockingbird Hill" didn't reach the charts.

January 28, 2012

Ray Stevens and the Silver Bracelet...

The one and only Ray Stevens made his way into a recording studio 55 years ago...at the age of 18...to record a series of songs. One of those songs, "Silver Bracelet", was released as a single on the Prep label, a subsidiary of Capitol Records. The year was 1957! Ray recorded for Prep in 1957, Capitol in 1958, and from 1959 through 1961 he was with the NRC label. He released quite a few teen pop ballads and uptempo rocker songs during the late '50s and he performed on quite a few sessions along the way. His session work greatly expanded in the '60s as he moved onto Mercury Records and then Monument Records. The time period being 1961 through early 1970. The session work continued in the '70s but not as consistently as it had been primarily because from 1969 onward Ray became a superstar with music that hit with all music brands: pop, country, adult-contemporary, gospel, plus he was testing the waters with an international market during this same time period. His singles were popping up in Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia...with several singles making the Top-20 and Top-10 on foreign music charts. The extra time for session work predictably had vanished as Ray's fame grew and he became more and more in-demand for concerts and TV appearances.

However, no matter how big Ray Stevens eventually became once he joined Mercury Records in 1961, there's still the musician/producer/arranger/writer side of him that nobody should ever forget....for he still produces, arranges, and plays piano and, or, keyboards and synthesizers on his CD's to this very day. Ray Stevens is a true Renaissance Man whose career extends well beyond the handful of novelty songs that a general public is most familiar with.

These series of anniversary blogs that I've been writing since the first of January are leading up to the much anticipated release of Ray's 9-CD Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music. The release, originally set for January 2012, will now be released in February. I'm really excited to hear Ray's take on a lot of the novelty songs by other artists through the years...and I'm also excited to get the book that'll spotlight all the songs and feature history and other information. According to a radio interview in 2011 the songs will go in alphabetical order starting with songs that begin with the letter "A" and not stop until the end of the alphabet. It's going to be a fascinating collection!

It's Saturday morning...well...Saturday afternoon. As I've discussed elsewhere, white promo singles used to be commonplace amongst radio stations. As the decades went by the singles found their way into the public domain. As you can see on the label, the actual song was produced by Shelby Singleton with orchestra conduction by Jerry Kennedy. The Merry Melody Singers are given credit on the single as well. Several blogs ago I saluted the single turning 50 this year...a Golden Anniversary...and I also praised the song's importance in Ray's career. There have been several versions of the song issued through the years...which is highly understandable considering that record labels own the recordings that artists make and if a label doesn't keep a recording in print then the artist has no choice put to re-record the song(s) in an effort to keep the song(s) in print and available. 1962 was the original year for "Ahab the Arab" while a couple of years later an impromptu version performed on a program hosted by Ralph Emery made an appearance on an obscure vinyl album released by Mercury Records. Ralph is heard at the beginning and the end of the song. In between you have the song itself with some alternate lyrics heard only in that performance. I don't know if this performance is an audio cut from one of Ralph's mid '60s television programs or if it's taken from any number of package shows that used to be commonplace in country music during the '50s through the early '70s where a lot of country artists would travel together, along with an emcee (typically a radio or TV personality) and they'd perform shows. George Strait in more modern times did something like that with his Festival concerts in the late '90s. Anyway...this version with Ralph Emery's announcing can be found on The Best of Ray Stevens. In 1969 the more familiar recording of "Ahab the Arab" was included on the Gitarzan album. I say more familiar because it's that recording which appears on countless compilation albums and it's been the recording that was kept in print the longest during the '70s, '80s, and '90s. A fourth recording arrived in 1995 when the music video came along for his Get Serious! movie. In my Ahab tribute blog I covered a lot of this same information but I thought to bring it back again considering it was several blogs ago.

January 27, 2012

Ray Stevens In a Concert Near You...

Good Friday morning all you fans of Ray Stevens!! It looks as if the second half of 2012 will be concert heavy as news broke the other day that Ray will appear as far west as New Mexico later this year. He has three Florida dates in late February that I wrote about a couple of blogs ago. To recap those concerts it's February 21st through 23rd. On the 21st he'll appear at the Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach. On the 22nd he'll be at the Lakeland Center in Lakeland, Florida and then on the 23rd he'll be at the King Center in Melbourne, Florida. In my earlier blog I provided URL links to each venue.

