Ray Charles: Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles

Ray Charles made his career in the mid 1950’s on Atlantic Records after recognizing the value of taking black southern gospel songs known from his youth, and by changing a few words, turn the spiritual praise of the Lord to the secular praise of a woman. He lifted the melody and words from the Southern Tones’ “It Must Be Jesus” and turned it into “I Got A Woman“, which became his first #1 hit. 

Starting in the mid 50’s he had a string of R & B hits for Atlantic, then just a small label geared mainly to selling “race” records to a black buying public. There Charles was instrumental in inventing what became “soul” music. The market for these race recordings was limited to blacks, whites had no access to the mom and pop storefronts where they were sold, and even from these meager sales, black artists were routinely cheated out of the small royalties they were due. The Promised Land, black artists knew, lay over yonder, with the white record buying public.

Charles had cast more than a casual eye on the crossover success of the few black artists that had been allowed into the white world: Harry Belafonte, Sam Cooke, Mahalia Jackson, and Lloyd Price. It was every black artists dream to break out of the “chitlin” circuit, with its endless touring and small paydays.

In 1959, his contract up at Atlantic, Charles jumped ship to ABC Paramount, one of the major players serving the white market, in search of a larger (whiter) audience. He negotiated a deal unheard of previously for any artist, black or white, said at the time to be better than Sinatra’s. The only blacks that had crossed over until then did so by essentially allowing themselves to be scrubbed clean of any taint of their roots in the black gospel church, their music thus made less threatening to parents of white teenage girls. 

Charles’ deal with ABC allowed him control over his music, and that way he became the first black singer to bring his musical heritage with him to the larger market on his terms. Charles got to do it his way. Although these ABC singles were aimed at the white market, there’s no mistaking the roots of “That Lucky Old Sun”, “Let’s Go Get Stoned”, or “Busted”.

Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles covers this second period of Ray Charles’ career 1959 to 1972 on ABC-Paramount, offering A and B sides of all the singles released by ABC. The hits are here starting with his first #1 for ABC, “Georgia On My Mind” all the way to “America The Beautiful” in 1972. In between find “Hit The Road, Jack”, “Let’s Go Get Stoned”, “I Don’t Need No Doctor”, and live versions of “Makin’ Whoopee” and “I’ve Got A Woman”. It was surprising to see how often Ray borrowed from the country genre in this period. There’s several Buck Owens tunes, including “Love’s Gonna Live Here Again”, and “Cryin’ Time”, “Born To Lose”, and a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring Of Fire”.

But the real treat for Charles fans are the some of the forgotten sides, unavailable until now. Check out “The Train” “That’s All I Am To You” with the Raeletts wailing in the chorus. The Raeletts, so prominent during the Atlantic years, were used less at ABC, but listen for the great Margie Hendrix’s vocal turns on “My Baby (I Love Her So)” and “Don’t Set Me Free”.

There are 106 songs on five CDs, many being heard for the first time by anyone not in possession of the original 45’s; no alternate takes, no studio chatter, just the singles as they were originally released in chronological order. The liner notes are extensive, and there are photos and reproductions of the original 45 covers. Each song is fully documented with recording date and musicians.  A nod has to go to the Concord group’s John Burk who carefully researched the original masters, compiled the recording information, and put the package together, pricing it at less than $45.

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