Popular Culture (“Music”) 20110916: Ray Stevens

(9 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Those of you that read this regular column know that I sometimes give space to what I do not like.  More often I write about things that I do like, but just to mix it up, now and then I have to be the author of a critical piece.

This is one of those.  The career of this hack has been rife with nothing but luck and I think that he has been more detrimental to musical art than he has contributed.  Why would I take on one of the most honored icons of pop music?  Because he is a shallow and an opportunistic person.  Can you say Tea Partier?  Sure you can.

His entire life is pretty much a lie.  We shall start with his name, and go further.  Ready?

First, his name is a lie.  Ray Stevens is actually Harold Ray Ragsdale (born 19390124).  I have never been able to find any legal change of name.  If you have information to support that his legal name is Ray Stevens, please let us know in the comments.

Second, he is TRIVIAL!   That is sort of sad, because he showed potential, especially with “Mr. Businessman”.  But that was an aberration.

Let us look at some of his early racist compositions.  I must caution you that the Wikipedia entry for him is very closely edited to show him in good favor, so look elsewhere for more reliable information.  A 1962 song, “Ahab the Arab” is typical of his racism.  The claim is that he wrote it.  Here, for your nausea, is a version of it.

Note his absolute disregard for any respect for other cultures, one of the prime examples being using gibberish to pretend to the the Arabic tongue.  At least he was accurate that Fatima is a female name from the Arabic.

Here is more recent version:

Could this idiot be more offensive?  In this newer version, one of the things that Fatima eats is a bowl of chitlins!  He pokes a nasty finger into the eyes of all Muslims with this offensive statement, and I am not even a Muslim, but I understand insults.   He also makes fun of large women, using a horse sound to describe her.  Of course, she uses a frying pan to subdue the Sultan.  Do now worry, this bigot gets even more racist later!

Another big hit for him was “Gitarzan”.  He also takes credit for writing it.  I would be ashamed to write something like it, even for snark, and Ragsdale seems only wired for it.  Here is a fairly recent video:

The first thing that pops into my mind is his misogyny.  Why does he prefer to paint women as ugly and not worthy?  Really, an actress with a fake bone in her hair, missing teeth, and overweight is what he wants?  This guy has real problems.

He did not even write his next hit, “Along Came Jones”.  That song was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and is better than most of the work that the hack Ragsdale ever wrote.  It is just hack stuff, and contributes nothing that rock and roll should for discussion of ideas.  Here it is, for you disapproval, but first the brilliant Ernie Kovacks version.  Kovacks was one of the best avant garde comedians of our parents’ time:

Here is Ragsdale’s version, but I could only find an audio, not the one that he does now in Branson, MO, a tourist trap.  Avoid that place if possible!

Note that Ragsdale is not credited with writing it, because he did not.  But the dislike for women is still there.  It gets worse.

His next “hit” was an extremely poor cover of the seminal song written by Dr. Kris Kristofferson, who has an earned Ph.D. in biochemistry.  First is the poor version by Ragsdale, and then the good one by Dr. Kristofferson.

Notice how hollow Ragsdale’s eyes are!

Here is the definitive version, and Johnny Cash did a decent cover as well, but no time for it.  Here are both of them, and it does not look to be synched!

One of his only really serious songs was the 1968 “Mr. Businessman”, which charted at #28 in the US and did not chart in the UK.  I could not find a live version, but here is the studio cut.  At the time, he seemed to have potential:

He had his biggest hit to date in 1970 with the insipid “Everything is Beautiful”, which charted at #1 in the US and #6 in the UK.  Here is some backstory to how the song came to be a hit.  It turns out that in those days, variety shows were very popular, and one of the most popular at the time was The Andy Williams Show.  Also, the practice of the day was to run the show from fall through spring, and then have a “summer replacement” series that featured different talent.  Ragsdale was very lucky to get this gig, and the exposure that the song got was tremendous.  Since it was not in the least offensive and strong religions overtones, older audiences liked it as well.  Here it is:

That became the theme song for his replacement show and got LOTS of play.

