His nickname was “the Genius,” and singer-keyboardist Ray Charles earned it, reinventing his career again and again over the course of more than half a century. He hit the top of the R&B chart in the ’50s, the pop chart in the ’60s, the country chart in the ’80s and the dance chart in the ’90s, and won eight Grammys for his posthumous final album in 2004.
“What’d I Say” wasn’t written the way most songs are written — it started as a couple of riffs Charles and his band started vamping on at the end of a long gig, and when the audience went wild, they kept going. On the recording, the song really takes off in its second half, when Charles exchanges a series of blatantly sexual moans and gasps with his backup singers, the Raelettes. Their interplay came straight out of gospel’s call-and-response tradition, but it transformed the sound of Sunday morning to the sound of Saturday night.