October 31, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series Extra...1979...

In this installment of the Golden LP Series we take a look at a 1979 single from Ray Stevens titled "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". This particular novelty single became what the music industry describes as a surprise hit. The song has become interpreted by many who've heard it as either a tribute to the music of Barry Manilow or a vicious parody of his style. I've never actually made a point to label it a tribute or a vicious parody...all I know is I love the song and I've described it as a parody in the general sense as it replicates the sound heard in many of Manilow's songs but it's played against comical lyrics which may cause some to view it as a vicious parody. The overall melody borrows a lot from "I Write the Songs", a huge hit for Manilow in 1975.

From the pen of Dale Gonyea comes "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow". There were several write-up's about this single and there was even a promotional piece in People Magazine detailing the surprise hit and it's impact on music consumers. In country music circles it was written up in an article that appeared in the Country Song Roundup publication, the October 1979 issue. The issue featured Dolly Parton on the cover and within the issue was the article titled Help Me, Ray Stevens. The article was well-written and it featured a very reflective Ray Stevens giving his thoughts about music, hit songs, and the image that his current single will no doubt help reinforce in the minds of music buyers and the critics. In the article Ray was coming off an appearance on The Tonight Show. The song is about a man whose love life is in shambles and so he turns toward Barry Manilow for help and guidance. The lyrics string together, in a clever way, several titles of Manilow's hit songs as well as familiar names from his songs. Some of the songs mentioned are "Copacabana", "Can't Smile Without You", "Mandy", and several others.

Warner Brothers issued a compilation album in 1979 to tie in with the single. The single's picture sleeve spoofs the art design and imagery on Manilow's second studio album. The 1979 compilation album's cover art spoofs Manilow's 1975 studio album. I don't consider this a studio album and so I've presented it within this Extra installment. The LP contains 10 songs...all but one of them had been previously released. The title track, The Feeling's Not Right Again, for example, appeared on Ray's 1978 LP as did a few other selections on this 1979 compilation. The only newly recorded song is "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" as the remaining tracks were lifted from Ray's 1976, 1977, and 1978 albums. As far as the commercial success of the single goes it became a chart hit on three different radio formats: pop, adult-contemporary, and country. It reached the lower regions of the Country Top-100 but this was perhaps to be expected given that the novelty single dealt with one of pop music's biggest recording acts of the time and maybe the humor was lost on country music fans. It reached the Top-50 on the Hot 100 pop singles chart but in one of the most ironic accomplishments it climbed into the Top-15 on the Adult-Contemporary chart, coming close to reaching the Top-10. This meant that the very radio format where Barry Manilow had ruled the airwaves pretty much since the mid '70s couldn't resist the spot-on parody from Ray, either.

This novelty single would become his final release for Warner Brothers. In terms of publicity and consumer reaction, this was considered to be his biggest hit single for the label since the Top-40 pop and country success of "In the Mood" early in 1977. In other words, Ray's thoughtful and introspective ballads and love songs that he wrote and recorded while on the label just didn't have the staying power as the two novelty songs he released.  In the years/decades to come those two novelty songs would appear on many compilation albums...without a trace of any other hit single he had with the label.

It wasn't long after "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" reached it's peak and started to fall back down the charts that Ray found himself at RCA Records. He joined the label in the latter half of 1979 and his debut single arrived early in 1980...so rev up your motorcycles...we're in for a good ole time as Ray makes his way to RCA!! 

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part Sixteen...

Well, now, we're up to studio album sixteen in the Golden LP Series...it's the second album of 1978 from Ray Stevens titled Be Your Own Best Friend. The album was a much more conventional release...although this particular LP features 9 selections rather than 10 or 11. There was only one single released, the title track, and it reached the Country Top-40 in America.

"Be Your Own Best Friend" is an inspirational song and it deals with self-motivation. It's not as confrontational as 1977's "Feel the Music" happened to be but it conveys a similar can-do message of if you feel everyone in the world is against you, don't let it ruin your day, continue living your life as you see fit and have self worth. As mentioned, "Be Your Own Best Friend" reached the Country Top-40 in America. It hit the Top-20 on Canada's country music chart. You can find the LP on eBay and other on-line music stores. I purchased mine at a flea market...I inspected it prior to purchasing and the vinyl looked to be in good shape and I'm glad I bought it because it sounds just as good as the vinyl appeared. The album goes from smooth crooner country flavored ballads to mid-tempo pop music of the era. As is the case with all of Ray's albums, this one also features flawless, impeccable production and meticulous music arrangements. In the country flavored side of things we have "Hidin' Place", a song that details the excitement and happiness of feeling secluded from the world...and in the song the man feels the most at home and in his own hiding place when he's with the woman in his life. The b-side of "Be Your Own Best Friend" is a breathy slice of easy-listening called "With a Smile" where Ray describes the various headaches and hang-up's in life but if one faces problems by smiling, usually whatever's dragging a person down will go away. I mentioned the song was breathy due to how soft and understated the performance is...it has whispered tones. Ray offers a re-recorded take with "You've Got the Music Inside"...a song he originally recorded in 1973. In this performance from 1978 there's more music accompaniment and the arrangement is on the soft side. The original featured throaty nuances and a free wheeling vocalization...Ray's enunciation in the 1978 re-recording is a lot more mellow and subdued.

One of the highlights, among the many, is "You're Magic". It, too, is an easy-listening pleasant sounding catchy song. The song, armed with a bright and sunny arrangement and breezy vocalization, became an immediate favorite when I heard it for the first time. The song, basically, is about the enthusiasm and uncontrollable desires of a man who definitely has quite a passion for the woman he's singing about. On the other side of the emotional roller coaster is "Comeback"...this particular song rises the volume quite considerably compared to the soft and slow ballads that fill most of the album. In this song we hear a lover's plea in the most urgent kind of way...the hook of the song is the repetitive use not only of the title but also the demonstrative usage of it. When you finish hearing the song you'll have no doubt how much he wants the woman to comeback!

A more pop-flavored offering is heard on "The Feeling's Not Right Again". In this performance, Ray sings about a man who always comes so close to finding true love but without fail it always turns out not so good. "Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right" is a catchy mid-tempo love ballad about a man who falls victim to adultery and he initially wants to get revenge on the woman but ultimately he has a change of heart which leads to the song's title.

"L'amour" is a breathtaking song all about love. It's a song that has a unique origin in that it was written by French artist, Gilbert Becaud, who had a massive hit single with it in his native language. Ray reworked the lyrics and it has a catchy arrangement, too. The feel of the song is French...long before I knew much about the song's origins I suspected that it had some sort of international connection because the song's melody sounds foreign compared to American music. I originally assumed the song had connections with the United Kingdom or even Canada...but then I researched the song and found out it's origins.

One of the interesting trivia notes concerning Ray's stay at Warner Brothers is the lack of strong publicity that his albums and singles had generated. I wish I had a time machine and could go back to the late '70s and see just what was happening. One of the main reasons why I like to Google news archives on Ray is so I can get a feel of the media coverage, or lack of coverage, during certain points in his career. Whenever I search for news articles on Ray from the late '70s, 1977-1978 specifically, what I end up with are news articles mentioning any number of his TV appearances or maybe a write-up promoting an upcoming concert or one that already took place. I rarely find news articles that publicize his albums or singles from that time period...which leads me to believe the publicity machine wasn't cranked up all that high for Ray during that point in time. It's a shame, too, because the music he put out during this late '70s period is just as good as anything else you'll hear.

In the meantime, since there wasn't another single being pushed from Be Your Own Best Friend in the latter half of 1978, fans had to wait several months before the next project hit the market...and it hit in the spring of 1979. It was a novelty single...his first novelty release since the chicken-clucked "In the Mood" in late 1976. The novelty was rooted in parody...and chances were a listener had to at least have some sort of knowledge or familiarity with the subject being spoofed in order to really get the humor. Join me in the next installment as I discuss this 1979 novelty single from Ray Stevens...one that was such a hit that Warner Brothers compiled an album of previously recorded songs from Ray in an effort to have an LP to tie in with the surprise hit single.

October 28, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part Fifteen...

Welcome one and all to the Fifteenth installment of the Golden LP Series...where we lovingly take a look at all of the Ray Stevens studio albums since 1962. We're up to 1978...studio album fifteen is a marvelous cover project of the music Ray was the most influenced by.

