What'd I Say by Ray Charles

What'd I Say by Ray Charles


Ray Charles is undoubtedly one of the most iconic musicians of the 20th century. His innovative blend of blues, R&B, gospel, and soul paved the way for future generations of artists to come. One of his most famous tracks, "What'd I Say," became an instant classic upon its release in 1959. In this article, we'll take a closer look at the history and musical elements of this legendary song.


"What'd I Say" was recorded by Ray Charles and his band in February 1959 at Atlantic Records' studios in New York City. The song was written on the spot by Charles during a live performance at Club El Morocco in December 1958. The audience loved it, with some reports stating that they didn't want to leave until he played it again. The original recording was seven minutes and 35 seconds long, making it too lengthy for radio play. As a result, it was split into two parts, with part one released as a single on May 1, 1959. It quickly climbed the charts, reaching number six on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the R&B chart.

Musical Elements

"What'd I Say" features a hypnotic groove that's impossible not to move to. The song opens with an iconic riff played by Ray Charles on the electric piano, which is accompanied by the horns and drums. The horn section, including saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman, trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, and trombonist Floyd Newman, provides a constant driving force throughout the song. The rhythm section, consisting of bassist Edgar Willis and drummer Milt Turner, lays down a rock-solid foundation for the track.

One of the most distinctive elements of "What'd I Say" is the call-and-response vocals between Charles and his female backup singers, the Raelettes. The song's title serves as the main hook, with Charles singing "What'd I Say" and the Raelettes responding with "Hey, hey, hey!" This interplay between lead and backup vocals adds to the infectious energy of the track.


The lyrics of "What'd I Say" are simple but effective, with Charles proclaiming his love for a woman and asking her to reciprocate. The song's suggestive tone caused controversy upon its release, with some radio stations refusing to play it. However, it ultimately became one of Charles's most popular songs, with fans drawn to its irresistible groove and playful lyrics.


"What'd I Say" remains one of the most beloved and enduring tracks in Ray Charles's extensive catalog. The song has been covered countless times by artists across genres, including Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and Stevie Wonder. It's been featured in numerous films and TV shows, cementing its place as a cultural touchstone. In 2002, "What'd I Say" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, recognizing its significant contribution to the world of music.


"What'd I Say" is a true masterpiece of rhythm and blues and a testament to Ray Charles's incredible talent as a musician and songwriter. Its infectious groove, call-and-response vocals, and suggestive lyrics have captivated listeners for over six decades. Whether you're a diehard Ray Charles fan or simply a lover of great music, "What'd I Say" is a must-listen track that's guaranteed to get you on your feet.