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VINE VOICEon December 9, 2001
Though best remembered for his novelty tunes, Ray Stevens placed more than two dozen songs, mainstream as well as novelty, of several genres on the charts over a two-decade period.

This collection from Varese Vintage contains many of his most successful tunes but is limited to his Monument and Barnaby recordings. And herein lies the rub - three of his Mercury-era tunes including his first top-10 hit, "Ahab The Arab" are included here but they are not the original singles. These versions are rerecordings done for a much later Monument album. This being the case, this CD's title "All Time Greatest Hits" loses its grip somewhat. The only indication to the prospective purchaser evident on the outside of the package is a small footnote to these tunes indicating that they have been lifted from Monument albums. Unless you're uncommonly observant, this alone is barely enough to clue you in. While there is nothing particularly wrong with these rerecordings - and some purchasers may not even care - the higher road would have been to license those original Mercury recordings for this collection. And since Varese has a reputation for top-quality reissues, this represents a greater disappointment here than had it come from some other label with a lesser reputation with their reissues.

Beyond this disturbance, the remainder of the collection admirably makes it way through Stevens' Monument and Barnaby recordings but then quits before grabbing any of his Warner Brothers material. This limitation on Steven's later recordings is another strike against the title's implied purpose of this CD though this could be considered somewhat minor.

Of the material included, most tracks exhibit good sound quality although a few tracks are noisy needle drops and, to Varese's credit, are noted as such in the credits. A few of the other early tracks are noticably hissy but not particularly objectionable. Closer-to-master tapes for this material were probably not to be found as Varese can usually be depended upon to secure the best available sonic sources for their CD's. The eight-page liner notes booklet contains info on Stevens' musical career focused on the period of the included recordings.

Had this included the appropriate Mercury and WB tracks or titled itself "Monument and Barnaby recordings" or the like, it would have garnered a four-star rating.
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VINE VOICEon August 9, 2004
Ray Stevens is a comedian. He's a songwriter. He's a singer. He's a great performer--whether telling a joke, or provoking the conscience of upper-class America. He has a rich, full-ranged voice, and great piano playing skills. Not to mention some of the funniest voices in music. Who can beat his camel noise?

This album came as a surprise to me. I knew Stevens could be a serious singer ("Everything Is Beautiful" is an incredible song) but I hadn't expected this CD to contain so many serious numbers. I was a bit disappointed at first...then I realized that Stevens had something: serious singing/songwriting talent. I mean SERIOUS. This album just proves that Ray Stevens is one of music's best.

He made a name for himself through such comedic novelty hits as "Ahab the Arab," "Gitarzan," and "The Streak;" and to be true, he's a very funny man. But his serious side deserves a mention...and maybe first prize. "Mr. Businessman" is probably the best, most well-written song on here ("Let's have your autograph/Endorse your epitaph") about upper-class people (and those from the lower classes to, of course) who put fame and fortune before humanity. There's "Isn't It Lonley, Together", a heart-wrenching look at a couple gone wrong. "Funny Man" is absolutely stunning, a number about how even the most outgoing of people have tearful secrets. The 1970 song "America, Communicate With Me" deals with the problems concerning Vietnam; "Misty," while not too serious, is an upbeat, chared, blue-grass love song. "Indian Love Call," in the same vein as "Misty," has a steady, listenable groove. And Stevens was the first to record Kris Kristofferson's legendary "Sunday Morning Coming Down." His voice fits the song wonderfully, though the production leaves a bit to be desired.