There Is Something On Your Mind is one of those rare kind of Ray Stevens albums in several kinds of ways. On the one hand there's only eight recordings...there's also extensive personal commentary from Ray found on the front of the LP as to why he recorded the album and there's commentary on the back of the LP as Ray discusses each and every recording...stating the historical facts, if any, about the songs. In addition to this he also refers to several of his early R&B music heroes and offers an insight into the musician-arranger side of him as he relates how he set about choosing which sort of instrumentation to use, or not use, on several of the songs. He's very detailed in his essays/commentaries and I think it'll be surprising or revealing to those not aware of this side of Ray Stevens. There were no commercial singles released from this LP...I do not know if that was intentional or not. This is why you won't see any song from this LP appear on any Ray Stevens singles discography list and it's probably why the three Warner Brothers CD's on Ray in 1995 referred to the material picked from this LP as "previously unreleased" in the credits. Ray covers The Clovers, Bobby Marchan, The Dominoes, Ray Charles, and others along the way.

There are three entertaining medleys on this LP, too! When you subtract those medley performances, which each consist of semi-brief performances of 3 different songs, this leaves 5 stand alone recordings not part of a medley.

As mentioned, there are 8 individual selections found on the LP: "Dance Trilogy", "Talk To Me", "One Mint Julep", "Old Faithful Trilogy", "Money Honey", "Banned In Boston Trilogy", "Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash", and "There Is Something On Your Mind". The dance trilogy consists of abbreviated performances of "Do You Wanna Dance?", "When You Dance", and "Save the Last Dance For Me". The Boston trilogy consists of abbreviated performances of "Sixty Minute Man", "Work With Me Annie", and "Annie Had a Baby" while the old faithful medley features abbreviated performances of "Shake a Hand", "Since I Met You Baby", and "Always". Although the LP has 8 selections it has the normal running length of the standard 11 or 12 song album due to the lengthy medleys and the adventurous title track which runs more than 4 minutes. This is clearly one of Ray's more personal albums...given how the songs covered on this LP influenced or inspired him during his early years. Some of the songs simply were chosen because he liked them...with no influential situation whatsoever going into the decision to include some of the songs on the album. I love the album. "Money Honey" is one of the highlights as are "Dance Trilogy", "There Is Something On Your Mind", "Banned in Boston Trilogy", and "One Mint Julep". I particularly love the way the drum pounds away in the intro of "Money Honey" and the overall feel of the song. It should be noted that although this is a covers project, Ray uses his own arrangements, as he did on his previous covers projects dating back to 1975 and 1969. Some of the songs from the 1978 album would re-surface in 1995 on a 3-CD project that Warner Brothers did on Ray...a project that really had no advance warning or publicity and I bet there are many fans unaware of those CD's. To date, unless you have the vinyl album as I do, those 1995 projects are the only way you're going to be able to hear some of the songs from this 1978 album.

Lastly, but yet certainly one of the more fascinating facts surrounding the recording of this album, is the limited amount of studio musicians used. Also, it appears as if the entire album was recorded fairly quickly. Six of the recordings feature the same drummer (Jerry Carrigan), acoustic guitar player (Johnny Christopher), and recording engineer (Charles Tallent). Two of the recordings feature a different musician and engineer line-up. Mark Casstevens does the electric guitar on "Old Faithful Trilogy" and "Money Honey". Jerry Kroon plays the drums on those two recordings while the engineer for both recordings is Stuart Keathley. Credited musicians on every selection are Ray Stevens, of course, as well as bass player Jack Williams and electric guitar player, Reggie Young.  Ray is credited with the keyboard and synthesizer as well as percussion. So, the way it stands, the total number of musicians participating on six of the recordings on this LP are five: Ray Stevens, Jack Williams, Reggie Young, Johnny Christopher, and Jerry Carrigan while Mark Casstevens and Jerry Kroon are featured on two of the recordings. You won't see a musician line-up as intimate or in the single digits on any number of albums hitting the market today but Ray always seems to keep it close and he used nearly all the same musicians and background vocalists for the bulk of his albums, too.

Although acclaim hasn't found it's way to this 1978 R&B covers project yet, it's a great testament of appreciation and respect from an artist easily at home covering the sounds of early R&B, pop music, and country music. Coming up in part sixteen we take a look at Ray's second studio album in 1978...which tapped into the sounds of easy-listening and country-politan...a far cry from the sounds coming from this R&B salute.

However, it's a perfect illustration of how eclectic Ray's musical sense happens to be...going from mainstream country music on an album in 1976 to easy-listening in 1977 to early R&B in 1978 and then easy-listening and mellow/smooth crooning performances for his sixteenth studio album later in 1978. The sixteenth studio album from Ray Stevens features one of my all-time favorite cover shots of Ray, too!

Ray Stevens: Nostalgia Valley, Part 46...

A couple of new, vintage clips featuring Ray Stevens surfaced on You Tube just recently. Each of the clips comes from 1969 and they also feature Andy Williams as well as The Osmonds. The performances are from Andy's weekly show.

The first clip shows the performers in fringe decor singing a medley of rock and roll songs. The performers are not usually associated with rock music and there's a lot of humorous situations that revolve around Andy's performances. Ray is a natural, though, and could perform in that style when he chose to. The Osmonds round out the performance as the background vocalists but they're also part of the visual performance, too. Donny Osmond has several solo's in this clip.

In the second clip, which should be familiar to some, we have Dusty Springfield joining the performance. I say it should be familiar because a few months ago this clip was uploaded on You Tube in a grainy, black and white, hard to really see performance but now it's offered in it's colorized appearance. The original upload has more than 6,000 views and I made mention of the video's existence back then. Jimmy Osmond, at the age of 5 or 6 depending on when this performance was taped, has a few solo offerings...

October 26, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part Fourteen...

The fourteenth studio album from Ray Stevens arrived in 1977 and was a return, of sorts, to his earlier LP's in that most of the songs were self-written. Feel the Music, the album, was filled with smooth sounding country music aimed at a general audience. In other words it was in the category of pop-country or country-pop, depending on which music critic one was reading. Ray, to be fair, never marketed himself as a traditional country music singer but he began to have considerable television exposure and media attention within country music's ever expanding umbrella during this mid-late '70s time period and he was eventually marketed as a country artist once he joined Warner Brothers. I suspect the fact that he was never marketed as a traditional country music artist is a big reason why he's never been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame...human beings elect the members and it's human nature to let one's own biases or perceptions play a role in the decision making process. As mentioned, the LP features plenty of songs written by Ray. The emotions that are depicted throughout run the gamut from passionate, playful, happy, somber, melancholy, sad, and spiritual. The opening track, "Feel the Music", is an inspirational number about never giving up in life, be your own person, and always strive to accomplish whatever one sets out to achieve. It's one of the several written by Ray.

The back of Feel the Music shows a publicity photo of Ray Stevens that was used during that time period. The photo would surface several times throughout 1977 and into 1978...even after Ray grew his beard for good. The front of the LP is an illustration of a stereo speaker while the back of the album illustrates what the back of a standard stereo speaker looked like. A bit of trivia about the songs on this LP: the publishing is credited to Ray Stevens Music. Why do I bring that up? Well, prior to this 1977 album, all the songs that Ray published were under the Ahab Music Company name. This LP marked the first time his publishing was referred to by this new name. As far as the image goes I didn't think to take a picture showing the front of the album because that image could be found easily if one did an image search...yet seldom was shown of the LP's back cover and that's the reason why I took the picture. The front of the LP  is shown below. Obviously you all noticed that Ray's likeness doesn't appear on the front of the album...an unheard of concept for any recording artist...particularly one that was well established.

"Set The Children Free", a song written by Buddy Kalb, is a fascinating tale. The song has a religious/spiritual overtone as it tells of human behavior. It's a heavy song and Ray does a fabulous job on the recording. It's the only song on the 1977 LP that wasn't written by Ray. One of the more eye catching song titles on the album is "Junkie For You". It's a bluesy number in which Ray describes his addiction to the woman in his life. Do you want to know one of the best upbeat sad songs of all-time? The answer is "Alone With You". If you simply went by the song's title you'd think it was a passionate love ballad of some kind but it isn't! "Alone With You", with it's uptempo arrangement, tells the sad tale of a couple apparently in their final stages of marriage and how alone the two of them feel. It's arrangement will pull you in right from the start! Speaking of arrangements...the LP features another uptempo, heart pounding sing-a-long in the name of "Dixie Hummingbird". This was one of the two singles released from the album. "Dixie Hummingbird" tells all about a woman from the south that Ray can't get enough of. He hums along during the instrumental break. The single came ever so close to reaching the Country Top-40...it peaked several spots below #40...but it deserved a much better fate. At the other end of the emotional roller coaster there's "Blues Love Affair", a mid-tempo song dealing with the various complexities of love and it's motivation, from true love to one night stands, and everything in between. "Save Me From Myself", a gospel inflected number, tells the story of a man who can't stand being alone and that he's become mentally and physically unstable as a result. The only thing that can cure this, he says, is for the woman to return as soon as possible and rescue him from self-destruction.

