In Chris Smith's book, 101 Albums That Changed Popular Music, he transcribed an old joke that was retold in Al Aronowitz after Ray Charles' death. it goes like this: Apparently, Ronald Reagan somehow got into heaven. St. Peter welcomes him with open arms and shows him his posh mansion in an affluent neighborhood, bordered by neighbors Albert Einstein, Madame Curie and Pope John Paul. When Reagan notices a shimmering palace on the hilltop, he comments that it must be where the Lord lives. "No, that's Ray Charles's place," said Peter. Reagan's smile faultered fro a moment, "Ray Charles lives there? How come all the Presidents, scientists and Popes live here and Ray Charles lives up in that place? I don't get it." St. chuckled. "Ronnie," he said, "Presidents and Popes are a dime a dozen. But baby, there's only one Ray Charles."
Smith included this joke in his installment about Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music volumes 1 and 2, but the point remains. Frank Sinatra said that he was "The only true genius in show business." and Billy Joel said that he was "more important than Elvis Presley." There are a lot of accolades tossed around about a lot of artists, but it is impossible to overstate the brilliance and the importance of Ray Charles. I never realized it myself. I always knew that he was great, but never really connected the dots or heard this volume of material. Mainly listening to the selections from single disc greatest hits compilations makes you think you have an idea about how good Ray Charles was, but they don't even scratch the surface of his material.
This is a 3 disc box set that only covers his 50s recordings, Georgia is not even here! The first thing that stricks you is how listenable this collection is. You can put it on and not get tired of it at all. For 3 discs it goes on from one great thing to the next. When it ends, you are just as happy to hit the play button and go again. The only problem is that taking it all in like this, it's really easy to take songs for granted and not pause and appreciate them as individuals.
If you don't get it or fully appreciate Ray Charles, just look him up and read a little about how he was the one who blended R and B, Gospel, Blues, Country, Folk and anything else that happened to come across his ears and made soul music that influence and inspired everyone after him.