There are no concert appearances scheduled, at the moment, for the months of March through August. Perhaps a concert or two or three will pop up as time goes by...but starting in September Ray Stevens will perform a total of 12 concerts during the months of September and October. On September 21st he'll do two shows at the Blue Gate Theater in Shipshewana, Indiana. On September 29th he'll appear at the New Barn venue in Renfro Valley, Kentucky. He's appeared there several times during the last several years so for those familiar with the locale it'll be in the same place as before. On October 13th he'll appear at The Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort and Casino in Mescalero, New Mexico. On October 15th Ray will become a regular performer, for 6 shows, at the Andy Williams Theater in Branson, Missouri. Then, on October 26th, he'll perform 2 concerts at the Country Tonite Theater in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Several days ago Ray celebrated his 73rd birthday. I had written a birthday blog in 2010 and 2011 but I didn't do one this year (as you can see) due mostly because of slow computer connection stemming from a series of weather events that passed through here. On Ray's Facebook page you can read the birthday wishes and belated birthday comments. The official page is called Ray Stevens Music so when you visit the site type in 'Ray Stevens Music' and you'll be there. You can also read more information about the tour dates here. When you're at Ray's web-page you'll be able to click on the info links and visit the various venue web-sites.

January 22, 2012

Ray Stevens...Classics at 20...

Comedy Video Classics became a gigantic success in the career of Ray Stevens in 1992. In actuality, though, the home video would remain a success through 1994 as it not only sold millions of copies by way of direct marketing but it would also sells hundreds of thousands of copies in retail stores throughout 1993-1994 during it's initial wave of availability. The home video's commercial aired numerous times, at various times of the day, and even during the overnight hours. Longer commercials for the home video would often air in the overnight and early morning hours while quicker commercials aired in the afternoon and prime-time. The commercials weren't limited to just The Nashville Network or country music friendly channels...Comedy Video Classics commercials aired on quite a few cable channels of the time period. The music videos featured on the collection were: "Help Me Make It Through the Night", "It's Me Again, Margaret", "Santa Claus Is Watching You", "Surfin' U.S.S.R.", "Sittin' Up With the Dead", "Mississippi Squirrel Revival", "The Streak", and "Everything Is Beautiful". When the collection became available for retail sale in 1993 it became eligible to appear on the weekly sales charts. This is important mostly for publicity purposes. As radio and TV insiders view the weekly charts they often get a feel for the artist's who are selling or who are getting airplay. When Ray's home video was able to become recognized in the pages of Billboard magazine it created even more hype. The home video would reach the #1 position on the Video chart and remain firmly placed among the Top-10 in home video sales for nearly a year! It's early sales totaled up to more than 2,000,000 copies (direct market and retail sales combined). The home video format became Ray's launching pad into home video mogul stratosphere as two follow-up releases, Ray Stevens Live! in 1993 and Get Serious! in 1995, both obtained respectable chart placings during their respective years of availability in retail stores. Neither collection would top Comedy Video Classics in sales statistics or awards...but yet this isn't anything new when discussing any field of entertainment. Very, very rarely does the follow-up out perform the predecessor...especially when we're talking about sales data...but by and large the follow-up releases sold hundreds of thousands of copies in retail stores and were initially sales hits with direct marketing, too. The 1995 home video hit retail stores in January 1997 and it quickly amassed more than 300,000 in sales earning Triple-Platinum recognition. Comedy Video Classics was the #1 Home Video of 1992 and subsequently was named Billboard's Top Video of the Year. The home video was later released in DVD format but it wasn't sold on TV or in retail stores. The availability was limited to on-line stores such as Amazon and his own store at his web-site.

Ray Stevens...the Radio gets a Ruby...

