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Extended Analysis

Ray Charles: The Complete ABC Recordings 1959-1961

By Published: July 2, 2012
Ray Charles

The Complete ABC Recordings 1959-1961

Le Chant du Monde


At first glance, it's a mystery. Why choose 1961 as the cut-off point for a collection spanning the first years of singer/keyboardist Ray Charles' lengthy tenure with ABC-Paramount? Extend that to 1962, and even within the 3-CD confines of The Complete ABC Recordings 1959-1961 it would be possible to include the momentous Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. This was the album that gave Charles his place in the mainstream of American popular music, to achieve which he had switched to the bigger ABC from Atlantic, where his exalted blend of rhythm & blues and gospel had helped define the sound of emergent soul music.

As usual, it is about money, or more precisely, copyrights. In Europe, from where The Complete ABC Recordings 1959-1961 emanates, copyrights on recordings expire after 50 years. In America, it is after 70 years. So, in 2012, anyone in Europe can release Charles' recordings made up to and including 1961 without having to pay royalties. But not those made in 1962, such as Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.

Reissues of this ilk differ widely on acoustic and curatorial levels, but The Complete ABC Recordings 1959-1961, like the 3-CD set Ahmad Jamal Trio: The Legendary 1958 Pershing Lounge & Spotlite Club Performances (Solar, 2011), is at the high end, including accurate session details, excellent mastering and a booklet which has repros of evocative contemporary ephemera (such as trade magazine ads and publicity photos). All of which is to be expected from Le Chant du Monde, a legitimate label which releases plenty of new material by modern artists (Solar, a more shadowy operation, does not even have an online presence).

So, the music. After six years at Atlantic, Charles was keen to broaden his audience base, and ABC was happy to let him try. His first four albums for the label—Genius Hits the Road (1960), Dedicated to You, Genius + Soul = Jazz and Ray Charles and Betty Carter (all 1961), which, with a handful of singles, comprise The Complete ABC Recordings 1959-1961—were all attempts to break out of the R&B market.

To that end, the albums employ a scattergun strategy. Genius + Soul = Jazz, one of the launch releases of ABC's Impulse! subsidiary, has Charles (on organ rather than piano) on a largely instrumental big band jazz set, with arrangements by Ralph Burns and Quincy Jones
Quincy Jones
Quincy Jones
. It is well crafted and delivered but styled so as not to frighten the horses. Genius Hits the Road, released a year previously, is a mix of with-strings tracks (including the No. 1 pop hit "Georgia on My Mind"), and recordings with Charles' wailing touring band and backing vocalists, the Raelets. The arrangements are by Burns. Dedicated to You is also split between with-strings and touring band tracks, with arrangements by Marty Paich
Marty Paich
1925 - 1995
. Instrumentally, it is a saccharine affair, but Charles' vocals—as always, in any setting—hit the spot. Ray Charles and Betty Carter, a mix of with-strings and big band tracks arranged by Paich, is more substantial, and Charles' deep-soul voice is, rather surprisingly, well partnered by Carter's airier, jazzier style.

The singles tracks, recorded with Charles' touring band—including trumpeters Marcus Belgrave
Marcus Belgrave
Marcus Belgrave
and John Hunt, alto saxophonist Hank Crawford
Hank Crawford
Hank Crawford
1934 - 2009
sax, alto
, tenor saxophonist David Newman and baritone saxophonist Leroy Cooper
Leroy Cooper
—stick closer to Charles' Atlantic-era aesthetic. From 1959, "Them That Got," "Who You Gonna Love," "My Baby! (I Love Her, Yes I Do)." From 1960, "I Wonder," "Sticks and Stones," "Worried Life Blues." From 1961, "Unchain My Heart," "Hit the Road Jack," "The Danger Zone," "But on the Other Hand Baby." Most feature the Raelets.

The singles are magic, but so, too, are many of the tracks on the four albums. Even on the most hackneyed material, even on the corniest—and in 1961 Charles had only just got started on those fronts—Charles' voice, like Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
1901 - 1971
's, transcends its surroundings and its sources.

Tracks: CD1: Them That Got; Who You Gonna Love; My Baby! (I Love Her, Yes I Do); Georgia On My Mind; Moonlight In Vermont; Moon Over Miami; Blue Hawaii; Chattanooga Choo-Choo; Basin Street Blues; Deep In The Heart of Texas; Mississippi Mud; Alabamy Bound; California, Here I Come; New York's My Home; Carry Me Back To Old Virginny; I Wonder; Sticks And Stones; Worried Life Blues. CD2: Nancy (With The Laughing Face); Ruby; Stella By Starlight; Cherry; Candy; Diane; Margie; Sweet Georgia Brown; Hardhearted Hannah; Rosetta; Marie; Josephine; I've Got News For You; Mister C; Stompin' Room Only; From The Heart; Moanin'; Strike Up The Band. CD3: Birth Of The Blues; Let's Go; One Mint Julep; I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts of Town; Goodbye / We'll Be Together Again; Alone Together; Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye; For All We Knew; Cocktails For Two; You And I; Takes Two To Tango; Side By Side; Baby, It's Cold Outside; Together; People Will Say We're In Love; Just You, Just Me; Unchain My Heart; Hit The Road Jack; The Danger Zone; But On The Other Hand Baby.

Personnel: Ray Charles: piano, vocals, organ, arrangements (CD1#1-3, CD1#16-18, CD3#17-20); Ralph Burns: arrangements (CD1#4-15, CD2#13-15, CD3#1-2); Marty Paich: arrangements (CD2#1-12, CD3#5-16); Quincy Jones: arrangements (CD2#16-18, CD3#3-4); various personnel.

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