A popular novelty singer who has fame far beyond the chart performance of his many hits. Born Harold Ray Ragsdale, he spent several years performing in his native Atlanta area. He released his first single, "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon" in 1960, and received a little bit of notoriety after a copyright infringement forced the single to be withdrawn.
He didn't hit the charts again until 1961, with "Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsaturated Quick-Dissolving Fast-Acting Pleasant-Tasting Green and Purple Pills", a novelty song about quack medicine. It was followed by "Ahab the Arab", which took him to #5 pop. Throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s, his presence was hit-and-miss on the charts, although he made top 10 with "Gitarzan" and had a huge #1 hit with "Everything Is Beautiful".
Stevens hit his stride in 1974 with "The Streak", a novelty song about, well, streaking. This song and a bluegrass cover of "Misty" were his biggest hits at country radio, where he maintained a hit-and-miss presence for the next several years. His last song to see the pop charts was "I Need Your Help Barry Manilow", which was followed by his last big country hit, "Shriner's Convention". He has continued to record throughout the 1980s and into the 2000s, constantly releasing albums despite not having anything resembling a hit. In 2010 with the rise of the "Tea Party" in American politics, he staged something of a mini-comeback, gaining a YouTube following with his release of several songs espousing right-wing political views.
- Ambiguous Syntax: "Little League":
I remember batting practice — I put a baseball on a string
- Anthropomorphic Personification: Of Himself, naturally (forward to 0:56)
- Anti-Christmas Song: Most of Christmas Through a Different Window.
- Bad Santa: According to "Santa Claus Is Watchin' You", he's the "secret head of the CIA" and wire-taps your phone. Clearly Played for Laughs.
- Big Brother Is Watching: "Santa Claus Is Watchin' You".
- Big Damn Heroes: "...and then Along Came Jones..."
- Black Comedy: Sometimes employed on his MCA albums in the 1980s. Examples include "Hugo the Human Cannonball" (see below) and "Fred", about a hunting dog who comes home with a pregnant female dog. Fred gets run over at the end of the song, and then the narrator realizes that none of the female's pups looks anything like Fred.
- Christmas Songs: Most famously "Santa Claus Is Watching You". He released a novelty Christmas album in the late 1990s which included some Anti-Christmas Songs, including one where people call Santa un-PC because he smokes a pipe, wears fur, works only one day of the year, is "grossly overweight", etc. (But just to keep it from being too anvilicious, he admits that it was All Just a Dream and says that even something politically incorrect can still be right.)
- City of Weirdos: Invoked in the "Haircut Song", where he tells stories about getting haircuts in various cities. After getting a punk haircut by a skinhead barber, he claims he was lucky his next job was in San Francisco - "those people thought I was an insurance salesman!"
- Code Name: "Shriner's Convention" pokes fun at the titles used by the Shriners International (the dudes with red fezzes).
Noble Lumpkin? This here's the Illustrious Potentate. *pause* I said it's the Illustrious Potentate. *pause* The Illustrious-- Coy, dadblame it, this here's Bubba!
- Compensating for Something: According to "Power Tools", this is why men his age play with power tools.
- Confused Bystander Interview: In "The Streak", the same witness is there at every appearance of a streaker.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: "Mr. Businessman".
- Dinner Order Flub: "Gourmet Restaurant" is filled with this.
- Doom It Yourself: The subject of the song "Power Tools", who is so obsessed with the title objects that he keeps finding himself in increasingly humorous situations. In the last verse, he finds himself in the hospital, obsessing over his power bed.
- Elderly Blue Haired Lady: In "A Little Blue-Haired Lady", he's stuck behind one driving slowly in an Oldsmobile.
- Elvis Has Left the Planet: According to "I Saw Elvis in a UFO", he was abducted by aliens.
- Everything's Better with Chickens: He's rendered "In the Mood" and "Also Sprach Zarathustra" entirely in chicken clucks.
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: "Harry the Hairy Ape". Also, the title character's pet monkey in "Gitarzan".
- Everything's Louder with Bagpipes: "Bagpipes (That's My Bag)", where he uses his voice to imitate them.
