10 Essential Ray Charles Songs

Ray Charles Songs

Photo: Victor Diaz Lamich [CC BY 3.0 ]

Our 10 Essential Ray Charles Songs list takes a look at one of the all-time greatest and most inspirational musicians of the past 75 years. Ray Charles is gospel, Ray Charles is country, Ray Charles is blues, Ray Charles is soul, Ray Charles is rock and roll. No one played the piano like Ray Charles. No one sang and played the piano like Ray Charles. There was a groove to his piano playing that musicians have been trying to imitate for years. Ray Charles Incorporated every style of music into his soul and delivered it in such a way that people of all races and geographical locations fell in love with him no matter what.

Ray Charles was born in Greenville, Florida in 1930. Ray Charles was not born blind but lost his sight to glaucoma by the age of seven. By the age of 19, Ray Charles had released his first single as a member of the McSon Trio. The band had signed a record deal with Downbeat Records. The group’s first single was entitled “Confession Blues.” The song was very successful peaking at number two on the U.S. R&B charts in 1949.  The musical career of Ray Charles had begun.

Ray Charles’ first major label record contract was with Atlantic Records. Ray Charles signed with Atlantic Records in 1952 and recorded for them until 1959. When his contract with Atlantic Records expired in 1959, Ray Charles signed with ABC Records. Ray Charles stayed with ABC Records until 1974. When that contract expired, Ray Charles started his own record label entitled Crossover Records. A perfectly named label for the type of artist Ray Charles had become.

Ray Charles’ career took a shop turn towards country music in the 1980s in a similar fashion to what Jerry Lee Lewis had done with his career. Ray Charles released a string of country albums on Columbia Records from 1983 to 1987.

Over the past 75 years, all his record labels have been releasing Ray Charles compilation albums. There is such an incredible abundance of music Ray Charles has left this world to enjoy. Choosing these 10 Ray Charles songs may have been the most difficult task we have ever encountered. We tried to choose a collection of songs that were both popular, and wonderful and also defined the many different moods of Ray Charles. So here are what we feel are 10 Essential Ray Charles songs.

# 10 – What’d I Say

We know that you are going to be looking for this one so why not list it right away? These 10 essential Ray Charles songs are in no particular order. The classic Ray Charles song “What’d I Say,” has to be one of his most popular recordings ever. The song “What I’d Say,” was released in 1959. “What I’d Say,” is the song that turned Ray Charles into a household name. However, the song itself is even more important than just the song that spread the name of Ray Charles. The song is significant in popular music history because it is widely regarded as the song that gave birth to the genre of soul music. The song hit number six on the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1959.

# 9 – Georgia On My Mind

Continuing with our top 10 Essential Ray Charles songs list, we return to the first number one song Ray Charles ever celebrated in his career. The song “Georgia on My Mind,” hit number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. It was released on the album The Genius Hits the Road on Atlantic Records. The song was written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell in 1930.

# 8 – Hit The Road Jack

After scoring his first number one hit Ray Charles did it again with the classic tune “Hit the Road Jack.” The song hit number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1961. The song was written by Percy Mayfield. It has become one of the most covered songs in jazz and pop music. It was especially popular in the 1960s and early 1970s among jazz vocal artists. The Animals did a nice slow dark blues version of the song in 1966.

# 7 – I Can’t Stop Loving You

For the third year in a row, Ray Charles hit the number one position on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1962, Ray Charles had another number one song with the great track “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” The song was written by Don Gibson. The song, “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” appeared on the album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. 

# 6 – I Got A Woman

One of the most covered songs that Ray Charles ever released was his 1954 classic “I Got a Woman.” Ray Charles probably had no idea that the song would become as widely covered as it did. Over time the song was covered by The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Al Kooper, Bryan Adams, The Everly Brothers, The Monkees, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stevie Wonder and many more.

# 5 – Night Time Is the Right Time

The great interplay between Ray Charles’ lead vocals and hs backing singers is on full display on this great track. The song “Night Time Is the Right Time” was released in 1959. It was issued in the album The Genius Sings the Blues. 

# 4 – Busted

We continue our top 10 Essential Ray Charles songs list with the classic track “Busted.” A fantastic song that everyone at one time or more in their lives could relate to. The song was released in 1963. It was issued on the album entitled Ingredients in a Recipe for Soul. It was a top 10 hit in the United States peaking at number four on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

# 3 – Seven Spanish Angels

The great Ray Charles song “Seven Spanish Angels,” represents Ray Charles most successful country song. The song hit number one on the country music charts in 1985. The song was recorded as a duet with Willie Nelson. It was released on the album Friendship.

# 2 – I’ll Be Good To You

The great Quincy Jones produced song “I’ll Be Good To You,” is the last Ray Charles vocal to reach the Billboard Hot 100. The song was actually very successful as it reached the Billboard Top 20 peaking at number 18. The song was originally a hit by The Brothers Johnson in 1976 when it reached all the way to number three on the Billboard Hot 100. The Ray Charles version was recorded with Chaka Khan also on vocals in 1989. It was released on the compilation album Back on the Block produced by Quincy Jones and featured a cast of legendary artists.

# 1 – I Don’t Need No Doctor

We close out our 10 Essential Ray Charles songs with one of our all-time favorite Ray Charles recordings. The great soul-infused song “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” was released in 1966. The song was written by Nick Ashford, Valerie Simpson, and Jo Armstead. It was released on the album A Man and His Soul.  It was not a huge hit for Ray Charles as it peaked at number 72 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was also covered a few years later in the 1970s by Humble Pie and New Riders of the Purple Sage.

Updated June 7, 2023

10 Essential Ray Charles Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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