Our Top 10 Charles Brown Songs list presents the best Charles Brown Songs like “Driftin’ Blues” “Merry Christmas Baby” and many more. Born Tony Russell Brown on September 13, 1922, in Texas City, Texas, the love of music was already there straight from the get-go. As a child, he was taught how to play classical music on the piano. This, however, wasn’t by his own parents. His mother died when he was only six months old. When he was six years old, his father was killed by a train. He was raised by his mother’s parents, Conquest and Swanee Simpson. She was the director of a church choir and it was she who taught him. However, a music career wasn’t originally Brown’s aspiration after graduating from high school in 1939.
After graduating with a degree in chemistry from Prairie View A&M College in 1942, he taught the subject while employed at George Washington Carver High School in Baytown, Texas. He was also a mustard gas worker in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, then an apprentice electrician for a shipyard located in California.
In 1943, Tony, aka Charles, Brown, finally chose to settle in Los Angeles, California. It was during a time when America’s music culture during the Second World War saw a flood of African-Americans influence the integrated club with a softer brand of blues. This was the era that started the Rhythm and Blues (R&B) genre as we know it today. After heavy jazz influencer, Nat King Cole left L.A. to perform at a national level, this gave Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers their chance to shine in his stead. As Charles Brown, he served as the group’s pianist and lead vocalist. It would be in 1945 the group signed with Exclusive Records.
Starting in the late 1940s, the demand for blues music came from a growing audience that included scores of American white teenagers as the popularity of this musical genre spread like wildfire. This cleaner version of blues music featured the likes of Charles Brown, Amos Milburn, and T-Bone Walker leading the charge as their performances were so appealing. In 1948, Brown formed his own trio with Eddie Williams on bass and Charles Norris on guitar. Now as a solo artist, he signed with Aladdin Records, finding immediate success with “Get Yourself Another Fool” and “Trouble Blues.” “Trouble Blues,” along with 1951’s “Black Night,” became Brown’s first two number-one hits since his departure from Three Blazers.
The 1950s was a decade that kept Charles Brown’s name as an elite performer somewhat obscure as his musical style was a bit too mellow. This was because the surge of rock and roll featured a rougher brand of music that won over young and impressionable fans in a big way. This was a style Brown struggled with as his character was not nearly as aggressive as the stars that were rising in popularity. He did, however, maintain a devoted audience and still influenced musical artists like Lowell Fulson and John Lee Hooker to become entertainers themselves.
Released in 1960, “Please Come Home for Christmas” became a seasonal cult classic after Charles Brown’s performance of this number put him back on the American music charts. Throughout the 1980s, Brown made several appearances at Tramps, a nightclub in New York City. While there, he signed a contract with Blue Side Records and recorded One More for the Road in just three days. Although the label he signed with shut down, this album was picked up by Alligator Records and distributed. Thanks to celebrity influences that ushered Brown’s comeback, he began to record and perform on a regular basis again. He served as the opening act for one of his musical influencers, Bonnie Raitt. It was during this time frame he received numerous Grammy Award nominations. However, his wins came in 1991’s Blues Instrumentalist: Piano/Keyboard category with the Blues Music Awards, as well as in the Male Blues Vocalist category in 1993 and 1995.
In 1996, Charles Brown was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. The National Heritage Fellowship award was given to him by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1997. In 1999, he would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This was the same year he died on January 21, 1999, due to congestive heart failure.
Top 10 Charles Brown Songs
#10 – Hard Times
“Hard Times” became a number seven hit on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart after it was released as a single in 1951. At the time, it was considered the race chart. Where Charles Brown excelled as a performer was appealing to a classier audience who preferred the softer side of blues and jazz music to the rough and tumble rock and roll genre. For something slow with soul, “Hard Times” couldn’t find a better performer than Brown.
#9 – Warsaw Concerto
When Charles Brown first moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1943, he competed in an amateur talent contest at its Lincoln Theater on Central Avenue. He combined the songs “Boogie with the St. Louis Blues” with “Warsaw Concerto” and it was enough to earn him the win. Not long after this, he was recruited as the pianist and vocalist for Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers. Brown’s take on “Warsaw Concerto” was privy to a phenomenal piano performance by Brown as he demonstrated there was more to him than a great singing voice.
The original “Warsaw Concerto” was written for a 1941 British film, Dangerous Moonlight. It reflected upon the 1939 invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany. Brown’s piano performance was dramatic, serving this instrumental tune the justice it deserved for the magnificent number it is. There are samples of this music found in “The World Outside” by Ronnie Hilton, which was a number eighteen hit on the UK Singles Chart in 1959. It’s also found in 1999’s “What’s My Name,” recorded and released by rap artist, DMX.
#8 – Fool’s Paradise
In 1955, “Fool’s Paradise” was released as a single while Charles Brown recorded for Aladdin Records. This bluesy number was snuffed out by the harder-edged rock and music styles that dominated the 50s by a fan base that didn’t seem interested in this incredible number at the time. However, this featured Brown’s vocal talent at its finest, as well as his performance on the piano. The saxophone playing throughout this song isn’t too shabby either as a sultry addition to a tune that’s been a solid lounge favorite. Should you ever visit the Las Vegas strip or any casino establishment, give “Fool’s Paradise” a listen before you go. There’s a bit of sound advice in Brown’s lyrics that is given.
