Ray Charles: Five of his all-time best song lyrics

Ray Charles (Examiner archives)

The influence of Ray Charles on American music is significant. Charles was among the first, and absolutely the most successful at uniting gospel, rhythm and blues, jazz, country and other styles to forge the variety of soul music in the entertainment culture during the 1950s.

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Along the way, Charles helped pave the way of racial integration by combining and forging his soulful songs into the different genres, including pop and country. While Elvis Presley was called the “King of Rock and Roll,” James Brown “The Godfather of Soul,” and Michael Jackson “The King of Pop,” Ray Charles was deservedly dubbed “The Genius.” Even Frank Sinatra stated Ray Charles was “the only true genius in show business.”

Ray Charles Robinson was born on September 23, 1930. He was blind from age seven until his death on June 10, 2004. Although he had been recording since 1949, Charles’ first number one R&B hit came in 1955. “I Got a Woman,” written by Charles, combined blues, gospel and jazz and helped form and advance the rock and roll genre.

Fresh from the wounds and hurt of September 11th, no one could unite the country as Charles did during the World Series opener of 2001. His “America the Beautiful” remains one of the most touching moments in television history.

By the time of his death in 2004, Rolling Stone magazine placed Charles at number ten on their list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.”

Ray Charles (Examiner Archives)

Four years later, he was ranked number two on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Singers of All Time.” His song, “Georgia On My Mind” became the official state song of Georgia in 1979. Two years later he was honored with a Hollywood Walk of Fame Star. In 1986 Charles was among the first inductees at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame during their first ceremony and was recognized with the Kennedy Center Honors. The following year, he was bestowed with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2005, the Grammy Awards of 2005 were dedicated to Charles.


Following are five of the all-time best lyrics of Ray Charles:


  1. “Hit The Road Jack”

“Now baby, listen baby, don’t ya treat me this-a way
Cause I’ll be back on my feet some day.
Don’t care if you do ’cause it’s understood
You ain’t got no money you just ain’t no good.
Well, I guess if you say so
I’d have to pack my things and go. That’s right

Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back no more, no more, no more, no more.
Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back no more.”

“Hit the Road Jack” was written by R&B composer Percy Mayfield. Ray Charles took it to the top on October 9, 1961 with his recording accompanied by his Raelettes vocalist Margie Hendricks. It earned him a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blue Recording. The song is listed as number 387 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.


  1. “Georgia On My Mind”

“Other arms reach out to me
Other eyes smile tenderly
Still in peaceful dreams I see
The road leads back to you

I said Georgia, oh Georgia
No peace I find
Just an old sweet song
Keeps Georgia on my mind”

The Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell song from 1930 finally became a hit when Ray Charles released his version in 1960. Billboard Hot 100 listed it as number one in November 1960. On April 24, 1979, after Charles performed it before the Georgia state legislature General Assembly in March, the State adopted it as their official state song.


  1. “What’d I Say”

Hey mama, don’t you treat me wrong
Come and love your daddy all night long
All right now, hey hey, all right
See the girl with the diamond ring
She knows how to shake that thing
All right now now now, hey hey, hey hey
Tell your mama, tell your pa
I’m gonna send you back to Arkansas
Oh yes, ma’m, you don’t do right, don’t do right
Aw, play it boy
When you see me in misery
Come on baby, see about me
Now yeah, all right, all right, aw play it, boy
When you see me in misery
Come on baby, see about me
Now yeah, hey hey, all right
See the girl with the red dress on
She can do the Birdland all night long

Charles made this song up during a late show in December 1958. The response was so terrific he decided to record it. It became a major hit in 1959 combining R&B, gospel, rhumba, jazz and Latino mixture to equal soul. It became Atlantic Records’ best-selling song in their history. It was also Charles’ first gold record.

“What’d I Say” was a controversial song because of its sexual connotations, but became a major influential song ranked as number 10 in Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”

“I’m not one to interpret my own songs, but if you can’t figure out ‘What I Say’, then something’s wrong,” Charles said. “Either that, or you’re not accustomed to the sweet sounds of love.”

2. “Take These Chains From My Heart”
Take these chains from my heart and set me free
You’ve grown cold and no longer care for me
All my faith in you is gone but the heartaches linger on
Take these chains from my heart and set me free
Take these tears from my eyes and let me see
Just a spark of the love that used to be
If you love somebody new, let me find a new love, too
Take these chains from my heart and set me free

Written by Hy Heath and Fred Rose, Charles released his version in October 1962 on the album “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music Volume 2.” It helped integrate soul and R&B into country.  It was a number one hit for Hank Williams in 1953.


1. “America The Beautiful”

Oh beautiful, for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties,
Above the fruited plain,
But now wait a minute, I’m talking about
America, sweet America,
You know, God done shed his grace on thee,
He crowned thy good, yes he did, in a brotherhood,
From sea to shining sea.

Just a few weeks after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Ray Charles performed “America the Beautiful” during the World Series game of October 28 between Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees. He had recorded it for the bicentennial celebrations of 1976, but it received some criticism for changing the lyrics to the words written by Katharine Lee Bates. Time proved Charles’ version to be a patriotic, soulful and beautiful interpretation of the great American song.

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