Ray Stevens, “Misty” and the Story of a Song

My last post was about the Roberta Flack song featured in the film Play Misty for Me and in the comments boxes, Rol, whose excellent My Top Ten blog is one I visit often, threw down the gauntlet and asked, “Any chance of a follow-up post on Misty itself, by Ray Stevens? If you don’t, I will!”.

After watching the film again the other night, it confirmed for me that the version of Misty that was requested so often (tring, tring, …”Play Misty for me”) by mad-stalker-woman Jessica clintWalter, was not indeed the one by Ray Stevens (as it wouldn’t have been recorded for another four years), nor by Johnny Mathis who did a very romantic version in 1959, but in fact the original instrumental composed by jazz pianist Erroll Garner. Mr Garner was born in Pittsburgh in 1923 and started playing piano at the age of three. He came from a very musical family all of whom played piano but he never did learn how to read music and always played by ear. I give you the original Misty, composed in 1954 (the familiar part starts at 0:30).

And here is where I made a brand new discovery – I mainly know Johnny Mathis from his mid ’70s offerings I’m Stone In Love With You and of course When A Child Is Born, the big 1976 Christmas No. 1 hit. At that time Johnny always looked as if he’d just got off the golf course but in the late ’50s and early ’60s he was apparently the “Master of The Love Ballad” or more crudely put, “The King of Necking Music”. Despite being an outstanding athlete, he chose music as a career and amazingly Sinatra and Presley are the only male artists to have sold more albums. It should come as no surprise therefore, that when Johnny Burke wrote lyrics for the previously instrumental Misty, Johnny Mathis would be the very person to record this new version which became a big hit for him in 1959.

But this was supposed to be a post about the Ray Stevens‘ version of the song and at last I am getting round to it. Although Ray Stevens had been a very successful, multi-talented entertainer from the early ’60s onward, I probably only knew him from his early ’70s comedic novelty songs. There was Bridget the Midget (Queen of the Blues) in 1971 and then The Streak in 1974 released on the back of that very unusual fad of running naked through sporting venues. Fortunately, British bobbies’ helmets at that time were well designed for containing those body parts best kept under wraps, but still amused the crowds at Twickenham, Wimbledon and even at a Winter Olympics curling final (brrr…).

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In 1975 Ray Stevens decided to record a very countrified, up-tempo version of Misty which was a bit of a departure for him after so many novelty records. He was however born in Georgia in 1939 (still with us, I have just checked) and became a producer and studio musician in Nashville, so it would have made sense for him to go down that route especially as during the mid-’70s country music had kind of become mainstream. Looking back at the charts of 1975, around a quarter of the records were by people whose names ended in a “y” or an “ie” – Tammy, Dolly, Johnny, Kenny, Billie, Charlie and so on. Yes, country-pop as a sub-genre had come of age, even outwith the US, and I think a lot of it was down to the fact that for the first time in ages, people of my parents’ generation had new music they could identify with and enjoy. Maybe it was different in the cosmopolitan cities, but where I came from in Scotland, venues were packed out with people keen to watch their American country stars of choice perform songs that were set in the Appalachians, in Tennessee or Kentucky. Very apt really as these songs were written by the offspring of the Scottish, Irish and other Celtic immigrants who played well-known traditional instruments, such as fiddles, banjos, harmonicas and acoustic guitars.

Misty by Ray Stevens:

Ray Stevens‘ version of Misty is the one I know best and whenever I hear that intro I know exactly what is going to come next – That first line about being so love-struck that you’re “as helpless as a kitten up a tree”. Yes, we’ve all been there, but fortunately not for some time in my case (the helpless kitten part). I’m not sure if Erroll Garner or Johnny Mathis would have approved of this version, but it was certainly the most commercially successful here in the UK and won a Grammy Award in the category of Music Arrangement of the Year. Ray was never as well-known here as in his native US but I have just had a bit of a déjà vu moment where I am reminded of watching him appear on the Andy Williams Show back in the late ’60s. He was a regular as it turns out, but at the time I would have been just far too preoccupied with that very good-looking band of Osmond brothers who also used to appear regularly, performing their very polished barbershop routines.

