October 24, 2016

Ray Stevens: Late 1970s obscurities...

In this brief (?) blog entry I've decided to post an experimental collage I finished about 10 minutes ago. I've been consistently scouring the internet over the last couple of weeks in search of a free website that offers collage making opportunities. A site that I used to rely heavily upon has been off-line for the last several weeks with no signs of returning under a different name and so I've kind of been in a mini-state of upset given the fun I'd been having creating collages on a site that made the creating so easy and less technical. I came across another site and experimented a couple of times. One of those experiments focuses on the 3-CD collection of recordings issued on Ray Stevens back in 1995. The recordings found on those 3 CD's originated in the mid to late '70s during his all too brief stay at Warner Brothers Records (1976-1979).

The reason I've written at length about those recordings over the last 8 years is because of their lack of familiarity...even among fans of Ray (!)...and given the fact that the songs have never been properly respected, appreciated, or presented in any prestigious kind of fashion (aside from those 3 CD's in 1995) I feel it's my unofficial duty to every so often keep those recordings from remaining obscure. So, after that bit of information to set up the focus of this particular blog entry, it's that time again to celebrate the late 1970s obscurities from the highly entertaining Ray Stevens...

1995 3-CD Collection
The 3-CD set first emerged in cassette form in 1995 and for this devoted fan of Ray it was something like the discovery of buried treasure. Some of the readers/visitors of this fan-created blog page probably won't be able to truly understand the sense of shock, amazement, happiness and total feeling of euphoria on the day I came across these cassettes sitting there among some other Ray Stevens cassettes in the music section of the local Wal-Mart just asking for me to purchase them. CD counterparts of the cassettes had also become available but at that particular time in my life (1995) I hadn't yet graduated to a CD player from the cassette player (even though CD's had been available for purchase for nearly 10 years by then). I never purchased a CD player until some point in 1996 or 1997 (!!) and even then I continued to purchase cassette tapes rather than the more expensive CD's (unless something released on Ray happened to be available on CD-only). I didn't start to purchase CD's exclusively until, you guessed it, the point in which cassette tapes began disappearing from retail stores. The names of the cassettes are: Cornball, The Serious Side of Ray Stevens, and Do You Wanna Dance?. The collection goes a long way at spotlighting the various music styles and moods that Ray delivered on a series of studio albums in the late '70s in which each album is dramatically different from the other. Pop, Country, Rhythm and Blues, Comedy, and MOR Adult-Contemporary are all on display. At the time of those releases in 1995 only 2 recordings by Ray from his entire Warner Brothers era had continually appeared on dozens of compilation albums: 1976's "In the Mood" and 1979's "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow".

I remember being frustrated in the mid/late '90s as to the reason 2 songs from that time period continually appeared on compilation albums and yet he had several more hit songs for the label that routinely got overlooked and therefore continued to become unfamiliar to a latter-day fan base that had probably discovered Ray's music in the mid 1980s during his country comedy resurgence. Later on in the early 2000's I had began to wonder why the studio albums he recorded for Warner Brothers had never been fully restored onto CD, either. It's a mystery I'll probably never solve.

Some of the fans of Ray that I often socialize with on-line via social media pretty much share my conclusion that the label doesn't see any sort of profit or demand for the re-release in CD format of those late '70s studio albums and so why bother? I realize this is a minority opinion but I don't necessarily think you need a demand for something to get a re-issue. There are scores of CD/Mp3 projects available in which record companies (major, independent, domestic, and foreign) offer 2 albums on 1 CD of almost any vinyl album from any number of legendary performers...whether the vinyl album featured any hit songs or not doesn't come into the decision making because I've seen CD's of 2 albums on 1 collection featuring albums I'd never heard of even though I'd heard of the singer's. The goal, I thought, was to introduce recordings to music consumers that were born long after vinyl stopped being the dominant form of music distribution and to bring back recordings that in some cases hadn't been in print and had only been available on vinyl for decades.

I've said this before and I'll say it again: I wish any record company that specializes in re-issuing vinyl albums onto CD would take a look at the studio albums Ray Stevens recorded in the late '70s and get those songs in circulation again and introduce this music to his diverse fan base. I have all of these vinyl albums but I'd purchase CD copies in the blink of an eye if they became officially available...

1976: Just for the Record (features 10 songs; chart hits include "You Are So Beautiful" and "Honky Tonk Waltz"; Ray's debut album for the label and it's deliberately more country music sounding; although it being primarily a West Coast pop oriented label and not too heavily entrenched in country music it nevertheless took on country music artists in the late '70s with various degrees of success; this album features one of my all-time favorite Ray Stevens recordings, "Gimme a Smile" and then there's the otherworldly "OM" and the sing-a-long toe tapping "Country Licks"; although "In the Mood" is a 1976 release it happened to be a single-only release in December and reached it's peak in February 1977 and therefore it isn't part of this album).

1977: Feel the Music (features 10 songs; chart hits include "Dixie Hummingbird" and "Get Crazy with Me"; not heavily publicized/promoted by the label; his image doesn't even appear on the front of the album cover as it's title called for the illustration of a stereo speaker to demonstrate the literal meaning of feeling the music. Ray performed a couple of the songs found on this album on an episode of television's Pop! Goes the Country and then much later in the early '90s performed "Feel the Music" during a televised award's ceremony; Yes, at that point in time, I thought it happened to be a new song! That's how little I knew of Ray's catalog of music back then as at the time I only had a little less than half a dozen cassette tapes of his).