#7 – New Orleans Blues (featuring Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers)
As a follow-up single behind “Driftin’ Blues,” “New Orleans Blues” did become a crowd favorite but didn’t quite perform as well on the music charts. However, this is an all-time fan favorite who’s listened to and appreciated the West Coast blues style of Charles Brown. At the time of this 1947 recording, he was still a member of Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers.
Many artists have covered this song themselves, including B.B. King and Ray Charles. Thanks to Brown, he spawned a new generation of upcoming R&B artists who regarded one of the pioneers of West Coast blues music as their musical hero. “New Orleans Blues” was one of many soft blues numbers that featured Brown singing some of his woes about a city destination. Before his musical career officially launched at a professional level, he performed “St. Louis Blues” in a manner that earned him his first recording contract.
#6 – Get Yourself Another Fool
“Get Yourself Another Fool” became a 1949 hit for Charles Brown, among his first after leaving Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers to pursue a solo career. On the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, it became a number four hit. Singing as a jilted lover, Brown realized the hard way he had no choice but to move on as the romance he shared with her had gone south. Brown’s brand of blues catered to a more sophisticated audience that found themselves preferring music with a softer touch as opposed to the jump blues that roared beforehand.
#5 – Trouble Blues
In 1949, “Trouble Blues” became a number one hit on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and remained there for fifteen weeks. This became one of the biggest hits of his career and a catapult into stardom as a solo artist. Scores of artists have recorded this song as their own but it’s Charles Brown’s original that remains at the top as the all-time fan favorite. Singing as a man loaded with troubles, Morgan’s soulful delivery also sang with hope. Slow and rhythmic, “Trouble Blues” remains a lounging favorite that is often covered by many stage performers, as well as recording artists who know a really good blues number when they hear one.
#4 – Please Come Home for Christmas
In 1960, Charles Brown released “Please Come Home for Christmas” as a holiday number while he was signed with King Records. It sold over a million copies, enough to earn him his first gold certification with the Recording Industry Association of America. What’s so great about this seasonal song was Brown’s ability to put some R&B flair into America’s biggest holiday of the year. The lyrical plea for his loved one to come home was heartfelt enough to remain a solid favorite even to this day. Artists from every genre have covered “Please Come Home for Christmas” but there are none that can match the quality level performed by Brown himself.
# 3 – Black Night
On the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, “Black Night” became a number one hit for fourteen weeks in 1951. Charles Brown’s performance as pianist and vocalist was backed by saxophonist Maxwell Davis. Together, they turned this bluesy number into a huge favorite that stood the test of time. In 2005, the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame inducted it as a Classic of Blues Recording – Single or Album Track. This song was influential enough to inspire Bobby Bland, Dr. John, Willie Nelson, and Muddy Waters. Like Brown, their versions also earned notoriety with the Blues Foundation.
#2 – Merry Christmas Baby (featuring Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers)
“Merry Christmas Baby” already seemed destined to become an all-time holiday cult classic the year it first came out in 1947. This bluesy number was credited to Lou Baxter and Johnny Moore as an R&B blues standard that featured Charles Brown as the vocalist, as well as the pianist. Several artists have recorded their own versions of this song over the years with no sign of future recording stars putting an end to that anytime soon.
When songwriter Lou Baxter approached Johnny Moore, it was right after Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and he admitted he needed a winning song so he could earn some money. “Merry Christmas Blues” came to mind first but the title and theme of “Merry Christmas Baby” took over. On the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, it became a number three hit.
#1 – Driftin’ Blues (featuring Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers)
“Driftin’ Blues” was a slow bluesy tune that was recorded and released in 1945. Credited to Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, the soulful vocals performed by Charles Brown were beautifully matched with his piano play. This became one of the biggest postwar songs during the 1940s that helped define the style of West Coast blues. This song was recognized by the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for its influence and everlasting popularity.
“Driftin’ Blues” was a song Brown wrote while he was still a high school student and it was the first he ever did. He admitted the inspiration came from a gospel song his grandmother taught him, as well as Bumble Blee Slim’s “Walking and Drifting Blues.” At first, he was nervous about meshing blues and gospel together until Johnny Otis convinced him otherwise. This song served as a stark contrast to the jump blues that dominated the 1930s and much of the 1940s.
The performance of “Driftin’ Blues” earned Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers a recording contract. It also set them, as well as Charles Brown apart from Nat King Cole’s style as a deeper and more soulful performer. “Driftin’ Blues” was a debut single that made the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart at number two. This pioneering number threw Brown into the elite club of pioneers who revolutionized American music as the people knew it. It became the first of many hits that would bring forth inspiring artists such as Floyd Dixon and Ray Charles.
In 1989, “Driftin’ Blues” was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in the Classics of Blue Recording category. In 1995, it was recognized as one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This song is a blues standard and has since been performed by a series of artists, including Ray Charles. He credits Brown and this song for launching his career from mediocracy to stardom.
Feature Photo: Sumori, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Top 10 Charles Brown Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
Classicrockhistory.com claims ownership of all its original content and Intellectual property under United States Copyright laws and those of all other foreign countries. No one person, business, or organization is allowed to re-publish any of our original content anywhere on the web or in print without our permission. All photos used are either public domain creative commons photos or licensed officially from Shutterstock under license with ClassicRockHistory.com. All photo credits have been placed at the end of the article. Any theft of our content will be met with swift legal action against the infringing websites.