An incredible collection, an incredible performer. Ray Stevens is one of music's most-overlooked singer/songwriters. That's probably because people take him as a joke--after all, he made his career through comedic songs. But this album with show you that he has a serious side, too, and it is much better than those of many other performers of his era. Ray Stevens may not have legendary status, but he has legendary skill, and that's all it takes.
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HALL OF FAMEon October 10, 2002
I have always loved both the comedy hits and the serious ballads, and the fact that two tracks are not the oiginal recordings is of no concern to me. Songs like Unwind, Mr Businesman and Isn't It Lonely Together reveal lyrical depth and demonstrates his skillful vocal style, while his version of Kristofferson's Sunday Morning Coming Down stands out as one of the most beautiful amongst thousands of interpretations of this classic tune. Everything Is Beautiful wih its children's choir is inspiring and uplifting, America Communicate With Me is impressive and his country version of Misty (1976) is poignant and moving. My favorites amongst the comedy tracks include the energetic little pop opera Bridget The Midget (UK top ten in 1971), The Streak from 1974, and of course the old classics like Ahab, Harry, Gitarzan and Along Came Jones. This collection confirms this singer's originality, his versatility and his considerable songwriting skills. The album will please all those who enjoy literate pop music performed with feeling.
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on May 5, 2001
Novelty songs regularly find their way onto the pop charts, but are rarely followed by a second trip to the top-40. Stretching humor into a successful musical career is something few have accomplished. Spike Jones, "Weird" Al Yankovic, and, of course, Ray Stevens spring immediately to mind. In Stevens' case, what's even more impressive is how smoothly he's been able to move from novelty to straight-ahead pop (and back!), hitting the charts in both categories, and recording several innovative LPs.
His early efforts ("Ahab the Arab," "Gitarzan") drew heavily from the Coasters (to whom he paid tribute with his hit cover of Leiber & Stoller's "Along Came Jones"). His Southern roots showed through in the horn-heavy arrangements and swamp-blues influences. His music was somewhat ahead of the curve, with songs like "Harry the Hairy Ape" anticipating the good time tunes of Jim Croce and storytelling riffs of Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant."
As he built his early career on novelty hits, his albums included impressive straight-pop ballads like "Funny Man" and the work-a-day "Unwind." His productions, especially those from the 1968 LP "Even Stevens," were sophisticated, bringing to mind the works of Joe South, B.J. Thomas, and Ron Dante's work with Barry Manilow.
After scoring with his early novelties, Stevens climbed into the top-100 and top-40 charts with "Unwind" and "Mr. Businessman" (the latter sounding like the socially conscious side of Billy Joel) in '68. He returned to novelties with "Gitarzan" and "Along Came Jones" in '69, a year that also saw the release of his "Have a Little Talk With Myself" LP. The album featured the first recorded version of Kris Kristofferson's "Sunday Mornin' Comin Down," two years before Kristofferson's own debut, and Johnny Cash's hit. Not only was he able to write both serious and comic hits, but he had an ear for the songwriting talent of others.
In 1970, Stevens finally grabbed the top-spot on the chart with his gospel-influenced "Everything is Beautiful." His ode to tolerance, sounding perhaps a bit naive in the retrospective glare of 30 years passed, is filled with a sentiment that is still strikingly forceful. As a crowning achievement to one's career, it's a potent piece of punctuation.
But the #1 hit wasn't a full-stop in his hit-making. Throughout the 70s he continued to make the charts, reaching the top-100 with continued pleas for understanding ("America, Communicate With Me"), hauntingly produced ballads ("All My Trials"), gospel ("Turn Your Radio On"), country ("Nashville" "Everybody Needs a Rainbow"), and even more novelties ("Bridget the Midget").
In 1974 he returned to the top of the charts with one of his most successful novelties, "The Streak," forever capturing a moment of popular culture with his song. Like most event-based novelties, this one sounds dated (wonderfully so, in a way) as the distance to the event grows long. Its reach isn't as broad and its sentiments aren't as universal as songs that capture a mood (such as "Everything is Beautiful"), but the flash photo of a mid-70s craze is still vivid.
This collection finishes out with Stevens' mid-70s recastings of pop standards, including a reworking of Erroll Garner's "Misty" in a country/bluegrass vein, "Indian Love Call" as doo-wop, and "Young Love" as a Righteous Brothers/Hall & Oates styled blue-eyed soul ballad. In many ways these are a perfect encapsulation of Stevens' career: superb musicianship and production wedded to an original idea, all executed with more than a touch of whimsy.
