Featured songs[1] from this post: Spotify
If you only listen to one song: "I Believe To My Soul", Ray Charles

After deciding to revisit what I could[1:1] of Ray Charles' work through the first ten years of the Grammys, one of my first goals was finding other artists and acts who produced similar music. I searched, I checked with friends, and I came to a very unsatisfying conclusion: I can't think of any artists who sound like Ray Charles.

If the collection of Ray Charles' work through 1967 could be categorized as a certain genre, I can't think of anyone else who belongs in that genre.

Cherry picking songs and calling them jazz/blues/big band/etc. is relatively easy. When I think of Ray Charles as an artist, though, I don't think of him as a "jazz artist" or a "blues artist"; he's some other thing that I don't have a name for.

I've come to another unsatisfying conclusion: My inability to place Ray Charles into a genre reduces how much I listen to him.

This is particularly disappointing for me because I've long believed people are too reliant on genre when it comes to understanding and interacting with music. Further, I saw our collective predilection toward genre as something that probably limited the creativity of many artists and works.

That said, it is helpful to have, if not a full and formal nomenclature, an informal way of placing things with similar things. It makes for more efficient processing of information, if nothing else.

Before I listen to music, I often ask myself something like "What am I in the mood for?" After that, artists pop into my head: "Coltrane? Stones? Queen?? Maybe something like Queen..."

The artists I consider to be "like" Queen aren't quite as important as the fact that I consider anyone to be like them at all. It leads me from them to other artists and from other artists to them. It means they aren't a musical island and that I might think about them, ever.

When I consider it abstractly, I'm perfectly happy to have artists produce good music that exists beyond the confines of genre. In as much as Ray Charles is an example of that artist, I see the idea's practical limits: Ray Charles is amazing, and I never listen to him because I never think of him.

For whatever value I see in eschewing genres to produce music that is entirely its own, there's a counterbalance to consider: if the world's most beautiful songs are composed on an island and no one ever gets to hear them, they produce no actual value.

  1. After some brief cross-referencing, it looks like Ray Charles' albums with ABC aren't available on Spotify. ↩︎ ↩︎