|First posted 6/27/2008; updated 12/1/2020.|
Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music
Charted: April 21, 1962
Peak: 114 US, 6 UK, -- CN, -- AU
Sales (in millions): 2.0 US, -- UK, 4.0 world (includes US and UK)
Genre: R&B meets country
Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.
Total Running Time: 39:33
4.578 out of 5.00 (average of 8 ratings)
Quotable: “No one did more to integrate the various genres of American music than Ray Charles.” – Josh Tyrangiel and Alan Light, Time magazine
Awards: (Click on award to learn more).
About the Album:
June 23, 1962: “I Can’t Stop Loving You” was sitting atop the Billboard Hot 100 for a fourth week when its parent album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, followed suit and topped the Billboard album chart. It remained there for 14 weeks, becoming one of the top 100 biggest U.S. #1 albums. It “became one of the best-selling albums recorded by a black musician of the time;” WK
While the album proved its commercial and critical clout, it was initially a risky proposition. In the ‘50s, middle-of-the-road white artists like Pat Boone sanitized popular R&B tunes, like Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame”, for white audiences. Artists like Elvis Presley had blended R&B and country. However, it was a test of the waters to see if white audiences would accept a black R&B artist covering country tunes, especially during a time of racial tension in the United States.
“Not content with inventing modern soul, Ray Charles couldn’t resist a crack at country,” BL even if he “put his pop career in jeopardy by bringing his unique flavor to country and western standards.” CS “Veering far from the 1959 single that made him a star, ‘What I’d Say (Parts I and II),’ Charles opted for the Hank Williams tune Hey, Good Lookin’ as his follow-up. Charles retains Williams’ lyrics and basic melody, but infuses it with blaring brass to give it a big band sound.” CS
Charles’ idea to record an album’s worth of country music was met with generally negative feedback from his peers and the executives at ABC-Paramount. He’d landed a lucrative deal with them in 1959 when he jumped ship from Atlantic Records. Now he was testing just how much artistic freedom they would afford him. He became one of the first African-Americans to exercise such control over his own recording career.
“Charles knew that musical integration was a good metaphor for racial integration, and in particular his cover of…You Don’t Know Me seems to carry a larger message for white audiences.” TL His “aching vocals are backed by a full string ensemble and choir to create the greatest rendition of the classic Cindy Walker and Eddy Arnold song. These orchestrations are what make Charles’ country remain modern and ingenious to this day.” CS The song was a top-five hit on the U.S. pop, R&B, and adult contemporary charts.
Charles added “extravagant arrangements and high-octane vocals” BL that combined “jazz and rock and roll” TL and even “some big band – the opening of Bye Bye Love could have been composed by Glenn Miller.” TL He managed to do all that and create “a high-profile crossover hit” SC as well.
“Above a mix of swinging big band charts by Gerald Wilson and strings and choir backdrops from Marty Paich, Charles’ intones the sleepy-blue nuances of country crooners while still giving the songs a needed kick with his gospel outbursts. No pedal-steel or fiddles here, just a fine store of inimitable interpretations.” SC
“Modern Sounds in Country and Western fit right in with Ray Charles’ expansive musical ways while on the Atlantic label in the ‘50s. In need of even more room to explore, Charles signed with ABC-Paramount and eventually took full advantage of his contract’s ‘full artistic freedom clause’ with this collection of revamped country classics. Covering a period from 1939 to the early ‘60s, the 12 tracks here touch on old-timey fare (Floyd Tillman’s It Makes No Difference to Me Now), honky tonk (three Hank Williams songs), and early countrypolitan” SC with I Can’t Stop Loving You.
Nothing was bigger than the latter song, originally a #7 country hit for Gibson in 1958. Charles transformed it into one of the greatest crossover songs of all time. It landed atop the Billboard Hot 100 as well as the adult contemporary (AC) and R&B charts. It also hit #1 on the sales-driven Cashbox chart and the U.K. charts. The song is featured in the book The Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era, 1954-1999.
While the album was a risk, it “became a rapid critical and commercial success.” WK In fact, it is “regarded by many critics as Charles’ best studio album.” WK Thanks to the risk Charles took, arguably “no one did more to integrate the various genres of American music than Ray Charles.” TL
Notes: Bonus tracks “You Are My Sunshine,” “Here We Go Again,” and “That Lucky Old Sun” were added to later editions.
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