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Ray Charles, “What’d I Say” Backstory

By on June 24, 2018

“What’d I Say” is Ray Charles’s first Top 10 pop single and the greatest improvised song in rock & roll history.

Ray CharlesAfter playing every song he knew and still having 12 minutes to fill, Ray Charles composed this amazing piece of music, on the fly, at a club in Brownsville, Pennsylvania during December 1958. Charles said he got the idea for this song from “The sweet sounds of love.”
The arrangement is a simple blues progression and any band that’s played together for a long time, especially professional jazz musicians, would pick up on the key and chord progressions but this is extra special. According to Charles’ autobiography, he told the Raelettes, “Listen, I’m going to fool around and Y’all just follow me.” (Jamie Foxx gives audiences a spot-on depiction of this moment in rock & roll history during the movie RAY, up through and including mimicking Ray’s microphone movements.) This takes a true musical genius, a crack R&B band, and backing vocalists who know where the bandleader is going.  Only Ray Charles could put this together with this much success.
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Charles recorded “What’d I Say” on February 18th, 1959, at Atlantic’s New York studio. The trick was to bring that live experience to the studio intact which he accomplished flawlessly with the help of Engineer, Tom Dowd. The song was recorded in only a few takes because Charles and the orchestra had perfected it while touring.
The success of “What’d I Say” established Ray Charles as a front-line star and broke him into mainstream pop music.  The racy nature of the lyrics and the energy of the melody propelled “What’d I Say” to top out at number one on Billboard’s R&B singles chart and number six on the Billboard Hot 100.  “What’d I Say” was Ray Charles’ first gold record and became Atlantic Records’ best-selling song at the time.

Hey mama, don’t you treat me wrong
Come and love your daddy all night long
All right now, hey hey, all right
See the girl with the diamond ring
She knows how to shake that thing
All right now now now, hey hey, hey hey
Tell your mama, tell your pa
I’m gonna send you back to Arkansas
Oh yes, ma’m, you don’t do right, don’t do right
Aw, play it boy
When you see me in misery
Come on baby, see about me
Now yeah, all right, all right, aw play it, boy
When you see me in misery
Come on baby, see about me
Now yeah, hey hey, all right
See the girl with the red dress on
She can do the Birdland all night long
Yeah yeah, what’d I say, all right
Well, tell me what’d I say, yeah
Tell me what’d I say right now
Tell me what’d I say
Tell me what’d I say right now
Tell me what’d I say
Tell me what’d I say yeah
And I wanna know
Baby I wanna know right now
And-a I wanna know
And I wanna know right now yeah
And-a I wanna know
Said I wanna know yeah
Spoken: Hey, don’t quit now! (c’mon honey)
Naw, I got, I uh-uh-uh, I’m changing (stop! stop!
we’ll do it again)
Wait a minute, wait a minute, oh hold it! Hold it!
Hold it!
Hey (hey) ho (ho) hey (hey) ho (ho) hey (hey) ho (ho)
hey
Oh one more time (just one more time)
Say it one more time right now (just one more time)
Say it one more time now (just one more time)
Say it one more time yeah (just one more time)
Say it one more time (just one more time)
Say it one more time yeah (just one more time)
Hey (hey) ho (ho) hey (hey) ho (ho) hey (hey) ho (ho)
hey
Ah! Make me feel so good (make me feel so good)
Make me feel so good now yeah (make me feel so good)
Woah! Baby (make me feel so good)
Make me feel so good yeah (make me feel so good)
Make me feel so good (make me feel so good)
Make me feel so good yeah (make me feel so good)
Huh (huh) ho (ho) huh (huh) ho (ho) huh (huh) ho (ho)
huh
Awh it’s all right (baby it’s all right)
Said that it’s all right right now (baby it’s all
right)
Said that it’s all right (baby it’s all right)
Said that it’s all right yeah (baby it’s all right)
Said that it’s all right (baby it’s all right)
Said that it’s all right (baby it’s all right)
Woah! Shake that thing now (baby shake that thing)
Baby shake that thing now now (baby shake that thing)
Baby shake that thing (baby shake that thing)
Baby shake that thing right now (baby shake that
thing)
Baby shake that thing (baby shake that thing)
Baby shake that thing (baby shake that thing)
Woah! I feel all right now yeah (make me feel all
right)
Said I feel all right now (make me feel all right)
Woooah! (make me feel all right)
Tell you I feel all right (make me feel all right)
Said I feel all right (make me feel all right)

Gary Clark Jr. Bourbon & Beyond

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