This is one of three projects that came along in 2005 from Collectable's Records. The company released 6 of Ray's studio albums for Barnaby Records in CD format...pairing 2 albums per CD for a total of 3 projects. An early complaint was the fact that they passed by his 1973 album, Losin' Streak, and other complaints came from the more purist of fans who were annoyed that the CD re-issues didn't stick with the exact track listing of the vinyl counterpart. In some instances, radio edits of songs were used instead of the full-length album versions. I didn't do much complaining because of the joy I got of finally seeing his Barnaby recordings in print again and for a lot of the songs it was there first time in CD format. At that point in time you had to have been part of the fan base that had bought the original vinyl albums in order to have been familiar with the complete Ray Stevens. I bought a lot of Ray's vinyl albums from on-line stores and so I was familiar with the songs before they were issued on CD but I realized there were plenty of people only familiar with Ray's singles and not his albums. Too many times consumers are only aware of what's commercially available (from radio airplay or video airplay on television) or what's being pushed by a record label or business organization. They don't seek out music on their own. When you purchase a full album by an artist you get to hear all of that artist...in other words you're not just being exposed to the catchy recordings designed for mass appeal (which are great to hear, too, but you know what I mean!).

Speaking of the radio edit, hardcore fans of Ray Stevens will more than likely know about the two takes of "All My Trials". There is the full-length album version and there is also the radio edit which cuts out a lot of the great instrumentation toward the closing of the song. The full version can be heard on the 1996 release, Great Gospel Songs, which Curb Records issued. It was a re-release of Turn Your Radio On with additional songs, "Everything Is Beautiful" and "A Brighter Day", included. The full-length "All My Trials" lasts 4 minutes, 33 seconds while the radio edit clocks in at a little over 3 minutes. There's like a minute or so of instrumentation taken out in the radio edit...for those familiar with the full-length version you'll certainly notice the difference. This 2 album on 1 CD release from 2005 features the radio edit copy of "All My Trials" as track 1. On the 1972 album it's track 7. In the meantime, the Turn Your Radio On album is a Ruby this year...the 40th anniversary of it's release. Now, of course, the terms Silver, Ruby, Gold, etc. etc. are way more associated with other events but I apply them to song and album anniversaries regardless.

Turn Your Radio On originally was released in 1972. In fact, the album reached the Country Album chart in February 1972 for a nearly 20 week stay...peaking in the Top-20. The album, as you can see, displays a smiling picture of Ray. The flashes of bright light on the LP I assume were added in to give the image a more heavenly glow but that's just my opinion. The album features 11 tracks altogether...4 of the songs were released as singles while a fourth recording in the collection is the title track of his 1969 album, Have a Little Talk With Myself. "A Mama and a Papa" hit first in the summer of 1971. The single charted in the Hot 100 based pretty much on the strength of sales. It obtained a bulk of it's airplay on Adult-Contemporary radio stations of the time. It was in the '60s that Adult-Contemporary started to become a viable alternative to radio that programmed youth-driven rock music. The format was titled Middle-of-the-Road and Easy Listening before it was changed to Adult-Contemporary in the late '70s. I refer to this style of music, collectively, as Adult-Contemporary regardless of what it's official chart name specified it as being labeled at the time. "A Mama and a Papa" reached the Top-10 on the Adult-Contemporary chart in the summer of 1971 and it also reached the Top-5 on Canada's version of the Adult-Contemporary chart. A writer by the name of Tom Autry is credited with writing the song.

"All My Trials" is also one of the 4 hits from the album. It's a song that's been recorded, in whole or in medley fashion, by hundreds of artists but NO version is like the Ray Stevens interpretation. The song is performed in the traditional style but the arrangement/choice of instrumentation is vastly different from what one might expect. Beyond the arrangement aspect is the amazing production work that went in to putting the song together. Ray overdubbed his own voice multiple times, in various harmonies, to create the massive choir effect. This same technique can be heard on most of the other recordings on this album, too, with a runner-up being "Glory Special" in it's extensive use of vocal overdubbing. "All My Trials", predictably, didn't gain a lot of support from pop radio stations, either, as gospel music has rarely gained acceptance amongst mainstream music buyers. Like it's predecessor, "A Mama and a Papa", the "All My Trials" single became a big hit on radio stations aimed at adults. It reached the Top-10 on the Adult-Contemporary chart in the fall of 1971.

