#65: Mr. Businessman by Ray Stevens

City: Hamilton, ON
Radio Station: CKOC
Peak Month: August 1968
Peak Position in Hamilton ~ #4
Peak position in Vancouver ~ #19
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #28
YouTube: “Mr. Businessman
Lyrics: “Mr. Businessman

Harold Ray Ragsdale was born in January 1939, in Clarkdale, Georgia. In high school he formed a group called The Barons. When he was 18, he was signed to Capitol Records on their Prep label. His debut single was “Five More Steps”. The single charted briefly on CKWX in Vancouver in February 1958. In the summer of 1960, Stevens “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon” climbed to #22 in Vancouver. While in 1961, Stevens released a single about unscrupulous pharmaceutical products pitched to cure whatever ails you. “Jeremiah Peabody’s Polyunsaturated Quick-Dissolving Fast-Acting Pleasant-Tasting Green and Purple Pills” reached #8 in Vancouver, and also charted in the Top 50 in Winnipeg and Montreal. For several decades, Ray Stevens’ song was the longest song title to make the Billboard Hot 100.

In 1962, Ray Stevens had his first national Top 30 hit in the USA called “Ahab the Arab”. The novelty song describes the romance between Ahab (“the sheik of the burning sands”) and Fatima. They are able to meet because of Ahab’s very fast camel named Clyde, and carry on despite the sultan’s disapproval. The single reached #5 on the Hot 100, #2 in Calgary, #3 in Ottawa, #4 in Montreal, #6 in Vancouver, #7 in Leamington (ON), and #8 in Winnipeg.

In 1963, Ray Stevens “Funny Man” offered a break from his novelty tunes. Here was Stevens offering insight into someone who is the “life of the party,” “a clever clown,” whose romantic life is a tragedy. The single charted best in Canada in Toronto at #14, but in the USA it stalled at #81. Stevens rebounded with a Top 20 novelty tune titled “Hairy the Hairy Ape”.

Ray Stevens was one of many American recording artists who were swept away by the British Invasion. He didn’t return to the Top 30 until 1968. That year, “Unwind” was a #1 hit in Guelph (ON), but stateside it stalled on the Billboard Hot 100 at #52. His June ’68 release, “Mr. Businessman” managed to crack the Top 30 on the Hot 100, for the first time in five years.

Mr. Businessman by Ray Stevens
“Mr. Businessman” is a song written by Ray Stevens. The song lists the high life this man is living, 1) bigger cars, 2) bigger houses, 3) term insurance for your wife, 4) spending time with your “harlot” on Tuesday evenings, 5) Wednesdays with an analyst, 6) a secretary who is “tempting you”. What he is missing is 1) his children growing up, 2) the fragrance of the roses in his garden, 3) noticing the morning sunlight. The cost of his lifestyle is 1) ulcers, 2) synthetic faces of colleagues, 3) getting liquored up, 4) wheeling and dealing sucker clients, and “steal it from the rest of them,” as Mr. Businessman is bored with ethics. In the song, Stevens sings about “no one more lonely than this rich, important man…” The rat-race, and looking out for number-one is resulting in this “final inventory…the same sad story everywhere, no one will really care.”

“Mr. Businessman” peaked at #1 in Santa Rosa (CA), Rochester (NY), and Louisville (KY), #2 in Syracuse (NY), #3 in Beaumont (TX), and Salem (OR), #4 in Hamilton, #6 in St. Thomas (ON), #7 in Vancouver (WA), #8 in Edmonton (AB), Milwaukee (WI), and San Diego, #9 in Los Angeles, Valdosta (GA), and Davenport (IA), #10 in Toronto, Indianapolis (IN), Albany (NY), Manchester (NY), Fort Lauderdale, and Honolulu, and #11 in Guelph (ON) and New York City.

In 1969, Ray Stevens was back in the Top Ten on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Gitarzan”. The single was a number-one hit in Toronto, #2 in Winnipeg, Pointe Claire (QC), and Calgary, #3 in Edmonton, Vancouver, Hamilton and Regina (SK), and #4 in Windsor (ON). “Gitarzan” earned Ray Stevens his first Grammy Award nomination in the Best Contemporary Male Vocalist category. His followup single in ’69 was a cover of a 1959 hit by the Coasters, titled “Along Came Jones”. It reached #3 in Victoria (BC).

But his biggest chart successes were in the 1970s with “Everything Is Beautiful” (1970) and “The Streak” (1974), which both topped the Billboard Hot 100. For “Everything Is Beautiful” Stevens won a Grammy Award in the Best Male Pop Vocal Performance category. The song also received nominations for Song of the Year and Record of the Year, losing out in both cases to “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel.

In 1971, Ray Stevens was back with another novelty tune titled “Bridget the Midget (The Queen of the Blues)”. The single reached #2 in the UK. But in the USA the single stalled at #50. Starting in the 1970s, Ray Stevens began to chart a number of his single releases into the Top Ten Hot Country Singles chart in the USA. In 1980, he received a Grammy Award nomination in the Best Comedy Recording category for “I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow”. And earned a subsequent nomination in that same category in 1988 for “Would Jesus Wear a Rolex”.

In 2014, Ray Stevens published a memoir titled Nashville. 

May 24, 2024
Ray McGinnis

Ray Stevens, Nashville, (Father & Son Publishing Inc., 2014).
Ray Stevens Just Thinks He’s Funny,” raystevens.com.
Stephen Betts, “‘Ray Stevens’ Nashville’ Details Comic Performer’s Versatile Career,” Rolling Stone, June 20, 2014.

Mr. Businessman by Ray Stevens

CKOC 1150-AM Hamilton (ON) Top Ten | August 22, 1968

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