A popular novelty singer who has fame far beyond the chart performance of his many hits. Born Harold Ray Ragsdale, he spent several years performing in his native Atlanta area. He released his first single, "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon" in 1960, and received a little bit of notoriety after a copyright infringement forced the single to be withdrawn.He didn't hit the charts again until 1961, with "Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsaturated Quick-Dissolving Fast-Acting Pleasant-Tasting Green and Purple Pills", a novelty song about quack medicine. It was followed by "Ahab, the Arab", which took him to #5 pop. Throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s, his presence was hit-and-miss on the charts, although he made top 10 with "Gitarzan" and had a huge #1 hit with the non-humorous pop ballad "Everything Is Beautiful".Stevens hit his stride in 1974 with "The Streak", a novelty song about, well, streaking. This song and a bluegrass cover of "Misty" were his biggest hits at country radio, where he maintained a hit-and-miss presence for the next several years. His last song to see the pop charts was "I Need Your Help Barry Manilow", which was followed by his last big country hit, "Shriner's Convention". He has continued to record throughout the 1980s and into the 2000s, constantly releasing albums despite not having anything resembling a hit. In 2010 with the rise of the "Tea Party" in American politics, he staged something of a mini-comeback, gaining a YouTube following with his release of several songs espousing right-wing political views.Yet, despite his success as a novelty artist, he has always balanced the comedy songs with mainstream ballads and Christian country music. In 1975, he recorded an entire album of standards from the 1920s through 1950s called Misty, of which the title track was his biggest country hit, and also had a modestly popular hit with "Indian Love Call" (one of the co-writers was Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Rodgers' partner). His biggest hit overall, "Everything is Beautiful," was widely acclaimed as a plea for tolerance and unity, and several of his comedic releases had themes of repentance ("Mississippi Squirrel Revival") and humility ("Would Jesus Wear a Rolex"); he also has recorded an album of traditional and newer gospel hymns.
I remember batting practice — I put a baseball on a string And I told this kid, "When I nod my head, haul off and hit that thing!" Heh, gotta give him credit; he did exactly what I said 'Cause the second that I nodded, he hit me in the head!
Black Comedy: Sometimes employed on his MCA albums in the 1980s. Examples include "Hugo the Human Cannonball" (see below) and "Fred", about a hunting dog who comes home with a pregnant female dog. Fred gets run over at the end of the song, and then the narrator realizes that none of the female's pups looks anything like Fred.
Call Back: "Dudley Dooright of the Highway Patrol" contains references to several other songs, including "The Streak", "Shriner's Convention", "Mississippi Squirrel Revival", and "The Haircut Song".
Christmas Songs: Most famously "Santa Claus Is Watching You". He released a novelty Christmas album in the late 1990s which included some Anti Christmas Songs, including one where people call Santa un-PC because he smokes a pipe, wears fur, works only one day of the year, is "grossly overweight", etc. (But just to keep it from being too anvilicious, he admits that it was All Just a Dream and says that even something politically incorrect can still be right.)
City of Weirdos: Invoked in the "Haircut Song", where he tells stories about getting haircuts in various cities. After getting a punk haircut by a skinhead barber, he claims he was lucky his next job was in San Francisco - "those people thought I was an insurance salesman!"
Doom It Yourself: The subject of the song "Power Tools", who is so obsessed with the title objects that he keeps finding himself in increasingly humorous situations. In the last verse, he finds himself in the hospital, obsessing over his power bed.
The Fun in Funeral: "Sitting Up with the Dead" in which his late Uncle Fred is so horribly bent over due to arthritis that the morticians have to use a heavy chain to straighten him out. Somehow the chain snaps in the middle of the wake, causing Uncle Fred to sit up in his casket. Hilarity Ensues.
Also in "Family Funeral Fight"
Harassing Phone Call: "It's Me Again, Margaret" features several of these, with increasingly dirty contentnote or as close to it as PG-rated material gets.
Horny Vikings: The titular character of "Erik the Awful" has a "hairy hat, shaped like a big bullet with horns comin' out the sides."
Kids Rock: His children sing "Jesus Loves the Little Children" at the opening of "Everything Is Beautiful".
Laugh Track: Almost every single freaking comedy song he ever did.
Lawful Stupid: The title police officer in "Super Cop". Upon seeing a person parked in a handicapped spot, he shoots the owner of the car in the foot and says "You're handicapped now!" Later on, he sees a grocery store patron with 11 items in a checkout lane, and demands that she drink her corn oil — the entire bottle — to get the count down to 10. Potty Failure ensues.
Long Title: "Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsaturated Quick-Dissolving Fast-Acting Pleasant-Tasting Green and Purple Pills". He later topped that with "Ned Nostril (And His South Seas Paradise, Puts Your Blues on Ice, Cheap at Twice the Price Band [Ikky-Ikky, Ukky-Ukky])".
Mighty Lumberjack: "The Haircut Song" is about a variety of haircuts Stevens has received from insane barbers. Whenever he is feeling intimidated by a barber and is asked what he does for a living, his immediate response is "I'm a logger!":
Now a lot of people would be intimidated in a situation like this...I was not. I am what I am, play my piano, and sing my little songs. I looked him right in the eye and I said, I'm a logger - just up from Coos Bay, Oregon. Been toppin' trees - quite possibly the toughest man in the entire world.
Nice Hat: Parodied in "You Gotta Have a Hat", where he is told that wearing a cowboy hat is the key to being a star. This was Truth in Television at the time, given that the song came out in the wake of the "hat act" craze in the early 1990s (i.e., young hunky country singers in cowboy hats).
