What'd I Say (5:32)

Cover of Ray!

From Ray! and 218 other releases

What’d I Say or “What I Say” is a two-part recording that was released in 1959 by rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles. After Charles’ run of R&B hits, this song finally broke Charles into mainstream pop and the song itself sparked a new sub-genre of rhythm and blues titled soul, finally putting together all the elements that Charles had been creating since he recorded “I Got a Woman”. It was ranked at #10 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

According to Charles, while performing at a Milwaukee nightclub, he had performed the last song of his set, “Night Time Is the Right Time”, when he was informed that there was another twelve minutes left in the show. Charles decided to fill the time by performing an impromptu version of the song that would eventually be recorded as What’d I Say. Charles told his backing band and female background singers, the Raelettes, to “just follow me”. The song began on a Latin influenced drum beat and a Wurlitzer electric piano riff before Charles improvised his own lyrics to it.

As the band became more comfortable with the piece, Charles and the Raelettes started an impromptu call and response vocalization. Charles later said that the call and response section was “all about the sounds of making love”.

Although the song is usually listed as “What’d I Say”, Charles always insisted that the name of the song is “What I Say” as heard on the track.

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