June 16, 2013

Ray Stevens and the Video World...

As most of you may already know there's been a dramatic swing in the number of video uploads from Ray Stevens on his You Tube channel. He's gone into the archives and uploaded several music videos that the public at large may not have been aware of until recently. Some of the videos that Ray uploaded onto his channel had already been on You Tube for a number of years (uploaded by a wide array of You Tube members). However, since these particular performances have now become officially uploaded on Ray's You Tube channel, I've decided to make some commentary about some of the uploads in this blog.

"Surfin' U.S.S.R.", a novelty single from Ray in 1988, was uploaded several years ago. It wasn't until a few days ago that it was officially uploaded on Ray's channel. I recall that it had previously been available on Ray's channel but for whatever reason (?) it was removed soon after. That earlier upload has since been removed from his channel line-up. The song kind of blends "Surfin' U.S.A." with "Back in the U.S.S.R." with Ray delivering a spot on impression of Beach Boys-style harmony.

The Cold War between the United States and Russia was still underway and the talks between Reagan and Gorbachev were at an all-time high. That bit of news is perhaps why the music video takes a topical approach complete with Reagan and Gorbachev visual and vocal impressions, a feature which was missing on the album track. I don't have the 45 single and so I can't say for sure if this comical exchange was on the single release but it's definitely not on the album and so I assume it's an exclusive just for the music video.

As of now the "Surfin' U.S.S.R." video has more than 900 views and it can be seen HERE.

Between the years of 1990 and 1994, as longtime fans are well aware, Ray Stevens was one of the best selling attractions in Branson, Missouri. He may have been the biggest attraction at one point but he was definitely one of the most successful down there. He owned, operated, and performed at his own music theater, officially called The Ray Stevens Theatre, from 1991 until 1993. Three consecutive seasons. It was during this time period that home videos became a huge part of his career. The obscure release titled Ray Stevens Comedy Classics arrived in 1991, mostly as an experiment. It became a top seller at his theater and the next release was The Amazing Rolling Revue...which came along in 1992. This home video contained an un-aired television pilot titled 'The Amazing Rolling Revue'. The show's title was a reference to the show's performances being set inside a moving tour bus...being driven by race car driver Darrell Waltrip! To get the effect that the venue was on wheels, the camera would shake and the set would hover around in unison with Waltrip's 300mph tendencies. Soon after the releases of those projects Ray emerged with Comedy Video Classics in the spring of 1992. This collection became a monster sales hit, both in mail order and later in retail stores, during the next 2 and a half years. This project was followed up by Ray Stevens Live! and then More Ray Stevens Live!, both released in 1993. The concert itself was taped in 1992, split into two parts for home video release. Home video #1 was sold over television and in print advertisements while the second home video was sold exclusively at his theater and through his fan club. Ray Stevens Live! was another monster sales hit.

Performances from those two home videos have occasionally appeared on You Tube but never in any great abundance until now!

Can He Love You Half as Much as I, a song that originates from 1986's Surely You Joust album. Although the single never made the weekly charts, it's long been a part of Ray's concert set list, and obviously a fan favorite and a favorite of Ray's. I saw him in concert twice and the last one (as of now) was as recent as 2009...and the song was part of that show. He performed it in the first concert I saw, by the way, and so it's safe to say it's been in his set-list for the last 27 years, considering he was performing it at his theater in the early '90s. It's a comical love song. It was issued as a single early in 1987. The link takes you to a 1992 performance from Ray Stevens Live!.

Gitarzan, a song that originates from 1969, is a definite classic in Ray's career. This song has more than likely been part of Ray's set-list from 1969 onward. It was a Top-10 pop hit that year and it sold more than a million copies. It was also an international hit where it reached the Top-30 of several music charts all over the world. Ray would make a music video of this song in 1995, for the Get Serious! home video, but the particular link above will take you to his 1992 performance from Ray Stevens Live!. The song features resident singer, Janice Copeland, playing and singing the part of Jane.

I Saw Elvis in a U.F.O. is one of those zany novelty songs that Ray is well known for. This performance, also from Ray Stevens Live!, is his most visually detailed. The song, originating on 1989's Beside Myself, was released as a single and Ray performed this at the annual Music City News awards that year. The performance was one of the show's highlights and it's performance incorporated a giant replica of a flying saucer...a special effect that amazed the audience. You can see that performance in a video clip on You Tube but the link I provided, as mentioned, is from Ray's 1993 home video where he dresses like Elvis during the performance and gives more special effects not seen in his 1989 awards show performance.

Some may know of it but I bet a lot don't and that's Ray's song about using cell phones while driving. The song, titled Hang Up and Drive, was made into a music video in the early 2000's. The song originated on a 2000 release from Ray titled Ear Candy but it was re-released in 2002 on the more widely known project, Osama Yo' Mama. The video originated on a project known as The Cartoon Video Collection. That project featured music videos with limited animation backgrounds and a live-action Ray Stevens. Soon after it's release, however, his company would begin releasing cartoon music videos with a completely animated Ray Stevens...for example, Barbeque, a video to a song that Ray had recorded in 1990. In it, Ray appears in cartoon form, singing the praises of barbeque while obsessing over it's taste and his addiction to it.

There are more new uploads at Ray's You Tube channel besides the ones I've mentioned. Given that we're heading into the summer season, which means that there will likely be county fairs, festivals, and even circuses all over the place, I felt like closing this blog entry with Ray's music video of Hugo the Human Cannonball. That song, which originates from 1985's I Have Returned, was recently re-recorded by Ray.