I am wary of books and TV programmes which attribute a major musical shift to one person. One of the programmes in the recent BBC series, ‘Soul Deep’, attributed the birth of soul music to Sam Cooke, but as great as Cooke was, popular music would have been exactly the same without him. A better case can be made for Ray Charles, but I still think that Mike Evans is overegging his pudding. He writes of ‘What’d I Say’:
“From the sensual reverb of the electric piano intro on Part I of the double-sided single, to the orgasmic exchanges with the Raelettes on Part II, the revelation, the pure impact – nothing had prepared anyone for this.”
To his credit, Mike Evans writes about all of Ray Charles’ music and he draws attention to little-known albums. I’ve always been intrigued by ‘Ray Charles Invites You To Listen’ where he sang in falsetto, and Evans says it marked him out as ‘an interpreter with few equals.’ However, if Ray Charles is as popular as he suggests, why have so few of his Sixties albums been reissued on CD?
I thought that many of Ray Charles’ Sixties albums were excellent but the public didn’t warm to them because the packaging was so naff. Was it because he was blind that he could be fobbed off with abominable sleeves – come to think of it, Stevie Wonder, George Shearing and Jose Feliciano had the same problem. The worst sleeves of all time include ‘Country And Western Meets Rhythm And Blues’ (1965), ‘Ray Charles Invites You To Listen’ (1967), ‘Through The Eyes Of Love’ (1972) and ‘Renaissance’ (1975). Evans says of the first one, ‘Corny or cool?’ A resounding ‘corny’, mate.
The book covers the film ‘Ray’ but the film, by ending where it does, ‘implies that whatever he did after that time – i.e.without the heroin – was hardly worthy of mention’ I disagree. The film showed what he was capable of doing despite the heroin, and the ending suggested the possibility of a sequel covering his later life.
‘The Birth Of Soul’ is always readable but there is carelessness. The fine duet of ‘Angel Eyes’ by Ray Charles and Willie Nelson with the guitarist Jackie King isn’t mentioned: even if Mike Evans doesn’t agree with my assessment, such a collaboration deserves to be mentioned. A quote of Ray’s about Charlie Pride is given twice with Pride’s Christian name spelt wrongly each time. This hasn’t been picked up while indexing, so wake up at the back there.