"Road Widow", another all-time favorite, tells the story of an entertainer who spends a lot of time on the road. This distance from his wife, in his mind, must cause her to feel he's no longer alive and as a result she's referred to as a "Road Widow"...as he sings about the certain death of a relationship...but ironically he reassures himself that she knew and accepted the kind of life he led traveling all over the country and so there shouldn't be anything to worry about. "Daydream Romance" carries the same traveling man scenario as Ray sings about being on the road and fantasizing about an unspecified lover and how he can't wait to turn the daydreams into reality.   

"Get Crazy With Me" was the other single release from Feel the Music. In this recording Ray sings about breaking away from what's perceived as the norm. In the song Ray sings about a man whose had patience when it comes to a love life but seeing how patience leads to impatience, the man takes a plunge and decides to change his calm, complacent attitude toward not being in a relationship into a no holds barred, risk taking approach where he finds himself asking a woman to get crazy and wild with him...if only for one night. At the core of the song is the viewpoints of a lonely guy whose had a run of bad luck when it comes to women and now he has a chance to change all of that. The song featured an ear catching kind of arrangement...at one moment in the song it sounds as if laser beams are going to shoot from the speakers as a barrage of Sci-fi sounds take control and effectively blast the song into orbit. The sound was not necessarily something that was commonplace on country radio in 1977...but it did reach the popularity charts for a couple of weeks...peaking in the 80's on the Country chart. The song obtained several major publicity efforts...the one that was most impressive was the generous multiple page story in Country Song Roundup titled Get Crazy With Ray Stevens shown below...

The Feel the Music album reached the Top-50 on the Country Album chart. I think it's a great album and I'm sure the more dedicated fans of Ray Stevens then and now still love this album. It's one of my favorites in a long line of favorite Ray Stevens releases. His publishing company scored a big hit in 1977 when "Way Down" became a hit for Elvis Presley. It was the last hit single for Elvis during his lifetime and it features prominent bass vocals from J.D. Sumner. In the meantime, Ray was going about his business of doing concerts, recording songs, appearing on TV, writing songs, producing sessions, publishing songs, and becoming more and more familiar to country music audiences...amongst all of this activity emerged an LP with hardly any fanfare or major publicity. It sounds like to me that something was happening in early 1978...something that one just couldn't get out of one's minds...something...something...that certain something that leaps out at you when you least expect it...something was on Ray's mind and his fifteenth studio album elaborates on this. Be on the lookout for the next Golden LP Series installment...as we explore what was on Ray's mind with his follow-up release in early 1978.   

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series Extra...1977...

In this Extra feature of the Golden LP Series we take a look at a single-only release from Ray Stevens titled "In The Mood". The recording represents a series of firsts in that it was the first single release by the totally fictional group, The Hen House Five Plus Too. It would also be the first and, to date, only Top-40 single by the fictional group. The novelty song, as mentioned, was released as a single-only and it's B-side is "Classical Cluck". It's to nobody's surprise that once you hear the recording you'll immediately have a craving for a chicken sandwich or maybe some fried chicken...but then some people may have a sick stomach after hearing it...not everyone likes chicken I guess? It's like the critics wanted to pluck the feathers from the chicken before it had a chance to roost. As I've mentioned many times over the course of my fan-created blog page, not everyone appreciates bizarre, odd, nonsensical recordings whose sole purpose is to be bizarre, odd, nonsensical, etc. etc. People then, and to this day, always make the mistake of trying to look at the novelty song in the same manner one might look at a run of the mill love ballad or whatever. I've read commentary by those who simply don't like novelty songs. I've read commentary from those who consider novelty songs as wastes of time on both the singer and listener's part. I've even read commentary from those who valiantly struggle to find some sort of heavy, philosophical connection between any recorded song and human life. Those with that frame of mind are doing a disservice to themselves because novelty songs aren't meant to be heavy, deep, and philosophical. They're meant to be whimsical, nonsensical, odd, bizarre, and all the other adjectives that go with it.

Like it or not the consumers were "In the Mood" for this single in the final weeks of 1976 into the early part of 1977.         

"In the Mood" was originally a huge instrumental hit for Glenn Miller. The melody was already familiar to many people. Ray had the idea of clucking the instrumental as a group of chickens. Chickens are the main contributors but you'll also hear a cow and a goat, too. According to various interviews where he recollected the Hen House single, the recording was meant for private use but the label wanted to release it as a single. I assume the label felt that it would be something of a novelty hit of some kind and the concept was too irresistible to back away from. Whatever the reason, it did in fact become a hit single. Released in the final weeks of December 1976, "In the Mood" reached it's peak in the early months of 1977. It hit the Top-40 on both the pop and country charts and it also reached the Top-40 in the United Kingdom. It was in the U.K. where the single was released under Ray's own name rather than under the pseudonym of the Hen House Five Plus Too. It was also in the United Kingdom where it charted higher...nearly reaching the Top-30. On the American pop and country charts it scratched it's way into the Top-40 for a few weeks whereas in the U.K. it had several weeks to scratch, cackle, sizzle and then simmer.

The recording has appeared on a few Ray Stevens greatest hits releases through the years but it's not officially available in Mp3 format at this time. You can search around for the song in CD format at numerous on-line music stores...one such CD is The Best of Ray Stevens from Rhino Records.

It's available on Amazon...take a look at it...don't be chicken!   

October 25, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part Thirteen...

We've made it up to studio album thirteen...the year is 1976...the artist is Ray Stevens...the label is Warner Brothers...the album is Just For the Record. After a little more than 5 years with the Barnaby family of labels, Ray joined Warner Brothers in 1976. This label, unlike Barnaby, was considered a major label. Barnaby had long been an Independent label and as is the case with many Independent labels there was more creative freedom and less of a strict bottom line demand. Warner Brothers, in spite of it's West Coast identity and pop music affiliations, marketed Ray as a country music artist...the first label to do so. The debut album features 10 songs...all but one are original. The lone cover song happened to be Ray's debut single, "You Are So Beautiful". This continued a trend that had started with his previous album where he offered his own arrangements and interpretations of well known recordings of the past. Ray borrowed the bluegrass vibe he famously applied to "Misty" for his debut single, and like the 1975 hit, his debut single for Warner Brothers met with somewhat similar success. Ray's version of "You Are So Beautiful" hit the Country Top-20. Ray also had a hand in writing more of the songs on this LP, too. One of my favorites is "Cornball"...it's got a very catchy melody and is performed incredibly well.

One of the artists behind the scenes on this particular album as well as in the previous album was Toni Wine. She was part of the Archies singing group...their biggest release, "Sugar, Sugar", ironically enough featured hand-claps from one Ray Stevens! Toni supplied a song on Just For the Record and she can be heard providing the harmony vocals on it, too. The song is titled "Gimme a Smile" and it's one of my all-time favorite songs on the album. Those who are fans of The Captain and Tennille, or are familiar with their hit songs, might be familiar with a song called "Can't Stop Dancin'". Ray Stevens co-wrote that song and it appears on this 1976 album. It would later be covered by The Captain and Tennille and their recording would reach the Top-20.

All 10 songs, as a whole, carried a similar theme in that nearly all of the songs had to do with music in some shape, fashion, or form: singing, dancing, meditation, instrumental prowess...performing in general. When you title the LP Just For the Record it makes sense to fill the project with songs about music. The album reached the Top-40 on the Country Album chart.

"Honky Tonk Waltz" became the album's second and final single. This particular song, written by Paul Craft, became a Top-30 Country hit in America and in Canada. Ray performed this song on Pop! Goes the Country and comically attempted to dance with the show's host, Ralph Emery. Have you ever heard of a song written exclusively about meditation? If you haven't then Just For the Record has one such song. Simply titled "Om", Ray starts off the song talking about meditation and how music can be soothing and instrumental in meditation. The recording is more than 4 minutes and it's interesting and unique...there's a long electric guitar solo backed with a choir of voices exclaiming "ommm....ommmm....Om...." in rhythm. Trust me, you'll be going around saying "Om" several times a day after hearing the song! If anyone ever wonders if there's ever been a song about meditation look no further than this 1976 album. Elsewhere we have "One Man Band", a song about a couple who are breaking up and then there's "Once In Awhile" which deals with a man who carries strong memories of a former lover. It should've been a single...as should "Gimme a Smile". On the inspirational side of things is "One and Only You" and the strongest example of country is heard on "Country Licks" which gives respect to session musicians who originate from various locales such as Memphis, Tennessee and Nashville, Tennessee as well as Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

A lot of Ray's Warner Brothers recordings are among the most scarce. For the longest of time they remained out of print until the mid 1990's. Soon after the material went out of print once again and remained commercially unavailable until the Mp3 era took over the music industry in the mid 2000's. Two of the three compilation projects from the mid 1990's that Warner Brothers issued on Ray Stevens are available in Mp3 format at Amazon. The third project wasn't issued in Mp3 format for whatever reason.

