You Know I’m hooked for you mama
That’s why you sling your weight around
But as long as your lovin’ beats your hoggin’
Little Girl I’ll never put you down
Three times convicted on drug offences, 12 children to 9 different mothers and Willie Nelson’s chess partner, welcome Ray Charles! I have a 1962 Ray Charles Greatest Hits, which is basically missing my two favourite Charles songs ‘What I Say’ and ‘Mess Around’. In my ignorance I’d always thought of Ray Charles as a fast R&B, borderline rock and roller, this is an altogether much smoother affair and I was disappointed after picking this up in a bunch of discarded LPs in my dad’s shed*.
I know, I know, Ray Charles is a sacred object and I can dig the beauty and precise of economy of his playing and singing on the likes of ‘But On The Other Hand Baby’ (one of only two Charles co-writes here), however I crave something a little rawer – I accept the fault is mine, all mine. If I was a more sophisticated kinda fella ‘Them That Got’ would probably elicit more than a wry smile from me and a tap of the foot. The swinging ‘One Mint Julep’ is great but it just leaves me really wanting more of that organ sound from him. I think it’s only fair to disclose I carry around a gigantic irrational ravening hatred of the song ‘Hit The Road Jack’ with me everywhere I go, like a heavy ball of jagged black flint.
The revelation on Ray Charles Greatest Hits for me is ‘Unchain My Heart’, it is just brilliant. That hybrid Latin & B rhythm and Charles’ perfectly judged delivery, horns so sharp they draw blood and David ‘Fathead’ Newman’s sax … wow, perfecto. Plus there are huge 1537 bonus points awarded for the ‘misery/beans for me/set me free’ rhyme scheme:
Unchain my heart, you worry me night and day
Why lead me through a life of misery
When you don’t care a bag of beans for me
So unchain my heart, oh please, please set me free
Now ‘Georgia On My Mind’ was no revelation to me simply because I seem to have always known and loved it. Can you think of a song that’s ever been sung better? I can’t, off the top of my head, it is just majestic. Even before Ray sings that swelling instrumentation has me all nostalgic and yearning for somewhere I’ve never been. No wonder Georgia adopted it as their official state song**. It is quite simply perfect, a renowned soul-singer once said of the song’s impact upon him,
‘I was about 15. In the middle of the night with friends, we were listening to jazz. It was “Georgia on My Mind”, Ray Charles’s version. Then I thought ‘One day, if I make some people feel only one twentieth of what I am feeling now, it will be quite enough for me.’*^
I particularly like the fact that the LP that Charles first recorded the track for was called The Genius Hits The Road, that’s my kind of modesty in action!
Well I’ve played Ray Charles Greatest Hits three more times today than I have since I obtained it in 2010, dutifully skipping that song twice, and it has been a pleasant enough dalliance, there’s more lovin’ than hoggin’ here, I particularly enjoyed being surprised by ‘Unchain My Heart’, but the LP hasn’t unchained my own one. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to reminisce some more about an old sweet song keeping Georgia on my mind.
*for other examples of this parental phenomenon see here.
**Rumours that Ohio are going to do the same for Nashville Pussy’s ‘Gonna Hitchhike Down To Cincinnati And Kick The Shit Outta Your Drunk Daddy’ are swelling at the time of going to press.
*^Roger ‘The Soul Man’ Waters, no less. His moving soul ballads ‘One Of These days …’ and ‘Waiting For The Worms’, do it for me.