Are You Jimmy Ray?

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Date Aired
June 1, 2020
Running Time
15:23
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Todd plays "Are You Jimmy Ray" on the piano.

JIMMY RAY - ARE YOU JIMMY RAY?
A one-hit retrospective

Todd: Welcome back to One Hit Wonderland, where we take a look at artists known for only one song, and as I have chronicled frequently on this show, the late '90s were a weird time.

Clips of Chumbawamba - "Tubthumping", Los Del Rio - "Macarena", Cherry Poppin' Daddies - "Zoot Suit Riot" and OMC - "How Bizarre"

Chumbawamba: I get knocked down

Todd (VO): After the slow fadeout of grunge and alternative, the music world started grasping at anything to replace it. We knew we wanted it to be happy and colourful, but other than that it was everything goes. It was a great time for all sorts of weird microgenres to have their brief moment in the sun. But beyond those, there were also the songs that were so odd...

Todd: ...they didn't have a genre at all.

Clip of Jimmy Ray - "Are You Jimmy Ray?"

Jimmy Ray: Well

Backup singers: Are you Johnnie Ray?

Jimmy: Who wants to know?

Backup singers: Are you Slim Ray?

Todd (VO): Yeah, this was a thing.



Todd: Sir, would you please confirm your identity for the viewers?

Backup singers: Are you Jimmy Ray?

Jimmy: Who wants to know, who wants to know

Todd (VO): Come on, man.



Todd: Well, if he's not gonna identify himself, I'll have to do it for him.

Todd (VO): [image of single cover for...] The song is "Are You Jimmy Ray?" and the singer, despite his caginess, is, in fact, the titular Jimmy Ray.

Todd: And I have no clue what his deal is.

Jimmy: Who wants to know, who wants to know about me

Todd (VO): The answer is no one. No one wanted to know about him. Despite his male model cheekbones and eye-catching ridiculous pompadour, it turns out that most people simply weren't that interested in this guy, whoever he was.

Jimmy: You don't mess around with me unless you're feeling dangerous

Todd (VO): "Are You Jimmy Ray?" was never really a big hit. It peaked at number 13 on the Hot 100 in early 1998, and only at number 28 on the airplay charts. In the annals of silly '90s crap, it's never really the first song you think of.



Todd: But you definitely couldn't say it's been lost to time.

Backup singers: Are you Sting Ray?

Jimmy: Who wants to know?

Backup singers: Are you Link Wray?

Todd (VO): For anyone who was there, "Are You Jimmy Ray?" has lingered on in the back of their minds, an odd collective half-memory that we're not sure actually happened.



Todd: Like, "Does anyone remember that '90s song?"

Todd (VO): "Where the guy's own backup singers kept trying to guess his name, like a weird version of [image of cartoon depicting...] Rumpelstiltskin?"

Todd: "Was that real? Did I imagine that?"

Backup singers: Are you Johnnie Ray?

Todd (VO): No, it happened. But only briefly. We never found out enough about Jimmy Ray to give him any context.



Todd: But that's where I come in.

Todd (VO): Here to clear up all those nagging questions. I mean, we've gotta answer who Jimmy Ray even is before we figure out if this guy is him or not.

Todd: Let's do this.

Jimmy: ...reaper, I'm a dreamer, good god, I'm a believer

Backup singers: Are you...

Before the hit

Montage of pictures of Jimmy

Todd (VO): Once upon a time there was a young British boy named James Edwards, later to be known as Jimmy Ray. And Jimmy Ray had a dream that one day...



Todd: ...he would bring '50s rockabilly music to the masses.

Clip of Rosie O'Donnell interview with Jimmy

Rosie: ...always wanna be a singer in a band?

Jimmy: Uh, no. [laughs] No, I always wanted to kind of work with, with chimpanzees and stuff.

Rosie: Seriously?

Jimmy: Yeah.

Todd (VO): Okay, well, the script I wrote says he wanted to make '50s music so we're going with that.



Todd: It's kind of an odd goal, but it's not without precedent.

Clips of Sha Na Na - "At the Hop" and Stray Cats - "Rock This Town"

Todd (VO): Every decade since the '50s someone has tried to bring '50s music back, some of them successfully. Not usually successful for very long, but they did get there.



Todd: Who knows? [image of...] Jimmy Ray could easily have been the [clip of...] next Shakin' Stevens.

