40) Ray Charles – “Georgia on My Mind”

 R&B rave-ups like “I Got a Woman” and “What’d I Say” may have marked Ray Charles as an innovator, but it was covers of old standards and country tunes that made him a star.  That’s not to say that Charles had sold out in his bid to cross over to pop audiences. He had always been indebted to the sophistication of ’40s swing/jump blues icon Louis Jordan, and, no matter what he sang, his voice and phrasing were always distinctly Ray Charlesian.  Still, it’s no surprise that Charles’s first #1 hit is an old Hoagy Carmichael chestnut.  What’s more surprising is that  it had never been a major hit for anyone since its 1930 composition.  Charles claims the title of “definitive version” by the first chorus, the weariness in his voice expressing his restlessness on the long road back to Georgia.  The conflating of Georgia, a woman, with Georgia, the state, is a neat trick, done subtly enough that it adds extra depth to the song rather than being a corny gimmick.  But the overbearing backup singers and gaudy strings, surely included to appeal to white audiences, lessen the recording’s impact.  While “Georgia on My Mind” deservedly became one of Charles’s most famous songs, it’s a lot easier from a 21st century perspective to appreciate his more gospelly, organic-sounding versions from later decades.  Even with the syrupy production, though, Charles’s voice and piano always ring out, clear and distinct. 7

Hit #1 on November 14, 1960; total of 1 week at #1
40 of 965 #1’s reviewed; 4.15% through the Hot 100


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