Then he turns around and gives another misogynistic number called “Bridget the Midget” in 1971, not only insulting to women but also to small people.  The guy just thinks that things are funny that really are not.  I am sure that you will agree with me when you hear it, and I am assuming that he wrote it:

He had lots of other songs betwixt 1971 and the present, with the 1974 song “The Streak” being his biggest hit overall.  He was in the right place at the right time, since streaking was all the rage then.  He wrote it.  This song charted at #1 in both the US and the UK, and was wildly popular.  It generated the catch phrase, “Yeah, I did!” for some time.  Here it is:

The song is harmless enough, and is sort of catchy and funny.  But it is really of no lasting significance.  

He never charted about #14 in the US and again, but did chart at #2 in the UK with the same song, “Misty”.  This was a cover of the song by Erroll Garner with lyrics later added by Johnny Burke.  I find his version quite forgettable, with the Johnny Mathis one being much better.  You tell me which one you prefer:

Ragsdale’s version:

Mathis’s version:

He had lots of material after “Misty”, but none ever again charted in the US Top Ten or at all in the UK.  He pretty much went pure country after that and had a number of tunes chart in the US Country Top 100.  In the past several years he has developed a sort of nasty streak (no pun intended) and self identifies at a Tea Party sympathizer.

Here is an example, a song called “We the People” from the album of the same name.  He actually sings the praises of Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh, and O’Reilly!  Here it is:

Are you getting the idea that I dislike Ragsdale?  By they way, this album was heavily promoted on the Fox “News” Channel.  It failed to chart, nor did any of the singles on it.

Another masterpiece from the same album is the awful “Caribou Barbie”, an open mouth kiss to Sarah Palin.  Note the caricatures of Matthews, Olbermann, Maddow, and Couric.  This song is offensive, and factually inaccurate:

How about, from the same album, “The Global Warming Song”?  Again factually deficient, and also pretty offensive:

I know that this is getting sort of tedious, but only two more and I will stop.  The next one, from the same album, is “God Save Arizona”, about the “papers, please” law.  Please see my special comment below the video:

This is one of the most offensive and venomous videos that I have ever seen.  Not only is it a paean to xenophobia, he starts it with film clips from the December 07, 1941 Japanese air strike on Pearl Harbor, an incident that probably started the greatest expression of xenophobia ever known in the United States.  There is no justification for these despicable actions on Ragsdale’s part, and he should feel very ashamed for pieces like this.

Finally, from his 2011 Spirit of ’76 album, we have this gem, “Obama Budget Plan”.  What do you think?

Well, if have not filled it yet, you can put your barf bag aside, as I am done with embedding any more of his “work”.  A lot of this may be taken down after the piece breaks, because first and formost, Ragdale is in it for the money and he does not get any from You Tube views.  I believe that this survey of his past and recent work shows what a hack he is, and how little understanding he has of just about anything, except making money.  I will give him one thing:  before he wore out, he could sing really well.  It is just too bad that there was absolutely no cogent thought put into his silly, trivial, and later extremely hateful and hurtful lyrics.

If you go to the Wikipedia listing for him, you will see a huge pair of disclaimers as to the fairness and accuracy of the entry.  It is obvious that he has people who scour the internet and try to clean up derogatory information about him.  For example, the Wikipedia entry does not mention his drugs arrest and conviction a couple of decades ago.

Interestingly, I could not find anywhere on Dogpile using a number of different search parameters for that incident.  Now, it may be that later he had his record expunged or sealed, and then it would be harder to find.  Anyway, the point is that he is extremely careful about his image, and I am sure with the money that he has he can get records sealed.

In closing, I prefer to write about things that I enjoy, but then this series would be too predictable.  Next week we shall take on a different topic, and two weeks hence we shall return to The Who for a listen to and look at the wonderful album, Odds and Sods.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at The Stars Hollow Gazette,

Daily Kos,

firefly-dreaming, and

Original Cin’s

2 comments

    • Translator on September 17, 2011 at 3:04 am
      Author

    calling out hacks?

    Warmest regards,

    Doc

    • Translator on September 17, 2011 at 3:43 am
      Author

    I very much appreciate it.

    Warmest regards,

    Doc

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