Todd (VO): But all those guys were traditionalists, and that was not for Jimmy.

Todd: He wound up taking a much different path.

Clip of Spice Girls - "Wannabe"

Melanie Brown: Yo I'll tell you what I want what I really really want

Geri Halliwell: So tell me what you want...

Todd (VO): In 1997, after a bit of a dormant period for most of the decade, the UK pop scene was blowing up again. The center of it was [picture of the Spice Girls with...] Simon Fuller, manager of the Spice Girls and [shot of Billboard cover: "The Man Behind Idol"] future TV mega producer. [clip of Jimmy Ray interview on The Tonight Show] He looked at Jimmy's beautiful face and mile-high bouffant hair and decided he could make this kid a star.



Todd: Now he hooked him up with a producer, [Image Not Found] Con Fitzpatrick, not seen here. Fitzpatrick had already had one hit with a girl group called Shampoo.

Clip of Shampoo - "Trouble"

Shampoo: Uh oh, we're in trouble

Something's come along and it's burst our bubble (yeah yeah)

Todd (VO): That hit is a truly insidious earworm that I'm surprised isn't better remembered, it was [clips of The Ting Tings - "That's Not My Name" and Icona Pop ft. Charli XCX - "I Love It"] extremely influential on all the brat-pop of the new millennium. ["Trouble" continues"] In America, it's only known for being on the Power Rangers Movie soundtrack. Dance, Ivan Ooze, dance. My point is, with that guy as his producer, whatever [clip of interview with] Jimmy Ray came out with wasn't going to sound like [image of album cover for Original Sun Greatest Hits by...] Carl Perkins.



Todd: What they ended up with is a sound called [image of article with the following text highlighted:] "popabilly hip hop". What the hell does that sound like? Who wants to know?

The big hit

Todd: Okay, let me say this first: I don't remember "Are You Jimmy Ray?" at all.

Image of artwork for the "Are You Jimmy Ray?" single

Todd (VO): I was a kid, I was only just starting to become aware of popular music, [image of "Are You Jimmy Ray?" on the Billboard Hot 100] and this song was not near big enough to get on my radar at the time.



Todd: And in the years since, I have never heard it on the radio on [logo for All Mixed Up '90s Weekend] those All '90s Weekends, [logo for 100 greatest songs 90's] never saw it play on those VH1 nostalgia shows.

Clip of live performance on The Tonight Show

Todd (VO): My exposure to Jimmy Ray? comes from one and only one source:



Todd: Which is everyone I know being all like, "Aw, man, remember 'Are You Jimmy Ray?'?".

Video for "Are You Jimmy Ray?" starts

Jimmy: Well...

Todd (VO): And when I finally tracked it down for myself, I got it.



Todd: This is not a song you'd forget.

Backup singers: Are you Johnnie Ray?

Jimmy: Who wants to know?

Backup singers: Are you Slim Ray?

Jimmy: Who wants to know?

Todd (VO): It's not, like, cause it was super crazy bananas or anything. If it was, it might actually be less memorable. Instead it's just...



Todd: ...puzzling.

Todd (VO): Why is the song like that? Why is that the hook?

Jimmy: Who wants to know? Who wants to know?

Todd: Okay, well, here's my attempt to make sense of it.



Todd (VO): I've talked in the past about a certain strain of pop song that I call "the 'I'm Back, Bitch' single". [video for Christina Aguilera ft. Redman - "Dirrty"] It's a big, loud, empty song that has no purpose except to celebrate a superstar's unchallenged greatness, [video for Madonna ft. Nicki Minaj - "Bitch I'm Madonna"] often referencing the artist's name right in the title.

Madonna: We get freaky if you want

Bitch, I'm Madonna

Todd: In fact, two of Simon Fuller's biggest acts had songs like that.

Clips of Spice Girls - "Spice Up Your Life"...

Mel B: Colours of the world

Spice Girls: Spice up your life!

...and S Club 7 - "S Club Party"

S Club 7: S Club!

Back to "Are You Jimmy Ray?"

Todd (VO): But "Are You Jimmy Ray?" is something much rarer:



Todd: An "I'm Here, Bitch" single.

Clips of Kid Rock - "Bawitdaba"

Kid Rock: My name is Kiiiiid....