- Freudian Slip: His song of that title is about a man who tries to impress a woman with his Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness but instead says something embarrassing. The second time he meets the woman, she's holding his job interview, and Hilarity Ensues once again.
- The Fun in Funeral: "Sitting Up with the Dead" in which his late Uncle Fred is so horribly bent over due to arthritis that the morticians have to use a heavy chain to straighten him out. Somehow the chain snaps in the middle of the wake, causing Uncle Fred to sit up in his casket. Hilarity Ensues.
- Harassing Phone Call: "It's Me Again, Margaret"
- Horny Vikings: The titular character of "Erik the Awful" has a "hairy hat, shaped like a big bullet with horns comin' out the sides."
- Human Cannonball: One of his darker songs, "Hugo the Human Cannonball", is about one who has a rather unfortunate mishap. (He splatters all over the upper bleachers.)
- In the Style Of:
- Johnny Mathis' "Misty" as a bluegrass song.
- "I Need Your Help Barry Manilow" is a parody of Manilow's stylings, down to his blatant use of key changes.
- Sammi Smith's "Help Me Make It Through the Night" in the style of Spike Jones.
- "Ned Nostril" mimics Johnny Cash's deep vocals and boom-chicka rhythms.
- Michael Jackson's "Bad", also as a bluegrass song.
- Kids Rock: His children sing "Jesus Loves the Little Children" at the opening of "Everything Is Beautiful".
- Laugh Track: Almost every single freaking comedy song he ever did.
- Long Title: "Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsaturated Quick-Dissolving Fast-Acting Pleasant-Tasting Green and Purple Pills". He later topped that with "Ned Nostril (And His South Seas Paradise, Puts Your Blues on Ice, Cheap at Twice the Price Band [Ikky-Ikky, Ukky-Ukky])".
- Jeopardy Thinking Music: In the live version of "It's Me Again, Margaret", the first two bars play after the lead character spends way too long dialing the phone.
- Meanwhile Back At The Motel: This is the transition from the verses to the skits on "Shriner's Convention".
- Mighty Lumberjack: The Haircut Song is about a variety of haircuts Stevens has received from insane barbers. Whenever he is feeling intimidated by a barber and is asked what he does for a living, his immediate response is "I'm a logger!":
Now a lot of people would be intimidated in a situation like this...I was not. I am what I am, play my piano, and sing my little songs. I looked him right in the eye and I said, "I'm a logger - just up from Coos Bay, Oregon. Been toppin' trees - quite possibly the toughest man in the entire world."
- My Dad Can Beat Up Your Dad: Inverted in "My Dad" ("My dad can beat up your dad, but he wouldn't").
- Naked People Are Funny: "The Streak", of course.
- Nice Hat: Parodied in "You Gotta Have a Hat", where he is told that wearing a cowboy hat is the key to being a star. This was Truth in Television at the time, given that the song came out in the wake of the "hat act" craze in the early 1990s (i.e., young hunky country singers in cowboy hats).
- Noodle Implements:
- "It's Me Again, Margaret" describes an obscene phone caller, who in the last verse uses his one phone call after his arrest to call the titular Margaret one last time. He informs her that when he gets out, he's coming over with a weed whacker, a live chicken, and some Cool Whip. The video goes one further, having Margaret show up at the police station with said items.
- "Shriner's Convention" combines this with Noodle Incident:
Oh! Hello! Coy? Where have you been? No, you wasn't at the meeting! Well, I found out that at three o'clock this mornin' you was out there in your Fruit of the Looms in the motel swimmin' pool with a bunch of them waitresses from the cocktail lounge! I just hope Charlene don't find out about this, Coy! What? Well, how'd you get that big motorcycle up there on the high dive, Coy?
- One Phone Call: Parodied in "It's Me Again, Margaret", which is about an obscene phone caller who keeps calling the title character until he gets arrested. He uses his phone call to call her one last time before he's jailed.
- Pirate: Almost the entire cast of "The Pirate Song (I Want to Sing and Dance)".
- Pirate Booty: The recovery of some is offered as a course of action in "The Pirate Song (I Want to Sing and Dance)".
