Tag Archive: Ray Charles


modern-sounds-in-country-and-western-music

Having been a music major in college and a music teacher for sixteen long years, I have an appreciation for just about every style of music.  But if there is one genre of music for which I truly have a distaste, its the modern pop country movement.  I dislike it so much I don’t even know the names of artists to give examples.  I think they are all named Blake anyway.  But even though I can’t stomach current pop country, I do like country western quite a bit.  You know, the classics like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, etc.  That stuff is pretty good, and it is that rich history of songwriting that Ray Charles mines for this album, while of course putting his own gospel/R&B spin on it.

I’ve always been attracted to art that defies convention and stereotypes, and this album does just that and does it well.  And I’ve always admired musicians who step outside their comfort zone to try new and different styles, and again, this is what we have here.  At the point in Ray Charles’ career when he made this album, he was an established R&B artist.  He could easily have cranked out another R&B album and it probably would have been a hit.  But instead he challenged himself and his audience by recording this country western album and it wound up not being just a hit, it became a landmark moment in an already storied career.  And I could go on about breaking racial stereotypes and challenging social norms, which this album did in fact do at the time, but the truth is this album has had longevity because it is just simply good quality music.  Despite the somewhat depressing subject matter (it is country western music after all), Brother Ray imbues a sense of joy in each song through his iconic voice and his jazz-tinged arrangements.  I remember seeing this album at the Earnest Tubb Record Shop when I was down in Nashville a few years ago, but I didn’t pick it up until I found it used for $6.99 at the Half Price Books on Lane Avenue.  It is worth every penny.

Other Lists: “I Can’t Stop Loving You” is ranked #164 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  See entry #54 for The Birth of Soul for other Ray Charles accolades.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped one spot from its original ranking at #104 on the original list.

My favorite track: “Half as Much”

Honorable mention: “It Makes No Difference Now”

Quote: “But that’s all in the past, and I’ll forget somehow.  Well, I don’t worry, ’cause it makes no difference now.”

 

Otis Blue

It’s been awhile, I know.  Too long.  Grad school has been kicking my ass.  Finished the first draft of a 25 page paper yesterday, and while I wait for my professor to rip it apart and send it back for revisions, I thought I’d get back to the Exile.  Been waiting to write about this album for awhile.  I wish I had more to say about it, but I loves me some Otis.  I grew up with Otis around the house (and when I say house, I mean that ugly brown and yellow trailer on Myers Road).  Mi madre is a huge Otis fan, and to this day she is still sad that he died so young.  She played a lot of Otis while I was growing up, and she was forever going on about how great the Stax horn line was and stuff like that.  Otis Redding’s posthumous album, “The Dock of the Bay” was actually one of my first CDs back in the day, but I guess I’ll talk more about that when that album comes up on the list (along with a discussion of Pearl Jam’s stellar cover of that album’s title track).  This album was one I picked up at the Half Price Books on High Street near Worthington a year or so ago.  I snagged it for $6.99 (minus my 10% teacher-of-children discount), and I frequently use it to psyche myself up for work in the morning.

Historically, this album has some gems on it.  There is the original version of “Respect”, which Otis wrote, but of course it was the Aretha version that became famous.  There are some other great Otis originals as well, like “Ole Man Trouble” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”, but otherwise it is the covers that stand out.  Chief among them are Otis’ version of Sam Cooke’s classic “A Change is Gonna Come”, Smokey Robinson/the Temptations’ “My Girl”, and the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”.  All throughout, that famous horn line brings the energy to the music, but it is Otis Redding’s voice that dominates this record.  Otis had none of the smoothness associated with his Motown R&B contemporaries (think the Temptations, Smokey Robinson, young Marvin Gaye, etc.).  No, Otis  was a southern soul artist in the vein of Little Richard and Ray Charles who always seemed to be pushing his voice to the breaking point.  It is that powerful, yet scratchy voice, that made Otis such a stellar musician.  There really isn’t much range to his voice, just pure emotion.  He did most of his own arranging too. It is a shame that his life was cut short so prematurely, but like so many others, I am grateful for the music he gave the world before he died.

Other lists: “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” is #111 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Otis is ranked #8 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and he is #21 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped four spots from its original position at #74 due to the addition of CCR’s Chronicle and the rise of Radiohead’s Kid A, Paul Simon’s Graceland, and James Brown’s Star Time.

