|"Ahab the Arab"|
|Single by Ray Stevens|
|from the album 1,837 Seconds of Humor|
|Length||2:47 (single version)|
3:45 (album version)
|Ray Stevens singles chronology|
"Ahab the Arab" is a novelty song written and recorded by Ray Stevens in 1962. In the song, Arab is pronounced "Ay-rab" to rhyme with Ahab. The hero of the story is Clyde the camel and Stevens has made references to Clyde numerous times throughout his career.
It followed "Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsaturated Quick-Dissolving Fast-Acting Pleasant-Tasting Green and Purple Pills", becoming his second top 40 hit. It reached number five on Billboard's Hot 100 and number nine on the Billboard R&B chart. It remains one of the best-selling records of Stevens' career. Stevens has recorded the song at least three times and there have also been edited versions.
The song portrays a "sheik of the burning sands" named Ahab. He is highly decorated with jewelry, and every night he hops on his camel named Clyde on his way to see Fatima, who is the best dancer in the Sultan's harem. Fatima is described with a modified quote from the 1909 hit, "I've Got Rings On My Fingers": "with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes and a bone in her nose, ho ho". During the ride, Ahab "speaks" (actually, produces ululations that parody the Arabic language) to Clyde. (A later version adds the advertising catch phrase "Sold, American!" to the end of one chant. This is perhaps due to a Kinky Friedman (famous for the song and album Sold American) cover version which also added those lines). The phrase was also well known to Americans from the commercials for radio's popular The Jack Benny Program, sponsored by Lucky Strike cigarettes. The program began and ended with two tobacco auctioneers rattling off prices in a rapid-fire similar to Stevens' delivery, ending with "Sold American!"
When Ahab finds Fatima in her tent, she is ironically engaged in stereotypically Western behavior: "eating on a raisin, and a grape, and an apricot, and a pomegranate, a bowl of chittlins, two bananas, three Hershey bars, and sipping on an RC co-cola, and eating a Moon Pie, listenin' to her transistor, watchin' the Grand Ole Opry, and readin' Mad Magazine while she sung, 'Does your chewing gum lose its flavor?'" Ahab woos Fatima with another mock Arabic chant, this time a quote from the song "Let's Twist Again" by Chubby Checker. Fatima (portrayed by Stevens in falsetto) responds to Ahab's advances with laughter and an (English) utterance that Ahab is "crazy".
Ahab loves Fatima, which apparently does not sit too well with the Sultan, whose appearance prompts an escape attempt, which does succeed, because Clyde was the fastest camel in the desert, and they "lived happily ever after" (the original single version was edited and does not mention the escape attempt at all, instead ending the song with Fatima saying, "Crazy, baby!").
Along with "The Streak", it was one of Stevens' biggest hits and contributed greatly to his popularity. It reached number 5 on the Billboard top 40 during July 1962.
A later song by Stevens, a Christmas novelty number called "Santa Claus Is Watching You", features a "cameo" by Clyde. The intrepid camel is pressed into service in place of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (in different recordings of the song, the famous reindeer's reason for being absent alternates between "He's at a stakeout at your house" or being "all stove up in the hospital" after injuring himself during "a twist contest"). The song also repeats the "Ahab the Arab" schtick of reciting a random list of objects, in this case gifts for "all the good little girls and boys."
Stevens has said that Clyde the camel was named after rhythm-and-blues singer Clyde McPhatter, formerly the lead singer of The Drifters. Clyde is arguably the most memorable character of the song, due to Stevens' exaggerated imitation of a camel's braying vocalization. Clyde has become something of a mascot for Stevens, and for several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s the artist released albums and video entertainment under the label Clyde Records (complete with camel-shaped logo). Clyde Records continues to be the outlet for a lot of contemporary material from Stevens.
Stevens' music publishing company was once named Ahab Music Inc. before he changed its name in 1977 to Ray Stevens Music. His publishing company is affiliated with BMI.