November 30, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part 30...

In this Golden LP Series installment we take a look at studio album 30 from Ray Stevens. Ray had returned to the MCA label late in 1996 and their first retail release on him was the VHS home video, Get Serious!. The video became another sales hit for Ray and it remained on the charts throughout much of the first half of 1997. It hit the weekly sales charts in January 1997 and remained a best-seller through July 1997. Ray's first audio release for MCA in 8 years arrived in the form of studio album 30, Hum It. Now, for those keeping track, this was Ray's first studio album in four years. As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, Ray was extremely busy between the years of 1993 and 1997 with his home video successes. Hum It features 8 songs filled with various styles of comedy. A 9th song, "It Ain't Over Till It's Over", is a mid-tempo love song while a 10th recording, "I'll Be In Atlanta", is a very clever salute to Georgia as well as Gone With the Wind. It's a wonderful recording and poignant in a way as Ray himself hails from Georgia. As you listen along see if you remember the faces of the character names he mentions. Elsewhere on this project we have sound effects in a recording simply titled, "R.V.", which tells a comical story of a recently retired man who purchases an "R.V." and then takes to the roads with his family. Along the way he gets into several incidents due to his inability to maneuver the vehicle...including a memorable encounter at a fuel station.

On the cover photo Ray is dressed up as Whistler's Mother. Ray, in referee uniform blowing a whistle, is playing Whistler's "son". Some people thought Ray was dressed up as Mother Bates from the Psycho movies. Whistler's mother is tired of she's decided to hum instead. That's where the idea behind the album title came from according to an interview Ray gave on The Nashville Network when the project was released.

"Too Drunk To Fish" was one of the few songs to be pushed as a single. Ray did a music video shot on location at a lake for this song. It features a cast of extra's who act as Ray's 'audience' as he tells the story of his friend who spent the day drinking instead of fishing. Besides Ray, the only other person in the video whose name I know is Buddy Kalb. Has anyone ever had a neighbor that was either embarrassing or obnoxious on some level? Ray sings about this in "My Neighbor" as he laments about a family who moves in next door and how the neighbor's lawn has become a junkyard within a span of half a year which also causes the property value of the adjacent houses to plummet.

Apollo-13 is spoofed in "Virgil and the Moonshot". This was a second music video release in 1997. In this song Ray sings about an unlikely hire at N.A.S.A. who accidentally locks himself inside a spaceship while pretending to be an astronaut. It all goes downhill, or I should say, up in the air from that point forward as the ship launches into outer space. Virgil keeps in communication with Mission Control during his accidental launch. This collection is also notable for being one of the last major releases to feature J.D. Sumner, a legendary bass singer and gospel music fixture. Sumner was brought in to portray the role of 'Mama' in the hilarious "Mama Sang Bass", a spoof of a former hit for Johnny Cash titled "Daddy Sang Bass". Mama and Daddy were victims of hormonal imbalances in their later years. Mama's voice got deeper while Daddy's got higher. Ray and Sumner performed this song on television in 1997. In the performance Sumner wore a long blond wig.

Carl Perkins, who would also pass away not long after this project was released, co-wrote the spoof with a writer named Luther Crabb. Also from the pen of Crabb came the comical love song, "She Loves Elvis Better Than Me", which tells of a man who has a wife that's completely obsessed with Elvis and in order to get attention he finds himself having to dress up and act like Elvis. In the religious vein we have "Sunday Morning" which carries a nostalgic flavor but it's about the weekly routine a family goes through as they prepare to head off for church. The album closer is the satiric "How Much Does It Cost to Fly to Albuquerque?" where Ray calls up a travel agent and asks a question about flight costs from one place to the next but the agent ends up going on and on and on about special deals, fares, discounts, and alternate flights. It's a song that's humorous even if you've never stepped inside a plane or airport before.

Several months after the release of Hum It and during it's initial publicity campaign Ray began working on his next release. Studio LP 31 arrived in the winter of was filled with material that was recorded in the hot months of late summer/early fall. In news stories that ran in the winter of 1997 it was reported that Ray deliberately had his office and studio all decorated for Christmas during the summer months while recording the Christmas songs.

In one of his interviews he said it was rather odd to be in the studio singing about the snow and reindeer while the outside temperature was pushing 90 degrees but in order to have it done and out in time it needed to be recorded in the middle of summer.

In the next installment we'll look at studio album 31, Ray's first Christmas album ever!

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