November 12, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part 21...

This studio album is the one that set in motion a new direction, of sorts, for Ray Stevens. Released in 1984, He Thinks He's Ray Stevens was the first all-comedy studio album from Ray since 1980. This new LP was on the MCA label, his new home. MCA and their publicity department, combined with creative ideas from Ray and his associates, enabled this particular LP to become what the music industry likes to call a surprising success. First of all the LP was issued in the latter part of 1984 and it reached the charts in the middle of December 1984. It continued to climb the Country Album chart, as well as the Pop Album chart, throughout early 1985. The LP reached the Top-5 on the Country Album chart and it charted in the middle of the Pop Album chart. The Pop Album chart has 200 positions by the way...100 more positions than the Pop Singles chart. Even more impressive, as far as a comedy/novelty LP is concerned, it spent nearly 40 weeks on the Country Album chart.

The single releases from this LP didn't necessarily create a flurry of activity on the charts but two of the three single releases have become signature songs for Ray and are included in practically every concert he's done from 1985 onward. "I'm Kissin' You Goodbye", the lead-off song, was one of the three single releases from the LP. It didn't reach the charts but it was a funny story of two lovers who go from lust to hatred due to the woman's adultery. "Mississippi Squirrel Revival", a comical tale of how a squirrel causes all sorts of chaos and miracles within a southern church in Pascagoula, Mississippi hit the Singles chart in December 1984, a week before He Thinks He's Ray Stevens entered the Album chart. "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" became the hit that the LP was looking for. Research shows that the publicity for the single was heavy and it paid off because, as mentioned, the LP and single became commercial successes during the first half of 1985. "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" was written by Buddy Kalb and his wife, Carlene. It would eventually climb into the Top-20 on the Country Singles chart and become one of the biggest single releases of the year in terms of sales. The follow-up single, "It's Me Again, Margaret", has become one of Ray's most beloved performances although it peaked in the Top-80 on the Country Singles chart. The song is about an obscene phone caller who gets enjoyment out of calling up a woman named Margaret and asking her all kinds of personal questions. Ray, to be authentic, used a kind of naughty laughter throughout his performance as the prank caller. This laugh became one of the biggest hits of the performance and he's often asked to do "that laugh" whenever he's giving an interview. The single was publicized and promoted visually as print ads appeared in various magazines showing Ray playing the part of the obscene phone caller inside a phone booth. The publicity photo would eventually be used several years later when a compilation of his comical hits were released by another record label. "It's Me Again, Margaret" and "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" would both be turned into music videos several years later...more on that as we get there.  

The rest of the songs on this album run the gamut of humor...some of it silly, some of it satiric, but all of it fun. "Happy Hour is the Saddest Time of the Day" tells about a couple of alcoholics who've ended their relationship. Sprinkled throughout the lyrics are various references to alcoholic drinks with punch lines centering around the effects of having too much to drink. One of the national fads in 1984 was jogging...and on this LP we have "Joggin", a cute story of a jogger who gets extremely excited over jogging and how much of a health food junkie he is. Heard in the background are panting and exhalations of the jogger as he's going about his routine. This particular jogger, though, has several run-in's with bad luck...not only does he have to watch out for clothes lines but a dog comes into the picture as well. "Ned Nostril" is a comical tale of a kid whose born with a bigger nose than normal and we're told it grows to incredible length as the boy gets older. Ray vocally performs the song as Johnny Cash while musically it mimics the sound heard on a lot of Cash's recordings. "Erik the Awful" is's filled with all sorts of satirical comments that go by so fast that you'll have to listen to the song many times to catch all the comical remarks. It's about a Viking and his group of marauders. One of the more hilarious performances is his cover of "The Monkees" theme song. In Ray's version the song is performed by two men from a beer garden in the Alps. Ray opens the song doing an impression of a generic rock and roll DJ which is followed by a Monkees-like vocal group but as the accordion and other instruments play away in the background it gives way to the two lead singers who proceed to do a cover of "The Monkees" theme song. Within the performance the two bicker back and fourth and ad-lib.

The success of Ray's debut LP for MCA paved the way for the follow-up in the fall of, too, would be an all-comedy release. Suddenly Ray Stevens found himself grouped in with country comedians. Although the general public had thought of Ray as a novelty artist for the longest time there was never really any intentional marketing of Ray as a comedy or novelty act until the mid 1980's. Knowing the potential success, all parties involved started marketing Ray in a country comedy direction. One of the more important visual publicity efforts from my point of view was to get him booked on the biggest country music driven TV programs and that's why, in my opinion, Ray appeared on numerous programs on The Nashville Network during much of the mid and late '80s as well as the syndicated program, Hee Haw, where up until the mid '80s he hadn't appeared on too frequently. After 1984 he began appearing annually on that show, sometimes 3 or 4 times a season. Nashville Now, the show hosted by Ralph Emery on The Nashville Network, turned out to be the program that Ray appeared on the most. Ray and Ralph's friendship had gone back to the 1960's...with Ray making at least one appearance on practically every radio and TV show that Ralph hosted. All of this publicity and marketing in a country comedy direction was soon to be rewarded as Ray returned in the fall of 1985 with a brand new comedy LP. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Show your appreciation for the music of Ray Stevens...leave a comment...