Ray Charles – Hit the Road Jack

First Hit #1: October 9, 1961

I have no idea why Ray Charles was constantly recording this song. There are several versions out there, each bearing the production tricks and bad habits that defined the decade it came from, and an increasingly weathered – but no less powerful – voice behind them. The reason I don’t get it is partially because I don’t actually like the song, sure. It’s kind of inconsequential and it doesn’t really go anywhere for most of the duration.

However, the main reason why the constant re-recording doesn’t make sense is that it’s a Ray Charles song where Charles is pushed into the background constantly. No matter what he does, he’s not the featured vocalist, and he’s not the most important person in the song. He doesn’t touch the hook, and he’s pushed into the background repeatedly by some brassy and bold background vocalists. He is a bit player in his own story, it’s strange and not entirely complimentary. He does do a comic and seemingly ad-libbed little bit at the end begging the background singers to take him back, but the sound is him being pushed into a corner again, albeit this time for comic effect.

So why keep recording it? It’s one of his biggest hits, sure, but there’s nothing so wrong with the original that a new interpretation will add another dimension – and the new version always sounds merely like the old song with trendier production anyway – and it’s barely a Ray Charles song in the first place.

The following isn’t the original – something is weird with Ray Charles on Youtube, since the original studio tracks are nowhere to be found – but I listened to the song on the Genius and Soul box set. So I listened to the original.

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