Ray Charles is a musical icon whose influence spans multiple genres including R&B, soul, blues, and jazz. Born in Albany, Georgia in 1930, Charles was a pioneer in the integration of African American music into the mainstream.
His distinctive sound, characterized by his soulful voice and skillful piano playing, earned him a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame. Throughout his career, Charles released numerous albums and singles, earning him multiple Grammy Awards and countless accolades.
In this article, we will explore the 10 best Ray Charles songs of all time. From his early hits to his later works, we will examine the songs that defined Charles’ career and solidified his legacy as one of the greatest musicians of all time. These songs showcase the breadth and depth of his talent, from the smooth crooning of “Georgia on My Mind” to the electrifying energy of “What’d I Say.”
Whether you are a lifelong fan or a newcomer to his music, this list will provide a comprehensive overview of the best that Ray Charles had to offer.
1. America the Beautiful
“America the Beautiful” is a patriotic song that celebrates the natural beauty and diversity of the United States. The song was written by Katharine Lee Bates in 1893 and set to music by Samuel A. Ward. The lyrics describe the beauty of the country, from its spacious skies to its amber waves of grain. The song has become a beloved American classic, often sung at patriotic events and sports games. This version of the song, performed by Ray Charles, features his soulful voice and a gospel choir, adding a powerful and emotional element to the already stirring lyrics.
2. Take These Chains from My Heart
“Take These Chains from My Heart” is a classic country song written by Fred Rose and Hy Heath. The song was originally recorded by Hank Williams in 1953, and has since been covered by many artists, including Ray Charles. The song tells the story of a man who is pleading with his lover to release him from the pain and sorrow of their failed relationship. Charles’ rendition features his soulful voice and signature piano playing, along with a bluesy guitar and brass section. The combination of Charles’ heartfelt vocals and the song’s poignant lyrics make for a powerful and emotional listening experience.
3. I’ve Got A Woman
“I’ve Got a Woman” is a song that was written by Ray Charles and his frequent collaborator Renald Richard. The song was released in 1954 and marked a shift in Charles’ sound, as it incorporated elements of gospel, R&B, and blues. The song’s lyrics celebrate a woman who brings joy and happiness to the singer’s life, and the energetic instrumentation features Charles’ lively piano playing and a driving rhythm section. The song’s catchy melody and upbeat tempo have made it a beloved classic, and it has been covered by numerous artists in a variety of genres.
4. Hit the Road Jack
“Hit the Road Jack” is a classic R&B song written by Percy Mayfield and recorded by Ray Charles in 1961. The song features Charles’ soulful vocals and dynamic piano playing, accompanied by a driving rhythm section and horn arrangement. The lyrics tell the story of a man who is telling his lover to leave and never come back, as he has grown tired of her lies and infidelity. The song’s catchy melody and sing-along chorus have made it a popular classic, and it has been covered by many artists in a variety of genres.
5. Georgia On My Mind
“Georgia On My Mind” is a classic song that was written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell in 1930. The song was made famous by Ray Charles in 1960, and has since become a beloved standard. The song’s lyrics express a deep love and longing for the state of Georgia, with its “peaches ripe and sweet” and “swanee shore.” Charles’ rendition features his soulful vocals and signature piano playing, as well as a lush orchestral arrangement that complements the song’s romantic sentiment. The song has become a symbol of Georgia, and has been adopted as the state’s official song.
6. Shake A Tail Feather
“Shake a Tail Feather” is an upbeat R&B song that was originally recorded by The Five Du-Tones in 1963. The song was later covered by Ray Charles in 1967 for the movie “The Blues Brothers,” and has since become a classic. The song’s catchy melody and driving rhythm, featuring a horn section and a lively guitar riff, make it a perfect dance number. Charles’ rendition features his signature soulful vocals and piano playing, as well as a gospel choir that adds an extra layer of energy and excitement to the song. “Shake a Tail Feather” is a party favorite that never fails to get people on the dance floor.
7. Ain’t But The One
“Ain’t But the One” is a soulful blues song that was written by Ray Charles and recorded in 1958. The song features Charles’ signature piano playing and heartfelt vocals, accompanied by a bluesy guitar and rhythm section. The lyrics express the singer’s feelings of loneliness and longing for his lost love, and the song’s slow tempo and melancholy tone add to the emotional depth of the lyrics. “Ain’t But the One” showcases Charles’ ability to convey deep emotion through his music, and is a testament to his enduring legacy as one of the greatest musicians of all time.
8. I Can’t Stop Loving You
“I Can’t Stop Loving You” is a timeless classic that was written by Don Gibson in 1958 and recorded by Ray Charles in 1962. The song features Charles’ soulful vocals and his distinctive piano playing, accompanied by a lush string arrangement. The lyrics express the singer’s inability to move on from a past love, despite knowing that the relationship is over. The song’s memorable melody and emotional lyrics have made it a beloved classic, and it has been covered by many artists in a variety of genres. Charles’ rendition remains one of his most iconic performances.
9. Unchain My Heart
“Unchain My Heart” is a classic R&B song that was written by Bobby Sharp and Teddy Powell and recorded by Ray Charles in 1961. The song features Charles’ powerful vocals and energetic piano playing, accompanied by a lively horn arrangement and rhythm section. The lyrics describe the singer’s desire to be free from the emotional chains of love and to move on from a toxic relationship. The song’s catchy melody and dynamic arrangement have made it a staple of classic R&B, and it has been covered by many artists in a variety of genres. Charles’ rendition is a testament to his legendary talent and enduring influence.
10. What’d I Say
“What’d I Say” is a groundbreaking R&B song that was written by Ray Charles and recorded in 1959. The song features Charles’ signature call-and-response vocals and his dynamic piano playing, accompanied by a driving rhythm section and horn arrangement. The lyrics are simple and repetitive, but the song’s infectious groove and rhythm make it impossible not to dance along. “What’d I Say” became a huge hit and is widely considered one of Charles’ greatest songs. The song’s influence can be heard in the work of many artists who have been inspired by Charles’ unique style and innovative approach to music.