Monday, September 17, 2012

40 Year Itch: Ray Charles Gets Political

1972 was an interesting year for Ray Charles. He was profiled in a New Musical Express article with the headlines "The Man Who Beat Drug Addiction And Blindness To Become A Legend". He recorded "America The Beautiful" and met with President Richard Nixon. But also, following the lead of Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield, Ray got political with the funky Quincy Jones produced single "Hey Mister". Written as a letter to a Congressman, Ray points out "we're the richest country in the world and I just can't understand why we got so many hungry people."

Hey legislation why don't you try a new route
Listen to the people and hear what they're talking about
You see the poor people know they can't impeach you 
They just hoping that they cries will reach you

The song peaked at #47 on the R and B charts. On shows like Dick Cavett, Carol Burnett and even Bill Cosby, Ray performed his standard hits like the five year old "Eleanor Rigby" cover. Both "Hey Mister" and "America The Beautiful" can be found on the album Message From The People, which also features a minor hit in "Look What They've Done To My Song Ma" and opens with a stirring version of the black national anthem "Lift Every Voice And Sing".

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