Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Creepy Places IV: Snap, Cackle, Pop!

A case of mistaken identity is at the root of this post, though I would have been freaked out by this tune regardless of the singer. It's a rough one for many people to listen to, so it's appropriate as the climax to my pre-Halloween creepy-song series.

As one of my many Mercury singles, this record caused me some unsurprising confusion when it first showed up. What happened was that I played the song, found it scary, and soon thereafter took it to my mom for an ID.

I took the single to her and asked her the artist's name. She said it was by Brook Benton. Indeed, the 45 I held in my hand was by that master of real soul. But between playing the scary song and taking it to Mom, I set down the 45 I wanted to identify and picked up the Benton disc. The target song, titled "Laughing Over My Grave," was by a different artist altogether. That mistake on my part caused me a lot of difficulty when I got around to searching for the 45 years later.

The Great Vinyl Meltdown robbed me of both the Brook Benton single (the title of which I cannot produce from the depths of my memory) and "Laughing Over My Grave." I started my search by looking at a Brook Benton singles discography. I saw no "Laughing" there. A thorough search of the title proved more fruitful, and soon I knew that "Laughing Over My Grave" was the B side of "Bubble Gum the Bubble Dancer" by Ray Stevens (Mercury 72307).

How could I let "Laughing" bother me so much when the A side was a light novelty number? That happened because "Laughing" got to four-year-old caithiseach first, and I never, ever flipped the 45. I barely listened to the whole scary song. It was a really bad one for me.

You know how old movies, usually black-and-white horror, sometimes go quiet except for one female voice, singing mournful notes meant to heighten the viewer's tension? Well, the woman laughing in this song was as creepy as those others, except she was laughing, of course, in a cold, cynical way. My attention was riveted on the laugh, so I barely knew what ol' Ray was saying. And about three seconds into the laughing, I was usually gone, a little cloud of dust hanging in the air where I had been standing.

Once I figured out that Ray Stevens had concocted this masterpiece of terror, the task of finding the darn 45 began. And it is still going on. A couple of times, I have seen it listed online, only to learn that someone beat me to it. Therefore, I still have never heard the A side. I took my recording of "Laughing" off a blog about two years ago. I didn't note which blog it was, so if you're a music blogger, and you put up a bunch of Halloween-appropriate songs, I may owe you credit, and I'm sorry I messed up.

Ray Stevens, for the underinitiated, is a master of the non-parody novelty tune, as well as some amusing songs that aren’t quite novelties, and the occasional serious effort. Born Harold Ray Ragsdale in Georgia in 1939, he has scored ten Top 40 hits, including two #1s, the serious, Grammy-winning “Everything Is Beautiful” (1970) and the fad-exploiting social commentary “The Streak” (1974). An extremely talented musician, he recorded with Elvis, Patti Page and Brook Benton, and later he produced Dolly Parton and B.J. Thomas. He also happened to be around the studio when Jeff Barry was recording hand claps for “Sugar, Sugar,” so you can pick out the distinctive smack of Ray’s palms if you have a discerning ear.

Since I do have a copy of “Laughing Over My Grave,” I can include it here. I have seen just one Ray Stevens anthology that includes it, and it seems to be out of print. That disappoints me, though as the election approaches, I can think of plenty of things that scare me, so I don't need this song on CD right now.

When you are finished with Halloween, it will be time for my first post-Halloween post. No longer even marginally scary, the song will be ultra-pleasant, I assure you. See you Saturday!

Ray Stevens, Laughing Over My Grave

1 comment:

ACcountryFan said...

i'm a humongous fan of Ray Stevens and have a blog page as well where I pick and choose things about his career to write about. This is a link to my channel at You Tube where I often make Ray video montages...I often use the same pictures but arrange them with other pictures and insert animation sometimes...toward the bottom of the about me page at You Tube there's a link to my blog page, too.