My favorite track: “Ole Man Trouble”

Honorable mention: “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”

Quote: “All I’m asking for is a little respect when I come home”

#75: “Star Time” by James Brown

Star Time

This is a 4 disc box set.  It’s the fourth box set on the list, following the Robert Johnson, Ray Charles, and Phil Spector boxes (I don’t count the 2 disc Elvis or Muddy Waters compilations as box sets).  I got it off ebay for $15.69 and it’s taken me about two weeks to listen to it thoroughly.  James Brown was pretty prolific, and this box set is pretty comprehensive, clocking in at about 4 hours and 45 minutes of the original funk soul brother.  So yeah, it’s a bear of a box set, and to be honest it all starts to blend together into one giant groove if you try to listen to too much at one time.  But individually, each disc has its own character reminiscent of the particular era of James Brown’s career.  The first disc, “Mr. Dynamite” has the early hits, many of which were featured on the Live at the Apollo album (see entry #25).  This disc has an old school rock ‘n roll feel, and there’s more than one track that would feel right at home on a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack.  The second disc, “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business”, is where the big crossover hits like “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good)” start to come into play.  Disc three, “Soul Brother No. 1”, brings the funk, and surprisingly I knew most of the grooves not from listening to James Brown, but from late 80s and early 90s hip hop.  I vaguely remember James Brown suing rappers for sampling his songs back in the day, but really the Godfather of Soul was also one of the Granddaddies of  Hip Hop.  This brings me to the fourth disc, actually titled “The Godfather of Soul”, which sadly shows Brown hanging on to his career by rehashing old ideas like on “I’ve Got a Bag of My Own”.  Overall, the box set is pretty good, although the studio tracks seem to lack just a little of the electricity of the live tracks.    Perhaps Brown was just one of those artists whose energy and spontaneity on stage couldn’t quite be captured in the studio.

Star Time Box Set

Other lists: “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” is #71, “I Got You (I Feel Good) is 78, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” is #124, “Please, Please, Please” is #143, “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” is #312, and “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine” is #334 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Ch-ch-changes: This box set jumped up 4 spots from its original position of #79 on the 2003 list.

My favorite track: “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag, Pt. 1”

Honorable mention: “I Got You (I Feel Good)”

Quote: “Don’t tell me how to do my thing when you can’t, can’t, can’t do your own”

The Birth of Soul 1The Birth of Soul 2The Birth of Soul 3

 

Brother Ray.  I can’t say I really listened to much Ray Charles growing up.  I mean, I knew who he was…he was that older blind piano guy.  The one who wasn’t Stevie Wonder.  Well, he was similar to Stevie Wonder…they both had appearances on Sesame Street.  And they both wore sunglasses.  But Stevie was younger and had the braids.  Ray Charles was older and was the guy in the Pepsi commercials.  That’s right, you got the right one baby, uh-huh.

So fast forward to 2005, and I was starting my annual tradition of trying to see all the movies that were nominated for major Oscars…you know, Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, etc.  And that year a biopic called “Ray”, starring Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, was nominated in several categories, including the three big ones listed above.  The movie had been out for awhile by the time I saw it, but I remember going to the dollar theater at Carriage Place and just being memorized by Jamie Foxx’s performance as Brother Ray.  I mean, here was a guy I had only seen in bad comedies and TV sketch shows, and here he was playing one of the most iconic musicians of all time and absolutely killing it.  It was one of those rare performances in a biopic where you forget it’s an actor and not the real person, and Jamie Foxx deservedly won the Best Actor category that year.

Well, that movie introduced me to the world and music of Ray Charles.  I had never known about the controversy he stirred in the music community, especially among the gospel musicians, when he started to mix gospel music sounds and structures with secular blues and jazz.  Many people consider that mixture to be the actual birth of soul music, and this 3-disc boxset (which I snagged on Ebay for $27.00) collects all of Ray Charles’ early work with Atlantic Records (before he moved to ABC-Paramount Records and decided to become a country crossover artist).  And there is definitely a progression  in his sound across the three discs.  This first disc is very bluesy, and his voice sounds a lot younger and smoother.  On the second disc, the tempos speed up, he develops that trademark yowl, and his voice becomes more recognizable as Ray Charles.  By the third disc, the sound has finally developed into the reeling, rocking R&B/soul fusion that made him famous.  Yet, even though the sound progresses from disc to disc, one thing present on all three is an element of musical sophistication that many early recordings lack.  It seems from the very beginning, Ray Charles was arranging his band into a finely tuned, highly sensitive musical unit, and it shows throughout this boxset.  Every small nuance of Ray Charles’ singing or piano playing is reflected by his band, which makes this music that much better and definitely worth a listen.

The Birth of Soul Box Set

 

Other lists: “What’d I Say” is #10 and “I Got a Woman” is #239 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Ray Charles is also ranked #2 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and #10 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album was dropped one spot from its original position on the 2003 list due to the rise of “Meet the Beatles!”.

My favorite track: “It Should Have Been Me”

Honorable mention: “I Got a Woman”

Quote: “So if you want to have fun in this man’s land, let Lincoln and Jackson start shaking hands”