1001 Albums: The Genius of Ray Charles



Artist: Ray Charles

Album: The Genius of Ray Charles

Year: 1959

Length: 37:58

Genre: Rhythm and Blues


“I don’t care if you’re young or old,
You oughtta get together and let the good times roll-a”

Yesterday afternoon my mom told me “You should just enjoy the moment”. I’ve had that told to me many times before but it never really meant anything. Everyone says that when someone is worrying too much about their future or things that could be, which if you know me you know I do that a lot. I’m very good at it actually. if there was an award for people who worry about their future and things that could happen, I don’t know if I’d win but I’d definitely be a good contender.

But when my mom told me it stuck with me. Mainly because my mom and I are very similar. We both worry a lot, get stressed about things, are perfectionists and can be hard on ourselves. My mom was always the mom telling me about the importance of preparing myself for my future and my career and making sure I’m ready, which more often than not actually puts more pressure on me than actual help, but it’s done with the best of intentions and I get were she’s coming from. So to hear her tell me to just enjoy the moment really felt like it came from left-field from her and if she was telling me that. it must have really meant something and come from somewhere.

Living and enjoying the moment is hard for me, especially these days. There is so much happening and equally not happening that when I have a moment to just relax and have fun, I feel like I’m missing out on doing something productive or I’m not taking necessery steps to do the things I need to do to help em advance in my life. Like if I take a moment to have fun it’s like I shouldn’t be, it’s strange how I’ve come to the point that in moments of fun and relaxation I get incredibly anxious and can’t enjoy myself because I feel like I’m wasting time… which isn’t a good thing. But hard to shake off when people in your life constantly make it out to seem like having fun is a waste of time and all I care about is having fun (which honestly the reason I emphasize that is because I rarely have fun ever to begin with and feel yes it is important for me to set my brain to the side for a little bit and just enjoy, I guess some people see it differently) and how my future and career and work and responsibility are the only things to think about an dhow work isn’t supposed to be fun and life is not about having fun and life isn’t fair and shouldn’t be good… yeah. Life isn’t fair is a harsh life lesson I learned in the past year and I still ask my self… well, why can’t it be? Life may not be fair but at least I can be a fair person.

I’ll give an example about me not being able to enjoy the moment. Yesterday I found out I was qualified for the PA Academy at work, which is basically a step closer to getting promoted. That should have made me feel great, especially since the build up to it almost killed me (I was the last person of the runner team to be told if I got a yes or no and spent the whole afternoon seeing everyone else leaving the room and hearing their answers… why would they do that to me?). I got a yes, and I should have been beyond happy. I was… but I wasn’t really… part of the reason is because my best friend at work was told no… which means he’ll be leaving and that made me sad because he’s one of the only people at work who makes me laugh and when I’m down he’s the only one who can bring me up (that’s what good friends are for, right?). So there was that. Also, fast-forward to the evening, we went out after work and even though I was there at the bar with a few of my co-workers who were laughing and joking and talking away… I still didn’t really feel happy. Two million things are usually going on in my mind at once which makes it hard for me to enjoy… but oddly, even though I was with people, I still felt lonely… I mean, I was out with friends and laughing… but still didn’t feel happy. Happiness is an emotion I haven’t really felt in awhile, even when I am feeling happy, it’s not really happy, almost like an illusion of happy… It’s hard to explain but the point is, I just couldn’t be there in the moment and enjoy.

I left and since I had a nice long ride home (I missed my bus which meant I had to wait forty minutes for the next one) it gave me enough time to listen to this album.

It managed to make me feel good in a way because it started energized and fun. A problem I’ve been having, despite that dancy feeling I love in music, is that the albums are starting to blend together for me. Because I am still in the fifties, most of the albums have very similar sounds and there’s not much variety to any of it. As the first few songs passed I felt like I had been listening to the same thing for the last bunch of albums, only with the singers changing.  I was really craving for something different and the funny thing is, this album was very deceptive but in a good way. Even though it started in a way that made it sound like most of what I’d already been listening to it gradually changed into something much different. The pace slowed down, the arrangements lost instruments to almost just the piano and the vibe was incredibly different. Almost like Ray Charles went, Ok we’ve danced for three songs, now let’s chill on my piano for the remainder of the time and be cool. Part of me was sad about this because I prefer upbeat music but part of me was happy because Ray Charles decided to take the album into his own hands and make it his own. It wasn’t like any of the other albums anymore, this was his, his own voice shining through creating his very own music and it was incredibly nice to hear.

Alot of people tend to forget that the key to art is your own voice. Doesn’t matter how unoriginal your art is, the minute it is told through your voice and your perspective and your point-of-view then it becomes original because no one else on this planet is like you, only you are and the way you see things and tell things is unique to only you. The moment you find what your voice is and figure out how to execute it in your own way… you’re pretty much set. May not be great, but at least it’s unique.

I think that’s part of the genius of Ray Charles here… what else could it be?

Oh right… he’s blind… and playing the piano, Blind piano playing man… that’s beyond impressive. I mean, how does he know which keys he’s pressing? It’s insane… that man truly is a genius in that right.

But seriously, he did something with this album and really made it his own. Because even though it wasn’t anything different than I had heard before, what made it different was him. Every song that went by felt like it was a piece of him and that’s really what stood out for me.

Someone told me that Ray Charles only really cared about singles and for the most part his albums were really just a collection of singles mashed together. I can see that (unlike Ray who can’t see at all). Surprisingly though, he still managed to make an incredibly cohesive album. Even if he went in with the intention of only making singles, he wondrously managed to make it work together very nicely. There’s never a moment during the listening of the album where I felt a song didn’t belong or was just useless filler (even though that could possibly be said about his other albums). Every song on this album works together and creates a nice flow that yo barely notice the sudden change in vibe as it goes on and you don’t even notice the album end. No joke, the album despite being almost forty minutes went by so fast for me. I was amazed by that. So say what you want about Ray making only singles but this album works very well as a cohesive piece of work.

I could also go on about his piano playing and his singing, which he does with a lot of heart throughout the album, but I feel that goes without saying… plus I’d just be repetitive… we wouldn’t want that now, would we?

Song of Choice: Alexander’s Ragtime Band


Photoshop Credit: Julian Branco



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