November 30, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part 29...

Well, we've made it up to studio album 29 in the career of Ray Stevens!! This particular release arrived in 1993 on Curb Records with a peculiar title, Classic Ray Stevens. The project featured brand new songs but it's title led a lot of believe that it was another in a long line of compilation releases. There are even some reviews of this project that erroneously state that these were re-recordings of songs from his past. As a Ray Stevens fan, it's easy to tell when a music reviewer hasn't actually researched the project that they're now telling us all about. One really quick way to spot an illegitimate review is simply know more about the subject matter ahead of time. There were a couple of songs that were said to be singles but there weren't any commercial singles available in any wide distribution. The song to get the most publicity was the opening number, "If 10% Is Good Enough for Jesus". It was a non-charting hit and one that Ray performed several times on television programs, mostly in April as people rush to get their income taxes filed on time. A couple of other notable songs from this project are "The Motel Song" and "Super Cop". They're notable to those who are familiar with this era of his career as those two songs were also pushed a lot during his television appearances. In "Super Cop" we hear the comical tale of an overzealous security cop at a local shopping mall. In one of Ray's TV appearances he was literally brought out on stage accompanied by two security officers. "The Motel Song", on the other hand, tells the story of a traveling man whose patience is growing thin when it comes to the monotony of motel madness. In each motel he's stayed in he's had the same negative experience time and time again: lack of sleep, noisy neighbors, and the same kind of uncomfortable room.

One of the undiscovered gems is "The Ballad of Jake McClusky". It's a fun little song about small town gossip, hearsay, and recreational adultery. It has a religious overtone throughout the song's sing-a-long chorus as it comes off as a cousin to other songs about such subjects. In "Meanwhile" we hear a memorable blending two stylistically different tempo's as Ray goes from love ballad crooning to full-fledged up-tempo stomping as he tells the story of a man and a woman whose relationship is strained to say the least. All he wants to do is run around with his friends and drink beer and have a great old time, meanwhile, she's had enough and ends up turning to a certain person once again.  

Buddy Kalb and Glenn Fortner were the main songwriters on Classic Ray Stevens as the two of them wrote the majority of the songs as a team. Kalb wrote "The Motel Song" and "The Higher Education of Ole Blue" solo while he co-wrote "Super Cop", "The Ballad of Jake McClusky", "Little League", and "The All-American Two Week Summer Family Vacation" with Glenn Fortner. "If 10% Is Good Enough For Jesus" was written by Hal Coleman, Ken Gibbons, and Roger Searcy. The love ballad "Meanwhile" was written by Devon O'Day, Gerry House, and Billy Dean. "The Bricklayer's Song" is credited to Noel Murphy even though it's been credited to dozens of artists through the decades. Ray, as a writer, provided "If You and Yo' Folks Like Me and My Folks".

Classic Ray Stevens came along at a time when Ray was in the midst of a phenomenally successful home video stampede. I couldn't jump to studio album 30 without first spotlighting Ray's biggest successes during the early-mid '90s and those successes came in the VHS home video format.

Ray had released a home video in 1992 titled Comedy Video Classics on his own label, Clyde Records. The project was sold exclusively through direct-mail by way of TV commercials and newspaper/magazine advertisements. The home video sold more than a million copies through mail order during the latter half of 1992 and into 1993. It was released to retail stores in 1993 and the success continued, reaching #1 and remaining at or near the top for more than 40 weeks. It was a mainstay on Billboard's Home Video chart for more than a year...falling quietly from the weekly sales chart in the early half of 1994. In the meantime, a companion home video, Ray Stevens Live!, hit the TV airwaves in 1993. This project, also on Clyde Records, contained half of a concert filmed at his Branson, Missouri theater. The other half was released as More Ray Stevens Live! in 1993 for fan club members and those who visited his theater's gift shop. The 1992 and 1993 direct-mail home videos enjoyed massive mail order and retail success. Ray Stevens Live! was released to retail stores in 1994 and it remained on the best-seller list for nearly a year. It was during this home video craze that Ray decided to take a little break from performing and he closed his enormously popular Branson, Missouri theater after the 1993 season wrapped up. He had launched the theater in the summer of 1991 and by the end of 1993, after three successful seasons and a combined total of more than a million visitors during those three seasons, he was itching to do some other things.

Classic Ray Stevens is indeed a classic but it was overshadowed by the hugely successful home video's that Ray released during the early to mid '90s. Ray remained a Curb Records artist through mid 1996 even though his home video releases were on his own label, Clyde, with retail distribution in 1993 and 1994 by Curb Records. In late 1995 Ray issued a new home video, a movie titled Get Serious!. This mail-order project was also a success. It hit retail stores in late 1996...and by this time Ray was with a different record label. He marked his return to MCA in late 1996 after previously recording for them from 1984-1989. MCA handled the retail distribution of Get Serious! and it spent almost half a year on the home video sales chart through mid 1997. It was around this time that Ray Stevens released studio album 30!

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