Ray Stevens

The Best of Ray Stevens [PolyGram]

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Ray Stevens' rock & roll recordings have been poorly represented on CD, making this reissue of an 11-song greatest-hits LP from 1967 particularly noteworthy. Stevens is associated with country music but didn't have a country hit until 1969; before that, his early rock and novelty recordings gave him several pop hits including the Top Five "Ahab the Arab." The Best of Ray Stevens contains that song and five others among its 11 tracks -- only the minor hit "Further More" is omitted. Many of the cuts, like "Ahab the Arab," are humorous character studies of fellows like "Harry the Hairy Ape" (Stevens' only other Top 20 entry from this period), "Butch Barbarian," and the motorcyclist "Speed Ball." "The Rock and Roll Show" is a long, intermittently funny skit about a rock performance that features an unintelligible Elvis Presley-style rocker, a syrupy teenage thrush, and an incompetent Duane Eddy-style guitarist. Anticipating his later success with serious songs like "Everything Is Beautiful," Stevens also made straight pop and rock for Mercury with songs like "Funny Man," "It's Been So Long," and "Loved and Lost," which are also included. Stevens' comedy recordings are built upon a nutty, fast-talking schtick that often hides the fact that many of his jokes are weak, but the memorable "Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsaturated Quick Dissolving Fast Acting Pleasant Tasting Green and Purple Pills" made it into the Billboard record books for having the longest title of any charting hit.

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