- Rearrange the Song: Just among his singles, he's re-recorded both "Furthermore" and "Santa Claus Is Watchin' You", having redone the latter twice. One track from 1985, "The Pirate Song (I Want to Sing and Dance)", showed up in re-recorded form only six years later on #1 with a Bullet.
- Refrain From Assuming: "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" is commonly assumed to be called "The Day the Squirrel Went Berserk".
- Religion Rant Song: "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex" is a very religious rant against televangelists.
- Repeating So the Audience Can Hear: "Shriners' Convention" is a series of one-sided phone conversations between Stevens's character, the head of a chapter of Shriners, and a rebellious, fun-loving Shriner named Coy, whose antics we learn about through the dialogue repeated by Stevens's character.
- Running Time in the Title: His debut album, 1,837 Seconds of Humor.
- Self-Backing Vocalist/Solo Duet: And how.
- In "Gitarzan", he voices the title character, his girlfriend, Jane, and their pet monkey, all of whom sing before the final chorus.
- In "Along Came Jones", he's everyone but the titular Jones, who never speaks.
- He uses his voice to mimic a whole band in "Freddie Feelgood", making vocal impressions of the bass, trombone and drums.
- In "Bridget the Midget", he voices both himself and the title character, whose voice is just his sped up.
- In "The Streak", he voices a news reporter and a man being interviewed.
- In "The Dooright Family", he voices an entire gospel band.
- Many of his 1970s songs feature four backing vocals that are all him: a "trio" of falsetto harmonies and a bass harmony. A good example of this overdubbing can be found on "Turn Your Radio On".
- "Sex Symbols" is a "duet" between Ray and "Julio Iglesias" (which Ray pronounces "Joo-le-oh" despite constant corrections). "Julio"'s voice is just Ray impersonating him.
- Parodied in "Moonlight Special" (a pastiche of a musical variety show), where he sings a female lead vocal and her backing vocalists. They echo all of her lines, until she says "Stop repeating everything I say!" which causes the backing vocalists to sing "Stop repeating everything I say!"
- Everything's Nuttier With Squirrels in My Pants: Happens to a character in "Mississippi Squirrel Revival".
Harv hit the aisle, a-dancin' and a-screamin'
- Stalker with a Crush: The main character in "It's Me Again, Margaret" repeatedly makes obscene calls to the titular Margaret. In the final verse, he uses his One Phone Call to give her another obscene call.
- Shout-Out/To Shakespeare: His album Lend Me Your Ears.
- Take That: The Dixie Chicks song "Goodbye Earl" clashed with his values enough that he recorded a response song saying that Earl survived and was repenting for his misdeeds.
- Talk Like a Pirate: In "The Pirate Song", he voices two characters: a typical "arrrr!" type pirate who is frustrated at a vaguely-effeminate-sounding pirate who wants to abandon his ways to sing and dance instead.
- Truck Driver's Gear Change: Of course, used in "I Need Your Help Barry Manilow" to parody Manilow's use of the same. Also shows up in Ray's cover of the theme from The Monkees, which he performs as an Austrian singing troupe (It Makes Sense in Context). Come the key change, one of the singers (who of course, is Ray) protests that the lead singer went up too high.
- Visual Pun: On the cover of #1 with a Bullet (a term often used to describe a #1 song that's gaining in airplay), he's holding an actual bullet.
- The entire design of the sleeve for the album The Feeling's Not Right Again, which mimics/mocks the look of Barry Manilow's 1975 album Trying To Get The Feeling, but especially the back: On his album Manilow appears with his dogs wearing an "I love beagles" T-shirt. Stevens appears on his with a basset hound and an "I love bagels" T-shirt.
- Vocal Evolution: His 1960s and early 1970s material sounds quite strange with the high, nasal voice he used to sing in, compared to his smoother, mellower baritone from the 1980s onward.
- Vocal Range Exceeded: At the end of "The Dooright Family", the titular gospel singing family asks their bass singer to drop down another octave. The result is a loud booming note that makes him explode on stage.
- Your Mom: "Osama — Yo' Mama".