In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
Were Ray Charles alive, he’d turn 84 today. Not a ridiculous conceit – Sean Connery, Gene Hackman, and Clint Eastwood all did the same earlier this year. Which only goes to show that it’s still hard sometimes to come to grips with a world without Ray. But it would be much, much harder to live in a world without his music.
When you’re covering songs made famous by the man who literally invented soul music, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you if you want to put your own unique stamp on it. Here are five artists who accomplished just that.
Harry Belafonte – Hallelujah I Love Her So (Ray Charles cover)
Where Ray Charles’ performance of “Hallelujah I Love Her So” carries more than a hint of sex, Harry Belafonte’s brings out the romance, backed by a small combo. They may come at love from different directions, but that only serves to emphasize how many facets love has and how good they all can be.
The Honeydrippers – I Got a Woman (Ray Charles cover)
Robert Plant’s all-cover EP The Honeydrippers: Volume One gave him the chance to show the world how he’d sound in a gold lamé tuxedo. “Sea of Love” was the hit, but “I Got a Woman” sounds a lot more fun. Loose and free, Plant is clearly enjoying himself, and the fun is contagious.
Suzi Quatro – Hit The Road, Jack (Ray Charles cover)
The only song of these five that wasn’t written by Ray Charles (all credit to Percy Mayfield), but name anyone who doesn’t identify the song with him. Suzi Quatro covered it on her second album Quatro, which can be found in the dictionary under “sophomore jinx”; still, she delivered big-time with this cover, turning it into something else altogether.
Donny Hathaway – I Believe To My Soul (Ray Charles cover)
“I Believe To My Soul” is the song where Ray famously threw the Raelettes out of the studio and recorded his own multitracked falsettos backing up his cuckolded self. Donny Hathaway, who covered the song on his debut album Everything is Everything, didn’t need any singers to back him up either, and he delivered just as much believe-to-my-soul as Ray did.
Rare Earth – What’d I Say (Ray Charles cover)
“What’d I Say” is Brother Ray’s magnum opus, the song that should be given to everybody in the world on the day they’re born. Bold talk? Perhaps – but that moaning and groaning and hollering is inside us all, no matter our native tongue, and this is the song that gives it permission to come out. Rare Earth, of “I Just Want To Celebrate” fame, put some heavy English on the song, giving it a spin that moves the song from its church house/cathouse origins into an arena of longhairs.