So, “What’s It All About?” – Not sure how well I’ve risen to the challenge of writing about this song, but I have enjoyed revisiting Misty and finding out so much more of its back story. I know Rol would have probably approached it differently but hey, this is how I do things here at WIAA? so hopefully whoever drops by will find something of interest. The question now is, do I continue to ask for suggestions on what song to write about next? I think this approach is sufficiently different to what we do on The Chain, so for one more post only, please enter suggestions in the comments boxes below to a song that links to Misty by Ray Stevens and I’ll see what I can come up with – A challenge indeed!

Misty Lyrics
(Song by Erroll Garner/Johnny Burke) 

Look at me
I’m as helpless as a kitten up a tree
Ah, I’m walkin’ on a cloud
I can’t understand, Lord
I’m misty holdin’ your hand

Walk my way
And a thousand violins begin to play
Or it might be the sound of your “hello”
That music I hear, Lord
I’m misty the moment you’re near

You can say that you’re leadin’ me on
But it’s just what I want you to do
Don’t ya notice how hopelessly I’m lost
That’s why I’m followin’ you

Ooh, on my own
Should I wander through this wonderland alone, now
Never knowin’ my right foot from my left
My hat from my glove, Lord
I’m misty, and too much in love

You can say that you’re leadin’ me on
But it’s just what I want you to do
Don’t ya notice how hopelessly I’m lost
That’s why I’m followin’ you

Ooh, on my own
Should I wander through this wonderland alone, now
Never knowin’ my right foot from my left
My hat from my glove, Lord
I’m misty, and too much in love

(Misty) too much in love
(Misty) too much in love
(Misty)
(Misty) too much in love…

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was recorded for the film of the same name and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might finally work out the answer to his question, "What's it all about?"

18 thoughts on “Ray Stevens, “Misty” and the Story of a Song”

  1. Thank you. I knew Stevens wasn’t the original version, but I didn’t know it was Johnny Mathis. I was hoping you’d do this…And half-planning a follow-up post about The Streak, but I also half-expected you to cover that too. Ray Moore used to play that a lot and I always laughed when I was a kid at the “Don’t look, Ethel!” bits… Little things pleased little minds.

    I look forward to seeing what others suggest.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep always an interesting story behind a song when you delve into it a bit more – I have however been beset by technical difficulties and my computer is going back to the shop tomorrow, so my blogging might be curtailed for a while. Hope not but have needed 3 different devices and a lot of online “help” to get this one posted.

      Don’t look Ethel! – Yes, that’s the bit I remember as well. I may have shot myself in the foot though as possibly the only songs to follow on from this one have already been mentioned above. If there is a tumbleweed moment in terms of response I’ll know to resume with my usual random approach – If I actually have a device that can cope with it all!

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      1. My sympathies. My own pc is on the verge of extinction and I do not have the funds to sort it at the moment. It regularly crashes when I’m trying to blog, extending the time it takes to write each post inordinately. I fear it won’t be long till it gives up the ghost completely and while I know I can pick up a replacement (this is a reconditioned one) cheaply, fifty quid may as well be five thousand at the moment. Other devices are available but my pc is the only one which comforably connects to my external music library. So if I too go suddenly silent…you’ll know why!

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        1. I know it’s a First World problem and I feel guilty for moaning about it but when the technology fails it’s such a time waster. I’ve spent just about all weekend trying to get it sorted out and now back in the computer shop to get fixed. My old PC didn’t give me any problems but this new one has caused no end of problems. If I also go silent you’ll know why (replying to comments is ok but can’t do new posts on other devices).

          You should have asked Santa for a new one – He’s this guy who on 25th December leaves all this great stuff under your tree based on what you asked for in the letter sent to him at the North Pole. Looking at what gets left nowadays, he and the Elves are getting very good at high-end technology in Santa’s workshop!

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    1. Too late – they’ve set in already! It’s been a lost weekend (but not one in Amsterdam) and just back from the computer shop where they are going to reset my very new machine to factory settings. Arghh…. Loads of work to do again.