"It's Me Again, Margaret" describes an obscene phone caller, who in the last verse uses his one phone call after his arrest to call the titular Margaret one last time, informing her that when he gets out, he's coming over with a weed whacker, a live chicken, and some Cool Whip (or peach preserves in one recording). The video goes one further, having Margaret show up at the police station with said items as she comes to bail him out.
Oh! Hello! Coy? Where have you been? No, you wasn't at the meeting! Well, I found out that at three o'clock this mornin' you was out there in your Fruit of the Looms in the motel swimmin' pool with a bunch of them waitresses from the cocktail lounge! I just hope Charlene don't find out about this, Coy! What? Well, how'd you get that big motorcycle up there on the high dive, Coy?
One Phone Call: Parodied in "It's Me Again, Margaret", which is about an obscene phone caller who keeps calling the title character until he gets arrested. He uses his phone call to call her one last time before he's jailed.
Pre-emptive Declaration: In Sittin' Up With the Dead, during the mass panic, the reverend says he's going out the kitchen door. "I hollered, 'Rev, that kitchen ain't got no door in it!' He said, 'Don't worry son, it will have in a minute!'"
Protest Song: Much of his 21st century output has taken on a political bent, but the 1970 hit "America, Communicate with Me" (which addresses war protesters and the assassinations of civil rights leaders, among other things) shows that he is no stranger to the genre.
The 1984 album He Thinks He's Ray Stevens had a re-do of his 1962 single "Furthermore", changing it from a goofy Motor Mouth song to a slower country waltz. He also changed a few of the lyrics, most notably altering the last verse so that it was no longer identical to the first.
He's re-recorded "Santa Claus Is Watchin' You" (also from 1962) at least twice: first for his 1985 album I Have Returned, and again in the late 1990s for Christmas Through a Different Window.
Another track from I Have Returned, "The Pirate Song (I Want to Sing and Dance)", showed up in re-recorded form only six years later on #1 with a Bullet.
Refrain from Assuming: "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" is commonly assumed to be called "The Day the Squirrel Went Berserk".
Religion Rant Song: "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex" is a very religious rant against televangelists.
Repeating so the Audience Can Hear: "Shriners' Convention" is a series of one-sided phone conversations between Stevens's character, the head of a chapter of Shriners, and a rebellious, fun-loving Shriner named Coy, whose antics we learn about through the dialogue repeated by Stevens's character.
Parodied in the "Mildred Queen and the Dips" segment of "Moonlight Special", where he voices both "Mildred Queen" (a Gladys Knight parody) and her backing vocalist. They echo all of her lines, culminating in this exchange:
Mildred: Wait a minute!
Backing vocalists: ♪Wait a minute♪
Mildred: How come you're singing everything I sing?
Backing vocalists: ♪How come you're singing everything I sing?♪
Mildred: Now cut that out!
Backing vocalists: ♪Now cut that out♪
Mildred: Stop that!
Backing vocalists: ♪Stop that♪
Mildred: Now I know why I call you guys the Dips!
Backing vocalists: ♪Now I know why I call you guys the Dips♪
Now, Harv hit the aisle, a-dancin' and a-screamin'
Some thought he had religion, others thought he had a demon,
And Harv thought he had a weed eater loose in his Fruit of the Looms
Stalker with a Crush: The main character in "It's Me Again, Margaret" repeatedly makes obscene calls to the titular Margaret. In the final verse, he uses his One Phone Call to give her another obscene call.
Streaking: "The Streak" is a about a streaker appearing at number of unlikely locales: a supermarket, a gas station and the basketball playoffs.
Take That: The Dixie Chicks song "Goodbye Earl" clashed with his values enough that he recorded a response song saying that Earl survived and was repenting for his misdeeds.
Talk Like a Pirate: In "The Pirate Song", he voices two characters: a typical "arrrr!" type pirate who is frustrated at a normal-voiced pirate who wants to abandon his ways to sing and dance instead.
Truck Driver's Gear Change: Of course, used in "I Need Your Help Barry Manilow" to parody Manilow's use of the same. Also shows up in Ray's cover of the theme from The Monkees, which he performs as an Austrian singing troupe (It Makes Sense in Context). Come the key change, one of the singers (who of course, is Ray) protests that the lead singer went up too high.
"America, Communicate with Me", as mentioned above, mentions the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King, as well as the societal turmoils of the late 60s-early 70s.
"The Streak": Streaking is still done now and then, but the craze was the most popular in the 1970s.
"Would Jesus Wear a Rolex": The controversies surrounding televangelists in the late 80s.
"Working for the Japanese": A mocking (and uncharacteristically vicious) look at the invasion of Japanese-made products in America in The Nineties.
"The People's Court": A 1986 parody of, well, The Peoples Court, referencing original judge Joseph Wapner (who left the show in 1993).
"Osama — Yo' Mama": Obviously, a post-9/11 mockery of you-know-who.
Visual Pun: On the cover of #1 with a Bullet (a term often used to describe a #1 song that's gaining in airplaynote referencing the fact that Billboard used to mark such songs with a bullet, or •), he's holding an actual bullet.
Vocal Evolution: Until about the early 1980s, he often sang his novelty songs in a nasal, goofy voice while using a smoother (albeit very strident) voice on the more serious songs. Eventually, he started using his natural voice on everything, and his more serious songs became less strident.