Varese's collection includes the high points of Stevens' singles career through the end of his association with Andy Williams' Barnaby label in the mid-70s. His later work for Warner Brothers ("In the Mood" "I Need Your Help Barry Manilow"), RCA ("Shriner's Convention") and MCA ("Mississippi Squirrel Revival"), can be picked up on other collections, such as Rhino's "The Best of Ray Stevens," though you'll also pick up a lot of duplicate tracks.
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on May 5, 2001
Novelty songs regularly find their way onto the pop charts, but are rarely followed by a second trip to the top-40. Stretching humor into a successful musical career is something few have accomplished. Spike Jones, "Weird" Al Yankovic, and, of course, Ray Stevens spring immediately to mind. In Stevens' case, what's even more impressive is how smoothly he's been able to move from novelty to straight-ahead pop (and back!), hitting the charts in both categories, and recording several innovative LPs.
His early efforts ("Ahab the Arab," "Gitarzan") drew heavily from the Coasters (to whom he paid tribute with his hit cover of Leiber & Stoller's "Along Came Jones"). His Southern roots showed through in the horn-heavy arrangements and swamp-blues influences. His music was somewhat ahead of the curve, with songs like "Harry the Hairy Ape" anticipating the good time tunes of Jim Croce and storytelling riffs of Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant."
As he built his early career on novelty hits, his albums included impressive straight-pop ballads like "Funny Man" and the work-a-day "Unwind." His productions, especially those from the 1968 LP "Even Stevens," were sophisticated, bringing to mind the works of Joe South, B.J. Thomas, and Ron Dante's work with Barry Manilow.
After scoring with his early novelties, Stevens climbed into the top-100 and top-40 charts with "Unwind" and "Mr. Businessman" (the latter sounding like the socially conscious side of Billy Joel) in '68. He returned to novelties with "Gitarzan" and "Along Came Jones" in '69, a year that also saw the release of his "Have a Little Talk With Myself" LP. The album featured the first recorded version of Kris Kristofferson's "Sunday Mornin' Comin Down," two years before Kristofferson's own debut, and Johnny Cash's hit. Not only was he able to write both serious and comic hits, but he had an ear for the songwriting talent of others.
In 1970, Stevens finally grabbed the top-spot on the chart with his gospel-influenced "Everything is Beautiful." His ode to tolerance, sounding perhaps a bit naive in the retrospective glare of 30 years passed, is filled with a sentiment that is still strikingly forceful. As a crowning achievement to one's career, it's a potent piece of punctuation.
But the #1 hit wasn't a full-stop in his hit-making. Throughout the 70s he continued to make the charts, reaching the top-100 with continued pleas for understanding ("America, Communicate With Me"), hauntingly produced ballads ("All My Trials"), gospel ("Turn Your Radio On"), country ("Nashville" "Everybody Needs a Rainbow"), and even more novelties ("Bridget the Midget").
In 1974 he returned to the top of the charts with one of his most successful novelties, "The Streak," forever capturing a moment of popular culture with his song. Like most event-based novelties, this one sounds dated (wonderfully so, in a way) as the distance to the event grows long. Its reach isn't as broad and its sentiments aren't as universal as songs that capture a mood (such as "Everything is Beautiful"), but the flash photo of a mid-70s craze is still vivid.
This collection finishes out with Stevens' mid-70s recastings of pop standards, including a reworking of Erroll Garner's "Misty" in a country/bluegrass vein, "Indian Love Call" as doo-wop, and "Young Love" as a Righteous Brothers/Hall & Oates styled blue-eyed soul ballad. In many ways these are a perfect encapsulation of Stevens' career: superb musicianship and production wedded to an original idea, all executed with more than a touch of whimsy.
Varese's collection includes the high points of Stevens' singles career through the end of his association with Andy Williams' Barnaby label in the mid-70s. His later work for Warner Brothers ("In the Mood" "I Need Your Help Barry Manilow"), RCA ("Shriner's Convention") and MCA ("Mississippi Squirrel Revival"), can be picked up on other collections, such as Rhino's "The Best of Ray Stevens," though you'll also pick up a lot of duplicate tracks.
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on January 17, 2003
Ray Stevens creativity is stunning!! He could've easily been happy playing on sessions, writing songs, or producing artists...he did all of those things and more as we all know! This CD highlights 23 songs. it kicks off with the ultra-rare 1960 single "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon", which all Ray Stevens fans know is the turning point in his early career.