The third single release from Turn Your Radio On was the title track. "Turn Your Radio On" is a song written by Albert E. Brumley and was the most widely known hit single from the album. Given that the single and album shared the same name, and the fact that it's the one of the few gospel songs from Ray to appear in countless compilation projects, also has something to do with that. Brumley also wrote "I'll Fly Away", which appears on the album. This is the back of Turn Your Radio On, by the way. "Turn Your Radio On" would go on to become one of his biggest hits in Canada as it reached the Top-5 on their Adult-Contemporary chart and the Top-10 on their Country chart. In America the single hit the Top-20 on the Country chart and the Top-25 on the Adult-Contemporary chart. In the United Kingdom it reached their version of the Top-40. Like the two predecessors, "Turn Your Radio On" didn't reach the pop Top-40 in America. A fourth single was released in the late summer of 1972 but it only had significant impact overseas. "Love Lifted Me", a rock/gospel interpretation of the gospel standard, reached the Top-10 in Bangkok which must have been a surprise!? The single didn't reach the charts in America, Canada, or England.

This reissue came along in 1982 on the CBS label. The picture of Ray has long been a favorite of mine. There's just something about that particular grin...no two grins are exactly the same and the one that comes the closest to this one is the grin that appears on the RCA Greatest Hits album of 1983. Oh yes, for those new to this blog, I'll discuss practically anything associated with Ray from his grin, facial expressions, and beard to his choice of stage clothing, his younger clean-shaven appearance, and how his performance styles have changed through the years. Now, obviously, with this being a gospel project the label could've picked a different image of Ray to use but they decided to go with the whimsical, grinning Ray which is what the general public is most familiar with.

January 20, 2012

Ray Stevens: Don't Laugh...at 30...

This is going to be fun...well, all of the blogs I write are fun for me but particularly this entry where we shine a spotlight on 1982 and the Ray Stevens album out that year, Don't Laugh Now. 30 years ago Don't Laugh Now hit the record stores loaded with all sorts of wonderful songs from Ray Stevens...one in particular being "Where the Sun Don't Shine". In fact, that song and "Written Down In My Heart" were the only two singles lifted from the album. Even though the album is titled Don't Laugh Now, "Where the Sun Don't Shine" brings a chuckle as well as a smile to anyone's face when they hear it. The song is arranged in an old-fashioned gospel production which masks the whimsical lyrics. It's a sing-a-long in the truest sense. I don't know the specifics of why the album was titled what it was but I assume it was given that title given Ray's reputation for comical songs. One of the bizarre scenarios in all of music is how a lot of people singled out a few comical recordings from Ray Stevens and immediately declared him a novelty artist. At least that was what happened throughout Ray's career up until 1984 when he decided to just go comedy all the time with his recordings. Prior to 1984 Ray had only released a handful of novelty songs and only 3 albums devoted entirely to comedy songs: 1969's Gitarzan, 1974's Boogity-Boogity, and 1980's Shriner's Convention. It's mind boggling once you realize that between the years of 1968 and 1981 Ray Stevens released just 3 albums of comedy songs...meaning that his non-comedy output was much more dominant...and yet his reputation as a novelty artist remained strong throughout decades of where he issued non-comedy recordings. Since 1984 he's released a variety of comedy albums and became highly visible on the late, great Nashville Network (1983-1998) with his country comedy offerings.

"Written Down In My Heart" was issued as a standard vinyl single in 1982...plus it was released in a special gold colored edition that you see here. This same feature was also given to "Where The Sun Don't Shine" when it was issued as a single, too. The single is a love ballad and it reached the Country Top-40 in 1982. This would also be his next to last Top-40 Country hit. (He would later reach the Country Top-40 for the final time in early 1985 with a comedy song). Although Ray's singles would not reach the Country Top-40 after 1985 it didn't mean that his singles weren't popular with record buyers. Country radio had seemingly developed an intolerance toward comedy/novelty offerings and if radio stations played a comedy song it would either be during the overnight hours or early in the mornings where a lot of listeners wouldn't hear it. Ray's albums during his switch to all-comedy sold hundreds of thousands of copies...an impressive achievement considering the lack of genuine support from radio. As far as television appearances go, Ray performed "Written Down In My Heart" on an episode of Hee-Haw in 1982. He performed "Where the Sun Don't Shine" on an episode of That Nashville Music. "Country Boy, Country Club Girl" was performed during the Music City News Top Hits of the Year telecast in 1983. The show spotlighted the hit songs of the previous year. Ray co-hosted the show and I believe one of the perks of being the co-host allowed him to choose a song from his 1982 album to perform. The other host, Tammy Wynette, sang a song, too. The two of them opened the show singing "We've Got the Music in Music City".

