Monday, 4 April 2016
Mr. Businessman/Face the Music/Talk To The Animals/Hey There
Stevens was born Harold Ray Ragsdale on January 24, 1939, in the small town of Clarkdale, GA. He started piano lessons at age six and formed a band at 15 called the Barons, which played at local venues and social events. At 17, he moved to Atlanta and caught on with radioman Bill Lowery's music publishing company; one of his songs, "Silver Bracelet," got him a shot at recording for Capitol subsidiary Prep, but the single never hit outside of Atlanta. Stevens enrolled at Georgia State University to study classical piano and music theory and in the meantime continued to record for Lowery's NRC label. One of his earliest novelty songs, 1960's "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon," was building a national buzz until a copyright infringement suit took it off the racks. Stevens began performing regularly on a radio show called The Georgia Jubilee, which helped lead to a job with Mercury Records as a session musician, arranger, and A&R assistant. Meanwhile, in 1961, he landed his first Top 40 hit with the novelty (obviously) song "Jeremiah Peabody's Poly Unsaturated Quick Dissolving Fast Acting Pleasant Tasting Green and Purple Pills."
An appearance on Andy Williams' variety show led to Stevens signing with the singer's Barnaby label in 1970. He hit immediately with a straight pop song, the relentlessly cheery "Everything Is Beautiful," which displayed his heretofore unseen sentimental streak. "Everything Is Beautiful" was an enormous hit, climbing to number one on the pop charts and winning Stevens a Grammy. Follow-ups included the serious-minded pop song "America, Communicate With Me" (1970), the novelty song "Bridget the Midget (Queen of the Blues)" (1971), and the gospel-styled "Turn Your Radio On" (1972), the latter of which was his first Top 20 country hit. It was, of course, a novelty song that would give Stevens his next big success. "The Streak," a 1974 ditty about the new fad of (what else?) streaking, zoomed up the charts to become Stevens' second number one pop hit and also made the country Top Five.
Stevens switched labels again, this time to RCA, and promptly had a Top Ten country hit with the humorous "Shriner's Convention" in 1980. Several more singles failed to duplicate its success, and in 1984 he departed RCA for the greener pastures of MCA. Over the next few years, he enjoyed a period of renewed popularity. Songs like "It's Me Again, Margaret" (about an obscene phone caller), "The Mississippi Squirrel Revival," "The Haircut Song," "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex," and "I Saw Elvis in a U.F.O." may not have been his highest-charting (only "Squirrel" made it to the country Top 20), but they all became audience favorites and signature songs. Moreover, his albums sold better than they ever had before; 1985's He Thinks He's Ray Stevens reached number three on the country charts, and the 1986 follow-up, I Have Returned, actually hit number one. Both went gold, as did 1987's Crackin' Up, and Stevens issued several other albums for MCA up through 1991, when he charted for what appeared to be the last time with "Working for the Japanese."