1978: There Is Something On Your Mind (features 8 songs; 3 of those 8 are medleys which combine brief performances of 3 songs a piece; no chart hits; it's a lovingly put together tribute to early rock music and his beloved Rhythm and Blues influences; Ray records his versions of "One Mint Julep", "Money Honey", "Talk to Me", the comical title track; and in the form of medleys he performs abbreviated versions of songs like "Shake a Hand", "Do You Wanna Dance?", "Since I Met You Baby", and "Sixty Minute Man"; On both the front and back of the album there are liner notes provided by Ray Stevens himself and he offers his feelings and opinions regarding the choices in songs that he selected to cover for the project; It's possibly the most obscure and rarest of his vinyl albums and there's long been information suggesting that the album had never even been released in America and that it only seen commercial release in Canada).

1978: Be Your Own Best Friend (features 9 songs; the title track is the only chart hit from the album; the album's songs feature an overall soothing, mellow feel; the album's photo with a tanned Ray Stevens in white tuxedo and black shirt, seated at a white table, with the stark white background could have some thinking he's relaxing inside the padded cell of a sanitarium given his reputation for nutty, comedy songs but this happened to be his fifth non-comedy album in a row going back to the release of 1975's Misty album; the choice of colors could also be a reflection of the reflective nature of the inspirational title track in which Ray encourages people to believe in themselves rather than striving for acceptance from others; the album features another self-help ode in the form of "With a Smile"...featuring a very soothing delivery, almost a lullaby whisper, to convey the message in the song; In the same soothing vein is "You're Magic" and he transforms the previously recorded "You've Got the Music Inside" of 1973, featuring a more harder vocalization the first time around, into a much more softer presentation to compliment the overall feel of this particular album; the album has it's share of uptempo songs: "Comeback" and "Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right", in particular, and the glorious, grandiose opening track, "L'amour", is amazing; this album also features the ballad, "The Feeling's Not Right Again", which became the title of his next release).

1979: The Feeling's Not Right Again (this is largely a compilation album, not a traditional studio album, and it features 10 songs; it features one previously unreleased song and the success of that song happened to be the reason for this album's release in the first place; Ray's surprise hit in the early part of 1979, "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow", inspired the concept of this compilation album; the single-only release featured cover art on it's picture sleeve parodying Barry Manilow cover art from 1974 and so, for the 1979 compilation album, a song Ray recorded the previous year, "The Feeling's Not Right Again", became the title track of this 1979 project; the song's coincidental similarity in title of an earlier song recorded by Manilow called "Tryin' to Get the Feelin' Again" pretty much meant that the cover art for Ray's 1979 album should parody the cover art of Manilow's 1975 album, Tryin' to Get The Feeling; the 1979 album became the final project released by Warner Brothers on Ray Stevens until 1995).

Here's that experimental collage I made reference to at the top of this blog entry...I spotlight the back of those 1995 CD's. I have no idea where in the world those photo's of Ray came from that were featured on the back of the CD's...the information credits the photographers but I've never thought to look them up on the internet to see if they have any of their photo's on-line...

October 9, 2016

Ray Stevens CD Special...

Hello fans of Ray Stevens! I hope those that attended the Ray Stevens Charity Golf Classic over the last couple of days (October 7th and 8th) had a ball...yes, pun intended. A photo emerged on social media from Ray's concert at the Temple Hills country club. It appeared on Twitter from username, The Parkes Companies, on October 7th. The image is a bit blurry but it's definitely Ray Stevens.

Back on October 1st I came across a peculiar CD listed for sale on Amazon. The CD, titled Love Lifted Me, is from Ray Stevens. The reason I use the word, peculiar, is because the CD appeared from out of nowhere. At first I thought that the CD's appearance happened to be a mistake on Amazon's part because October 1st happened to be a Saturday...not typically the day of the week a CD is released to the public. Later on (several days later on October 5th specifically) a video clip emerged on Ray's YouTube channel promoting the CD's release. The CD is available for purchase on Amazon, as mentioned, and it's also available for purchase at Ray's web-store. It's released on his latest imprint, CabaRay Entertainment.

The video clip from Ray promotes a 3-CD special offer of gospel music. Ray Stevens Gospel Collection, Just a Closer Walk with Thee, and Love Lifted Me are being offered in a sale. As a bonus attraction there's to be a signed copy of a CD single of his recent video hit, "Dear America". There isn't any CD single available of the song anywhere else...it's only available for purchase as an Mp3...but in this limited time offer you'll get a CD copy of the song autographed by Ray. The "Dear America" music video, by the way, has gotten 203,935 unique views to date.

As you'll see in the video clip there's something special about the Love Lifted Me collection. Ray explains the idea behind the collection in the video clip. The advertisement, as you'll see, was taped on the set of the #1 television program on RFD-TV, Ray Stevens' Nashville.

Some of the songs you'll hear on the 3 collections are "If Jesus is a Stranger", "The Preacher and the Bear", "Onward Christian Soldiers", "Something's Coming", "Rusty Old Halo", "This Ole House", and more!!

On the concert trail Ray is to appear at The Alabama Theatre on October 15th. You can click HERE to find out more information and purchase tickets.