- Album name: A Message from the People
- Artist name: Ray Charles
- Year: 1972
- Number of discs: one
- Label: Tangerine Records
- Collection: Essex
- Buy it on Amazon: $17.45
Level of familiarity before listening
The only time I’ve reviewed anything by Ray Charles was his duet on a less-than-excellent Hank Williams Jr. record last month.
I’ve been dreading this one, however, because “a message from the people” sounds so ominously cringe. And there’s a very corny Mount Rushmore knockoff (with Robert Kennedy; Abraham Lincoln; The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Junior; and John Kennedy) on the album, being gazed upon by four children of mixed ancestry and sex, which invokes a certain non-seriousness.
Also, I’ve of course never confused Ray Charles with Stevie Wonder because that would be… embarrassing… but let’s just say that I went a very long time thinking that Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift were the same person, and I’m still quite certain that Steve Martin is, in fact, just Leslie Nielsen without eyeglasses.
What I expected
Rhythm and blues with a very early 1970s social and political message, I guess.
What it was actually like
Ray Charles, it turns out, is better than Stevie Wonder, and there were several parts of this record that I thought were great, starting with his voice.
I also liked the horns section on Lift Every Voice and Sing, and its tempo was much better than I anticipated. The beginning of Heaven Help Us All was good, and I also liked that it was the most bluesy song on the record, but it got really repetitive by the middle. Hey Mister had a good funk sound, but the verses were far better than the chorus, and Every Saturday Night was also more funk and relatively good.
What Have They Done to My Song, Ma was definitely a cool reinvention of Melanie‘s song and quite different, neither better nor worse, but I enjoyed hearing it as a soul song.
Take Me Home, Country Roads was great, a very faithful rendition that even retained its Oompa Loompa rhythm, and just like the last time I listened to it, it sent me down a rabbit hole of covers.
I expected Charles’ America the Beautiful to be a pretty standard version, but it was way too slow for my taste. I wonder what my grandparents, who, as I may have mentioned once or twice, were big fans of patriotic American music, thought of this version of one of their favorite songs.
The main thing that I disliked about A Message from the People was the constant overuse of orchestral backing music and choral backing vocals – even in the relatively good songs, like Take Me Home, Country Roads and Lift Every Voice and Sing, though it was especially bad on Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong, which also had the problem of being whiny.
The two worst songs were There’ll Be No Peace Without All Men As One, which was as boring as any Frank Sinatra song, and Abraham, Martin and John, which had a terrible organ, was 0% fun, and sounded like the theme song of a 1950 movie that was forgotten by 1951.
3/5: interesting, but not for me
|And so very XX century – I can’t even remember the last time that I heard any reference to “the people” in the singular as having something specific to say.
|Patriotic songs should be, if not necessarily entirely suitable for marching bands, at least approximating that sound in rhythm, though I allow for certain exceptions, such as Shulamit Livnat’s version of הרי את מקודשת לי מולדת, which is perfect in every way.
|The title of this song sounded a lot to me like “No justice, no peace,” a direct threat to violence (“no peace”) if a group’s demands are not met (“no justice”).