November 26, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part 27...

In the summer of 1990 Ray Stevens emerged with his twenty-seventh studio album, Lend Me Your Ears. This was his second project for his newest home, Curb Records, but it was his first studio album for the label. The project features the standard 10 song program and musically it's a bit more adventurous. There were several songs pushed as "singles" but only one actually became available on a 45 rpm but that was a promo single sent to radio stations and jukebox operators. The two songs pushed the most from this collection were also available in music video format: "Sittin' Up With the Dead" and "Help Me Make It Through the Night". The first music video received a fair amount of airplay on The Nashville Network and the second received even more. Ray had turned the classic slow ballad, "Help Me Make It Through the Night", into a frenetic and wild sing-a-long filled with all kinds of sound effects and comical quips that commented on the lyrics. The music video was just as zany with Ray playing dozens of characters with the aid of lightning quick editing. Ray appears on the cover photo as a well known Shakespearian character looking as if he's trying to make a deal with the rabbit...perhaps explaining that the loss of the rabbit's ears is for the good of mankind!? Although rabbit stew or fried rabbit isn't sang about we do have a song that offers a passionate plea for tasty "Barbecue". In it, Ray sings like a man possessed as he can't hold back his passion for this delicious dish. Consider yourself lucky if you've ever seen him perform the song...I saw him perform it just once and it was on an episode of Nashville Now and it was stunning. 

In answering one of my questions from a previous blog entry, this debut studio album from Ray Stevens for Curb Records doesn't contain any non-comical ballads...all 10 songs are comical. Earlier I mentioned that the music was more adventurous and by that I mean the arrangements...these songs sound as though they specifically exist for this project only. It's hard to imagine hearing any of the songs from this 1990 album side by side with songs from his 1989 or 1991 projects. My way of explaining it is as follows: the arrangements and the overall music exist in a here and now universe whereas song lyrics are much more flexible and can be adapted to almost any musical arrangement or format. Ray is often quoted as saying that he wants a song's music to tell the story as much as the lyrics do and this is probably the reason why so many of his albums feature the most ambitious of musical sounds.

What else did Ray offer on Lend Me Your Ears? He takes us on a Safari in a musical spoof with Stanley and Livingstone in "This Ain't Exactly What I Had In Mind" and he revisits a jungle theme with "Bwana and the Jungle Girl", the closest thing to a ballad on the collection, but it's more of a whimsical love song than a deep love ballad. "Used Cars" is one of the good ol' country boy kind of songs that often make it to his's the story of the used car generation and the misadventures we all have as used car motorists. One of the hooks of the song is his vocal imitation of a car attempting to start and it's sputtering reaction. Another song that fits well with the everyday man theme is "Jack Daniels, You Lied To Me Again" about a guy who continues to strike out with women while under the guidance and influence of alcohol. The timeless tale of teenagers learning to drive and their desire to have their own car is the main focal point in "This Is Your Daddy's Oldsmobile". Instead of being poignant and saccharine, this song takes the opposite approach as Ray portrays a father whose overly protective of his car and come hell or high water he's going to make sure his son is mature, gets good grades, and is completely responsible in everyday life before he even considers allowing the boy to take daddy's car for a spin.

"Where Do My Socks Go?" is a bizarre novelty song about the disappearance of socks during their time in the dryer. Ray performed this song on an episode of Hee Haw and at the end of the performance the audience members all threw rolled up socks at him. The album's closing number, "Cletus McHicks and His Band From the Sticks", is a southern fried adaptation of the jazzy "Freddie Feelgood and His Funky Little Five Piece Band" combo from 1966. In the McHicks song, the jazz/R&B instrumentation and scat singing is replaced by a much more countrified backwoods delivery. There is a form of scat singing on the McHicks song as the leader plays the guitar, enabling Ray to vocally emulate a Johnny Cash style of guitar playing.

The thing that overshadowed this studio album was the music video popularity of "Help Me Make It Through the Night". People reading this will probably wonder how in the world could a music video overshadow the album from which it came? Stranger things have happened in the world of music. How is it that a single can sell more than a million copies and yet the album from which it came doesn't even make the Top-40 on any album chart? How can a single reach the Top-20 and yet the album not even make the charts at all? There are a lot of strange facts that defy logic within the music industry. The fact is "Help Me Make It Through the Night" was one of the most talked about music videos of 1990 among viewers of The Nashville Network and it was a foreshadowing of things to come!

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