The Other Ray Charles

I picked up this album primarily due to its cover art – which suggests a Peter Max/Yellow Submarine sensibility that really captivated me as a kid – but also due to this project being associated with the legendary singer, songwriter, and musician who famously signed with Atlantic Records in the 1950s:

Slices of Life

As it turns out, there’s another Ray Charles – one who primarily interprets and arranges other people’s material for the “easy listening” crowd, shall we say.  But that would be doing a disservice to the quality of effort that went into the making of this 1969 album.  On Slices of Life, the Ray Charles Singers attempt to imbue this collection of “the latest hits” (as the LP’s liner notes explain) with “the new social-awareness” that was all the rage in popular music at that time.  Furthermore, “to interpret the intensely personal attitudes of these songs,” the Ray Charles Singers (usually configured in groups of 16 to 25) “showcase their new, ‘contemporary’ appearances here as an octet.  Two octets, actually – one superimposed over the other.  This smaller group can perform with more intimacy, more nuance, more personal involvement, and more in keeping with the new ‘young’ rhythm patterns of today’s song hits.”

The result, to my ears, is a definite notch above “elevator music”  One obvious highlight is the group’s playful arrangement of album-opener, “The Straight Life” by Sonny Curtis (one of Buddy Holly’s original Crickets and the songwriter behind the theme to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, “Love Is All Around”).  But the standout track for me is “1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero” – declared to be the album’s “essence” and authored by “the renowned” Bobby Russell, famous for “Honey,” “Little Green Apples,” and “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” among others.  It’s a funny lyric about a superdad of sorts who would love nothing more than to decompress after a hard day’s work alone with his beloved “Baltimore Colts” but, inevitably and unfailingly, gives his all to the kids who live on his block:

1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero – Ray Charles Singers

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to play “1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero.”]

Bonus video link to Ray Charles’ magnum opus, “The Nifty Fifty United States.”