Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Comedy of Ray Stevens

(Updated December 21, 2007)

Y'all probably know the songs Ahab the Arab and Guitarzan from the 1960s. What's worth checking out is a lot of his unknown obscurities that weren't hits. How do these titles sound: Rockin Teenage Mummies, Mr Baker the Undertaker, The Old English Surfer, Mary My Secretary. These were non-hit singles from the 1960s.

Ray started out at the beginning. Uhh, I mean in the late 50s. He tried some teen rock + roll ballads that weren't successful. He recorded a novelty song called Cholly Wolly Chang, about the Chinese inventing R&R. It wasn't a hit, and I don't even know if it was released as a single, but it appeared on some compilation LPs. The song was inspired by the hit Ling Ting Tong by the Five Keys.
In 1960 came a glimmer of success, with Sergeant Preston Of the Yukon. It was the first of his musical joke style records. It didn't chart but is found on some CDs now.
In 1961 he charted with, get this: Jeremiah Peabody's Polunsaturated Pleasant-Tasting Fast-Acting Green and Purple Pills. Based on the medicinal commercials that were heard on TV at the time. He was using a solid R&R beat as backup. Next was Scratch My Back. Then came his big breakthru with Ahab the Arab in 1962.
I know of three versions of Ahab: There's a long full version found on LPs; the single was shortened with the end cut; and there's a live version. Get this: when he went into Mercury studios to record Ahab he saw Clyde McPhatter recording in another room. He then changed the song words to call the camel Clyde.

Some of his singles are extremely rare and weren't on albums. You'd never find them, so here's a chance to hear samples. Press a title:

Cholley Wolly Chang (unknown origin)
Rockin Teenage Mummies (1965)
Mr. Baker the Undertaker (1965)
The Old English Surfer (1965)
Mary My Secretary (1967)

And Furthermore ....

Ray has kept recording to the present. Some are hard to find because all albums haven't been chosen for online purchasing, and they don't choose just individual songs.
In 1983 he had a good album titled "#1 With a Bullet". Here are two good samples:
The Sheik Of R&B
The Pirate Song - a takeoff on Laurel and Hardy, and on the British "Carry On" movie series. There is also a live version called The Gay Pirate Song, not as good as this original. And this one has been edited in some releases to eliminate a homosexual implication. Mine is complete.

Then in this millenium he has given us:
Osama Yo' Mama
The New Battle Of New Orleans - a takeoff on the chaos in NO after hurricane Katrina.

(posted September 2, 2007)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Do you remember Jack Scott

(updated May 1, 2009)

The great Jack Scott, one of the original damn hard rockers of the late 50s.
His first hit was My True Love in 1958, a slow moody gem of a rock ballad. It went to #3, and is one of the basic classic oldies. Followed by With Your Love, #28, a similar style. Then Goodbye Baby, a #8, with a rousing B-side Save My Soul. With Goodbye Baby he established a style of a hypnotic repetitive medium rock beat which he used well the rest of his career.
Jack was born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, but moved to Detroit, USA at age ten. Both nations would like to lay claim to him. He has a strong following to this day, and reissues are not hard to find. It was a time when Conway Twitty was doing similar things in rock+roll. Elvis was in the army 1958-1960, and they helped fill the gap. It seems like when Elvis returned, these two singers stopped having big hits, as if they were no longer needed. Is that fate?
Some other notable Scott hits were The Way I Walk (#35 1959), What In the World's Come Over You (#5 1960), and Burning Bridges (#3 1960).
Jack did spend 1959 in the army, but single releases on the Carlton label continued, including the #78 I Never Felt Like This. It had a haunting ballad on the B-side, "Bella", a great example of that style.
In 1960 he was on the Top Rank label. At the same time as Conway Twitty he had a single of What Am I Living For, without about similarities. Plus he made an album of that name, very rare but good rock+roll. Another rare LP was What In the World's Come Over you. I know someone who found it for $1 in a stack at a Goodwill thrift shop. The definition of jealousy.
There was an album titled "I Remember Hank Williams". I was disappointed that he concentrated on slow ballads, and it didn't work well for his style. But a great LP the next year was "The Spirit Moves Me". That collection of uptempo spirituals worked very well.
He switched to Capitol in 1961 and released there until 1963. Some had a country tendency, but he was never far from that rock style, at least putting some good ones on B-sides. Examples of these are Sad Story, Strange Desire, Grizzly Bear. In 1963 came Laugh and the World Laughs With You, a non-hit which was played in my area, which is on a par with From a Jack To a King by Ned Miller.
In 1963 he was on RCA's Groove label. Among others, there was a Christmas release of There's Trouble Brewing/ Jingle Bell Slide, plus another hypnotic rock song Wiggle On Out.
That was it for his rock fame, but he has never quit making appearances. In Winnipeg Canada, home of the famed Burton Cummings, Burton has insisted on inviting him to rock revival events there. Burton can't get him out of his head either.

Click to hear a sample:
Save My Soul
Grizzly Bear
Laugh and the World Laughs With You
Wiggle On Out

The Spirit Moves Me 1961 album

This has to be one of the greatest gospel albums of the rock era, but it's so so obscure. It should be known. Sample the ENTIRE ALBUM here. It's uptempo and compares with Elvis', but contains a few songs you've never heard. Click the cover image to see it larger.