It's easy, in retrospect, to map out Ray Charles' journey to musical icon status -- his one-of-a-kind talent became more evident each step of the way as he moved from Swing Time Records to Atlantic Records, and then on to ABC Records. Charles' first recording sessions from the late '40s and very early '50s featured an artist heavily influenced by Nat King Cole
and Charles Brown
and working in a pronounced pop direction. Charles recorded for several small West Coast labels during this time, but most notably for Jack Lauderdale's Swing Time Records. It wasn't until Lauderdale sold Charles' contract to Atlantic Records (for a mere $2,000) in 1952 that Charles began the legendary fusion of R&B and gospel that led to hits like "What'd I Say" and "I Got a Woman" that single-handedly created what became known as soul. Charles hit his stride at Atlantic, creating the signature synthesis of R&B, gospel, blues, country, and jazz that made him one of the most important and influential figures in pop music history. When ABC-Paramount offered him more creative freedom, ownership of his master recordings after five years, and his own label imprint, Tangerine Records (which Charles used to record some of his personal R&B favorites, including Percy Mayfield
, Louis Jordan
, and Little Jimmy Scott
), Charles left Atlantic and signed with ABC in 1960, remaining with the label through 1972, by which time he was firmly established as an American treasure and icon, thanks to his enduring versions of songs like "Georgia on My Mind," "Hit the Road Jack," and "I Can't Stop Loving You." This expansive five-disc set collects the A- and B-sides of the 53 singles Charles released for ABC-Paramount between 1960 and 1972, along with select album tracks that were formatted for radio play at the time and a handful of live tracks from the period, to make a full survey of Ray Charles at his creative and commercial peak. He was always the Genius -- but these are the songs and performances that finally convinced America and the rest of the world.