Music continued to be a theme for Ray's fourteenth's studio album...the music was so close you could literally feel it...details in Part 14 of the Golden LP Series!

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part Twelve...

Studio album 12 in the career of Ray Stevens arrived in 1975 in the form of Misty. The LP contains 11 songs with 9 of them covers of mostly pop standards dating back well before 1955...with a few latter day pop songs thrown into the equation. The LP spawned four single releases...three of those releases became chart hits.

As mentioned, issued in 1975, "Misty" was the first single release. The single displayed Ray's arranging talents as he changed the slow, love ballad associated with Johnny Mathis into an uptempo, Bluegrass-infected arrangement. The main instrumentation on "Misty" was the banjo, fiddle, and the steel guitar accompanied by the piano and other instruments but by and large the banjo and steel guitar were the most prominent. The single features a lengthy, famous steel guitar solo in the middle of the song. The piano makes it's way into the solo but it's the steel guitar that dominates. As a single, "Misty" would reach the Top-5 on the Country chart and the Top-20 on the Hot 100. It's success was soon followed with the Misty album...which features a rather peculiar photo shoot of Ray decked out in a flashy white suit with a dark backdrop. I've often remarked that it looks as if he's taking in the applause from some concert or television appearance. I wish I knew the story behind this unique cover shot but I don't. There are two original songs on here to break up the flow of cover songs. "Sunshine", written by Ray and arranged in a Bluegrass flavor, is a catchy love song. Layng Martine supplies "Take Care of Business", a love ballad with heavy emphasis on love...it's one of the few songs in Ray's long career that you could describe as sultry or 'hot'. The title was probably inspired by a recurring line in Ray's 1968 hit "Mr. Businessman". Elsewhere on the album we have covers a plenty...one of the greatest is his take on "Deep Purple" which, near the end, features one of the highest notes he's ever delivered.

High notes and desire flood his version of "Indian Love Call" where instead of giving it an uptempo feeling, associated with Slim Whitman, he slows the delivery way down and turns it into a drawn out love ballad complete with doo-wop background vocals. He took his version to the Country Top-40 in the middle of 1975 and it reached the Top-70 on the Hot 100. If you order one of the DVD volumes of Pop! Goes the Country that I've written about in a few blog entries you'll be able to see Ray perform the song from the time period it was a hit. Ralph Emery, the show's host, comments that the song had been a hit for Slim Whitman as well as Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald but it had never been performed quite like the way Ray Stevens does it. The single became a fixture on several compilation albums through the latter half of the '70s and into the early '80s but then it became obscure. The thing that I've often found annoying by that practice is it prevents successive audiences of hearing certain songs from his career that were actual chart hits and with reduced availability the song(s) become less and less familiar...even though the familiarity should never go away within an artist's fan base. A Ray Stevens audience in 1989, for example, should have been as familiar with his current recordings as his older recordings. A fan of Ray's in 2012 should have some sort of basic knowledge about where Ray came from as well as his music path and various other things pertaining to him. Songs he recorded in 1975, for example, are as familiar to me as songs he did in 1968 or 1988 or 1973 or 1993 or 2002, etc., etc. However, this all-encompassing point of view obviously isn't shared with many record companies and so a lot of compilation albums released on Ray Stevens seemed to cater to specific time frames and it's perhaps decided that someone in 2012 may not care to hear something Ray recorded in 1970 or 1983 or 1991. "Indian Love Call" made a re-appearance in an early '90s compilation release and it appeared on later Mp3 digital releases but it's definitely one of those hit songs from Ray that's obscure now.

"Young Love", originally a huge hit for Sonny James and later, Tab Hunter, received the Ray Stevens treatment for the Misty album. "Young Love" became the third single release from the album in the latter half of 1975. Ray's version reached the Country Top-50 and on the Hot 100 pop chart it managed to crawl up several spaces where it peaked...one of his lowest charting Hot 100 finishes since the mid 1960's. Some of the other cover songs, not released as singles, but still just as great are "Over the Rainbow", "Cow Cow Boogie", and "Oh, Lonesome Me". The latter is the only cover song originating in country music from the pen of Don Gibson. 

Depending in what country you lived in at the time, Barnaby Records often issued singles seemingly at random...pushing songs that may have been album tracks or B-sides in America but issuing them overseas as A-sides. Judging by the picture sleeve, "Lady of Spain" is the A-side and "Mockingbird Hill" is the B-side. The picture of Ray comes from his 1973 Nashville album. "Mockingbird Hill" had been pushed as an A-side early in 1976. It was around this point in time that Ray and Barnaby Records parted ways. This was by far his longest-lasting home...having released his first singles for the label early in 1970. Several months after Ray's departure from the label, "Lady of Spain" Bubbled Under the Hot 100. Ray's departure from Barnaby in the early part of 1976 ended on a high note, actually. He won a Grammy in 1976 for Best Arrangement of the Year for his version of "Misty". There was no lengthy gap between single releases, though, and his debut single for the much larger Warner Brothers Records arrived soon after "Mockingbird Hill" had failed to reach the charts.

October 24, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part Eleven...

Welcome to the Golden LP Series...we're up to studio album eleven in the career of Ray Stevens. This particular album, released in 1974, centered around a certain single that's become the biggest selling hit of his career. The fad of streaking dominated much of 1974...which consisted of people taking off their clothes and running naked through a crowd.

In his various interviews, Ray recalls how he was inspired to write "The Streak". He remarked that he had read about the phenomena in the back of a weekly news magazine and since the subject had potential for a comedy song he started drafting it. As luck would have it, at the 1974 Oscar awards, a streaker appeared from out of nowhere. David Niven famously commented on this and before long streaking became a fad across the country and even overseas. Coinciding with all the front page news and editorials about streaking that took place on television news programs and in newspapers, in addition to the streaker at the Oscars, according to Ray's recollections he quickly dug out the streaking song he'd been working on and he put the finishing touches on it. The single was rush released, literally, in the early part of spring 1974. Since the song was so topical and about a subject everyone, it seemed, was talking about worldwide it quickly became what's referred to as a monster hit. It was well-written and had several hooks and catch-phrases which probably played a key factor in it becoming the only streaking song to be a genuine hit single.

"The Streak" flew up the Hot 100 pop chart within a matter of weeks...hitting #1 in one of the fastest climbs to the top. It remained at #1 for 4 weeks, eventually selling over five million singles, and it reached #1 in several other counties, too. It crossed over and became a Top-5 country hit. It was certified Gold and Silver for international sales and easily became one of the Top-10 hits of the entire year in America and overseas. "The Streak", a novelty song, became Ray's first #1 single since 1970. Although Ray had quite a few Top-40 hits in various music formats between the years of 1970 and 1973, "The Streak" was by far the biggest single from Ray since early 1971's novelty, "Bridget the Midget".

The song went on become one of his most requested and highest selling. In pop culture the fad of streaking was primarily looked down on and the national fad didn't last any substantial length of time beyond the spring/summer months of 1974 yet "The Streak" hit at the perfect time, a quintessential ingredient for a true novelty song. A modern day music listener not familiar with streaking and how big of a fad it was and perhaps not familiar with Ray Stevens, neither, will probably wonder why a song about running around naked was written or even released. Ray made a music video of the song 18 years later in 1992 and he still performs it in concert to this very day. Why shouldn't he? It's one of his biggest hits.

