Monday, July 6, 2009

50 years ago: Ray Charles charted with “What’d I Say”

What’d I Say

Ray Charles

Writer(s): Ray Charles (see lyrics here)

First Charted: July 6, 1959

Peak: 6 US, 6 CB, 6 GR, 7 HR, 11 RB, 2 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 3.49 video, 42.35 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

“Ray Charles is one of those performers who transcend categories and remain uniquely themselves.” LW “He survived racial prejudice, drug addiction and jail to become a national treasure.” LW He “made his own choices about material…never bowing to fashion or commercial considerations.” LW

“What’d I Say,” the song which “cracked the mainstream pop charts,” LW originated in a small town outside Pittsburgh at a marathon dance show. Needing to flesh out a second set, Charles improvised, telling his female backup singers, the Raeletts, “Whatever I say, just repeat after me.” RS500 Afterward, people rushed to Charles asking where they could buy the record. RS500

Charles went into the Atlantic studio in New York on February 18, 1959, to record it. Engineer Tom Dowd edited and re-sequenced the song into a “six-and-a-half-minute rave-up” RS500 which replicated the mix of the “call-and response structure of the church with the sexually charged message of the blues” NRR transforming “the sound of Sunday morning to the sound of Saturday night. TM “Charles’ grunt-’n’-groan exchanges with the Raeletts were the closest you could get to the sound of orgasm on Top Forty radio during the Eisenhower era.” RS500

Charles said the song is really “about nothing” and that the lyrics “don’t make sense,” NPR but “the people just went crazy, and they loved that little ummmmh, unnnnh…People said it was vulgar…But, hell, let’s face it, everybody knows about the ummmmh, unnnnh. That’s how we all got here.’” RS500

He considered the song “straightforward R&B” LW but it became one of “the first pop-soul classics to feature in the white dominated national charts.” LW Rolling Stone called it “the greatest feel-good song in rock & roll” RS500 and it became what Charles considered his trademark song; years later he still played at as an encore at most of his concerts. NPR


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Last updated 11/23/2022.

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