Todd (VO): It still basically only exists as an advertisement for its artist, but rather than celebrating their established greatness, it's proclaiming their future success. It's meant to blast open the doors and introduce themselves to the world like,...



Todd: "Hello universe, check me out, you're gonna like me, you're gonna love me".

Clip of Eminem - "My Name Is"

Todd (VO): I can only think of, like, a couple examples of that. They're not very common, cause, surprise, it's much easier to pull this off from a position of strength.



Todd: If some newcomer tries this and fails, they've started their career looking just absolutely ridiculous. For example...

Clip of "Are You Jimmy Ray?"

Jimmy: 'Cause I'm meaner, I'm leaner, I ain't no inbetweener

Todd (VO): ...this song. Not a flop, but also definitely not big enough to justify this weird newcomer singing a song about his own goddamn name.



Todd: Now that said, if Jimmy Ray had in fact gone on to bigger, better things, maybe the unmitigated balls of this song would seem entirely justified.

Jimmy: Come and take a walk with me if you're feeling dangerous

Todd (VO): I mean, I get what he's doing. It's kinda like a viral marketing kinda deal.



Todd: This guy must be important if he's got his own song about himself.

Backup singers: Are you Jimmy Ray?

Todd (VO): [text appears on-screen "Hot new pop sensation JIMMY RAY"] Everybody's asking about Jimmy Ray!



Todd: They are?

Todd (VO): Yes, they are, take our word for it. [text appears on-screen "ARE YOU JIMMY RAY On sale now!"] Check out the artist everyone's talking about.

Jimmy: Who wants to know? Who wants to know?

Todd (VO): And "who wants to know", the producer that was just kind of a cool guy way to answer.



Todd: Saw Robert de Niro say it in a movie once.

Clip of Midnight Run

Tony Darvo (Richard Foronjy): You Jack Walsh?

Jack Walsh (Robert de Niro): Who wants to know?

Todd (VO): Okay so I get all that.



Todd: What about the rest of it?

"Are You Jimmy Ray?" continues

Backup singers: Are you Johnnie Ray?

Jimmy: Who wants to know?

Backup singers: Are you Slim Ray?

Jimmy: Who wants to know?

Backup singers: Are you Fay Wray?

Todd (VO): They're not just asking about him. They're trying to figure out his name?



Todd: They've got the last name...

Backup singers: Are you Sting Ray?

Todd: ...But the first name, that one's stumping them.



Todd (VO): They keep trying to figure out, they keep throwing the names of other people in there.

Todd: Other musicians...

Audio plays over images of artists

Backup singers: Are you Johnnie Ray?

Are you Link Wray?

Todd: Other celebrities...

Audio plays over clip from King Kong of....

Backup singers: Are you Fay Wray?

Todd: Fish...

Audio plays over video of...

Backup singers: Are you Sting Ray?

Todd: Slim Ray?

Video continues normally

Backup singers: Are you Slim Ray?

Todd (VO): I don't even have a clue who that is.



Todd: The only thing that comes up on Google is a guy who writes [image of The Canoe Handbook by Slim Ray] rafting safety manuals.

Backup singers: Are you Jimmy Ray?

Todd (VO): W-what are they doing? Are they teasing him? [Stock image of boy giving another boy a noogie] Like I'd use to do to my little brother when I'd get his name wrong on purpose?



Todd: It has the form of, like, a children's game.

Video continues

Todd (VO): Or, like a stoner inside joke that no one else can possibly get. It's just so naggingly wrong.



Todd: In other words, it's catchy and memorable as hell. Exactly what you want in a hook.

Jimmy: Because I'm meaner, I'm leaner, I ain't no in-betweener

Todd (VO): And the verses are all about how cool he is.



Todd: Which, Jimmy admitted himself he didn't really feel.

Jimmy: You don't mess around with me

'Less you're feelin' dangerous

Todd (VO): [sarcastically] Yeah, you don't want to mess with this bequiffed, string bean pretty boy.

Jimmy: I'm leaner

Todd (VO): He'll tell you himself he doesn't feel particularly dangerous.



Todd: But it's fun, right? If you're gonna write a song with your name in the title, you gotta sell it.

Todd (VO): Funny thing about the song is, without researching the guy, I would not at all have realized that Jimmy Ray was a rockabilly dude. Possibly not even after watching the video and seeing his glorious greaser hair and giant belt buckle.

