Nov 04

RAY CHARLES – “I Can’t Stop Loving You”

Popular11 comments • 2,285 views

#138, 14th July 1962

A measured shot of dignity, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” is immediately obvious as the work of an adult and a craftsman. Charles was 32 in 1962, and sounds twice that age as he steps carefully, resigned and brokenhearted, through this record. Like a lot of adult, crafted music it lasts maybe a verse too long, and like a lot of contemporary pop it could have done with reining in the strings a bit, but those are really its only flaws. The backing vocals, for instance, work fine, admitting the truths Charles’ own tightly controlled performance cannot – he never actually sings the song’s title himself, leaving it as an unspoken fact underpinning his grief. And the core arrangement – that mix of gospel support and country lachrymosity – remains startling.



  1. 1
    wichita lineman on 5 Nov 2010 #

    I’m not sure if it says anything about Ray Charles’ genuine popularity – and equally his unchallenged position as ‘genius of soul’ – that this is the first Popular entry I could find with no comments at all. I know about the Haloscan comments being wiped, but that was still pushing three years ago. Where are all the Ray fans?

    In a nutshell, I feel ill-disposed towards Ray Charles largely because he is always called a ‘genius’. I want his genius to make itself immediately apparent whenever I hear him and – the genre and heart-bending What’d I Say apart – it doesn’t. I appreciate that calling yourself Duke, Earl, King or a variation thereof was a necessary jazz way of showing yourself to be a cut above Paul Whiteman (Mark S knows tons more than me on this period), but GENIUS? And there are several albums with ‘genius’ in the title, Ray was presumably quite happy with the epithet. Sam Cooke, for me at any rate, was the true originator of ‘soul’ with Ray C merely a useful a bridge from jump blues into modern pop.

    I Can’t Stop Loving You seems to have wrecked his untouchable status at the time; dabbling with maudlin c&w was a step too far for the cool crowd that called him a genius, especially when ICSLY became a transatlantic number one. I think Roy Orbison owns this, either way.

    Like the equally hip and charismatic Johnny Cash, you’re not allowed to knock Ray C. I’d love to have someone talk me round to either of them.

  2. 2
    rosie on 5 Nov 2010 #

    “Genius” is a bit of an albatross for the folks who have to bear it. It’s also a bit of a red rag to some of use, especially when applied to the flagbearers pf a new generation. It didn’t do Ian Curtis, or Kurt Cobain, much good either.

    In other fields “genius” seems to be a label applied to those who are accomplished self-publicists (Stephen Fry, perhaps?) or to those who capture the public imagination for some reason not necessarily connected with their work. Albert Einstein fell into the latter category; real physicists know, and Albert would have been (and indeed was) the first to acknowledge, that brilliant as he was he was one brilliant mind among many working towards the same end. It was his world-weary mad-scientist look that people noticed. Many know that E=mc²; far fewer know what it signifies. I’d put Stephen Hawking in this category too.

    As for Ray Charles, it would never occur to me to call him a genius of soul, because I don’t think of him as a soul singer. Oh, he could sing soul with the best of them. He could sing country too, and he could do blues. In fact I’d say he was completely sui generis; listen to a recording of Ray, whatever he’s singing and playing, and it’s unmistakeably Ray, and that’s his genius.

    As for this record — it’s up there with the earliest records that I really liked and it can still thrill when I hear it. Is it country? Is it gospel? Is it simply Ray Charles weaving his special magic by just doing his thing? I think that’s it. I get much the same thrill when I hear Take These Chains From My Heart or Georgia On My Mind

    Oh, and Ray was fallible out of his own world. One of the saddest, most painful things I’ve ever seen on a cinema screen was Ray Charles’s cameo in The Blues Brothers. Now that Aretha Frankin, she was quite the revelation as an actor! So sad the the Queen of Soul never had a number one for us to talk about.

  3. 3
    wichita lineman on 5 Nov 2010 #

    Well defended. I also imagine, after reading Andrew Oldham’s Stoned, that he was in no position to tell his label not to use the word ‘genius’ in his album titles (The Genius Of Ray Charles, The Genius Sings The Blues, The Genus After Hours, The Genius Hits The Road, and my personal non-favourite Genius + Soul = Jazz). Interestingly ABC never used the word again after I Can’t Stop Loving You was a massive pop hit.

