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Sunday, 19 August 2012

Rainy Night in Georgia

Today, I decided to write about one of my favourite artists of all time and one of my favourite songs of his. To me, it doesn't get much better than Ray Charles. Maybe Louis Armstrong, but I think that's it. I cannot do anything else while listening to those two because I usually end up closing my eyes and moving my head around and dropping whatever I was doing. I just love Ray and everything about his music; his piano playing is genius, his songs are wonderful, have so much depth and his singing is nothing short of phenomenal. I feel that because he can offer so much with his interpretations, his singing and playing, and his profound understanding of music, all of his songs are so abundant and flavorful.
Ray Charles Robinson was born in 1930, in Georgia, USA. He had his share of adversities in his childhood. He got blind by the age of seven and afterwards he was sent to a charity school for the blind, which was segregated (yes, you read that right – segregated school for the blind). When he was four, his brother drowned, when he was ten, his father died, and when he was fifteen, his mother passed away, too. But in spite of all this, he had a very positive outlook on life, which I think is amazing and inspiring. I watched an interview a while back, where the interviewer was listing all the bad things Ray's been through and asking him how he got through it, but when he finished, Ray simply disregarded him, saying how that's just one side and one way of looking at life, how on the other hand he experienced so many great things in life and that those are way more important and outweigh the bad things.
I could spend a lot of time talking about his life, but I'd rather just recommend you a wonderful movie about it, called Ray. If you haven't seen it already, you should do it as soon as possible because it nicely shows his story, which is amazing, and even if you're not interested in Ray Charles, you should watch it, because it's a great movie with some amazing acting.
Ok, here's the song. It's so full and rich, that when you listen to it, you should really try to savour every part of it.

Rainy Night in Georgia can be found on the album called ‘The Genius Hits the Road’ and if you like Ray Charles and enjoyed this song, you should definitely give it a listen. And also in case there’s anyone out there interested in his music, but doesn’t know much about it, I think you should listen to ‘Blues + Jazz’ to get a feel of early Ray and ‘Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music’ because it is just wonderful. I might be biased, but as far as his compilation albums are concerned, for example ‘The Essence of Ray Charles’, I think everyone should own a copy, just because Ray Charles is so amazing.

Back to the song. I love it and I think it’s amazing. It has so many intricacies and details. The first time I heard it, I just listened to it couple of times every day. I found it especially wonderful when it’s raining and dark outside, with a pint of beer next to me.

As I mentioned before, I absolutely LOVE Ray's singing. He puts so much emotion and soul into it. I feel that all of the shouts, groans and moans just happen naturally, because he can’t keep in all of the emotions and passion he’s feeling. I think this song embodies all that and a lot more.

His singing and playing isn’t just plain singing and playing, it’s much more. It’s really feeling the song and music in it and conveying those feelings. Just try to pay attention to how high and low he’s singing, to overall feeling of his singing and to all of the details in it; all of the “oh yeahs”, the talking and the sighs he puts in between, the drunken ending, how his singing is completely different depending on what he’s saying, how his voice is raspy at one point and more smooth at another, the articulation and so on. I could go on and on, because there’s just so much happening. And that’s just his singing we’re talking about. Then you add the backing music and his wonderful playing and that takes the richness of the song to a whole new level. I get really excited just writing about all of this.

He said one time, that he’s unable to sing any song the same way twice, because when he sings, it’s what he’s feeling in that particular moment that dictates his singing. I think that we can all understand what he means just by listening to this song, because it’s obvious that everything he does here is not learned beforehand and that it’s something that exists only in the passing moment.

I respect Ray Charles and have deep appreciation of his music, and right now I just feel happy and humble to be writing about him and his song. I realize not everyone feels about him this way, but I hope that after reading this, you might see something in him that you never noticed before and start enjoying his music in a different way.

Thursday, 9 August 2012


My first blog entry. For some time I wasn't sure about doing this. Who on earth would ever be interested in what I have to say about music? But I came to the conclusion that even if only one person reads this with interest, (yes, I'm talking about you) it's worth doing. So, here goes nothing.