The streaking single eventually spawned a studio album, Ray's 11th...titled Boogity Boogity. Just about anyone not familiar with the titles of Ray's albums will see this particular release and mistakenly think the album is titled Woosh but it isn't. The album features 9 songs, including "The Streak", and three previously released comedy songs added to fill out the 9 song LP. The previously released songs are "Freddie Feelgood", "Bagpipes, That's My Bag", and "Bridget the Midget"         

The follow-up to "The Streak" came along in the latter half of summer 1974. The single, "The Moonlight Special", is a spot on parody of the massively popular rock music program, The Midnight Special, which featured disc jockey Wolfman Jack. In this song Ray does impressions of Wolfman Jack, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Alice Cooper, and Jerry Lee Lewis. It reached the Top-80 on the Hot 100...it should've been a much bigger single than that considering how hilarious his impressions were and the fact that it spoofed a television program that was quite popular through much of the '70s. This was the second and final single release from the Boogity Boogity album. The remainder of the selections include a mix of comedy and novelty...plus one love ballad. "Smith and Jones" is the second streaking song...it's more about flashers, though. The song is about two undercover agents staking out a public park with neither agent knowing the other and each suspecting the other as a flasher. "Heart Transplant" tells the strange story of a guy who gets a heart transplant at age 82...he's given a younger heart and as a result he has the inner stamina of a twenty something but a body of an 82 year old. We're told of the conflicts he goes through wanting to rock out and party but his body just isn't into it. "Don't Boogie Woogie" is not exactly a comedy song and it's not a love ballad...it's a piano rocker in the vein of Jerry Lee Lewis. I believe Jerry Lee recorded this before or after Ray did. "Just So Proud To Be Here", the love ballad, is mid-tempo and breaks up the overall uptempo-frantic-comic feeling of the LP. After the comedy album and it's two singles ran their course on the weekly music charts, Ray turned to serious works once again. In late 1974 he released a new ballad available as a single-only titled "Everybody Needs a Rainbow" and it ultimately found it's pot of gold as it hit the Easy-Listening Top-20 and the Country Top-40. Ray would move more into country music the following year although he was still charting on the Hot 100 and Easy-Listening with frequency. In Part 12 of the Golden LP Series we'll take a look at his 1975 studio album where he brought back pop standards with new arrangements.  

October 22, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part Ten...

Welcome to the latest Golden LP Series installment as we take a look at each studio album released by Ray Stevens over the last 50 years. 2012 marks the Golden Anniversary of his LP debut on Mercury Records. We're up to studio album ten, Nashville, an album filled with glorious love songs and a couple of songs uniquely suited for Ray's style. This album came along in the winter of 1973 and performed relatively well on the country music charts. Ray was making the rounds of various country oriented television programs as well as pop music programs throughout 1972 and 1973. The title track, according to various interviews Ray has given, was inspired by his homesick feelings while on tour overseas. "Nashville" is one of the best, if not the absolute best, salute to Music City, U.S.A. from the pen of one of it's most creative personalities. The single is obviously dated now...Ray uses a lot of topical references in the lyrics...a history lesson today as it references the people and places in and around Nashville, Tennessee in the early '70s. The single returned him to the weekly music charts for the first time since the latter half of 1972 when he was coming off his successful gospel album project. It reached the country and Easy-Listening charts in the summer of 1973...making the Top-40 in both formats. The album wouldn't be released until several months later. Away from the music in 1973 saw Ray taking part in a local Cerebral Palsy telethon. At the start of the year Ray was among the featured performers during quite an extensive Inauguration gala thrown by Richard Nixon in January 1973. The festivities lasted nearly a week...Ray took part on Day 3.

"Love Me Longer" was the second single release from Nashville. This particular song deals with adultery...certainly not anything new to country or pop songs. In the case of this song, though, it's written from a different perspective. In the song Ray encounters a woman whose married and instead of taking advantage of the scenario as some lonely men would he becomes rather inquisitive about her willingness and her seeming acceptability of the situation at hand and how she'll handle an affair. Apparently she runs off to think things over before giving a final answer and later confronts Ray again. He tells her how painful it is being lonesome. It's a wonderful song and it was written by a writer named Nick van Maarth, the same writer who penned "Losin' Streak". Now, as luck would have it, "Love Me Longer" didn't make the charts. It became commercially available late in 1973, around the same time the Nashville album hit the Country Album survey. The album hit through the strength of publicity/promotion of the "Nashville" single's lingering impact and the various programs Ray appeared on, performing it for the masses. He performed the song on such non-country programs as the Dean Martin Show...becoming a featured guest on Dean's replacement series titled Dean Martin Presents Music: Country. He recorded an audio special for the military in their Here's To Vets series. Ray gave his thoughts and opinions about the military and various charitable organizations dealing with Veterans. Several of his songs were interwoven into the special, including "Nashville".

Now, elsewhere on the Nashville album, we have the breath taking "Golden Age". When I first heard this song I instantly loved it...the arrangement pulls you in first and foremost...the song deals with growing older and how age plays a role in everything. The song on this album that I hinted at in the previous blog entry having heavy production values and multiple overdubbing is Ray's cover of "Never Ending Song of Love". It is almost impossible once you hear Ray's version to ever prefer how the song is often performed by other artists. It's always been a catchy uptempo song...often performed in duet fashion and sometimes solo...but nothing like how Ray covered it. What Ray did was create an urgent vocal delivery complete with wild, uncontrolled accompaniment in the background and an arrangement that complimented the wild accompaniment. I assume Ray covered the song for the specific purpose of recording it the way he did.

Ray talks directly to the listener at the start of "Fish, Eat, Sleep" telling how he obtained the song and his reasons for recording it. It's one of the few recordings where Ray starts out a recording talking directly to the listener. As his previous album did, Nashville also features an instrumental. This instrumental, titled "Float", is a bit more uptempo than it's predecessor and you'll find yourself humming along to it. In my previous blog entry I mentioned that this album contained more story songs than it's predecessor. I already mentioned "Golden Age", "Fish, Eat, Sleep", and "Love Me Longer"...another example of this can be heard on "You've Got the Music Inside" and "Undivided Attention". Irony fills the lyrics in "Nobody's Fool" in which a woman describes herself as a 'nobody' but the man doesn't buy it. One of the more typical love songs is "Piece by Piece"...which happens to be one of the numerous love ballads found on the album...and Ray sounds like he had fun recording it.

"Destroyed" is one of the unique songs on here...a cleverly written song detailing a broken relationship. It comes from the pen of Merle Kilgore. In fact, seven of the eleven songs on this album were written by other writers. The songs that Ray Stevens wrote are: "Nashville", "Golden Age", "Float", and "You've Got the Music Inside". Layng Martine supplied "Piece by Piece" and "Undivided Attention"; Delaney Bramlett was the writer of "Never Ending Song of Love"; John Pritchard, Jr. wrote "Fish, Eat, Sleep"; and Tupper Saussy wrote "Nobody's Fool". Ray rode the success of this 1973 album and it's country music flavor throughout the latter half of 1973 into 1974...straddling the fence between pop and country with the best of them. Nashville provided some strong country music exposure for Ray Stevens that had been lacking in the past. He crossed-over with some of his pop singles in 1969, 1970, and 1972...but you couldn't exactly call it a serious push for country music acceptance.

Now, just when it appeared that country music was going to be Ray's exclusive outlet with his music, from out of nowhere in the spring of 1974 he hit upon a massive streak of success and before you could say 'boogity-boogity', Ray Stevens found himself having what's turned out to be the biggest selling hit single of his career...

Be on the lookout for Part Eleven of the Golden LP Series as I discuss the bare essentials of this Ray Stevens classic, the impact it had with pop culture both pro and con, and it's undeniable success internationally.

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part Nine...

We've made our way up to Losin' Streak, the ninth studio album from Ray Stevens. This particular release can easily be referred to as super-obscure. The album had the misfortune of receiving next to no publicity and to this day it remains an overlooked gem of an album. The only single release from the project was the title track, "Losin' Streak", which occurred early in 1973 and it didn't make an appearance on any weekly singles chart. There was a lot of activity going on in Ray's career, behind the scenes, as several of his recordings were earning publisher awards and other citations in addition to the success of his new recording studio at the time, The Ray Stevens Sound Laboratory, a critically praised top-flight studio that saw producers and artists lining up to utilize the facility for their recordings due to the advanced technology that it was equipped with. One of the stories that ran during that time period was how productive his studio had become for other artists that he often found little time for his own recordings. However, Losin' Streak changed all that and it became his debut release from his new recording studio. As mentioned, the title track was released as a single in the early months of 1973...my research shows that it became commercially available in late February. Typically a single is given two, sometimes three months, to make an impact at radio or on the charts in some way. The typical life-span for a charted single can be anywhere from 11 weeks to 16 weeks depending on just how big a song becomes with radio or the public. Apparently "Losin' Streak" didn't enthuse radio programmers as it didn't reach the charts...and the album of the same name, featuring 11 songs total, hit during the early spring of 1973. The album also failed to reach any weekly LP chart upon it's arrival. Now, this isn't surprising considering the lead-off single wasn't a chart hit but it's a bit baffling why no other single was released to help bolster potential sales for the Losin' Streak album...but then again, research I did several years ago shows that within a month of the release the Losin' Streak album Ray was already looking ahead to his next single release. That release came into existence in late June of 1973.

