138. ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’, by Ray Charles

1962 throws up another curveball. From Elvis at his mid-career blandest, to the throwaway fun of ‘Come Outside’, to this classic with a capital C, L, A, S, S, I and C. Which way will it swing next? For the moment, who cares? This is pop music at its very finest.

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I Can’t Stop Loving You, by Ray Charles (his 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 12th – 26th July 1962

I can’t stop loving you… I’ve made up my mind, To live in memories, Of the lonesome times… A soft rhythm tickled out on the drums, meandering jazz-bar piano, swooning strings. This is a supremely well-made record; simple, yet soaring. I know it, indirectly; and yet I’ve never really listened to it.

It’s a song about a man who has resigned himself to living in the past. I can’t stop wanting you… It’s useless to say… So I’ll just live my life, In dreams of yesterdays… Both the lyrics and Ray Charles’s voice are raw and unadorned. There are no metaphors or flowery allusions here – he calls a spade a spade. When he says he’s blue you know he means it.

I can’t think of any song that we’ve featured so far on this countdown that has relied so much on backing singers. This whole song is a call and response between Charles and the guys lined up behind his piano. They remain in the same pitch, while he rises and falls around them. This contrast is most effective in the Since we’ve been apart… line. The backing singers softly plead; Charles almost yells the line out. And the bit where he tells them to Sing the song, children… is just pure class.

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What I wrote about the song – that I knew it without really knowing it – could apply just as well to Ray Charles himself. I know he was blind, and played a piano. That there was a movie made about him starring Jamie Foxx. Beyond that, to my shame, I’m a-blank. He had more famous hits than this: ‘Hit the Road, Jack’, ‘I Got a Woman’ and ‘Georgia on My Mind’. But sometimes the Chart-Gods decide to dish you out just one chart-topping single, and you just have to take it when it comes your way.

I feel that Charles is one of those American singers whose US success never quite translated to the same levels on the other side of the Atlantic. Billy Joel’s another such artist, as perhaps is Bruce Springsteen. Still, when you’re described as a ‘genius’ by Sinatra, and have featured in the top-10 of ‘Rolling Stone’s ‘Greatest Artists’ and ‘Greatest Singers of All Time’ polls, maybe you don’t much miss the recognition from one insignificant little island.

I should note – though I’m not sure if anyone will be interested – that this is the first chart-topper I have been unable to find on Spotify. They have all manner of (much longer) album versions, live versions, and re-recorded versions of ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’, but not the original single cut. YouTube came to my rescue, however, and the link below should be the genuine, 1962 chart-topper. One of the classiest songs to have reached the summit so far, I’d say. Sing the song, children…