In 1974 I went to see Van Morrison at The Hammersmith Odeon. It was a brilliant concert. He started by playing five acoustic songs including three from “Astral Weeks”. In the second half he played several new songs including a blistering version of “Caldonia” which I subsequently found out was originally recorded by Louis Jordan. It was released by Van Morrison as a single but quickly withdrawn (but not before I picked up a copy from “Recordwise” in Egham). He played several familiar songs but also played two new songs which I assumed he had written himself. “(Night Time Is) The Right Time” and “Hallelujah I Love Her So”. It was the loudest concert I had been to at the time (but not as loud as Sugar at The Corn Exchange in 1994!). He played two encores and then left the stage. The safety curtain came down and the house lights came on but the clapping and cheering continued for another five minutes until he came back to do a third encore. Brilliant.
I knew that Ray Charles had written a song that Van Morrison had previously covered with Them. “I Got A Woman” was the last song on side 1 of Them’s second album, “Them Again”, and it’s blisteringly good. It was only a few years later that I found out that “(Night Time Is) The Right Time” and “Hallelujah I Love Her So” were also Ray Charles’ songs. Until I bought this 3 CD retrospective, I knew very little about Ray Charles apart from his hits “What’d I Say”, “Hit The Road Jack” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You”.
Ray Charles was born in 1930 and lost his eyesight when he was 7 years old. His younger brother died at the age of 4 and his mother died when Ray was 14. A teacher taught him how to use braille music to play the piano. After being expelled from school for playing a “prank” on a teacher, he started playing piano in bars and clubs before Ahmet Ertegun signed him to Atlantic Records in 1953. In 1959 he left Atlantic Records to sign a more lucrative deal with ABC-Paramount. This box set covers the best material he recorded during his time with Atlantic Records.
During the time he was signed to Atlantic, 28 singles were released (although Atlantic issued a lot more after he left them). He also released 7 long playing records. Although most of these singles failed to make the national US Charts, many of them were big hits on the R&B Charts. This box set is called “The Birth Of Soul” and yet these songs were on the Rhythm And Blues charts. So what is the difference between R&B and Soul? Some people argue that by taking R&B to church, Ray Charles invented soul music. The Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame defines soul music as “music that arose out of the black experience in America through the transmutation of gospel and rhythm & blues into a form of funky, secular testifying.” Dictionary.com defines soul music as “a fervent type of popular music developed in the late 1950s by black Americans as a secularized form of gospel music, with rhythm-and-blues influences, and distinctive for its earthy expressiveness, variously plaintive or raucous vocals, and often passionate romanticism or sensuality.” Ray Charles, himself, is quoted as saying “You can’t get away from your roots and since I was reared in the church a lot of church was within me. Naturally a lot of that had to come out in my music; I just didn’t try to hide it.” If “soul” music is music that comes from deep within your soul then Ray Charles was the master.
This is an excellent box set. It consists of 3 CDs and a very informative 32 page booklet. For example: ” ‘I Got A Woman’, released in January 1955, pressed the ecstasies of black church music into the service of a Dionysian sensuality. The record’s rhythmic tension, with the sharply percussive horn and piano parts actually jerking away from the New Orleans-tinged skip-rope shuffle laid down by drummer William Peeples, perfectly complements the striking contrast between church-hymn musical cues and overtly sexual intent.” I certainly couldn’t argue with that – it’s a brilliant song.
Ray Charles went on to make many more great records after leaving Atlantic Records. As he said “What makes my approach special is that I do different things. I do jazz, blues, country music and so forth. I do them all, like a good utility man.” The 53 songs on this box set brilliantly illustrate his early years.