The 11 songs on the album appear in the following manner: 5 songs on Side 1 and 6 songs on Side 2. The album's lead-off is the title track, "Losin' Streak". Ray offers an updated version of "Just One Of Life's Little Tragedies", a song he originally recorded in 1963. In an inspirational vein is "Inside", one of several highlights from the album. The music heard on this album is much more synthesized and heavy on effects...again, this is a result of Ray's technological prowess at his new recording studio. He gives a slow, bluesy rendition of "Bye Bye Love" to close out Side 1. "Things Work Out", track four, is another inspirational message and this one deals with relationship issues and how things seem to work out for the best regardless of the situation. The opening track on Side 2, "Being Friends", tells the story of a couple who haven't yet become an item but are slowly getting there through friendship. Clever lyrics and irony sum up the mismatched couple sang about in "Idaho Wine" while "This Is Your Life" shows off more studio effects as Ray holds nothing back as he belts out the chorus of the song, aided by overdubbed harmonies and other production work. "Laid Back" is an instrumental...it isn't often that an instrumental shows up on a vocal album...and there's no indication that it's an instrumental in the credits so for those who may track down this LP on auction sites you've now been informed that one of the selections is an instrumental. It's a soothing and mellow instrumental as well...perhaps deliberately placed after the power ballad performance of "This Is Your Life". Track 10 is Ray's cover of a 1971 country music hit written and recorded by Freddie Hart called "Easy Lovin". Freddie's recording was the #1 Country Single of 1971 and it won numerous awards and was still a radio recurrent by the time Ray did his cover version. Losin' Streak closes with "What Do You Know", a song with heavy philosophical lyrics.

To the casual music audience, Ray Stevens was still very much viewed as a comical artist and on the music side of things his releases were almost automatically marketed to a pop audience. As the '70s progressed his singles started to find more and more acceptance with older audiences...those typically aged 35 and up...country music had a core fan base of older and slightly more conservative music buyers when compared to the demographic make-up of Top-40 pop radio whose main target audience ranged anywhere from age 18 to 35. After the critical and consumer neglect of Losin' Streak took up the first several months of 1973, Ray's tenth studio album came along soon after in the summer. This time the album focused more on story songs and less on production effects and techniques...although there is one song on the tenth studio album that showcased Ray's expert production skills.

It's time we visit Nashville in the next Golden LP Series...an album whose title track obviously shows just how much the city means to the artist.    

October 21, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part Eight...

The eighth studio album from Ray Stevens was the gospel collection, Turn Your Radio On. The album featured a lot more original material than standard gospel numbers although one of the more familiar gospel songs, "Turn Your Radio On", acted as the album's title. The album had apparently been in the planning stages for awhile because in the middle of 1971 Ray started releasing gospel singles in the aftermath of "Bridget the Midget" and the massive success he had with the song. The first gospel release was "A Mama and a Papa", a song from the pen of writer named Tom Autry. The single told the tale of the importance of having both a mother and a father figure in your life. As is the case with most gospel songs there's a resistance by mainstream radio to embrace the material and as a result they rarely obtained any publicity...which affects potential sales. Nowadays there are several weekly music charts that specialize in gospel and inspirational releases as well as various radio stations that program all gospel music. 

"A Mama and a Papa" charted for a couple of weeks on the Hot 100 in May 1971 and peaked in the Top-90. It nonetheless did exceptionally better on the adult-oriented Easy-Listening format where it hit the Top-5 in America and the Top-10 on Canada's equivalent. The single's b-side, "Melt", has never appeared on any compilation album and as far as I know the only place it's available is on the b-side of "A Mama and a Papa".

One of the eye catching things about the album's cover is what I've often referred to as the heavenly glow that surrounds Ray. The bright light effect. This particular image of Ray would also appear on several single releases overseas. The second single release, "All My Trials", features a marvelous arrangement and one that in the publicity pieces pointed out that Ray overdubbed his voice over 20 times to create the background choir effect heard throughout. It was released in the fall of 1971 and it peaked in the Top-70 on the Hot 100 but like it's predecessor it had it's biggest impact on the Easy-Listening format where it reached the Top-10. The running time of the song, in it's full length, was more than 4 minutes which must have created issues among some radio stations because there's an edited version that also exists. The edited take removes a large chunk of what I call the instrumental mood music which also includes a passage of nothing but vocally created musical accompaniment where Ray's overdubbed vocal harmonies come into full display. If you're familiar with the longer version you'll more than likely prefer it over the edited version. There's more than 1 minute of audio removed in the edited down release.

The third single release was the album's title, "Turn Your Radio On". Issued late in 1971 it ultimately became a hit single early in 1972. The song reached the Top-10 on Canada's country music chart and the Top-20 on America's country music chart. It also reached the Easy-Listening Top-30 and the Top-70 on the Hot 100. The album hit the Top-20 on the Country Album list. It was by far his biggest showing, to date, on the various country music charts. His various singles had charted more heavily on pop music's Hot 100 as well as the Easy-Listening chart and this would remain the case through the mid '70s when his releases were also starting to appear more consistently on the weekly country music chart. A fourth single release, "Love Lifted Me", became an obscure hit single in Bangkok but nowhere else. Ray's version of the song featured a rock and roll arrangement and it's a great recording but it's one of those kind of songs that had limited appeal regardless of how good it was. Some of the other songs on this collection include "Glory Special", "Let Our Love Be a Light Unto the People", the previously released "Have a Little Talk With Myself", and the gospel shouter "Why Don't You Lead Me To That Rock" which starts out rather quietly but builds up to it's explosive conclusion. Ray would follow up the all-gospel release a year later in 1973 with his ninth studio album which featured a rather peculiar title track...was Ray Stevens really on a Losin' Streak in 1973?

We'll find out in the next installment of the Golden LP Series.

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series Extra...1971...

Welcome to this Extra feature of the Golden LP Series. In this specific blog entry I'll be commenting about a certain single from Ray Stevens that hit in December 1970 but it had it greatest impact the following year. The current single from Ray, at the time, was "Sunset Strip". This particular single, as mentioned in the previous blog entry, became a Top-20 Easy-Listening hit. Several weeks after the single became a chart hit, his label, Barnaby Records, issued "Bridget the Midget The Queen of the Blues". It hit the charts in America during December of 1970, reaching the Top-50 early in 1971. However, the impact that the single had internationally had to have been a surprising achievement for all involved. The novelty single hit the Top-5 in several different countries throughout the early half of 1971. It reached the Top-5 in Holland, Belgium, Brazil, and the United Kingdom just to name a few. The novelty single used a sped-up vocal technique commonly associated with The Chipmunks franchise. The song, at it's core, is a spoof of Go-Go dance clubs where Ray portrays the singer/narrator, the emcee, Bridget, as well as a spaced out patron forever trying to get up on stage. The song was available as a single-only and eventually appeared on the first Greatest Hits release that Barnaby issued on Ray. Given the enormous popularity of the single overseas it created the scenario where Ray competed with himself and as history shows, "Bridget the Midget the Queen of the Blues" won the sales battle. 

As a hit single, "Bridget the Midget the Queen of the Blues" found it's way onto numerous compilation albums released on Ray Stevens throughout the 1970's but one of the more ironic aspects about this is how obscure the single's appearance became as the 1980's progressed. I'd been a fan of Ray's since about the mid '80s...I clearly remember watching him on Hee-Haw in the mid '80s as a co-host with Roy Clark...but I was not aware of this particular song at that point in time because it didn't appear on the 1983 or 1987 Greatest Hits releases from RCA and MCA, respectively, and yet other singles from the 1970's by Ray appeared on those albums. It wouldn't be until a 1990 compilation from Curb Records appeared on the market that I was introduced to this song for the first time. It's since become more prominent on CD and Mp3 but for whatever reason it was mostly an obscure offering during the 1980's.  

As was the case with most single releases by artists in the pop music umbrella, picture sleeves were commonplace and depending on how popular a single happened to be the more alternate picture sleeves it would spawn. There were multiple picture sleeves for this particular song and each used different pictures of Ray taken from various photo sessions in the late '60s and early '70s. The b-side, "Night People", originated on the Unreal!!! album. "Bridget the Midget" spent a combined total of more than 30 weeks on the weekly international music charts and it further reinforced his image as "a singer of comedy songs" to the general music buyer. Ray would follow up this single with a series of gospel-flavored offerings which ultimately climaxed in the 1972 release of his eighth studio album, Turn Your Radio On, so be on the lookout for Part Eight of the Golden LP series.

