For at least 30 years, I have maintained that my favorite singing voice of all time is Ray Charles, and nothing on this collection leads me astray in that belief. As soon as Ray leaned into the first track, “The Sun’s Gonna Shine Again”, a huge smile came across my face and I knew I was in for a good day.
Like many of the albums early on my list, this collection is actually a compilation of singles as most artists focused on single releases vs. full album releases during this time period. The collection includes 53 songs, stretching for two and a half hours, covering a seven-year period from 1952 to 1959 when Ray recorded for Atlantic Records. It was first released as a compilation in 1961, but I sequenced it in the early 1950s when he was first hitting his stride as a recording artist. This album is rated #210 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
It’s hard to go wrong with any song Ray Charles is singing, and for new ears, some of the highlights include “I’ve Got A Woman” from 1954, and “What’d I Say” from 1959. Movie fans may recognize the raucous rocker “Mess Around” from 1953 as the song John Candy enjoyed perhaps a little bit too much in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”. Another gem from this collection is “Hard Times (No One Knows Better Than I)”. If you listen to the chords, tempo and song structure, it is remarkably similar to his most well-known song “Georgia On My Mind”, which is not in this collection. If there are any doubts to the genuine soul and ability of Charles on the piano, check out the instrumental track “A Bit of Soul”.
This probably won’t be the last time we hear from Ray Charles on this journey, but there is no match for the authentic, raw and minimalist sound of these early releases. As I prepare to wrap up today’s summary, I will bring you back to the opening song, “The Sun’s Gonna Shine Again”. It certainly rings true as we all look ahead to better days in early 2021, and I guarantee you it will be 2 minutes and 36 seconds you will be glad you invested in your day, particularly if it has been a tough one. Turn down the lights, get comfortable, and grab your favorite drink. No matter how grey and cold it was today, the sun IS gonna shine again. Thanks, Ray.