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of the Yukon" in 1960, and received a little bit of notoriety after a copyright infringement forced the single to be withdrawn.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.
- Ambiguous Syntax: "Little League":
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!
- Anthropomorphic Personification: Of Himself, naturally (forward to 0:56)
- Anti-Christmas Song: Most of Christmas Through a Different Window.
- Bad Santa: According to "Santa Claus Is Watchin' You", he's the "secret head of the CIA" and wire-taps your phone. Clearly Played for Laughs.
- Big Damn Heroes: "...and then Along Came Jones..."
- 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".
- Chained to a Railway: Parodied in "Along Came Jones", which tells of a man who is watching TV when he sees three different shows in which a Damsel in Distress is held by a villain, and rescued at the last second by a Marty Stu named Jones. In the third verse, the damsel is tied to a railroad track.
- 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!"
- Clucking Funny: He's rendered "In the Mood" and "Also Sprach Zarathustra" entirely in chicken clucks. There's also "Teenage Mutant Kung Fu Chickens".
- Code Name: "Shriner's Convention" pokes fun at the titles used by the Shriners International (the dudes with red fezzes).
Noble Lumpkin? This here's the Illustrious Potentate. *pause* I said it's the Illustrious Potentate. *pause* The Illustrious— Coy, dadblame it, this here's Bubba!
- Compensating for Something: According to "Power Tools", this is why men his age play with power tools.
- Confused Bystander Interview: In "The Streak", the same witness is there at every appearance of a streaker.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: "Mr. Businessman".
- Dinner Order Flub: "Gourmet Restaurant" is filled with this.
So I asked the waiter, "How's the beef?"
He said "Ze steak tartar is ze best you ever had."
But when he brought it, friends, I thought I'd seen rare meat
But this wasn't even hurt real bad!
- 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.
- Elderly Blue-Haired Lady: In "A Little Blue-Haired Lady", he's stuck behind one driving slowly in an Oldsmobile.
- Elvis Has Left the Planet: According to "I Saw Elvis in a UFO", he was abducted by aliens.
- Everything's Better with Monkeys:
- "Harry the Hairy Ape"
- The title character's pet monkey in "Gitarzan", who "[...] likes to get drunky and sing boogie-woogie and it sounds real funky."
- Everything's Louder With Bagpipes: "Bagpipes (That's My Bag)", where he uses his voice to imitate them.
- Freudian Slip: His song of that title is about a man who tries to impress a woman with his Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness but instead says something embarrassing. The second time he meets the woman, she's holding his job interview, and Hilarity Ensues once again.
- 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 .
- Horny Vikings: The titular character of "Erik the Awful" has a "hairy hat, shaped like a big bullet with horns comin' out the sides."
- Horrible Camping Trip: "The Camping Trip" on the album Surely You Joust is about one.
- Human Cannonball: One of his darker songs, "Hugo the Human Cannonball", is about one who has a rather unfortunate mishap. (He splatters all over the upper bleachers.)
- Impact Silhouette: The reverend leaves one as he exits the house during the mass panic in in "Sittin' Up With the Dead".
- In the Style of...:
- Johnny Mathis' "Misty" as a bluegrass song.
- "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow" is a parody of Manilow's stylings, down to his blatant use of key changes.
- "Moonlight Special" is a five-minute parody of The Midnight Special, with Ray voicing a Wolfman Jack parody called "The Sheepdog", along with style parodies of Gladys Knight and the Pips, Alice Cooper, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
- Sammi Smith's "Help Me Make It Through the Night" in the style of Spike Jones.
- "Ned Nostril" mimics Johnny Cash's deep vocals and boom-chicka rhythms.
- Michael Jackson's "Bad", also as a bluegrass song.
- "Jeopardy!" Thinking Music: In the live version of "It's Me Again, Margaret", the first two bars play after the lead character spends way too long dialing the phone.
- 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])".
- Meanwhile, Back at the... Motel: This is the transition from the verses to the skits on "Shriner's Convention".
- 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.
- Motor Mouth: The original version of "Further More".
- My Dad Can Beat Up Your Dad: Inverted in "My Dad", a cover of Paul Petersen ("My dad can beat up your dad, but he wouldn't").
- Naked People Are Funny: "The Streak", of course.
- Newhart Phone Call/Repeating so the Audience Can Hear: "Shriner's Convention" consists of a one-sided dialogue, via hotel phone, between two members of the Hahira, Georgia, delegation: leader "Illustrious Potentate" (Bubba), and member "Noble Lumpkin" (Coy), whose wild antics and failure to show up for functions are driving Bubba crazy. Over the course of the conversation we hear from Bubba about Coy's various exploits which include getting his Harley-Davidson motorcycle into his hotel room and on the high diving board of the hotel swimming pool, being in said pool with "a bunch of them waitresses from the cocktail lounge", and getting a "little redhead" (to quote Bubba) to streak through their banquet yelling out the "secret code," wearing nothing but Coy's fez.
- 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).
- Noodle Implements:
- "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.
Margaret: And how much for those handcuffs?
- "Shriner's Convention" combines this with Noodle Incident:
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?
- Nutty Squirrel: "The Mississippi Squirrel Revival" is about two kids bringing a squirrel to church, which promptly gets loose and creates all kinds of havoc.
- 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.
- Please Put Some Clothes On: In "The Streak", the man being interviewed yells at Ethel to "[...] get your clothes on!" as she's streaking off with The Streak.
- 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.
- Rearrange the Song:
- 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" (the first line of the chorus).
- Religion Rant Song: "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex" is one about the hypocrisy of televangelists asking for money while appearing to be opulent themselves.
This man was preachin' at me, yeah, layin' on the charm
Asking me for twenty with ten thousand on his arm
- Running Time in the Title: His debut album, 1,837 Seconds of Humor.
- Self-Backing Vocalist / Solo Duet: Stevens did a lot of his own backing vocals:
- Squirrels in My Pants: Happens to two characters in "Mississippi Squirrel Revival", one more literally than the other.
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
As the squirrel made laps inside her dress
She began to cry and then to confess
To sins that would make a sailor blush with shame
- 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.
- Visual Pun: On the cover of #1 with a Bullet (a term often used to describe a #1 song that's gaining in airplaynote ), 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.
- Vocal Range Exceeded:
- At the end of "The Dooright Family", the titular gospel singing family asks their bass singer to drop down another octave. The result is a loud booming note that makes him explode on stage.
- Also happens to Wolfgang in the aforementioned Monkees cover — it hurts his little wienerschnitzel. He and Fritzy then proceed to argue about it.
- Your Mom: "Osama — Yo' Mama".