Ray Charles' Atlantic Years: Five Songs to Know

'The Best of Ray Charles: The Atlantic Years'
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Atlantic/Rhino

There's no better word to describe Ray Charles than "genius." What he could not see in life (glaucoma blinded him at a young age) somehow enabled him to show audiences the world over the power and richness of soul music, as it applied to rock, pop, jazz and even country.

Read More: January 1986: Ray Charles Inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

On Feb. 26, The Best of Ray Charles: The Atlantic Years comes to vinyl as part of Rhino's Black History Month campaign. Originally issued in 1994, this 20-track overview offers the cream of Brother Ray's early days as a performer, through the back end of the 1950s.

If you're looking to add this one to your record collection, we'll give you five tracks that make it a must-own.

"I Got a Woman" (1954)

Built upon the gospel sound Ray would hear on the radio while on tour, "I Got a Woman" became his fourth song to reach the Top 10 of Billboard's R&B charts - and his first to peak at No. 1.

"Drown in My Own Tears" (1956)

Ray was a tried-and-true musical romantic, but this horn-infused bluesy showcase remains one of the decade's great heartbreak songs, and a third No. 1 R&B hit. The descending background vocals at the end of the song reportedly inspired him to add backing vocalists to his lauded live act - but more on that in a moment.

"Hallelujah I Love Her So" (1956)

Backed by a small-scale orchestra under his own name and featuring a killer sax solo by Don Wilkerson, this No. 5 hit anticipated the polished swinging soul of acts like Sam Cooke in the years to come.

"Night Time is the Right Time" (1959)

By the time Ray put this hip-swiveling blues-soul number to wax, he'd notched 15 sides in Billboard's soul Top 10. Besides the backing vocals from newly-established ensemble The Raelettes - particularly the fiery delivery of Margie Hendrix, who Ray once said "will scare you to death" - "Night Time is the Right Time" marked Ray's gradual break into the edges of Billboard's pop charts.

Read More: February 1959: Ray Charles Records "What'd I Say"

"What'd I Say" (1959)

Reportedly whipped up onstage when a show ran longer than the set list, "What'd I Say" became the defining soul song of the late '50s, balancing blues, gospel and even Latin rhythms with a powerful melody featuring some charged call-and-response between Ray and his Raelettes. But more than just another R&B hit, this single vaulted into the Top 10 of the pop charts as well - and from then on, no genre or racial barrier could keep Ray's genius from inspiring music lovers all over the world.

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