The idea that Ray Charles
is only an absurdity
to those who haven't heard his version of You Don't Know Me
on Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music Vol 1
This track more than any other manages to break my heart every time I hear it. I'm a repressed English male not given to great outward shows of emotion but this track is one of very few (Martha by Tom Waits and Kiss Me Baby by the Beach Boys being the only two others I can think of) that make me cry like a little baby when I hear it.
The song itself is fairly simple - a country hit for Eddy Arnold a short while before the track was cut, it's a nice enough song, very pleasant in fact, covering the well-worn theme of being in love with your best friend. Nice enough, but nothing incredible.
The track starts. Ugh. It's swamped with strings, and the worst cooing whitebread soulless backing singers you can imagine. The epitome of everything that was wrong in the late 50s and pre-Beatle 60s.
And then Ray starts singing.
And you don't care any more that the backing vocalists should be working with Lawrence Welk and seem intent on repeating his every word. You don't care because here is someone who with a few notes of his voice can lay bare your soul.
And you remember that friend. You know the one. The one you had the crush on, who truth be told you were in love with. The one who said "you're like a brother to me". You remember being torn up inside when you congratulated her on her new boyfriend and commiserated with her when he dumped her.
By the end, when Ray's voice is cracking, when he's singing 'You give your hand to me and then you say goodbye/I watch you walk away beside the lucky guy' you're weeping at the missed opportunities, the chances you missed in the effort not to spoil a friendship... you've been there, just as I have, but only Ray can make you feel it all over again.
Ray Charles in the space of two and a half minutes can transcend someone else's banal material and the soulless plastic whitebread arrangements of 50s pop, see right into my soul and express my feelings better than I ever could.
Ray Charles not a god? Pure absurdity.