Review #210: The Birth of Soul, Ray Charles

Karla Clifton
5 min readDec 10, 2021

#210: The Birth of Soul, Ray Charles

I listened to this one for the second time over coffee one Saturday morning, while I scrawled in my little notebook and let my dog snuggle up to me. I highly recommend doing this. It made me feel extremely classy, even though I was wearing my glow-in-the-dark Primus shirt.

This is a compilation from Charles’ Atlantic Records days, and although it was released in 1991, it was recorded exclusively between 1952 and 1959. For reference, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (#127) was released in 1962, was recorded over the course of three days, and was released with ABC-Paramount. Charles had a fascinating career.

Honestly, there’s a hell of a lot of music to cover here (two and a half hours of it!), so I’m not gonna waste too much time on this intro. I will say, it’s kind of fun that the two Ray Charles albums included on the RS 500 list are so genre-centered. Whether you want to hear the origins of country/western music or soul, you can turn to this guy.


“The Sun’s Gonna Shine Again” — WOW, that opening sax kills.

“Jumpin’ in the Mornin’” Michael Jackson, is that you?

“It Should Have Been Me” — This one actually made me laugh out loud. The excellent backing vocals are by Jesse Stone, who wrote “Shake, Rattle & Roll.”

“Sinner’s Prayer” — Not the same as the Lady Gaga song from Joanne. Wailing break in the middle.

“Mess Around” — The Mess Around sounds like a dance even I could do; has Planes, Trains, & Automobile. energy.

“Don’t You Know” —My heart went aflutter!

“I’ve Got a Woman” — You may recognize this one from #117, Late Registration, where Kanye samples and interpolates this song in “Gold Digger.” Something I didn’t note in that review: The chorus isn’t actually sung by Ray Charles, but by Jamie Foxx, who plays Charles in the movie Ray.

“A Fool For You” Cry so loud you give the blues to your neighbor next door. Haven’t we all been there?

“This Little Girl of Mine” — “This Little Light of Mine.” Love when he riffs on I/I/I/I!

“Hard Times (No One Knows Better Than I)” —Reminded me a lot of “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke, subject & melody.

“A Bit Of Soul” — This is our first instrumental? And it rules!

“Mary Ann” — The music getting more interesting.

“Drown In My Own Tears” — Covered about a million times, including by Etta James and Janis Joplin.

“Hallelujah, I Love Her So” — There are a few arrangements on here that sound distinctively jazzy, not just soulful. This is one of them.

“Lonely Avenue” — One of my favorites — just the catchiest tune here. Doesn’t sound anything like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day, but it’s fun to imagine that they’re on the same street.

“Leave My Woman Alone” — The female backing group that starts to show up midway through the album are the Raelettes.

“Get on the Right Track” Get on home and treat me wrong again.

“Rockhouse, Pt. 1 & 2” — If I didn’t know better, I would think he’s about to break into “Linus & Lucy.”

“Swanee River Rock (Talkin’ ‘Bout That River)” — Change in subject! We’ve gone from exclusively love songs to a song about homesickness.

“Talkin’ ‘Bout You” — Covered by the Animals. Lots of talkin’ on this back half of this album.

“What Kind of Man Are You” — You may notice that there’s a woman singing instead of Ray Charles here. That’s Mary Ann Fisher again, the inspiration for the song “Mary Ann”!

“My Bonnie” — Haha!

“Early in the Morning” — The drum on this one.

“What’d I Say, Pt. 1 & 2” — By Charles’ own admission, this was one of the only songs he improvised in front of a live audience. I couldn’t believe it when he and the backup singers start groaning their call and response. The man was inspired.

“Tell the Truth” — Female singer on this one is Margie Hendrix! He definitely had some powerful female vocals backing him.

“I Believe to My Soul” Last night you were dreaming and I heard you say/”Oh, Johnny” when you know my name is Ray. Ray Charles, you crack me up!


“Feelin’ Sad” — I think that in a compilation album of any one artist, some of the songs are going to blend together. This was where I felt began to feel a little bit of Ray Charles fatigue. Not that it’s a bad song!

“Ray’s Blues” — Why would you have…

“Mr. Charles’ Blues” — …these two songs back to back?

“That’s Enough” — I was on board until the line Love your Daddy all the time. Nope!

“I Want a Little Girl” — He’s not talking about a daughter.

“I Had a Dream” — Sometimes people say to me, “There’s no way I could listen to three hours of music of an artist I don’t know.” Sometimes I see what they’re talking about.


I’ve learned that the compilation/“Greatest Hits” album is a bit controversial when it comes to its inclusion on the RS Top 500 list. I’ve touched on this before, so I won’t go into detail here.

However, I think something we should keep in mind is that music releases in the past worked a lot different. According to his Wikipedia page, Ray Charles recorded “60 original albums and more than 200 compilation albums.” Not only that, but rock outfits back in the Fifties/Sixties were much more reliant on singles and radio play.

So how do you whittle down Ray Charles’ career when his discography is so complex and his legacy is so long-lasting? I don’t know. I don’t have an answer. But I do know that this album makes an honest effort at capturing why he’s so great.

Review #209: Raising Hell, Run-DMC

Review #211: Unknown Pleasures, Joy Division