Don't Laugh Now contains 10 songs. The album was dramatically different from the release in 1981 titled One More Last Chance. The 1981 album was heavy with slow-tempo ballads where as Don't Laugh Now has ballads, too, but they're mid-tempo. Side One (tracks 1 through 5) features just 1 slow-tempo ballad amongst the uptempo recordings while Side Two (tracks 6 through 10) features mid-tempo ballads and 1 slow song, "This Old Piano".

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

***- These recordings were featured on the Collector's Series release. The original release arrived in 1985 whereas a re-issue happened in 1987. The 1987 re-issue received a CD counterpart in 1992.

January 8, 2012

Ray Stevens and Televangelists, A Silver Anniversary...

The year, 1987, 25 years ago...a Silver Anniversary for a certain single from Ray Stevens. "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" came about in 1987 amidst the various scandals going on in the world of televangelism. One of the song's writers, Chet Atkins, often remarked that the song was written long before televangelists became embroiled in scandals. Obviously, though, the single's release was perfect timing as it's content spoke to a lot of people. The song's writers are Chet Atkins and Margaret Archer and it appears on a variety of Ray Stevens albums. It's home album, as I like to call it, arrived in 1987 and titled Crackin' Up. This particular album from Ray was filled with a lot of nutty comedy...as the title suggests...and "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" leads off the collection. One of the things that's noticeable about the album now, and was probably just as noticeable in 1987, is that "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" comes off as more serious than the other tracks even though it's as comical as everything else on the album. Some of the other tracks on this album include songs with titles such as "The Flies of Texas Are Upon You", "Cool Down Willard", "Sex Symbols", and "Three Legged Man". "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" found it's way onto the 1991 Greatest Hits release from Curb Records in 1991. On the collection it was track 9 while the album's final track was a newly recorded alternate take on "There's a Star Spangled Banner", a song Ray originally recorded with almost entirely different lyrics barely two years earlier in 1989. The original is on Beside Myself. The 1991 version uses the same title, melody, and chorus of the 1989 original but the verses are entirely different. The Curb collection below spotlights almost exclusively on the non-comical recordings with the exception being 1969's "Along Came Jones" and 1987's "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?". A rare inclusion on this collection is his 1975 take on "Indian Love Call", a hit single from Ray that didn't get quite the attention it should've gotten in the ensuing years.

Get The Best of Ray Stevens was the third hits album released on Ray in 1987. The first, of course, was Greatest Hits and the sequel, Greatest Hits, Volume Two, shown below. This Get The Best of Ray Stevens was sold on television and it contains 2 vinyl albums worth of material. The commercial for the collection ran a little more than a minute and I saw it a few times but wish I could see the commercial again. Amazingly, though, in this era of You Tube it hasn't resurfaced. "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" isn't featured on this collection due to the fact that this album was issued earlier in 1987 prior to the single's release. Nevertheless this 20 song collection is a wonderful stroll through musical lane. The collection features his bluesy, slow tempo version of "Furthermore" from 1984 instead of the uptempo version he did in 1962.

Greatest Hits, Volume Two pulled 8 songs from Get The Best of Ray Stevens and added then current single, "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?", as track 1 and a newly recorded song, "Mama's in the Sky With Elvis", as track 5. For the longest time this was one of the only collections in print that featured his 1979 hit "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" as all of his Warner Brothers recordings (with the exception of "In The Mood") had long been out of circulation by 1987. "In The Mood", recorded as a band of chickens and released as the Henhouse Five Plus Too in 1976, is on this Volume Two release. In fact, that recording and "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" are the only recordings Ray did for Warner Brothers that appear on compilation albums in spite of the fact that he had quite a few more hit singles with the label than just two recordings. As I've often said, if you don't own the original vinyl albums that Ray released on Warner Brothers in the late '70s as I do and if you still haven't purchased the digital downloads of a trio of 1995 releases spotlighting his Warner Brothers material then you're going to be out of luck at hearing the material because there's always the possibility that one day the songs will become unavailable all over again. Two of those 1995 releases, currently available as Mp3 digital downloads at Amazon, are: Do You Wanna Dance? and The Serious Side of Ray Stevens. A third release from Warner Brothers in 1995, Cornball, for whatever reason has never been released as a digital download.

