When Ray Charles died, he accumulated huge posthumous popularity and acclaim. He along with Johnny Cash headed a slew of musicians receiving newfound popularity after their death. Well, the time had come for a biopic movie on Ray Charles. Lucky for the world, the creators of the movie went about the movie with an exceptional brilliance. They didn’t just hire any actor for the role, even though Jamie Foxx may not sound like the perfect man for the role. They took Jamie over to meet with Ray Charles before he died and Ray sat Jamie down at a piano. Luckily, Jamie possesses a bit of musical talent himself. As Ray pushed Jamie’s talents further and further, Ray became more and more pleased. Finally, Ray Charles wrapped his arms around Jamie and told the creators “He's the one... he can do it.”
However, the Ray original soundtrack acts more as a greatest hits collection or an extremely summed up anthology. While most of the recordings are the clean-cut well known studio recordings, the album also throws in some excellent, energetic live tracks. The soundtrack shows off the soulful piano player’s genius in nearly every light. Whether it be his days at Atlantic records, sticking to his rhythm and blues music tinged with gospel or his better known days at ABC records where he composed epic, grandeur pieces of music most noticeably the famous Georgia On My Mind
, everything is represented in some way on this album. It’s a perfect representation of the false claims of Ray Charles “selling out.” Sure, he switched from rhythm and blues over to country and western, but he did it all with soul. Every performance on the album showcases emotion and a simple love to be alive and playing music. He infuses his own sultry and smooth style into every song. His trademark bluesy piano fills and longing voice fill the recording with that Ray Charles warmth.
No song better captivates his warmth and brilliance than quite possibly his most famous song ever and Georgia’s state song, Georgia On My Mind
. Two versions of the song appear on the soundtrack, the original epic version with Ray accompanied by an orchestra and a live version, featuring a small horn section, a typical rhythm section, and of course Ray and his piano. Georgia On My Mind
is such a brilliant and versatile song that nearly any instrumentation works, but of course since its Ray Charles the live version is obviously better. It begins with a different intro that introduces the horn section well. However, Ray starts singing the lyrics and immediately the crowd knows what’s going to happen. Applause roars and Ray holds nothing back. His piano fills are better than ever, climbing all across the keys in that perfect blues sound. The horns simply work as ambiance, full of muted trumpets and soaring saxophones. However, the best section of the song comes with just Ray and the piano sparsely filling after Ray sings a bit on his own. Since Ray plays by himself, the section takes extreme rubato and builds to a huge ending, with Ray wailing overtop of the blasting horns. However, the song ends on a tranquil chord, receiving thunderous applause.
This soundtrack shows that Ray Charles isn’t all about Ray Charles. Another famous song under the Ray Charles hardly showcases him at all. Hit the Road Jack
is led entirely by the Raelettes, or Ray’s backup singers. An upright bass plays the main instrumental theme, a descending line. The Raelettes wail out the classic line “Hit the road Jack, and don’tya come back no more.” Ray does sing a bit on his own, but then the lead Raelette takes the stage doing a call and answer with him. Lucky for Ray, unlike most famous contemporaries of his, he possessed a superb backing band that showcases itself on nearly every track in being able to stand out when needed and when to be merely ambiance. The horn section shows itself off on Let the Good Times Roll
, also a live recording. The entire opening sequence is a huge, big band styled section. Even when Ray starts singing, the band sounds just like one of the best big bands out there. The lead trumpet pushes out huge high notes and the saxophone solos with fast fingers. The entire performance is just about having a good time, as the title would suggest. The crowd, as shown from the various hoots and cheers, thoroughly enjoys the show Ray and company puts onstage.
While Ray’s later career produced all his greatest hits, his earlier songs are some of the most fun and catchy of the soundtrack. His first real hit and record, Mess Around
, came through a composition of the man who recruited him to Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun. It showcases an upbeat piano riff and moves along with a somewhat cheesy drum beat. The saxophones play a simple riff but their quality of musicianship save the song from coming across as just cheesy and boring. A younger Ray Charles stylizes everything he sings, maybe overdoing it somewhat. However, the song is just pure fun. Ray later capitalized on the energy of that era with What’d I Say
. Again, the version on the album is live, and therefore more energetic. An electric piano begins the song and the entire backing band moves the song along, although starting a bit off-balance. Ray misses the microphone for his first lyrics, but he quickly finds the microphone and despite the awkward start, everything gels along perfectly for the rest of the song. His backing singers join in for the famous call and answer section. Ray’s piano playing is just as lively as ever. The horn section drags out some swing eighth notes too much, but it’s a live performance and Ray Charles is a performer. Nothing stops his integrity and presence on stage. Despite the slight flaws, the recording of What’d I Say is just as classic as the original.
The Ray Original Soundtrack shows Ray Charles as a performer and Ray Charles as a studio musician. Every side of his career comes across on the album, whether it be his epic, string led recordings or his straight up blues, the album shows a fair representation of each. His pure love for music, one of the few things that never handicapped him because of his blindness, shines through on every recording. Every song implies that famous, heartfelt smile of his. As the end of What’d I Say
would have it, “Ladies and gentlemen, you have been entertained by the genius of Ray Charles!”
What’d I Say (Live)
Georgia On My Mind (Both Versions)
Hit the Road Jack
Let the Good Times Roll (Live)