Ray Charles

Hit the Road Jack

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"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.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
The Genius Hits the Road 1960 Concord 2:00
No Image 1963 HMV
No Image 1981 USA / IVE
His Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 [DCC] 1987 DCC Compact Classics 0:00
No Image 1988 Rhino
Anthology [Rhino] 1988 Rhino 1:59
The Genius 20 Greatest Hits 1988 Platinum Entertainment 1:57
No Image 1989 Spa
Rhythm & Blues: Ray Charles - 1954-1966 1991 Time / Life Music
Deja Vu Gold Sampler 1992
Various Artists
Deja Vu 2:39
His Greatest Hits 1992 Sandstone
The World of Ray Charles [Garland] 1993 Garland 1:57
Genius & Soul: The 50th Anniversary Collection 1997 Rhino 1:58
Gold Collection [Retro] 1998 Retro Music 2:38
Ultimate Hits Collection 1999 Rhino 1:58
Rock N Roll Essentials 1999
Various Artists
Charly Records 2:00
The Very Best of Ray Charles [Rhino] 2000 Rhino 1:58
Back to Black: 1900-1999 2001
Various Artists
Universal International 1:56
Definitive Ray Charles 2001 WEA International 1:58
Ray [Original Soundtrack] 2004 Atlantic / Rhino / Warner Bros. 2:00
Ray Charles [Columbia River] 2004 United Audio Entertainment 2:38
Anthology [United Multi Consign] 2005 AAO Music / Umme!!! 2:38
The Distinctive Ray Charles 2006 AAO Music 2:36
The Gold Album 2008 Deja Vu / Recording Arts 2:38
Genius: The Ultimate Collection 2009 Concord 1:59
Patio Party! 2009
Various Artists
Hear Music / Universal Distribution 1:59
Hit the Road Jack and Other Classic Hits [Concord] 2011 Concord 1:59
Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles 2011 Concord 2:02
America's Greatest Hits, Vol. 12: 1961 2012
Various Artists
Acrobat Music 1:53
Britain's Greatest Hits 1961 2013
Various Artists
Acrobat Music / Fabulous 1:56
The Ultimate Collection 2013 10Ten Media / Zebralution
The Classic Years [2016] 2016 Stargrove 2:00
The Genius, Vol. 3 2017 Vintage / Zebralution
No Image 10TEN MEDIA
Original Hits From the 50s & 60s
Various Artists
10Ten Media / Zebralution
Original and Greatest Hits From the 50's and 60's
Various Artists
10Ten Media / Zebralution
Rock 'n' Roll USA, Vol. 2: 1959-1962
Various Artists
Acrobat Music 1:55
The 1961 R&B Hits Collection
Various Artists
Acrobat Music 1:55
No Image Phantom