One of the things that the internet allows is to travel back in time and read vintage news articles. I often do this sort of thing in my never ending research about Ray Stevens, his music, and his career. Here's a Google item, a reprint of a 1987 news article from the Gainesville Sun that appeared in their May 31, 1987 issue. The article was written by Joe Edwards and is one of those syndicated articles that are often printed in multiple newspapers. The article is a write-up of "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" and it includes quoted commentary from Ray about the song, religion, and televangelists. The song can be found on the 1993 collection below which is simply titled, Collection.

This CD was a little bit more ambitious in that it features 14 tracks instead of the standard 10-11 songs per release. The project features "Surfin' U.S.S.R." and "I Saw Elvis In a U.F.O.", from 1988 and 1989 respectively. Neither single reached the country charts but over the course of time both songs have become popular recordings in his career due to their exposure on You Tube and in the case of "I Saw Elvis In a U.F.O." the exposure it got at his Branson, Missouri theater in the early '90s. "Santa Claus Is Watching You" is featured on this collection, too. This recording, from 1985, became popular by way of music video exposure and the fact that it was featured on his #1 Gold album, I Have Returned. "Surfin' U.S.S.R." became a music video, too, and was seen by the millions of people who purchased Comedy Video Classics in 1992 and 1993. On Ray Stevens Live!, the 1993 home video, it includes a performance of "I Saw Elvis In a U.F.O.". The performance explains why the song became such a fan favorite in concert. The last time I saw Ray in concert he performed "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?" and it was great! The song was nominated for a Grammy in 1988 and he performed it on several non-country music oriented television shows in addition to the obvious country programs on The Nashville Network and the syndicated Hee-Haw series. The song also managed to get mentioned on Paul Harvey's radio program and in his columns during the televangelist scandals of the late '80s.

January 1, 2012

Ray Stevens and Ahab, a Golden Anniversary...

Happy New Year!! As we begin 2012 we take a look at a certain song from Ray Stevens that celebrates a Golden Anniversary this year. There were a lot of changes happening for Ray as 1962 got underway. In one of his first recording sessions of 1962 he recorded a song that would become his breakthrough hit, "Ahab the Arab". The song tells the story of an Arab named Ahab who's in love with a woman that happens to be part of a Sultan's harem. It's a comical love story with an Arabian back-drop. The single, in it's original form, ran well over 3 minutes...an unusually long running time for a pop music single. Mercury edited down the performance for the single release where it clocked in at 2 minutes, 47 seconds. The full length version, which includes a verse telling about the Sultan catching Ahab and the woman in the middle of an embrace, clocks in at roughly 3 minutes, 45 seconds. In interviews Ray often recalls how, at first, he wasn't happy with Mercury wanting to edit his song but everything worked out okay because the single hit the radio in the early summer of 1962 and in it's shortened form it became an immediate hit. The single would go on to sell more than 1,000,000 copies and earn a Gold certification from the RIAA. In those days there wasn't such a thing as a Platinum certification. Anything that reached a million copies in sales was certified Gold no matter how many millions a single would eventually sell. Today there's Platinum, Double-Platinum, Triple-Platinum, etc. etc. The Diamond certification is for CD's that sell more than 10,000,000 copies. The image below is an EP containing just four songs: "Saturday Night at the Movies", "Furthermore", "Julius Played the Trumpet", and "Popeye and Olive Oil". It was released during the time "Ahab the Arab" was becoming a household name. The EP was issued to radio stations only. I assume this was done because it spotlighted several songs that the label felt could potentially become hits and wanted radio stations to hear the songs ahead of time. "Furthermore", by the way, was released after "Ahab the Arab" but it didn't become the kind of hit that Ahab had become.

This is a compilation album featuring nine songs lifted from Ray's debut album for Mercury, 1,837 Seconds of Humor. The two songs from Ray's debut album that weren't featured on this collection were "Furthermore" and "The Rockin' Boppin' Waltz". The album was released by Pickwick Records and as you can tell from the album cover it's an illustration making reference to "Ahab the Arab" complete with the candy bars in the hand and the drawing of Ahab's love interest. Ahab is track six on this collection. I have this album in my collection...I found it on an on-line auction site quite a few years ago. It plays great, too. I wanted the album because of it's obscurity. I also wanted the album because I didn't have any of Ray's songs from his debut album on vinyl and so that was the main driving force behind my decision to purchase it. I still don't have a vinyl copy of 1,837 Seconds of Humor! I have it on CD, though. It was released on a CD with his second album, This Is Ray Stevens, by an Independent record company several years ago. (I have This Is Ray Stevens on vinyl by the way!)

