Mr. Ray Charles
“Listen – I Chose to Sing the Blues MP3″ “Listen – Something’s Got to Change MP3″
Friday (at last) is upon us.
In all honesty, I’m not as crabby as I thought I was going to be when I last posted. It probably has something to do with returning to work in the middle of the week, and anticipating the arrival of another short/holiday week. Nothing is better for the soul than well spent leisure time. Whether you curl up on the sofa in your jammies and sip tea, or feel the need to leap off of mountains on a bicycle or bungie cord, getting away from your job (something that is increasingly difficult these days) is absolutely essential for the preservation of ones mental health (at least it is for mine).
I like to find a happy medium between vegetation and risking my life, usually involving spending time with my family, and – if possible – feeding my head with books and music.
In furtherance of the idea that you, the reader may also need something to feed your head (or at least your ears), I return once again with some of the good stuff, guaranteed to slide inside your aching head and massage your weary brain.
Today’s selections are a couple of stone groovers from the man, who arguably (and I’m not sure what sane person would argue about it) invented soul music, Ray Charles.
If you aren’t already on the RC tip to some degree, you probably arrived here by accident, but that’s OK since the music of Ray Charles is so replete with restorative powers that any contact with same can only be seen as positive.
Now, when I say that Ray Charles “invented” soul music, I’m making that claim based on the fact that Charles, through his groundbreaking R&B recordings for the Atlantic label in the 1950’s can be said to have made the first serious musical merger of the sacred and the profane, i.e. dragging the sounds of the amen corner kicking and screaming into the roadhouse. I’m positive that someone better versed in the history of rhythm & blues could find individual records that work the same side of the street that predate Charles, but I’m also positive that no matter who you find will not have addressed the issue as forcefully or consistently as Brother Ray.
There’s also the issue, generally the sole purvey of 45 collecting anoraks, of when the first real “soul” records were made, and who made them. This gets us into the same, murky, subjective quagmire as deciphering when the first rock’n’roll record was made. The listener must first decide what exactly constitutes inclusion in the given genre, and then construct their very own sliding scale to determine which records are merely “transitional” efforts – bridging the gap between R&B and soul, and which have enough of those identifying characteristics to fall securely in the soul camp.
If I had to pick a date during which these fully soulful records started to dominate the scene, I’d generally go with 1961 or 1962. This is not to say that there aren’t records from before that time that qualify – I mean for God’s sake, Charles dropped ‘What’d I Say’ in 1959 – but that the years in question contain a lot of “gray area”.
It’s also important to mention that “soul”, as a general musical concept (not strictly a collector’s genre) is a pretty far reaching term, and reaches much further back into time. No one, no matter how hard they try is going to convince me that a record like Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Dark was the Night’ doesn’t have as much or more soul than ANYTHING recorded in the 1960’s by any slick, high-conked, continental suited shouter. On that particular level, there are few musicians that can compete with Ray Charles.
That said, as an artist that is consistently credited with inventing soul music, Charles is not generally thought of as a “soul” artist. This is due in large part to his versatility. In the years when soul was coming into popularity, Charles left Atlantic for ABC and created his hugely successful interpretations of Nashville material. It would be foolish to suggest that records like ‘Crying Time’ and ‘Busted’ aren’t as soulful as anything he ever laid down, and it’s also important to note that during those years he was also making records like ‘Sticks and Stones’, ‘At the Club’ and ‘Unchain My Heart’. Charles also continued to record jazz, ballads and covers of contemporary pop tunes through the 60’s and up to the end of his career.
The bottom line is that Ray Charles was too big a talent to be constrained (or described) by a single genre. He didn’t make jazz, R&B, or soul records as much as he made “Ray Charles” records.
Going back to the soul collectors (of which I am one, guilty of all complaints that I have previously attributed to the breed), there are several Ray Charles records from the 1960’s that are in fact widely considered “soul” records, and remain popular on dance floors worldwide*. The period encompassing 1966 and 1967 was especially fruitful in this regard, bringing killers like ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’, and the two tunes we bring you today, ‘I Chose to Sing the Blues’ and ‘Something’s Got to Change’.
‘I Chose to Sing the Blues’ was actually a Top 40 Pop and R&B hit in 1966. It has a hard charging dance tempo, great backing vocals by the Raelettes and a great sax solo (which may or may not be David ‘Fathead’ Newman, I’m not sure of the chronology). The tune was also covered by Joey Dee & The Starliters*.
‘Something’s Got to Change’ was not itself a hit, but resided on the flipside of ‘In the Heat of the Night’ which was a hit in 1967. This is an especially hot side, in that it features the wailing Hammond of none other than the late, great Billy Preston (who co-wrote the tune with Charles). Preston was playing keyboards on the TV show Shindig when he was hired by Charles in 1966. He would record and tour with Charles for the next few years. It was during a tour of the UK that he was brought into the studio by George Harrison to record with the Beatles (who had first met in 1962 while on tour with Little Richard).
‘Something’s Got to Change’ is a fast moving number with exceptional interplay between Charles and the Raelettes. Charles solos on the piano, followed by Preston on the organ.
If you’re a soul DJ, and don’t already have copies of these killers, you ought to get you some, because I just can’t imagine dancers ignoring stuff like this (especially the Mod crowd, who tend to be hipper to the soul sounds of Ray Charles than your average bear).
I’m not aware of any current reissue that features either of these tracks. The 45s tend to run around the $20 mark, but I’m betting if you dig a little you might be able to pull them a lot cheaper than that.
*Not to mention the fact that Ray Charles owned and operated Tangerine/TRC record, which during the 60’s and early 70’s released soul and funk sides by Terrell Prude, the Raelettes, Chet ‘Poison’ Ivey, Ike & Tina Turner, the Packers and tons of others.
**I’ve never heard the Joey Dee version, but I’ll be looking for it.
I’d like to take a moment to remind you that when you get a moment you should click through to some of the excellent blogs in the sidebar. Soul fans should check out the Stepfather of Soul, who’s post of a Ray Charles soul track back in September inspired me to dig out these 45s. He also does some very nice podcasts. Today he’s featuring one a sweet soul classic by the Persuaders.
Also check out any of the four incredible blogs done by Red Kelly, especially his main location The B-Side. Red has outstanding taste and does great work. His current post is another great one from Aretha Franklin.
Fans of the sounds of New Orleans should stop by the Home of the Groove, where blog-master Dan posts all kinds of NOLA-based sounds, from R&B, to blues to funk and soul. This week he’s featuring a couple of different versions of a Leo Nocentelli (the Meters) tune.
One of the newer additions to the blog roll, and one of the best new blogs out there is Office Naps, which posts once a week, but each post concentrates on several records from a particular genre. Lots of good sounds, and good writing. This weeks post features jazz bagpipers.