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)


waw5114 said...

These Early songs are great.
Never heard them before.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Ray Stevens blog. I had never heard the earlier songs before but now i have because of those links. A slight modification, though. The CD, "#1 With a Bullet" was released in 1991, not 1983.

GeorgeS said...

I'm not sure about the vinyl LP date.

Anonymous said...

"This is Ray Stevens" was issued by Mercury in 1967 but the songs all were recorded in 1962/1963.

GeorgeS said...

Are you sure about 1967? That would make all the reference books wrong. This Is has a number that fits 1963 - 828. In 1968 Mercury had a Best Of Lp with a number that fit that year - 1272.

Anonymous said...

Well, i think we're both right. I was in Ray's fan club when it was active and the discographies they'd issue would cite 1967 as the year THIS IS RAY STEVENS was released but yet i found this and it has two release dates and two catalog numbers:

Mercury Records
1963 and 1967
MG 20828 (Mono LP)
MG 60828 (Stereo LP)

So, was it re-issued in stereo in 1967? I have the vinyl album but it has no year on it. I don't have my Ray vinyl collection with me to check which LP i have. I keep my collection in a relatives house where i have more room for my music. I had assumed the LP arrived in 1967 combining the material Ray recorded during 1963-1965 that Mercury had continued to release on him from their audio files after he had left the label for Monument in 1963 because in 1964 he had a Top-40 R&B hit on Mercury with the novelty, "Speed Ball", even though he joined Monument. But the album it looks like indeed arrived in 1963 and was re-released in 1967 leading me to my long-held belief that the album arrived in 1967 to spotlight Ray's earlier work for the label. Anyway, there were two releases of the album. I have the Mercury album from 1970, THE BEST OF RAY STEVENS, with the comic strip panels on the cover. The version of "Ahab the Arab" includes an intro by DJ Ralph Emery.

Doug said...

"The Old English Surfer" is one of, if not, my favorite Ray Stevens recording. It was a regional hit here in Seattle in the mid 60's.

Come on, Mercury records!! Give us some sets of his Mercury recordings!!

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

We had Rockin' Teenage Mummies on a 45 in the 60s. I can't remember what was on the flip side, but this was a favorite of my sisters, brother and I. Really fun to hear it again.