    Being pedantic I can hear a lot of Nat Cole in early Ray Charles, but certainly he sounded like no one else by the late fifties. I can’t locate the Ol’ Man River that Tom mentions elsewhere, though the search led me to discover Ray’s first real US hit, a pretty radical, floor-friendly re-invention of Swanee River.

  4. 4
    Mutley on 5 Nov 2010 #

    I take your point about Ray’s music not quite belonging to him at times (at least, I think that is what you are getting at in the references to Sam Cooke and Roy Orbison). I think he was someone who never quite fitted into the simple picture that chart/pop audiences liked to have of music during the late 50s and early 60s. He wasn’t quite rock’n’roll, and he wasn’t a crooning type. Because of Elvis, we tend to think of white country artists fusing with rhythm and blues, but it also worked the other way. Ray Charles was not the only black artist to sing country (particularly Hank Williams songs) – for example Fats Domino released HWs’ “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” around the same time.

    It probably happens throughout the history of these charts, but at that time there were certainly quite a few stars searching around for a style to either (a) maintain their income, or (b) do what they really wanted to do in an established genre or (c) create a new type of music from a blend of established styles. In most cases it was no doubt a combination of a, b and c. Thus, in the UK, Lonnie Donegan and Tommy Steele moved from skiffle or rock’n’roll into “music hall”, and Frankie Vaughan tried a range of styles, doing covers of artists as varied as LaVerne Baker, Max Bygraves and Edith Piaf. Maybe Ray Charles was doing nothing more than Frankie in maintaining career continuity (Sorry to compare a genius with a journeyman, but they were all in the same pop pond). Or maybe he wanted to create a new type of music. Whatever the reason, Ray usually performed pretty well. I didn’t see the 2004 film “Ray”; does it throws any light on this topic?

  5. 5
    wichita lineman on 5 Nov 2010 #

    I meant that Roy Orbison’s version of I Can’t Stop Loving You is more affecting to me than Ray Charles’, and you’d expect someone routinely called a genius to come up with the definitive version of anything they touched.

    Just to destroy my own argument, Joe Meek’s versions of Wipeout and Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright fall ,uh, considerably short of the originals. But I’d always defend him as a genius.

  6. 6
    pink champale on 5 Nov 2010 #

    whoever came up with the title “genius + soul = jazz” is DEMONSTRABLY a genius!

  7. 7
    crag on 13 Apr 2011 #


    Dr Christian Barnard, heart surgeon (1976)

    Jimmy Saville, DJ(1985).

  8. 8
    hectorthebat on 7 Mar 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    CMT (USA) – The 100 Greatest Songs of Country Music (2003) 49
    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 35
    Heartaches By the Number: Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles (USA, 2003) 44
    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (USA)- The Songs That Shaped Rock (Additions 2011)
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 161
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 164
    The Recording Academy Grammy Hall of Fame Albums and Songs (USA)
    Zig Zag (UK) – Gillett & Frith’s Hot 100 Singles (1975)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Grammy Awards (USA) – Record of the Year Nominee

  9. 9
    lonepilgrim on 22 Jan 2015 #

    I was aware of Ray Charles due to his somewhat demeaning cameo in ‘The Blues Brothers; but it wasn’t until Kanye West sampled ‘I got a woman’ that I made a conscious effort to listen to his music via ‘The Essential Ray Charles’ compilation and I grew to appreciate Charles’ ability to blend a variety of styles while still retaining an essential rawness that connects back to the Blues and Black Gospel music. That quality manifests itself in this song in a compelling sense of weariness in his voice that contrasts with the lush vocal and orchestral backing.
    I wasn’t really aware of the Genius tag for RC but I am conscious that such labels can prove a hurdle. I have a block with ‘Pet Sounds’ which I have yet to hear because the ‘masterpiece’ reputation is too off-putting for me. I’ll get around to it some day

  10. 10
    flahr on 7 Jul 2015 #

    Obviously incredibly pretty and incredibly competent but does it really need to be THREE YEARS LONG JESUS CHRIST [4/5 – 4]

    (Comment is subtitled ‘The Entitlement Of Youth’)

  11. 11
    Gareth Parker on 9 Jun 2021 #

    Not going to argue with Tom’s 7/10 here.

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