MCA Records released this famous collection in 1987. I call it a famous collection because it became a Gold record a couple years after it's release but it didn't stop there. In the early '90s the collection was certified Platinum for over a million copies sold. The album features 10 recordings and it comes with liner notes by Ronnie Pugh. The album cover is a reference to Bonnie and Clyde, of course, and the slang term "hits" often used in gangster movies. This particular collection features "Ahab the Arab", the Monument recording from 1969, as track number eight. I was 10 years old when this Greatest Hits album was released and my grandfather bought the cassette version. In the liner notes it refers to "Ahab the Arab" being from 1962 (technically correct) but the recording on this collection comes from 1969 but there's no mention of this in the liner notes. The 1969 re-recording is funny, too, and it's this version that the public at large are more familiar with considering how many times it appeared on compilation albums throughout the '70s, '80s, and '90s. I didn't get to hear the 1962 recording of the song until the early '90s when I came across a low-budget release called Funny Man that Polygram Records released. When I played the tape and heard the start of "Ahab the Arab" with it's distinct intro I first thought the label made a mistake...this wasn't the version I grew up listening to...but low and behold I unknowingly was hearing the original recording for the very first time...the complete recording...all 3 minutes and 45 seconds of it!

Released in 1990 on the Curb label, His All-Time Greatest Comic Hits features 10 of Ray's biggest and best-known comedy songs. "Ahab the Arab", as you can see, is track number seven. As explained above a lot of the compilation albums released on Ray during the '70s and '80s featured the 1969 recording of "Ahab the Arab". The recording comes from Ray's 1969 comedy album, Gitarzan. This 1990 collection is no different considering how accessible his Monument Records material had become. Barnaby Records, the label Ray recorded for during the first half of the 1970's (1970-1975), obtained the rights to most of Ray's Monument recordings and often included them on compilation albums of the era. The original recording of "Ahab the Arab", as explained above, was on Mercury Records and usually the only time the original recording of the song appears on a CD is if the distributor is affiliated in some shape, fashion, or form with Mercury Records. This particular collection was certified Gold by the RIAA for selling 500,000 copies. Unfortunately it didn't come with any liner notes but that's okay...I assume Curb Records wasn't exactly expecting the CD to sell half a million copies considering that the CD was released around the same time as Ray's first studio album for the label, Lend Me Your Ears.

"Ahab the Arab" as mentioned above was the breakthrough hit for Ray Stevens. It reached the Top-5 on the Hot 100 and the Top-10 on the R&B chart in the summer of 1962. The single sold more than a million copies and the characters from the song lent their name to several business ventures for Ray. First off Ray's publishing company was for a long time called Ahab Music Company. This name remained until 1977 when it was changed to Ray Stevens Music...and it's remained the name of his music publishing company ever since. An illustration of Ahab's camel, Clyde, and an illustration of a palm tree, became Ray's logo. In the '70s and '80s Ray often wore a ring with the camel logo on it. You can look up images on-line of Ray from this period to see what I'm referring to. In the 1990's Ray's label, Clyde Records, became the home of his music video releases. The label was launched in 1988 but it didn't see much of an impact until 1992 when Ray released Comedy Video Classics. In one recording session in 1962 Ray recorded "Ahab the Arab" for himself and played on the recordings of LeRoy Van Dyke's "Walk On By" and Joe Dowell's "Wooden Heart". All three singles sold millions of copies.

In closing here is the music video that Ray made for the song in 1995. It contains the obscure portion of the song that was edited out of the original single release. A lot of his fans were only aware of the shortened version of the song since it's the version that appears on almost all of the many compilation albums that have been issued and it's the shortened version that Ray often performs in concert. The music video was made for Ray's movie, Get Serious!, that was released Direct-to-Home Video in 1995. The music video closed out the movie.

On Ahab's 50th Anniversary enjoy the 1995 music video...