What'd I Say

Ray Charles

Song Review by Bill Dahl

If not for a Midwestern dance gig that ran late, the world might have been forever deprived of Ray Charles' immortal "What'd I Say." Stuck for material at the end of a long evening, the incomparable Brother Ray began to improvise -- a jazzy electric piano fill here, a steamy call-and-response retort between Charles and his captivating Raeletts there -- and before the show was through, the genius had brainstormed one of his biggest sellers of all right there on the bandstand. Subsequently captured February 18, 1959, in a New York studio by Atlantic Records engineer Tom Dowd in brilliant stereo, "What'd I Say" ran so long at nearly six-and-a-half minutes that it had to be split on both sides of an Atlantic 45 for mass consumption. It was one of the most suggestive pieces ever aired on pop radio up to that time, the sexy banter between Charles and his female vocalists throughout part two becoming more ribald on every break (their sweaty sighs and groans left little to the imagination). Drummer Milt Turner lays down a magnificently complex syncopated rhythm under Charles' memorable electric piano riffs (his sinuous left-hand figure has been lifted too many times to count), front and center on an exceptionally lengthy intro that could have served as an instrumental all by itself and a 24-bar break midway through. Once the hubbub over Brother Ray's original -- an R&B chart-topper in the summer of 1959 that rose to number six on Billboard's pop charts (by far Charles' highest pop placement up to that time) -- died down, other artists paid tribute: Jerry Lee Lewis nailed his first hit in more than two years with a spirited rendition for Sun in the spring of 1961, Roy Orbison chimed in with an uncharacteristically raucous Nashville-cut version for Monument, and a lavish staging of the song in the 1964 Elvis Presley film Viva Las Vegas was one of the musical's highlights, libidinous sparks flying all over the set between Elvis and co-star Ann-Margret.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
I Can't Stop Loving You [EP] 1963 HMV
The Soul Years: Atlantic 25th Anniversary 1973
Various Artists
Ballad in Blue 1981 USA / IVE
Tell the Truth 1984 Charly Records
Atlantic Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974, Vol. 4 (1958-1962) 1985
Various Artists
Atlantic 0:00
Rockin' Down the Block, Vol. 2 1987
Various Artists
Silver Eagle Records 5:10
Rockin' Fifties 1988
Various Artists
JCI Associated Labels 6:26
Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 [Rhino] 1988 Rhino
American Rock 'N' Roll Classics, Vol. 4 1988
Various Artists
Roulette Records
Anthology [Rhino] 1988 Rhino 4:34
Georgia on My Mind [Joker] 1988 Joker
The Genius 20 Greatest Hits 1988 Platinum Entertainment 4:28
18 Golden Hits 1989 Spa
Atlantic Soul Classics [1985] 1990
Various Artists
Warner Music / Rhino 6:27
Oldies But Goodies, Vol. 13 1993
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment 6:26
Heart and Souls 1993 MCA 5:05
Rock + Soul = Genius 1994 Jazz Music Yesterday
Art Laboe Killer Oldies 2 1995
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment 6:26
Blues Is My Middle Name [St. Clair] 1995 Prime Kuts / st. Clair / St. Clair 4:59
Best of Oldies But Goodies, Vol. 12-13 1995
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment 6:27
Genius of Ray Charles [Deuce] 1996 St. Clair / Boxsets 4:59
Sings the Blues, Vols. 1 & 2 1996 Excelsior Recordings
Juke Box Hits: Party Rock (1958-1968) 1997
Various Artists
Metacom 5:07
Birth of Soul, Vol. 2 1998
Various Artists
Kent 5:06
Atlantic Records 50 Years: The Gold Anniversary 1998
Various Artists
Atlantic 6:28
Gold Collection [Retro] 1998 Retro Music 6:22
Forever Gold [Double Disc] 1999 St. Clair
Le Genius of Soul [Wea International] 2000 WEA International 6:29
Soul Sensations [Direct Source] 2000
Various Artists
Direct Source 6:26
20 Golden Classics 2000 Golden Music / Goldenlane 6:26
Georgia on My Mind [Mastersound] 2000 Mastersound 6:26
Georgia on My Mind [Laserlight] 2001 Laserlight 6:28
Late in the Evening [Park South/Town Sound] 2002 Park South Records / Town Sound 6:27
Blues Is My Middle Name [K-Tel] 2002 K-Tel Distribution 0:00
