At some point late in 1992, I babysat my young cousins one evening for my Aunt Joan at her townhouse at the other end of town. After the two girls went to bed, I slipped in a videocassette tape of recorded music videos I must’ve brought with me and opened up whatever Stephen King book I was reading at the time. The video for this particular song was playing when my Aunt came home from wherever she was and she being younger and somewhat hipper than my own parents, was actually being genuinely curious when she asked to whom it was I was listening. It was unsurprising that she had not heard of them but seeing my excitement at the band, she patiently listened to my ravings about them as I rewound the tape to the place where I knew I would find the video for the same band’s cover of “Mrs. Robinson”. She claimed to like their sound and I didn’t think anything more on the subject after going back to my own home. A few weeks later, however, while opening Christmas presents, I was delighted to receive from her a compact disc copy of “It’s a shame about Ray”. If I am remembering correctly, that was the same Christmas from which I obtained the first CD player of my own and since I didn’t have a lot to play on it yet, this new CD got a lot of playing time.
The Lemonheads are an American alternative rock band that originally formed in 1986 and save for a six year hiatus between 1998 and 2004, have existed in some form or other ever since. They are, generally speaking, the plaything of frontman/guitarist Evan Dando, fielding a pretty much new band whenever he decides to record and release a new album. For “It’s a shame about Ray”, The Lemonheads’ fifth record (second on a major label), the personnel included David Ryan on drums and the most excellent, Juliana Hatfield on bass guitar and backing vocals. The bulk of record was written in Australia with Dando’s friend Tom Morgan, the first of which was reportedly this title track, the reason we’re here today.
“I’ve never been too good with names
But I remember faces”
Evan Dando has remained vague about the meaning of the song and the identity of the “Ray” of its title. In some articles, he has been quoted as saying the line came from a newspaper article and in others, he has said it was inspired by someone who called everyone “Ray”. He even claims he doesn’t know who “Ray” is himself and likes to keep it mysterious.
Drugs, I guess.
Anyhow, it’s clear by all the past tense talk and mentions of names etched in stones that “Ray” is no longer with us, whether dead or just missing. Dando’s delivery throughout the three minute tune is suitably solemn and… just there. Really, its beauty lies in its subtlety, a simple head bopper that has these ripping guitar and drum fills between the choruses and verses. And when Hatfield appears with those soft backing vocals at the end, you just might need to shed a tear or two.
For the rest of the Best tunes of 1992 list, click here.