"Hit the Road Jack" is one of Ray Charles's all-time classics, a song that magnificently combined rock, soul, pop, jazz, and gospel. And, in a too-unusual instance of such effortless musical brilliance, it was phenomenally successful as well, rising to #1 on the charts in 1961. Though strongly identified with Charles, "Hit the Road Jack" is not a Charles original but a composition by Percy Mayfield, the early 1950s R&B star who had faded from commercial prominence by the early 1960s. "Hit the Road Jack" grabs your attention from the very first bars, with their rushed clipped beats and foreboding descending horns, playing a riff not much different from the one that anchors the Ventures' "Walk Don't Run." The gospel element of the song is especially prevalent in the call-response banter between Ray Charles and a phalanx of female backup singers, who instruct him in no-nonsense terms to hit the road as he pleas against them with soulful anguish, though to no avail. The syncopation on the chorus is marvelous, with a burst of horns thunderously punctuating each command of the women to hit the road, jack. So's the syncopation on the verse, in which Charles largely takes over the vocals, the horn again punctuating the point home when he moans "I guess if you say so." After he finishes the couplet resignedly "I'll have to pack my bags and go," the backup girls are right on his tail, reiterating "that's right!" The finality of Ray's woman's (or women's?) decision to put him on the road is brought home by the fadeout, as the women sing the line "don't you come back no more" over and over while Charles continues to plead for reconsideration, in subdued tones that make it clear he knows his case is futile. Many artists have covered "Hit the Road Jack," the roll call covering an unlikely span including John Cougar Mellencamp, the Easybeats, the Residents, Jerry Lee Lewis, Big Youth, Stephane Grappeli, and Suzi Quatro. But none have displaced the indelibly memorable power of the hit Charles recording.