The Telegraph’s culture editor Martin Chilton correctly states that Ray Charles is “one of the few 20th-century musicians who can justifiably be called a genius,” as he helped invent what we now call soul music—all while blind since the age of 7. Charles, according to Chilton, “shattered the boundaries between sacred and secular music,” and left behind a catalogue of unforgettable songs that resonate even until today.
Charles did earn the moniker “The Genius” which was given to him by his peers, who recognised the Georgia native’s unrivalled musicianship and virtuosity. Charles released in 1957 his self-titled debut album, and it cemented his status as one of the industry’s very best. The album itself is a certified classic, with a number of Brother Red’s (ironically, a nickname he preferred over The Genius) most recognisable hits included in his first LP for Atlantic Records.
Many of the album’s biggest hits had been released in previous years, the most notable of which were the following: “Mess Around,” which was released in 1953; “A Fool for You” and “I Got A Woman,” which were both released in 1955; and “Drown in My Own Tears” and “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” which were both released a year later in 1956.
The LP begins with the upbeat but moderately paced “Ain’t That Love,” which sets the tone for the entire album. The soulful yet stirring “Drown in My Own Tears” follows, and it is a surprising but sweet departure from Charles’s trademark frenetic style. “Come Back Baby” is another showcase of soul by The Genius, and he follows it up with a rhythm and blues classic in “Sinner’s Prayer.” The LP’s A-side ends memorably, with two all-time favourites—“Losing Hand” and “A Fool for You”. The B-side, meanwhile, cements the album as an absolute classic, as it features 4 of Charles’s greatest hits: “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” “Mess Around,” “This Little Girl of Mine,” and “I Got a Woman.”
Of note, too, is the fact that Charles’s eponymously titled album also showcased his diversity as an artist as he touched on various topics and themes in his songs. His debut single, “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” is a moving ode to the power of love. In “Mess Around,” meanwhile, Charles urges listeners to dance, or “mess around.” The Genius then pays homage to the frenetic pace of gospel songs and rhythmic beats of jazz in “I Got a Woman.” He even gives his own stirring take on, of all things, poker. PartyPoker describes “Losing Hand” as one of the best songs written about the popular card game. This song is one of Charles’s more underappreciated hits, mainly because it is a rather subdued song, without the flair and panache of the aforementioned “Mess Around,” the innovative beats of “I Got a Woman,” or the cool, bluesy tune of “A Fool for You.”
The Genius, of course, would go on to release a bevy of other albums, each seemingly better than the previous one. Nevertheless, Charles’s self-titled debut LP for Atlantic Records will always have a special spot in the hearts of Brother Red’s multitude of fans.