Thanks for Bringing Love Around Again 2002 Crossover 5:31
Blues & Soul Masters 2002
Various Artists
WEA International 4:23
Essential Collection [Cleopatra] 2002 Cleopatra / Goldenlane 6:27
Forever Gold: Soul Hits [2002] 2002
Various Artists
St. Clair 6:28
Classic Soul Hits! [Direct Source 2003] 2003
Various Artists
Direct Source 6:26
Fabulous 50's [2003 Madacy Box] 2003
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 6:27
Here We Go Again 2003 BCI Music (Brentwood Communication) 3:52
Hall of Fame 2003 Laserlight 6:28
All the 60's 2003
Various Artists
Warner Music 6:29
45 Great Performances 2003 Prism Leisure 6:27
Respect: The Soul Generation Soundtrack 2003
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 5:05
Fabulous 50s, Vol. 2 2003
Various Artists
Madacy 6:27
Golden Era of Rock 'n' Roll: 1954-1963 2004
Various Artists
Hip-O 6:27
60's Soul Mix, Vol. 2 2004
Various Artists
Universal International 4:17
Georgia on My Mind/Rockin' Chair Blues 2004 Laserlight 6:28
American Soul 2004 BCI Music (Brentwood Communication) / Brentwood Records 3:52
Ray [Original Soundtrack] 2004 Atlantic / Rhino / Warner Bros. 4:38
Ray Charles [Columbia River] 2004 United Audio Entertainment 6:12
Legends and Heroes 2004
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 5:06
Golden Era of the 50's [Bonus DVD] 2005
Various Artists
Madacy 4:52
Genius Anthology 2005 Master Classics 3:09
Anthology [United Multi Consign] 2005 AAO Music / Umme!!! 6:12
Here We Go Again/I Chose to Sing the Blues 2005 BCI-Eclipse Distribution / BCI Music (Brentwood Communication) 3:52
The Best of Ultimate Vegas 2005
Various Artists
Madacy 6:21
45 Classic Songs 2005 Dove 6:27
Pure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (1952-1959) 2005 Atlantic / Rhino / Warner Bros. 4:25
Classic Soul Hits! [Direct Source 2005] 2005
Various Artists
Direct Source Special 6:26
Sultry Soul 2006
Various Artists
Laserlight 4:58
Golden Legends: Soul Legends 2006
Various Artists
Madacy 6:21
R&B Soul 2006 Direct Source 6:27
The Essentials [Big Eye] 2006 Fantastic Price Records / Big Eye / Fantastic Price 3:11
I Got a Woman [Ground Floor] 2006 Ground Floor
Ray 2006
AAO Music / United Audio Entertainment 6:12
Ray Charles [Promo Sound] 2006 Promo Sound 6:28
Forever Gold: Ray Charles 2007 St. Clair 5:01
Ray Charles & Friends [Stardust] 2007 Cleopatra / Stardust Records 6:26
Forever Ray Charles 2007 Madacy Distribution / Madacy 6:21
The Genius! 2007 Atlantic / Rhino 5:04
This Is Stadium Anthems 2007
Various Artists
Dead Line Music 6:26
The Gold Album 2008 Deja Vu / Recording Arts 6:07
Bob Dylan Cover to Cover: The Originals 2010
Various Artists
Mischief / Music Melon 5:07
Six Classic Albums 2011 Imc Music Ltd. 6:27
101 Soul Anthems 2011
Various Artists
EMI / EMI Music Distribution / Source Interlink / Virgin 6:26
Hit the Road Jack and Other Classic Hits [Concord] 2011 Concord 4:07
Greatest Hits & More 2011 Cleopatra / Stardust Records 3:09
The Roots of Mod 2011
Various Artists
Chrome Dreams 5:06
Salut Les Copains 1959-1968: Best of 2013
Various Artists
UMSM / Universal Music 6:25
The Greatest Ever Rock 'N' Roll 2014
Various Artists
Bellevue / Wienerworld 5:08
The Genius, Vol. 3 2017 Vintage / Zebralution
100 Greatest Northern Soul [Rhino]
Various Artists
Rhino 6:25
300 Hits: Rock 'n' Roll
Various Artists
Bellevue Publishing / Wienerworld 5:06
300 Hits: Saturday Night Party
Various Artists
Bellevue Publishing / Wienerworld 5:07
50 Shades of Music For Her
Various Artists
Golden Stars / Goldies 6:27
Beatles Beginnings, Vol. 8: The Quarrymen Repertoire
Various Artists
Rhythm & Blues 6:28
Bye Bye Love
Various Artists
Bellevue Publishing 5:06
Early R & B Classics, Vol. 1
Various Artists
Cherished Records
Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 [10Ten Media] 10TEN MEDIA
Leonard Cohen's Jukebox: The Songs That Inspired The Man Chrome Dreams / United States of Distribution 3:11
Original Hits From the 50's
Various Artists
10Ten Media
Racey Rhythms
Various Artists
Cherished Records
Rockin Soul Party, Vol. 2
Various Artists
Koko Mojo 5:08
Sweet Soul Music [Rhino]
Various Artists
Rhino / Warner Music 6:25
The Greatest Ever... Party Album
Various Artists
Bellevue / Wienerworld 5:08
The Very Best of Ray Charles [Phantom] Phantom