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part Seven...

Welcome to the Golden LP series...as you can see I'm at part seven. For those who may read this blog entry and have no prior knowledge of this particular series then a brief explanation is in order. I began this series to spotlight every studio album released on Ray Stevens, in chronological order, and also spotlight a few compilation releases. Since this is part seven in the series we'll be looking at his seventh studio album, Unreal!!!. The addition of the three explanation points is featured on the official album title and so I thought I'd include them, too. I usually don't get too specific when it comes to how an album or song title is officially written but in this case I decided to.

One of the dramatic differences between the second Ray Stevens album from 1970 and the first is obviously the subject matter of the songs. Also, with this second album, it reverts back to a key ingredient from his earlier studio albums: self-written songs. This album contains, for the most part, songs written by Ray. There are only two songs on the album that credit other writers. I'm not going to say that singers have to write their own songs, but, if any artist becomes known for recording their own songs then what happens over the course of time is an unavoidable and unfair criticism comparison between the self-written material performed by the artist and what's referred to as the interpretive material performed by the artist. It's never really mattered to me who wrote what...if a singer doesn't write lyrics or music so be it...if a singer happens to be a writer then that's fine, too. I've never gotten caught up in the whole singer-songwriter verses crooner debate that's gone on back and fourth for decades amongst music critics and music purists. A great singer is a great singer, period...whether he or she writes their own songs is irrelevant. In music circles a lot of people like to use the phrases double threat, triple threat, etc. etc. when it comes to an artist's talent level. As I've mentioned before, Ray Stevens is more than even a quintuple-threat as he not only is a singer, but he's also a songwriter, musician, producer, arranger, and song publisher. You can also add music video mogul to that list as well. Does all of this sound unreal to any readers? Ray, for many decades, has often been viewed as a "singer of comedy songs" and yes, comedy is where a lot of his longevity stems from, but if you examine and look at his overall career and the various facets of the music industry that he's been a part of there's more than enough evidence to show that he's more than just "a singer of comedy songs". If this assertion sounds unreal to anybody then let's take a look at the seventh studio album from Ray Stevens...titled Unreal!!!

The album features 11 songs and the material ranges from topical commentary to traditional love ballads to inspirational songs. Overall the Unreal!!! album is heavily topical...with references made to protests, the war, social issues, and politics in general. The album's main single, in hindsight, is obviously "America, Communicate With Me". Although you probably will not find mention of this song in any History of Pop Music publication or any editorial chronicling protest-era pop music of the late '60s and early '70s, I happen to feel that this particular song spoke to a much wider audience and reflected the common sense logic of the average citizen not caught up in any extreme political or social agenda from either political party. The song opens up with Ray asking a single question with two very different points of view as responses. I have no idea who the two people giving their responses happen to be or whether or not the distant sound of a car horn is a studio effect or if Ray literally went out in the street and asked two people, at random, his topical question. Whatever the case, the crux of the song is established at that point forward as Ray offers a middle of the road solution to the nation's social issues of the day. The single came ever so close to hitting the Top-40 on the Hot 100 but it did manage to reach the Easy-Listening Top-20. If you have never heard the song before I urge you to take a listen to it. I say that at any chance I get because it's a great song, obviously, but also because it stymies the narrative that several left-leaning bloggers have spread in recent years that Ray's "never gotten political with his music" but this song and the entire Unreal!!! album shows otherwise.

The other single from the album is a song called "Sunset Strip". It is in this song that the album's title is heard prominently throughout the chorus by the choir of background vocals...which are his own vocals recorded in different harmonies and over-dubbed onto the recording. The song isn't necessarily political or topical but it carries a social message, of sorts, as it salutes the culture of the West Coast. The song features a marvelous production recalling the sounds of the Beach Boys and other groups who specialized in surfer-style, fun, uptempo escapist music. The image off to the right is the sheet music that was sold in stores during that time period. I believe the photo was taken during a performance from an Andy Williams program or from a performance on Ray's own show in 1970. The single became another strong hit with older adult audiences...reaching the Easy-Listening Top-20. It reached the Top-90 on the Hot 100, though, indicating quite clearly that it was less of a hit amongst the audience it was aiming for and more of a hit with an older audience that perhaps felt nostalgia for beach music and West Coast pop music in general. It's a great song, nonetheless, and another vocal gem in my opinion. In hindsight, I feel the main reason that "Sunset Strip" was less of a hit in the youth oriented Hot 100 can be tied to a certain single release by Ray Stevens literally a few weeks after "Sunset Strip" hit the charts. Ray had the dubious distinction of competing with himself in the final months of 1970 and into early 1971. I will have more information on this scenario in my next blog entry.

The remainder of the 1970 Unreal!!! album, as mentioned, stays with a topical theme. "Talking" is credited to Ray's brother, John. The song captured the sentiments of the frustrated and the annoyed. The song deals with the frustration of having very little information coming in about the war and how it appeared like the decision makers in Washington, D.C. were more interested in talking about problems rather than coming up with solutions. It's one of the more pointed songs on the album and the shortest, clocking in at a little over 2 minutes. "Loving You On Paper" tackles the subject of war love letters and the heartache and anxieties that soldiers in the battlefield feel...never knowing if today will be their last. "Can We Get To That" is another topical offering where Ray compares and contrasts the priorities placed on a myriad of issues...pointing out how the most trivial of concerns almost always takes much more priority over the more serious issues facing society. In the love song category we have "Islands" and "Dream Girl". In the latter we hear of a broken relationship where the woman escapes into a world of fantasy. It's a clever song and not what you might expect by judging from the song title alone. "Islands" is the more traditional love song in that it paints a picture of a couple who've drifted apart. A few social commentary offerings complete the 11 song album. "Come Around", one of the two songs not written by Ray Stevens, is an inspirational flavored song about tolerance and finding common ground. "Monkey See, Monkey Do" comments on the competitive nature of the human lifestyle and how people tend to want to mimic their friends and neighbors or compete with them on an extravagant level while losing sight of true necessities of life. "Night People" comments on the single life as it tells the story of a man who spends most of his time hopping from one bar to the next after the collapse of a previous relationship. His efforts to find someone else fail night after night. Lastly, "Imitation of Life" comments on public persona and the charade of acting out a positive, happy relationship in public in order to mask the truth.

The Unreal!!! album is one in a long list of compelling Ray Stevens albums. Those who've become used to the hilarious, comical image of Ray the last couple of decades need to take a listen to his more serious recordings if you hadn't done so before. However, in spite of the compelling songs on the 1970 album and his serious recordings gaining some momentum with music buyers it would be another comical release from him that dominated the coverage in the trade publications and music charts world wide. We'll discuss that comical single in my next chapter of this series!

October 17, 2012

Ray Stevens: Obama Nation, Part 22...

Seen the Ray Stevens "Obama Nation" music video yet? You have if you've been a reader of this blog for any length of time. The video's unique views currently sit at 662,692! It's gotten more and more exposure due to the series of debates and the closer we get to Election Day.

It's laughable seeing all of the liberal bloggers, pundits, and commentators in a giddy gaggle of excitement proclaiming Obama as the 'winner' of Debate #2 Tuesday night. Stand back and examine what's going on...they're excited because Obama raised his voice and laid on the arrogance, coupled with the interruption technique mastered by Joe Biden. Exactly what did Obama have to say about his time in the White House that he hadn't been saying all year long during the campaign speeches? What did Obama say that qualified him for another 4 years? He interrupted, twisted facts, played class warfare, and in the middle of it was a moderator who suspiciously ran to his aid whenever he was at a loss for words or was confronted with subject matter about his own record. So, no, Obama didn't 'win' last night...if one is to play the game of who won then you'd have to pick Romney as the winner again. He spoke about the facts, spoke about his ideas and visions for the country, and spoke about how he'd deal with the economy and what his foreign policy would look like. All Obama could do, as mentioned earlier, was raise his voice and eventually resort to name calling and 'gotcha' moments which, to me, shown he was simply there for potential sound-bytes and visual swagger to cheer up his voting base rather than have a discussion about the top issues of the day.

The Libya issue came up...and Obama had the nerve to say that he called it a terrorist attack a day later on September 12. What Obama did was use the phrase 'act of terror' in a generalization...those words were said in a speech he gave but in no way did he declare it a terrorist attack in the traditional sense and what's more baffling is why Obama, Hillary Clinton, and everyone else in the Administration were spreading the false story about the Libya event being tied to a You Tube video if they knew it was a terrorist attack all along. What's ended up happening is two to three story-lines are being muddled and blended together to create confusion. The third debate between Romney and Obama will be about foreign policy and so much will be discussed about Libya, I assume!?!

