There are hundreds of great Ray Charles songs,and certainly “What’d I Say” and “Georgia on my Mind” are among his best-known classics. But I picked this song, first performed by Frankie Laine in 1949 with music by Beasley Smith and words by Haven Gillespie.
Charles covered this tune on his crossover hit album “Ingredients in a Recipe for Soul” from 1963. In the late 50s, Charles had a lot of R&B-charting hits, but by this time he was a hit on the Pop charts as well and was reaching white audiences. His classic albums “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music” and its sequel “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Vol. 2″ were both behind him by this point as well.
He had gone from having a more pure, raw R&B sound to using backup singers and orchestras and performing old standards like this one. Sure, some of the tunes had a little too much instrumentation to try to appeal to a wider audience, but most of the time (like on this song), Charles’ heartfelt vocal style shone through.
“That Lucky Old Sun” contrasts a day where he is “Up in the mornin’/Out on the job” and working “like the devil” for his pay with that of the “lucky old sun,” which has no troubles: “I know that lucky old sun, has nothin’ to do, but roll around heaven all day.”
The melody is sad and uplifting at the same time, and Charles’ voice stings with such heartache and pain. Each time I hear it I get kind of choked up. Here the singers and orchestra complement the vocals perfectly. Everything exists to support his lead without walking all over it. Even the bridge section where they take the lead just sets up the last part of the song.
Even though it feels like a snapshot from another time, there’s something about Charles’ “That Lucky Old Sun” that connects you immediately with that time and becomes sort of a shared experience. If you ever want a song that speaks to the loneliness and hardship, this is it. And when you are down and you think you’ve got it hard, trust me, someone else has had it harder. Ray isn’t the only one asking for “that cloud with the silver lining.”
The Great Songs series so far: