8 Best Ray Charles Songs of All-Time
The music industry has its fair share of legends, and one of them goes by the name Ray Charles Robinson, or simply Ray Charles. He was dubbed “The Genius,” and deservedly so as he pioneered soul music in the 1950s and reinvented country music in the 1960s on his way to becoming one of the icons of music.
So, in honor of Brother Red (a nickname he preferred), here are 8 of his best, most enduring songs of all time (in no particular order, of course):
What’d I Say
The Genius was so good that he could take even a little “ummmmh, unnnnh” and make it memorable. That is exactly the case with Charles’s first Top 10 pop single “What’d I Say” which is considered by Rolling Stone as the greatest feel-good song in rock & roll. This fast-paced, frenetic masterpiece is Charles at his finest, playing that Wurlitzer electric piano of his with the utmost gusto. Even better, he wrote it in front of an audience while he and his group of equally talented musicians were playing a marathon dance show sometime in 1958 or 1959.
Georgia on My Mind
If “What’d I Say” is a fast and furious tour de force, “Georgia on My Mind” is a soothing, sentimental ballad that showcases Charles’s amazing voice. While the song wasn’t a Charles original, as it was written back in 1930 by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell, it will forever be associated with Brother Red nonetheless, as he took the song made it iconic.
Hit the Road Jack
Originally written by the rhythm and blues artist Percy Mayfield, “Hit the Road Jack” is another one of those songs that Charles took to unprecedented heights. It won Charles a Grammy award for Best Rhythm and Blues Recording. Charles recorded “Hit the Road Jack” with the all-girl group The Raeletts, who provided backing vocals for Charles for several years. The song is known for its catchy, staccato beat and Charles’s trademark guttural bellows.
You Don’t Know Me
There are different versions of “You Don’t Know Me”, but Charles’s version is no doubt the most well known, thanks in large part to his famous voice. The song was written by Cindy Walker and recorded by Eddy Arnold in 1955. It was covered by Jerry Vale a year later, and then by Charles in 1962. Years later, the song is still being covered regularly, sometimes by established artists, and oftentimes by up-and-comers trying to carve their own niche in the music industry.
Ray Charles covered a variety of different topics and themes in his songs. Partypoker describe “Losing Hand” as one of the very best songs written about the card game calling it “soulful inspiration for your next round”. Short and subdued yet distinctly soulful is the best way to describe “Losing Hand” which happens to be one of Charles’s more underappreciated hits. This minimalist classic was released in 1953 when Charles was an up-and-comer trying to make a name for himself in the industry, and it perfectly captured the emotional, understated side of the then-23-year-old musician from Georgia.
I Can’t Stop Loving You
By the 1960s, Charles was already one of the very best in the industry, and in 1962, he took Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You” straight to the top of not only the Billboard Hot 100, but also the UK Singles Chart. The song is often listed in various greatest songs lists, with Rolling Stone ranking it at 164 and Country Music Television placing it at 49 in its 100 Greatest Songs in Country Music compilation.
I Got a Woman
Originally titled “I’ve Got a Woman,” this brisk, beguiling single was co-written and recorded by Charles, and it was released in 1954. The song purportedly builds on the Southern Tones’ “It Must Be Jesus,” as Charles was said to have been listening to it on the radio while traveling with his band sometime 1954. Charles and his trumpeter, Renald Richard, then co-wrote the song, taking inspiration from the frenetic pace of gospel songs and the rhythmic beats of jazz. “I Got a Woman” was Charles’s first certified hit, and it established him as a force to be reckoned with in the music industry. More than that, “I Got a Woman” eventually became a template for what would later on be called soul music. That The Beatles recorded two versions of this song in the early 1960s is a testament to this single’s remarkable quality.
Take These Chains from My Heart
When a maestro works on a classic, good things are bound to happen, and that exactly was the case with “Take These Chains from My Heart.” One of Hank Williams’s most widely praised singles, this song of despair got the Ray Charles treatment in 1962 and predictably soared in both the Billboard and UK charts, peaking at number 8 in the US and at number 5 in the UK.
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