October 15, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part Six...

The sixth studio album from Ray Stevens, Everything Is Beautiful, came along in 1970. The album marked Ray's debut on Barnaby Records, a label owned by Andy Williams, which was distributed by CBS domestically and MGM internationally during the first few years of Ray's involvement with the label. Ray's debut single for the label became the biggest hit of his career to that point. "Everything Is Beautiful" is a wonderful song from start to finish which tells of an ideal world and creates escapism and optimism in the process. The song was issued at a time when the Vietnam War protests were still raging as the war became a daily headline in local and national newscasts. The pop music of this time period was most often centered around the news of the day and topical events in general. Television comedies and dramas, and even cartoon programming, were slipping social and political commentary in an indirect way into the scripts. The look and presentation of most variety shows on TV mirrored the youth-oriented/psychedelic/hippie culture. The Andy Williams Show had a youth-oriented backdrop during it's final years on the air and it showcased quite a few musical acts from that youth culture even though the star of the show and many of the regulars appeared more conservative in their appearances.

Ray remained a long-time friend of Andy's and was credited with being the one that inspired Andy to open up his own Branson, Missouri theater in 1992. Ray will be performing at the Andy Williams Moon River Theater in Branson, Missouri beginning tonight, October 15, 2012 and lasting through October 20. Ray will perform a total of 6 concerts during the on-going series saluting Andy's life and career. The appearance from Ray had been scheduled long in advance and was originally designed to be part of a celebration series of Andy's career, with Andy himself in attendance, but since his recent death in late September the concert series is understandably taking on more of a memorial celebration.

The Everything Is Beautiful album hit the market in June of 1970, mere weeks after the title track had hit #1 on both the American pop chart and the Easy-Listening chart. The single hit #1 during late May of 1970...remaining at the top for 3 weeks on the Easy-Listening chart and 2 weeks at #1 on the Hot 100. The song would reach #1 in other countries, too, and also crossover and become a Top-40 country music hit. The album's release and the single's achievement of hitting #1 and staying there into early June wasn't the only great news for Ray Stevens...later that month he became the host of the Andy Williams Summer Show on NBC-TV. In those days it wasn't uncommon for variety show hosts to take the summer off and have a substitute fill-in, rather than show reruns, and it was that scenario that led Ray into being picked as the host of the fill-in program for Andy Williams. The show was on the air every week from June 20, 1970 through August 8, 1970. "Everything Is Beautiful" was the show's theme song which no doubt continued to help the sales of the single soar even higher. The single reportedly sold more than 3,000,000 copies altogether from both domestic and international releases and it was certified Gold by the RIAA. The album reached the Top-40 on the pop album chart. On the back of the album cover it shows a picture of Ray and Andy side by side.

Cast members of Ray's TV show included Mama Cass, Lulu, and Steve Martin, just to name a few.

The b-side of "Everything Is Beautiful" was "A Brighter Day" which carries a similar message as "Have a Little Talk With Myself" did. Aside from the title track and "A Brighter Day" the remainder of the album feature his versions of other artist's hits. In the picture above, I'm holding the CD re-release which features the sixth and seventh studio albums from Ray Stevens. Some of the songs covered on Everything Is Beautiful are: "Walk a Mile In My Shoes", "Get Together", "Leaving on a Jet Plane", "Something", and "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head". Interestingly, Ray was offered the chance of recording "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" first...but had to turn it down. He had just completed "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" and didn't want to postpone it's release. The Raindrops song found it's way to B.J. Thomas, who ended up having a massively popular recording of it. The film that featured the song was Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman. One of the most majestic recordings on the album is "A Time for Us", referred to as the Romeo and Juliet Love Theme. In this song Ray goes all out vocally...easily the best performance of that particular recording that you'll ever hear.

All of this success for Ray Stevens in 1970, critically and commercially, may have seemed to come from out of nowhere to a general audience who may have only known of Ray for a few sporadic novelty songs. In fact, the official name of the summer fill-in show for Andy Williams was titled Andy Williams Presents...The Ray Stevens Show???. The reality was Ray had been a long-time fixture in recording studios as a session musician, arranger, and producer for other artists as well as on his own recordings. To some critics and maybe to Ray himself, all of this meteoric success in 1970 was something unreal...which coincidentally is the name of Ray's seventh studio album...

Coming up next in this series we'll take a really good look at Unreal, the seventh studio album from Ray Stevens.

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part Five...

On this crisp Monday morning we take a look at the fifth studio album from Ray Stevens...a wonderful album from 1969 titled Have a Little Talk With Myself. As many readers that stop by here are well aware of I happen to like/love something about every Ray Stevens album. Some albums I really, really like and some I simply like for whatever reason. This 1969 album falls into the really, really like category.

This album was something new for Ray, at the time, as he mostly offered his versions of contemporary pop songs by other artists and groups. The album contains 12 songs and it was produced by Ray and Jim Malloy. There were only three songs on here exclusive to the album at the time and those were "The Little Woman" and the title track, "Have a Little Talk With Myself", which were both written by Ray, and then the first single release from the album, "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down", written by Kris Kristofferson.

Ray was the very first artist to ever record "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" and the first artist to release it as a single. Ray marked his debut on the country music singles chart with this song as it peaked in the country Top-60 in America. It reached the Top-50 on Canada's country music chart, the Top-60 on Canada's pop chart, and it crawled into the lower regions of America's Hot 100 pop chart. The song was covered a year later by Johnny Cash and it is his version that the public is much more familiar with as it not only reached #1 on the country chart in 1970 but it ultimately won a coveted award from the CMA, too.

The title track, "Have a Little Talk With Myself", is one of those inspirational kind of songs that deals with the human ego and all the pressures and enticements one's ego endures throughout life and how to address those human frailties of egotism and selfishness. It is one of my favorite Ray Stevens songs...it became one of my favorites upon the first time I heard it. It became a country music chart hit, his second overall, but ironically it never appeared at any position on the Hot 100. It would be covered a few years later by Sammy Davis, Jr.

The third single release, in early 1970, turned out to be the album's opening number, "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight", from the pen of Bob Dylan. The single, however, didn't reach the Hot 100 but bubbled under instead. Ray's take on the song is quite excellent and it includes verbal instrumentation and heavy production work. In fact, this album showcased a certain talent of Ray's that had long been a part of his own recordings and that is the art/science of multi-tracking and overdubbing. Although he didn't invent these practices, Ray was among the few recording artists, at the time, to embrace the concept and use it to it's full potential long before it became commonplace and accepted as a vital ingredient for practically every recorded performance during the last 40+ years by artists of every music genre imaginable. Given that Ray's a skilled music arranger, producer, musician, and all around studio whiz perhaps lent a lot to his embrace of multi-tracking and overdubbing, a technique that has long been a source of disdain for music purists who prefer songs to be recorded in their entirety with a full band in the studio rather than a song recorded in bits and pieces and then digitally mixed into one single performance.

This multi-tracking/overdubbing skill was put to even greater use on a few more songs found on this 1969 album. "Help" is known worldwide as a Beatles hit...it's one of several songs on here with a Beatles connection...Ray overdubs his voice in various harmonies and the full effect shows up about half way through the recording. In addition to this, his incredible take on "Hey Jude" in my opinion is mind blowing...uncannily capturing the spirit that was heard on the original recording by the Beatles. If those two songs, in particular, don't blow you away then we have his version of "Hair" and this, too, is a wonderful showcase of not only Ray's production talents but also his mimicry skills as he sings the song in various vocalization pitches for the choir of background singers generated by the overdub process. Jim Malloy co-produced this album and he appears on the back of the album cover, next to Ray, in a picture taken in the studio. The two are laughing about something...what they're laughing at is never revealed. A second picture of Ray, at the piano, also appears on the back of the album.

The other covers on this album are "Spinning Wheel", "But You Know I Love You", "Aquarius", "The Fool on the Hill", and "The Games People Play".

It was during this point in time that Ray became associated with Andy Williams. Ray became one of the most popular guests on Andy's weekly television program in 1969 and he made numerous appearances...almost becoming something of a semi-regular. Have a Little Talk With Myself turned out to be Ray's final album for Monument Records. The album's final couple of singles, mentioned earlier, had hit and left the charts in early 1970. This chain of events of exiting Monument Records enabled Ray to move to a new record label, owned by Andy Williams, as the next several years were to become the biggest of his career up to that point.

Coming up next in this series is Ray's sixth studio album, Everything Is Beautiful, and the chain of events that shaped 1970 as a banner year in his career.