DEAR JERRY: Rather than watch TV reruns, the wife and I decided to pull out a stack of our old 45s and do some reminiscing.
As we played “Ahab, the Arab” (Ray Stevens) she asked me two questions, neither of which I know. Help!
What or who is by Ahab's side in the verse: “He wore a big old turban wrapped around his head, and (??) by his side.”
We listened to it carefully, but still don't know. It could be a ceminol, semintol, or something else. Do you know?
Then we hear about Fatima, a hottie in the sultan's harem, lounging in her tent eating a bowl of what sounds like sugar nails. What is it really?
Also, I recall long ago hearing a longer version of “Ahab, the Arab” on the radio, with considerably more to the story. Missing from the 45 is when the sultan discovers Ahab with Fatima together.
Where does one find the complete song?
Lindy and Joanne Wilcox, York, Pa.
DEAR LINDY & JOANNE: Reruns probably would have created fewer mysteries, but here goes:
Ahab never left home without his scimitar, which is the curved sword seen in countless Arabian-themed films and photos. Scimitars are even depicted on the Royal Flag, as well as the National Emblem, of Saudi Arabia.
Sugar nails sounds like a sweet yet dangerous breakfast cereal, but what Fatima is eating is probably not what you'd want with your morning coffee.
She is munching on “a bowl of chitterlings,” which are referred to in some cultures as chitlins. Usually chitterlings are made from the small intestine of a hog; however, in areas where pork is not eaten including Fatima's homeland the source of chitterlings is usually lamb.
The single of “Ahab, the Arab” (Mercury 71966) runs 2:47, and that is without the most compelling chapter. That would have added another minute to the story.
To summarize the action in this segment:
The sultan catches Ahab and Fatima together and isn't happy. The fire in his eyes says Ahab and Fatima are about to be scimitar shish kabob.
Using evasive maneuvers, Ahab and Fatima escaped the tent and jumped on Clyde, Ahab's swift and beloved camel.
Off they zoomed across the desert, with the sultan and his army in hot pursuit.
Turns out Clyde was much too fast for ordinary camels, and they left those who would harm them in their dust, er, sand.
Predictably, Ahab and Fatima lived happily ever after.
“El Paso” (4:37) notwithstanding, getting dee jays to play a 3:45 record would have been quite a challenge in 1962, but every Top 40 station in the country jumped on the edited version. Come August, Ray, Ahab, Fatima, and Clyde found themselves at No. 2 nationally, denied the No. 1 spot by Bobby Vinton's “Roses Are Red (My Love).”
Album buyers, be they LPs or CDs, should already have the complete recording of “Ahab, the Arab.”
Someone asked if, in today's politically correct world (gag!), radio stations would play “Ahab, the Arab,” were it just released for the first time.
For input on anything involving radio programming, I know of no one more qualified than John Rook (johnrook.com). He is one of America's most honored and respected people at that craft, and co-founder of the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.
John puts it this way:
“Successful programming is giving listeners what they want. If in doing so you play something that your competitors are afraid to play, then even better! Whether I like it or not, my goal has always been to look for music that excites people without limitations imposed by content (within reason) or genre. Some of our biggest hits have also been the most controversial. Yeah, I would definitely play “Ahab, the Arab.”
Ray Stevens is widely regarded as one of the most musically talented people ever. He is one of very few who can and does do everything and do it well.
He writes most of his songs, which cover nearly every genre. He also arranges and produces sessions for himself and other artists.
Primarily a keyboardist, a classically-trained one at that, Ray plays many other instruments when the song requires it. Ray's keyboard artistry is heard on numerous hit records by other artists. He can even use his voice to sound like an instrument.
Finally, on some of his tracks that appear to have traditional vocal group backing, it is really Stevens by himself doing all of the supporting vocals!
While a good way to reduce session expenses, not many performers can do it. Well, there is this one guy.
IZ ZAT SO? As an homage to “Ahab, the Arab,” Ray's third highest ranked single “Everything Is Beautiful” and “The Streak” both reached No. 1 he founded a production company called Ahab, and named his own label Clyde Records.