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  2. There weren’t any songs of Ray Stevens that I really liked, but I had a mate who was a fan of his way back in the early 1970’s. As far as I can recall, Stevens’ albums featured a LOT of cover versions – mostly 50’s and 60’s rock and roll songs. But he was also the first artist to cover Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, which in a roundabout way, is a link to a certain music blog mentioned in your tale about “Misty”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really, in the main, just remember the comedy songs and he always came across as being a light entertainer rather than a singer/song-writer but he certainly was prolific on that front. Yes, I noticed that he was the first to record Sunday Morning Coming Down and frankly I didn’t even know that song until I starting following Jez, our Chain host, who does a Sunday Morning Coming Down thread on, oh yes a Sunday (!), featuring country songs.

      Thanks for the feedback as I was a tad worried no-one would suggest anything and I would be left red-faced – will see what I can come up with. By the way, do you have a blog yourself as not been able to work it out? Just that if you do I could give it a mention. Equally fine if you don’t of course as that’s why we do this – to get people to visit and get involved.

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  3. Ah, I also remember “Don’t Look Ethel!” and how streaking seemed to be the fashionable thing to do for a while, not even just individuals in sporting venues but also college students running through the street naked en masse…. I’m sure it was very liberating, but would I try it myself..? Hmm…. I’ll get back to you…:-)
    I have a suggestion for the next song to write about – simply the very first song that came into my head leading on from the word ‘Misty’, which is ‘Fog On The Tyne’. One of those songs that will always sound familiar because I heard it so much during my childhood, and what a fantastic opening line: “Sittin’ in a sleazy snack bar suckin’ sickly sausage rolls”, a great combination of alliteration and the imagery it conjures up. Also must have been one of the first songs to mention “the dole” before punk (?) Lindisfarne seemed exotically foreign to my Southern ears at tgat time (in a way they still do!) I think the version of the song from the album of the same name is better than the single version by the way.
    Good luck with the technological problems – can’t have you going off air!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi – Yes the streaking thing – it was everywhere as you say. As for us, it has been known for Mr WIAA,A? to celebrate May Day by running about our (very enclosed) back garden in that fashion – As for me joining him, I couldn’t possibly say!

      As for your suggestion, a really good one and wasn’t thinking along those lines myself – Watch this space as don’t want to give too much away. Might be a post from a previous suggestion first however. I do have an image of Gazza the footballer in my head nowadays whenever I think of that song as he did a version of it around the time of one of the World Cups.

      As for the technology – Its great when everything works fine but of late nothing has been working fine (and a very new computer) so taken it back to be reset and fixed. Cross fingers all will be well again soon. Can use other devices for these replies but not much else.

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  4. Lovely post Alyson. Goodness knows how long it’s been since I heard Ray Stevens’ version of ‘Misty’, but I was almost word perfect when listening to it just now! How do we remember random stuff like that? You have my sympathies as regards your technical issues – I went through similar problems a little over a year ago. Very stressful!
    (Glad to hear that you were a fan of my old mate Donny! http://unthoughtofthoughsomehow.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/55-from-55-1988.html )

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    1. Yes we are all great at remembering the lyrics of a song we haven’t heard in years but can’t remember important things we did yesterday – I did a post about it and all down to that little seahorse shaped bit in the brain called the hippocampus: https://jukeboxtimemachine.com/2016/04/10/diamonds-and-pearls-prince/

      Look at you meeting Donny in the ’80s – He was my main crush at age 12 and I even had a Donny pillowcase. Glad to hear he’s a charming man but I would never have thought otherwise. Again I did a post about him after going to see “Jackie the Musical” – A lady got in touch who is about my age I think, but writes an Osmond blog. The power of blogging and the internet – A researcher from that telly show “An Audience With…” found her blog and invited her to be part of the audience. She even got to meet him so it was really lovely for her. Not sure who at the moment I would be really starstruck by but if I get inspiration I’ll start blogging about them fanatically and I may be invited to meet them! Sadly I think the people I would really like to have met are now dead.

