What’d I Say – Ray Charles Meaning

What'd I Say - Ray Charles

What should a musician do if during a performance, the duration of which was agreed in advance, his repertoire ends? Perform some songs for the second time? Play someone else’s stuff? All this is acceptable, but Ray Charles was not just called “Genius” for nothing.

Finding himself in a similar situation, he began to improvise and, right in front of a famously dancing audience, composed a composition that became an international hit. Thus began the story of the song “What’d I Say”, which had a huge impact on the development of rhythm and blues and rock and roll.

What’d I Say – Ray Charles

According to Mike Evans, author of the book Ray Charles: The Birth of Soul, this memorable event took place in December 1958 (the musician himself did not name the date or place). Charles allegedly played with The Raelettes at a dance marathon in Brownsville, Pennsylvania.

There were still twelve minutes left until the end of the event, when Ray had nothing else to perform. Then Charles sat down at the piano and told the Raelettes to sing the phrases that he would say. This is a common practice in Protestant churches in the southern United States, where the congregation repeats the words of the pastor, shouting them out in unison. Ray was very familiar with the Negro gospel traditions and used them brilliantly in the song.

The audience enthusiastically accepted the composition, which Charles would later call “What’d I Say”. Immediately after the end of the dance, many marathon participants approached Ray and asked where they could buy a record with the song. At the following performances, he continued to play it, and each time the reaction was the same. So Charles called Jerry Wexler and said he had a track that he absolutely needed to record.

About the meaning of the song “What’d I Say”, Ray spoke briefly and clearly:

Interpreting my own songs is not my thing, but if you can understand “What’d I Say”, then something is wrong. Either that or you don’t know the sweet sounds of love.

“Brother Ray: Ray Charles’ Own Story”

Song recording

“What’d I Say” was recorded at Atlantic’s New York studio in February 1959. At first, sound engineer Tom Dowd and the producers were not impressed by her. Charles and his musicians managed to work out the composition in live performances, so it took only three or four takes to record.

Tom Dowd then mixed three versions of the song. In order for “What’d I Say” to be offered to radio stations, he cleaned up the lyrics from shouts, many of which were very obscene, and shortened the length of the composition. The song was then split into two parts, which were recorded as two sides of a single titled “What’d I Say Part I” and “What’d I Say Part II”.

Single release

The single “What’d I Say” was released in the summer of 1959, and soon a scandal broke out because of it. It was rejected on the radio due to its indecent content, and most critics paid attention only to sexual overtones. Accordingly, the records did not sell well, record stores wanted them back, but Atlantic Records refused to take the parts. Instead, she released a more upbeat version of the single, which managed to climb to number six on the Billboard Hot 100 and go gold.

Ray Charles later commented on the hype:

People just went crazy … They liked this little “mmm, n-n-n”. Later they said it went. But, hell, let’s be honest: everyone knows about “mmm, n-n-n.” That’s how we all got here.

Rolling Stone, 1978

He also wrote in his autobiography:

I realized that many radio stations that banned this tune started playing it when it was played by white artists. It seemed strange to me: as if white sex was cleaner than black sex. But when they started playing the white version, they removed the ban and played the original as well.

Covers and achievements

“What’d I Say” has been covered by Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard, Eric Clapton, Eddie Cochran, Nancy Sinatra, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and many more. The Beatles played it at every show during the Hamburg period. Mick Jagger, Eric Burdon and many other famous singers have claimed to have decided to make music largely under the influence of the song.

“What’d I Say” is number ten on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It is also included in VH1’s 100 Greatest Rock and Roll Songs and 100 Greatest Dance Songs. In addition, it is one of the 500 songs that shaped rock and roll.

What’d I Say Lyrics Ray Charles

Hey mama don’t treat me wrong
Come and love your daddy all night long
All right now, hey hey, all right
See the girl with the diamond ring
She knows how to shake that thing
All right now now now, hey hey, hey hey
Tell your mama, tell your pa
I’m gonna send you back to Arkansas
Oh yes, ma’m, you don’t do right, don’t do right
Play it boy

When you see me in misery
Come on baby, see about me
Now yeah, all right, all right, aw play it, boy
When you see me in misery
Come on baby, see about me
Now yeah, hey hey, all right
See the girl with the red dress on
She can do the Birdland all night long

Yeah yeah, what’d I say, all right
Well, tell me what’d I say
Tell me what’d I say right now
Tell me what’d I say
Tell me what’d I say right now
Tell me what’d I say
Tell me what’d I say
And I wanna know
Baby I wanna know right now
And-a I wanna know
And I wanna know right now
And-a I wanna know
Said I wanna know

Hey, don’t quit now!
Naw, I got, I uh-uh-uh, I’m changing
Wait a minute, wait a minute, oh hold it! Hold it! Hold it!
Oh one more time
Say it one more time right now
Say it one more time now
Say it one more time
Say it one more time
Say it one more time

Make me feel so good
Make me feel so good now
Baby
Make me feel so good
Make me feel so good
Make me feel so good yeah
It’s all right
Said that it’s all right right now
Said that it’s all right
Said that it’s all right yeah
Said that it’s all right
Said that it’s all right

Shake that thing now
Baby shake that thing now
Baby shake that thing
Baby shake that thing right now
Baby shake that thing
Baby shake that thing
I feel right now yeah
Said I feel all right now
Tell you I feel all right
Said I feel all right
Baby I feel all right

What’d I Say – Ray Charles

Hey mommy don’t treat me like this
Come to me and love your daddy all night long
It’s all right, hey-hey, it’s all right
See the girl with the diamond ring?
She knows how to shake her little thing
It’s all right now, now, now, hey hey
Tell your mom, tell your dad
That I’ll send you back to Arkansas
Oh yes ma’am, you’re wrong, wrong
play boy

When you see me suffer
Come on baby take care of me
Now yeah, it’s all right, it’s all right, play it boy
When you see me suffer
Come on baby take care of me
Now yeah, hey hey it’s all right
See the girl in the red dress?
She can dance in Birdland all night long

Yes-yes, what should I say, it’s alright
Well tell me what should I say
Tell me what should I say right now
Tell me what should I say
Tell me what should I say right now
Tell me what should I say
Tell me what should I say
And I want to know
Baby I want to know right now
And I want to know
And I want to know right now
And I want to know
And I want to know right now

Hey, don’t run away right now!
No, I got it, I, I’m changing
Wait a minute, wait a minute, oh wait! Stop! Stop!
Oh one more time
Say it again right now
Say it again now
Say it again
Say it again
Say it again

I’m so cool with you
I feel so good with you now
Chit
I’m so cool with you
I’m so cool with you
I’m so cool with you
Everything is fine
I said it’s all right now
I said it’s all right
I said it’s all right
I said it’s all right
I said it’s all right

Now shake her
Baby shake her now
Baby shake her
Baby shake her right now
Baby shake her
Baby shake her
I’m fine
I said I’m fine
I tell you I’m fine
I said I’m fine
Baby I’m fine

Song quote

…a dialogue between him and his backup singers that started in the church and ended in the bedroom.

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