The first song I chose to write about is Pretend by Nat King Cole. I listened to it today after quite a while and I started thinking about it in a completely different way than i have so far. The interpretation might seem silly to some - it would seem silly to me a year ago - but I think it's worth sharing.
I'm sure pretty much everyone has heard about Nat King Cole at least once in their life. He was born Nathaniel Adams Coles in Montgomery, Alabama in 1919. When he was still a child, he moved to Chicago with his family. There he often listened to big cats such as Louis Armstrong and Earl "Fatha" Hines. Nat and his piano playing were influenced heavily by the latter. I feel that not many people know this, but he started his career as a jazz pianist, and only later did he become a popular sensation. In 1939, he formed a trio "King Cole Swingers" and was considered to be one of the more prominent jazz pianists at the time. In 1943, he recorded  "Straighten Up and Fly Right", his own composition, which was an immediate hit. It took him a couple of years to completely shift to popular music, but that's when it began. With his shift from jazz to pop, he began to sing more and play less. I guess that a lot of people know only about his singing and his popular career and they are not aware of Nat King Cole as an amazing jazz pianist. (Hmm, that's actually a good idea for a future entry.)

Ok, let's start talking music. The song was recorded in 1953, which puts it in the time when he recorded lots of hits.
It's very easy to like and listen to, which isn't a surprise since it's Nat King Cole. Pretty much everything he did is easy to listen to.

Nice, right? I mean with the strings and everything, it's a typical Nat King Cole song, but if you ask me that's a good thing

While I love and enjoy the early Nat and his piano playing, I think you just have to love his voice, which is of course what he's known for. It's incredibly smooth, soft and velvety. While you could easily associate the word 'soft' with fragile, hesitant or unclear, none of these would describe his voice. I'd say it's actually quite assertive and full, but the first word you would use to describe his voice would be soft, and that combination is exactly what makes it great and why it gets to you. It's like a mug of nice hot chocolate. It's smooth and relaxing, but has a strong flavour too.

At this point, I would also like to mention racism and that, during his life and very successful career, Nat King Cole had his share of troubles with it. I've always found it amazing and inspiring how some people can persevere and stay positive no matter what life throws at them. Nat is one of those people. To me, this is something that makes Pretend intriguing and even a greater song. Think about it while you listen.

I love this song because of his voice and a nice melody, but what caught my attention when I first heard the song, were the lyrics. I guess that they could make you think of the song as sad and maybe even cynical. At least I thought of it that way. So for a while after I discovered the song, whenever I was feeling sad, I put this song on and was happily singing along with a big smile on my face like I wasn't worrying about anything at all. But at the end of the song, I was as sad as before, if not more. I was thinking to myself "oh, things are so bad that the only way for me to be happy is by pretending. The whole world is turning against me!", not realizing that things were pretty good and I'm just whining. As I'm writing this, I'm realizing I was kind of funny that way.
To get back on point, I heard it today after a long time and I had a thought that maybe it isn't sad at all. I started listening again. I felt that his voice and his singing were genuinely happy and that there weren't any pretences about his happiness. But something was off and I soon realized it's the backing music. To me, it didn't feel like it's fitting in. It seemed cheesy and while it does sound happy, it sounds fake at the same time. And that contradiction got me thinking.
I came to the conclusion that the backing music is acting the same way I did when I was sad. It's singing happily along with a big grin on it's face, but it's not really happy, because after the song is over, it's sad again. And the reason I'm proposing the song isn't actually sad, is Nat. As mentioned before, his voice is just filled with happiness. With him, I feel like pretending means more than just pretending. It means actually creating the possibility that everything isn't as bad as he may have originally thought, and soon after he gives that possibility an honest shot, he realizes that things really are pretty good and that there's so much in life, he can be and is happy about. In the end, even though he started it off as pretending, he's genuinely happy.

And if you sing this melody
You'll be pretending just like me
The world is mine, it can be yours, my friend
So why don't you pretend?

So why don't you pretend just like him?