      Drilled down to the post about The Osmonds as well – Great stuff. Impressed you are comfortable about posting pics of yourself – I can see I’m going to have to bite the bullet at some point but holding off for now. Quite like that none of my friends know about this place as can write stories about them without fear of redress – A pic would give the game away if they stumbled upon Alfie. A Bucks Fizz post might have to happen once Eurovision season is upon us however!

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      1. None of my friends (or even Mrs S) know about my blogging exploits, but I suppose should one of them happen to stumble upon an old post it might give them a laugh. When I decided to attempt 55 posts in 55 days leading up to my 55th birthday in 2015, I tried to find a photo of me, a tune and a story from each relevant year. It didn’t always work, but was an eye-opening exercise to undertake. The series took on a life of its own and I ended up being a lot more honest in places than originally intended – it started off light and fluffy, but inevitably went through a few dark moments later in life.
        I’m off to read your hippocampus post now!

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        1. Just checked out your 55 posts in 55 days – well done! Have worked out you are only 51 days older than me so all the references and photos, especially from the earlier years really struck a cord – I had a friend at secondary school with just the same haircut! I’m comfortable with writing about the memories attached to the music of the time, but struggle with the pics – makes it real somehow and I like to keep this place somehow unreal. Just had a quick browse through tonight but will return at a later date to those posts – covers a lot of ground as you say and not all easy to write about.

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  5. Play Misty for Me I have yet to watch, but based on your post I’m intrigued. A story about a radio jockey reminds me Oliver Stone’s underseen Talk Radio (1988), which is a darker Good Morning Vietnam.

    By the way, I hope you get your computer problems sorted out soon, that must be frustrating.

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    1. Hi Chris – Thanks for dropping by. Yes you really should watch Play Misty for Me (but check out my previous Roberta Flack post as that also features a song from the film too). Not a big budget at all but really evokes the era and set in Carmel where Clint Eastwood later became Mayor. Scenes of the Monterey Jazz Festival in there too which was interesting.

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  6. Just wanted to chime in following the conversation between you and The Swede about blogging anonymity (or semi-anonymity!) It’s a funny thing but I’m the same – there are only a couple of real life friends who know about SDS, other than them I’ve never told any of my other pals nor family members. Mr SDS knows about it and I sometimes run things past him, or read bits out to him – but I also asked him to please NOT ever actually find it and read it himself! (I have to trust him on that one!) Simply because such a large part of our lives is intertwined that I think it’s important we keep certain spheres separate…. may seem weird but very much about retaining our individual, independent connections – just as you would in a workplace or club, you need that personal space. When you analyse it, though, it’s quite a peculiar phenomenon – putting our thoughts, feelings and opinions out there for any Joe Public to read but not the ones who know us in person! Still, it does seem to be the way a lot of us feel most comfortable, so it works!
    – Just read your wonderful new post too, Alyson – so lovely to see you managed it with all your tech concerns going on – will be back later to comment there too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for leaving this comment as I have been in two minds about whether I should become a bit less anonymous or not but keep getting cold feet – I have occasionally added a couple of personal pics then quickly deleted them before (hopefully) anyone has seen them. I used to do most of my writing on Facebook but it’s just not designed for this kind of sharing of opinions and feelings and whenever I shared anything particularly deep none of my friends wanted to know and were probably embarrassed to know me! That’s me decided then, stay anonymous for the time-being and just to be clear it’s not because I have two heads or am ashamed of how I look (think I look ok for my age actually as I’m sure you do), it just keeps the real world of work colleagues and friends separate from it all. My husband also has decided not to read my blog, partly because he knows I will feel more comfortable about writing about previous relationships (which are tied into music), but also because it’s my hobby and not his – His hobbies are all of the very sporty nature and I’m more than happy to leave him to partake in all of them.

      As for the techie stuff am getting there but I have realised that my posts were just getting too long and too time-consuming to research so going back to basics for a while like with my latest post, where a few pics and a few words can be all that is needed!

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