July 10, 2016

Ray Stevens and a Touch of Silver...

Can it be? It's been 25 years since the release of this comedy album from Ray Stevens? Technically the album hit the stores on June 18, 1991 but I've never actually celebrated album or song milestones on the exact dates...I've only concentrated on the year and that makes 2016 the Silver Anniversary of #1 With a Bullet. This particular release, on Curb/Capitol Records, features the standard 10 songs but the thing that makes this particular project a bit different is that none of the songs were written or co-written by Ray Stevens. Oh, it's definitely a Ray Stevens album to be sure. He's still the producer, arranger, and one of the session musicians (playing piano and synthesizer) but the album was pretty much written by Ray's longtime collaborator, Buddy Kalb (all but one song is credited to Buddy either as sole writer or co-writer). The album, overall, presents a pop-culture mixture of novelty songs...a theme not found on many of Ray's previous series of novelty albums. The first three tracks on the album use current trends for humor. The opener, "Power Tools", is a comical story about a Do-It-Yourself amateur enthralled with the concept of power tools to the point where he fails to realize that although a power tool can make a job go by faster the less you know about the specific tool the more dangerous power tools can be. America seemed to have a love affair with the Do-It-Yourself types...and I should point out that this album was released several months before ABC television debuted the sitcom, Home Improvement, starring Tim Allen.

Track 2 on this album, "Teenage Mutant Kung Fu Chickens"...well, the title is a giveaway...it's a spoof of the animated series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which aired in traditional animated form in the late '80s and into the mid '90s. The turtles become a phenomenon launching movies, action figures, cereal, and comic books. In Ray's recording he sings of a chicken farm in Tennessee in which nuclear water leaked into a chicken coop. Once the eggs hatched the farmer discovered that the four chickens had extreme power and amazing self-defense skills. He named them appropriately: Fricassee, Cordon Blu, Cacciatory, and Stew. For track three the subject shifts to a current trend in country music by 1991 and it happened to be the Hat Act phenomena. "You Gotta Have a Hat" explores the fact that a lot of country music's mega-stars and sex symbols all wore Stetson hats. Ray sang about his plan to become a country music sex symbol by putting on a cowboy hat and driving around Nashville in a fancy car. It's a song that exaggerates the Hat Act trend and comically suggests that all you need to be a success in country music is to wear a hat. During concert performances of the song he'd add some visual comedy to the proceedings by pulling out a gigantic foam hat and wearing it during the performance.

"Tabloid News" is a frenetic performance detailing the big news making the headlines in the fictional National Supermarket Checkout Examiner. It's a funny song and one that gives Ray a lot of opportunity to spotlight his vocal talents and mimicry. Also a treat are the sound effects. "The Sheik of R and B" enables Ray to honor his love for classic rhythm and blues stylists and at the same time the title is a pun on the classic movie, The Sheik of Araby.

"Juanita and the Kids" debuted on this album...a lot of latter day fans of Ray Stevens, specifically those that discovered him by way of YouTube, may only be familiar with the music video. The video was first made available in 2000 and uploaded to YouTube in 2011 but the actual song goes back to this 1991 album. YouTube, obviously, has allowed Ray's catalog of recordings to live on in music video form. The song is about the IRS and in their zeal to audit a taxpayer and potentially collect some money fail to realize that this particular taxpayer has some mental issues...but more troubling is the fact that the IRS and other branches of the Federal Government issued his spouse and children social security cards and legal documents as a formality rather than realizing the kind of spouse and children he actually claims. If you hadn't heard the song I'm not going to mention the convoluted scenario any further. It's something you'll just have to hear for yourselves.

Something that was perhaps intentional or extremely coincidental is the fact that the album's final two songs make mention of Pearl Harbor and the Japanese. 1991 happened to be the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.

In "A Little Blue-Haired Lady" Ray sings about the all too common situation of being behind a really slow driver...her maximum speed being 20 miles per hour on an Interstate. Midway through the song there's mention of Roosevelt and the Japanese Ambassador in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. The Japanese official said that they tried to give warning but...well, you know...

In the closing performance there's the one song that Buddy Kalb didn't have a hand at writing: "Working For the Japanese". In this wonderful song Ray tackles the subject of economics and the trend in U.S. economics at the time. An argument is made that there's too much dependence on foreign products and it's causing America's jobs to be shipped overseas. It's a timeless message but the message often falls on deaf ears because 25 years later the result of foreign product manufacturing has virtually eliminated manual labor in the United States. The song's writer happens to be Ron DeLacy.

#1 With a Bullet got a re-issue on CD in 2005. A lot of on-line retail stores and information sites fail to mention that the CD has an original copyright of 1991 and that it originally was issued on cassette tape. The on-line sites make it appear as if the songs had been recorded in 2005 by not pointing out that the material is actually from 1991. I skipped over a couple of songs on this CD, if you're keeping count, because I didn't want the blog entry to become a more extremely lengthy overview than it already has.

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