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.
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.
"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.