11 Ray Charles Songs That Built His Country Music Hall of Fame Legacy
Ray Charles enjoyed tremendous commercial success in country music in the mid-'80s with songs from his Friendship album, but his most long-lasting influence on the genre came 20 years earlier.
Songs from Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music and Volume 2 of the same title didn't touch the country charts, but the two albums from 1962 were an epiphany for those outside of country music. Willie Nelson famously said these albums did more for country music than any one artist has ever done (per CMT).
The same article makes a strong case for Charles — a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's inaugural class — to be enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame. The late Chet Flippo wrote it 17 years ago, and on Monday (Aug. 16), the Hall announced that Charles is part of its Class of 2021.
While never an ACM Awards or CMA Awards winner, Charles' resilient dedication to country music lasted until the day he died in 2004. Black artists largely did not record country songs in the early '60s, but he did — 24 of them, in fact. Covers of songs written by Eddy Arnold, Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, Don Gibson and Fred Rose dot the instant-hit Modern Sounds collection; even those new to the genre will recognize the Hank Williams covers, listed below.
Widely regarded as one of the best albums in any genre, ever, Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music went Gold within months and charted No. 1 singles in "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "You Don't Know Me," but not on the country charts. The follow-up record also scored Top 10 singles, but, again, not on the country charts. As journalist and historian Amanda Marie Martinez points out, country music benefited from Charles' success, but did not truly embrace him.
That changed somewhat in 1983 when Charles dropped the first of 12 charting Billboard Hot Country Songs recordings. He'd hit No. 1 on the chart once, with a duet of "Seven Spanish Angels" with Nelson. With the exception of "Born to Love Me," each of his other Top 20 hits came from his Friendship album of collaborations: That list includes "We Didn't See a Thing" with George Jones and Chet Akins; "Rock and Roll Shoes" with B.J. Thomas; "It Ain't Gonna Worry My Mind" with Mickey Gilley; and "Two Old Cats Like Us" with Hank Williams Jr.
Charles' final charting song on the country chart was "A Little Bit of Heaven" in 1987. On paper, his resume doesn't have the same weight as other veteran artists, but there's no denying his influence and talent. To this day, Black artists looking to break into country music count Charles and Charley Pride as heroes (as CMT reported last February).
This list of Charles' most commercially successful country songs includes several mainstream hits. A full top songs list needs to be curated by one's own experiences, tastes and opinions, however.
"Seven Spanish Angels" with Willie Nelson (1985)
"I Can't Stop Loving You" (1962)
"Georgia on My Mind" (1960)
"You Don't Know Me" (1962)
"Your Cheatin' Heart" (1962)
"Hit the Road Jack" (1961)
"We Didn't See a Thing" with George Jones and Cheat Atkins (1984)
"Rock and Roll Shoes" with B.J. Thomas (1984)
"Two Old Cats Like Us" with Hank Williams Jr. (1985)
"What'd I Say" (1959)
"It Ain't Gonna Worry My Mind" with Mickey Gilley (1985)
A Brief History of Black Country Music, From Tee Tot to Breland: