Ray Stevens says he made a cover album because he wanted to sing songs he thought would never be cut again.
“I picked some of the songs just because they sounded like songs no one would record,” Stevens said. “I thought these poor songs needed someone to take pity on them and make a record. See what the potential might be in some of these songs that are … forgotten.”
But Stevens – an 82-year-old Country Music Hall of Fame and owner of the Nashville club CabaRay, known for singing comedy and classic tunes for more than six decades – didn’t stop at an album. He recorded four.
This spring, Stevens released 48 covers on four thematic discs, collectively called “Iconic Songs of the 20th Century (The Soundtrack of Our Lives)”. Each is now available through Curb Records, the collection includes four installments of 12 songs:
- “Great country ballads”
- “Melancholy fescue (high class bluegrass)”
- “Slow dance”
- “New retro (what is old is new again)”
Curb ties the albums together for a “Emblematic Songs” box set to be released on June 18th.
In a new interview with Tennessean, Stevens shares the stories of four songs included in the project. Read along for the highlights.
‘Please help me I’m falling’
“Great Country Ballads” includes her interpretation of standards such as “Your Cheatin ‘Heart” by Hank Williams and “Crazy”, which Patsy Cline made famous nearly sixty years ago.
Stevens also cut the 1960 romance ballad “Please Help Me, I’m Falling,” a Don Robertson and Hal Blair co-writing that Hank Locklin took to No.1.
“I came to Nashville in ’62. It barely beat me,” Stevens said of the song released two years before the Georgia native moved to Music City. He continued, “I thought it was a great song. It always is. It’s one of the country songs that lends itself to any type of arrangement. It feels like home with an arrangement. country, but you can take liberties with it and put the instrumentation in the arrangement that wouldn’t normally be there. ”
Stevens gives the late 1960s pop epic “MacArthur Park” a six-minute touch of bluegrass. Jimmy Webb, a Nashville Songwriting Hall of Fame known for “Wichita Lineman” and others, wrote the song, which actor-singer Richard Harris first released in 1968. Donna Summers has took a version of the song to number 1 a decade later.
“Jimmy Webb is a genius,” Stevens said. “It’s such an unlikely song to ever have been made with a banjo. I’ve always loved it. I’ve always admired the arrangement, the production, the whole thing.
“Richard Harris,” Stevens continued, “he performed the song really well. When you consider that there are no images involved, just audio, he did a magnificent job.”
The project continues with “Slow Dance”, a collection of classic love melodies, and “Nouveau Retro”, a recreation of traditional pop compositions such as “Earth Angel” and “April In Paris”.
The latter features the 1930s pop number “Blue Moon”, once recorded by Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and The Marcels.
“I didn’t think anybody would record this again,” Stevens said. “I said, ‘Not’ Blue Moon ‘. ”
He added: “When I hear a song, I drink it all in. … For me, it’s important what makes that sound and what makes this song. What nerves it hits when people hear it. . ”
And on “New Retro”, Stevens gives his interpretation of “Unforgettable”, a pop song made famous by crooner Nat King Cole in the early 1950s.
“I love this song,” Stevens said. “It has a great chorus, a great melody. Great words. It’s just a classic song. Nat King Cole was pretty good, I have to admit.… It was fun. have fun. It was a song that needed to get going. ”