Todd: Elvis is just not the first guy he brings to mind.

Clip of live performance of "Are You Jimmy Ray?"

Todd (VO): I mean, yeah, I guess it does start off with that big, old rockabilly "Well...".

Clip of live performance of Gene Vincent - "Be-Bop-A-Lula"

Gene: Well....

Clip of live performance of "Are You Jimmy Ray?"

Jimmy: Well...

Back to video for "Are You Jimmy Ray?"

Todd (VO): And I guess that guitar riff is kind of original-flavor rock and roll, slowed down and polished a bit.



Todd: But none of that really comes across to me, that's not what rockabilly sounds like.

Clip of live performance of "Are You Jimmy Ray?"

Todd (VO): And it wasn't really part of any movement, so there was, like, no other guy like him to compare him to.



Todd: In the late 90s, we brought back [Clips of Reel Big Fish - "Take On Me",...] ska, lounge, swing, [...Lou Bega - "Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit of)",] mambo... but nothing like this. ["Dancin'" by...] He certainly doesn't sound like Chris Isaak or [...and "Wiggle Stick" by...] Reverend Horton Heat. I mean, God no. Honestly,...

Clip of "The Rockafeller Skank" by...

Todd (VO):... the '90s artist he reminds me most of is Fatboy Slim. [video for Cornershop - Brimful of Asha (Fatboy Slim Remix)"] You know, bright, bouncy beats under a kind of music you wouldn't really expect to have dance beats under it.



Todd: And in that regard, it's...

"Are You Jimmy Ray?" continues

Todd (VO): the kind of perfect encapsulation of the genre free-for all that was the late '90s. Nothing about this should make sense.



Todd: Arguably, it doesn't make sense. But for a brief moment, it made sense enough to stick in the brains of every '90s kid alive.

Jimmy: Who wants to know about me?

Todd: Eventually, people stopped asking "Are you Jimmy Ray?" and started asking, "Hey, whatever happened to Jimmy Ray?".



Todd: Well, why don't we look into that?

The failed follow-up

Live performance of "Are You Jimmy Ray?"

Todd (VO): Jimmy Ray says that, much like many others, he also really didn't get "Are You Jimmy Ray?". That was the producer's idea, not his. He went with it mostly cause...



Todd: ...quite reasonably, he didn't imagine it would be the single.

Clip of interview with Jimmy Ray on Sussed

Todd (VO): But hey, it got his foot in the door, from there he could release the songs that were more his, that were closer to his own vision.



Todd: The second single was called [image of CD single for] "Goin' to Vegas". [Clip of Elvis Presley - "Viva Las Vegas"] Now see, that evokes a certain image. I get it. That's probably more like the music he intended.

Clip of Jimmy Ray - "Goin' to Vegas"

Todd (VO): Alright, see? Nice Buddy Holly riff and–

Song switches, also sounding nothing like rockabilly

Jimmy: Aaaah, shakey shakey shake a-shake shakey

Shake, shake a-shake a-shake a-shake shake shake

Todd: [Hesitantly] Okay.

Jimmy: Alright. (Alright!) Ah yeah. (Ah yeah!)

Well, I'm goin' to Vegas (Where you gonna go?)

Todd: [beat] No, no I still get it.

Jimmy: Well, I'm going to Vegas, Nevada

Todd (VO): It's not like you're gonna ruin a song about Las Vegas by being gaudy and over the top with it. It sounds more than a little like that [clip of Elvis Presley vs. Junkie XL's...] "A Little Less Conversation" remix that got big a few years afterwards. [back to "Goin' to Vegas"] Yeah, you know what? I'm gonna give this song a tentative thumbs up.

Jimmy: 'Take me right back to the track, Jack!'

Uh-huh

Todd (VO): Tragically, this doesn't seem to have done much for Jimmy Ray. I don't think it even got sent to America, and in the UK, it didn't even crack the top 40.



Todd: It's not surprising.

Clip of live performance of "Are You Jimmy Ray?"

Todd (VO): "Are You Jimmy Ray?" is a goofy song that doesn't really set you up for any kind of future. [back to "Goin to Vegas"] And even before the album came out, people were predicting that his link with the Spice Girls would tank his cred.



