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A Sharp Sense of Humor, Keen Insight Score for Ray Stevens

Posted in MusicWorld on June 30, 2002 by

If laughter is the best medicine, then Ray Stevens must be music's Marcus Welby, M.D. Like America's family doctor of humor, Stevens has for some 40 years now helped us chuckle at life and the world around us with his songs, and in process make people feel better. So when the terrorist attack of September 11 happened, it was only natural for Stevens to utilize his talents to address the tragedy.

"We were all horrified, outraged, and we wanted to do something," he recalls of the national mood at the time. "I write songs and make records, so that's what I did." The result is the single "Osama-Yo' Mama" and the album of the same name, which also addresses other current matters of interest in "Hang Up and Drive," "Safe at Home" and "The Lady on the Radio."

In typical Stevens fashion, "Osama-Yo' Mama" may provoke laughter, but it also takes a smart and sharp look at the international Public Enemy Number One. And given how astute an observer of the public Stevens has always been, it should come as no surprise that his inspiration for the song came from the people.

Stevens was watching a pro football game on TV, "and somebody in the stadium was holding up a sign that said, 'Osama-Yo' Mana.'" I thought it was a great idea for a song," he recalls. He pulled in co-writer C.W. Kalb, Jr., and the composition was born. It is matched on the album by a cover of the 1970s hit "United We Stand" (originally by the group Brotherhood of Man) to create both a barbed laugh at the enemy and an affirmation of American solidarity.

Stevens had been making the nation laugh since the Georgia native hit the charts in 1961 with "Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsaturated Quick Dissolving Fast Acting Pleasant Tasting Green & Purple Pills." The classically trained musician moved to Nashville, where he became an in-demand session player and arranger. He also soon began to issue his own string of hits like "Ahab the Arab," "Guitarzan" and "The Streak." Stevens also won Grammy Awards for "Everything Is Beautiful" and his version of "Misty."

Having made the nation laugh over the course of four decades, Stevens hopes his latest creation will help people triumph over the feelings evoked by the events of 9/11. "Maybe my doing what I do will help others focus some of their frustrations or have an appropriate way to laugh in these times when there's not that much to laugh about."