December 2, 2012

Ray Stevens: Golden LP Series, Part 31...

Studio album 31 in the career of Ray Stevens arrived in the second half of 1997 in the form of a project titled Ray Stevens Christmas: Through a Different Window. This project was the very first Christmas album from Ray Stevens...but it wasn't his first brush with Christmas music. In the early '60s he wrote and recorded the original "Santa Claus Is Watching You". In the mid '80s he re-wrote "Santa Claus Is Watching You" and changed it from a children's novelty song into a more mature novelty with a much more mature plot line. It isn't to say that children wouldn't like the re-written performance once they heard it, since I certainly loved the song and music video as a kid and I still love it. The same year that he issued the re-written and updated "Santa Claus Is Watching You" he also delivered the "Greatest Little Christmas Ever Wuz" for inclusion on a various artists compilation titled Tennessee Christmas. Those two songs obviously made the final cut on Ray's 1997 Christmas comedy album. In the case of "Santa Claus Is Watching You", this marked the third re-recording of that particular classic.

One of the hallmarks of this project when it was released was the intentional stabbing in the heart of political correctness. The societal disease known as political correctness is held up to much needed ridicule within quite a few of the hilarious holiday songs on the CD. The project gets started with "Guilt For Christmas" which quickly establishes the mood and atmosphere of the overall CD. The music is traditionally festive but the lyrics are hilarious and the story-lines are zany. "Guilt For Christmas" tells all about the pressures a person is facing while being told that he has to be politically correct when buying Christmas gifts. Ray gives several examples of toys that advocates have labeled as degrading or sexist if given to certain people and members of certain age groups. Reaching somewhat of a boiling point, shopper Ray decides that he's going to bypass the actual purchase of gifts and instead he'll give people a more longer lasting gift: guilt. It's a perfect opening song. "I Won't Be Home For Christmas" is an uptempo sing-a-long where Ray tells us all about his wild and bad mannered relatives and gleefully sings that he won't be home for Christmas and he'll be in hiding. The third track, "Greatest Little Christmas Ever Wuz", was first recorded by Ray in 1985 but here it's presented as a re-recording. It's another sing-a-long but this time around we're told a sad story about a man who's been on his own ever since the woman in his life left him the previous Christmas Eve. The man comes up with an idea of rolling all of the holidays into one which would create the greatest Christmas of all-time. "Home for the Holidays" describes the upcoming misery that a man goes through as he prepares to visit his hometown and re-establish familiarity with relatives that he'd much rather forget about. Certainly these are sentiments that a lot of people secretly feel but it's not the proper way of behaving during the holiday season and so, in the song, Ray and his family pack up to visit the old hometown for Christmas.

"Bad Little Boy" is track 10 and it's in the cute category as Ray plays the part of a little boy who laments the fact of his not getting anything for Christmas due to his bad behavior. It's in the same vein of Spike Jones' "Nuttin' For Christmas" and other similar songs and stories that revolve around little kids and bad behavior during the holidays. I saw Ray perform this just's was quite a memorable performance as Ray performed the song on a giant rocking chair to create the illusion that he was a small kid. If I recall correctly that performance was on The Statler Brothers Show but it could have been on another program that aired on The Nashville Network but I definitely think it was their weekly TV show. I heard "Bad Little Boy" on a local classic country station yesterday morning by the way. The station is on the FM dial and it's call-letters are WNKR. Meanwhile, "The Little Drummer Boy-Next Door" uses some of the frame work of the traditional Christmas song, "The Little Drummer Boy", but spins it in a new and contemporary way as Ray plays the part of an irritated neighbor driven more irritated by a kid's drum lessons. The boy got the drums as a Christmas gift. This particular song, when the CD was brand new, got quite a bit of airplay during the few weeks leading up to Christmas time. Some FM stations program Christmas music all month long from late November through late December. On some country radio stations they play nothing but Christmas music starting late on Christmas Eve and all through Christmas day. I think that practice is still in place. "Redneck Christmas" is exactly what you might think it is. It's comical and satiric and plays on all the stereotypical imagery ever created about rural America. It, too, is a sing-a-long featuring loads of vocal sound effects and a catchy collection of harmony singing. "Nightmare Before Christmas" returns to the politically correct topic as we hear the story of Ray's nightmare where Santa Claus is arrested and charged with being politically incorrect.  

In "The Annual Office Christmas Party" Ray sings about a company party and the happenings that take place by the straight-laced executives during off hours. Societal bragging is the focal point of "Xerox Xmas Letter" where Ray sings about getting a letter from a family who brags about everything they've achieved during the last year.

Ray Stevens Christmas: Through a Different Window would find itself being an annual offering from 1997 onward. The music from the CD led to a series of holiday themed concerts from Ray at the Acuff Theater in Opryland. If you were listening to WSM radio during the holiday seasons, specifically 1998 through 2000, chances are you would've heard promotional spots for Ray's Christmas concert series at some point. The CD reached the Country Album chart in 1997 more or less on the strength of word of mouth and timely national publicity on various programs on The Nashville Network.

The Christmas project features 11 songs rather than the usual 10. Buddy Kalb wrote the majority of the songs in this project...either by himself or in collaboration with other writers. Ray, Buddy, and a writer named Paul Alter wrote "The Little Drummer Boy-Next Door". Ray supplied "Santa Claus Is Watching You" and "Greatest Little Christmas Ever Wuz". Buddy Kalb along with Glenn and Sonny Fortner wrote "I Won't Be Home For Christmas". The remaining seven songs were all written by Buddy Kalb.

The following year Ray parted ways with MCA. He signed himself to his own label, Clyde, for a couple of years, 1999-2001, and issued one studio album in 2000. This studio album would be re-issued on a nationally distributed label in 2002 with a new title and a re-sequencing of it's track list. A few new tracks were added to the 2002 release while some from the 2000 release were omitted. I'll provide details in my next installment of the Golden LP Series.

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