Todd: Then there was, you know, the issue that, you know, [image of a record store] people who wanted to buy the single, they'd show up at the record store, [image of Jimmy Ray album cover with the word "Jimmy" replaced with a blank] but then they just couldn't remember his name. Most of them ended up walking out [image of...] with a copy of Johnnie Ray's Greatest Hits. The third and last single for Jimmy Ray was entitled [shows artwork for] "I Got Rolled".

Video cuts to Rick Astley - "Never Gonna Give You Up"

Todd (VO): Heh, heh, kidding, kidding.



Todd: No, this was his last single.

Now Jimmy Ray - "I Got Rolled"

Jimmy: I got rolled, the one I love is gone

Well I got rolled, yeah I got rolled

Todd (VO): I mean it is what it is.



Todd: I-I like the "Jump Around" squeals in the background.

Clip of...

Todd (VO): But at this point, you know what you're getting from Jimmy Ray. And this didn't chart anywhere, confirming what everyone knew.



Todd: There was just no market for a teen idol British hip-hop Elvis.

Clip of live performance of "Are You Jimmy Ray?"

Todd (VO): Let's be real. The record company screwed him by making "Are You Jimmy Ray?" the lead single. Jimmy Ray's status as a one-hitter was cemented the second that song took off. [clip of Jimmy Ray performing live] And that was pretty much it for him. Simon Fuller cut him from the label, he got some apologies for how they handled his career...



Todd: ...and then he was gone, leaving us with just as many unanswered questions as he came with.

Did he ever do anything else?

Todd: No. No. [beat] That was easy. I guess I can get back to my quarantine regimen of beer and video games.

Clip of Jimmy Ray interview with Rosie O'Donnell

Todd (VO): I mean, I should probably try and explain a little more I guess, but [image of "Are You Jimmy Ray?" artwork, edited to read "Where Is Jimmy Ray?"] Jimmy Ray's post hit life is just a complete mystery to me.



Todd: I looked, and I looked, and I just found very little. [images of...] I found his LinkedIn, I found a Jimmy Ray fan page that ran right up to the day that GeoCities closed down, but even from those sources, I got very little info about what he's been up to. [images of...] There was a press release for an online soccer game he was involved with that doesn't seem to have materialized, he was part of a music production group called "Airplayers", but their MySpace page is long gone. I found a link to [image of Spotify page, set to "Down in Tokyo" by Jimmy Ray] some J-Pop songs by someone named Jimmy Ray, but I'm gonna guess that's a different guy. Maybe he went back to work with chimps like he always wanted.

Teaser trailer for Live to Fight Another Day

Todd (VO): But I can say that in 2017, for "Are You Jimmy Ray"'s 20 year anniversary, Jimmy Ray did in fact finally resurface with a new album. I've listened to it a little, and it does sound like...



Todd: what I imagine he would have sounded like if he hadn't gone pop. [image of present-day Jimmy Ray] And if you want to know what that sounds like, the lead single [shows artwork for Live to Fight Another Day] is an authentic-sounding rework of his only hit., [shows artwork for] entitled "Who Wants to Know?".

Clip of Jimmy Ray - "Who Wants to Know?"

Jimmy: I'm a believer

Who wants to know, who wants to know, who wants to know about me?

Todd: If you really want to have fun with it, you should've named the song [image of artwork for "Are You Jimmy Ray?", edited to read...] "Weren't You Jimmy Ray?".



Did he deserve better?

Todd: Probably not. But, I wouldn't mind living in the universe where he had become a big star.

Video for "Are You Jimmy Ray?" plays

Jimmy: Well, let's do it again

Backup singers: Are you Johnnie Ray?

Todd (VO): The late '90s were a glorious time to be alive, and "Are You Jimmy Ray?" is just a perfect confluence of events that couldn't have happened at any other time. He could have probably had a better chance at a longer career if he hadn't tried to be a pop star; he would have at least gotten the chance to release a proper second album.



Todd: But at the same time, would we really need that?

Todd (VO): We've got plenty of throwback, traditional artists. We only have one "Are You Jimmy Ray?".

Todd: I hope we never find out if he's Jimmy Ray or not. May "Are You Jimmy Ray?" linger on in the back of our brains forever.

Jimmy: Who wants to know, who wants to know about me?

Closing Tag Song: Jimmy Ray - "Who Wants to Know?"



THE END

"Are You Jimmy Ray?" is owned by Sony Music

This video is owned by me

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