When his 1957-1959 singles failed to break outside of Georgia, Ray wrote this song about the Canadian Mountie but he didn't get permission from King Features Syndicate {owners of Sgt. Presont} and so when NRC released it in 1960, King Features threatened a lawsuit! NRC yanked the song off the market just as it was about to break into the Hot 100. "Sgt. Preston" was a novelty single and it gave Ray the idea to write and record comedy songs and in 1961 he released "Jeremiah Peabody" on MERCURY and that novelty hit the pop Top-40 and the rest is history.

Varese Vintage doesn't spotlight the original recordings of a few MERCURY hits. Instead, we're treated to re-recordings of his MERCURY material. "Ahab the Arab", his huge pop and R&B hit of 1962 is replaced with the more circulated 1969 version as is "Harry the Hairy Ape", which originally hit the pop and R&B charts in 1963. Love ballad "Funny Man" originally hit the pop chart in 1963 but the version here is off his 1968 'EVEN STEVENS' album.

Aside from those three re-recordings, all the remaining 20 tracks are the original recordings. Ray has simply had too many Hot 100 pop and Top 100 country hits during 1961-1991 to really do a definitive collection. Ray's roots are in early R&B and novelty songs and somewhere along the line he was embraced by the country audience and ever since 1984 he's been officially marketed as a country comedian. This CD contains "Everybody Needs a Rainbow", which up until this CD came out, couldn't be found anywhere unless you had the original 45 RPM vinyl single as I do.

I love that song and I also love "Isn't It Lonely Together?", dealing with unwanted pregnancy by two people who really don't love each other but are willing to remain together and raise the baby.

One aspect of Ray's career that's over-looked is his songwriting. Look on the back of the CD and you'll discover that Ray wrote the majority of the songs. His songwriting and producing...and arranging...featured heavily in a lot of his songs up through the early 1980's. His albums from the mid 1980's onward, though, weren't as heavily dominated with songs he wrote or co-wrote. Instead, much of Ray's material was supplied to him by long-time friend, C.W. Kalb, Jr. He's more informally known as "Buddy". Ray continues to record, produce, and arrange his own albums to this very day. 98% of the songs that Ray has recorded come from what is known as an in-house system...very seldom does he look outside of his company for songs. Typically the writers who work for his publishing company supply him with songs or he co-writes songs with those who work for him.
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Ray originally tried to establish himself as a serious singer but he met without success until he started recording comic material. The best of his comic songs from the sixties and seventies are here including Ahab the Arab, Gitarzan, Along came Jones, Bridget the midget and The streak.

Having established himself as a comic singer, Ray eventually had some success with more serious songs including Mr Businessman, Sunday morning coming down, Everything is beautiful and Turn your radio on.

One of Ray's best recordings is his cover of Misty. Johnny Mathis recorded this song in the fifties as a tender ballad with lush orchestration, but Ray interprets it as an up-tempo country song.

As the seventies progressed, Ray's fortunes declined. He did a very strange cover of Glenn Miller's In the mood (not included here), in which he posed as a group of chickens. After some quiet years, he had some success with comic songs in the eighties but is you must look elsewhere for Shriner's convention, Mississippi squirrel revival, The haircut song, It's me again Margaret and his other songs from the period.

This serves as a wonderful introduction to Ray's music.
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Where were you when "EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL" first came out in 1970? Well, I was very active with my children in church ~ and heard this song ~ knew it would be perfect for "vacation bible-school" ~ other activities where music was needed would be a challenge ~ and this song was perfect ~ the kids loved it ~ and so did the parents.
By the way ~ "EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL" became Ray's second gold record ~ his first was "GITARZAN" in 1969 which reached the top ten on the pop charts. Stevens became "King of the Novelty Songs" composing "AHAB THE ARAB", "HARRY THE HAIRY APE", "ALONG CAME JONES" ~ but in 1974 every ones favorite song took the country by storm "THE STREAK", this went to the top of the music charts and stayed there for many weeks.
A big thank you to ~ Cary E. Mansfield (producer) ~ Bill Pitzonka (art direction/design) ~ and Varese Sarabande for sharing major successes of this truly talented artist/composer and great human being ~ RAY STEVENS!
Total Time: 75:30 on 23 Tracks...Varese Sarabande 302 066 211 2...(2001)
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on September 23, 2013
THESE OLDER HITS ARE CLASSIC.i REMEMBER THEM FROM THE EARLY DAYS GROWING UP WHEN THEY WERE ON VINYL RECORDS.TO BE ABLE TO BUY THEM REMASTERED ON CD IS A BLESSING.
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on June 23, 2013
Great CD that includes tracks that highlight his incredible vocal talent plus the comedy songs. His cover of Along Came Jones is hysterical!
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