What'd I Say

Album: What'd I Say (1959)
Charted: 6
  • Charles said he got the idea for this song from "The sweet sounds of love."
  • The call-and-response style was inspired by church music Charles grew up with. When the preacher said something, the congregation shouted it back. "What'd I Say" stands as the epitome of call-and-response in secular music.
  • Charles improvised this onstage at a club in Brownsville, Pennsylvania in December 1958 after he played every song he knew and still had 12 minutes to fill. He simply asked his band to follow his lead... which they did. He told his backing singers (The Raeletts) to simply repeat whatever he said. The singer remembered: "I had sung everything I could think of. So I said to the guys, 'Look, I'm going to start this thing off, I don't know where I'm going, so y'all just follow me.' And I said to the girls, 'Whatever I say, just repeat after me.'"

    The story goes that at the end, the club-goers gathered at Charles' feet, begging for the tune's title so they could buy the record. Predictably, the song was recorded with all due haste.
  • Although he first made his mark with "I Got a Woman," this established Charles as a front-line star. Its success at the end of his contract with Atlantic Records enabled him to sign a lucrative one with ABC-Paramount. The hits came quickly and furiously soon afterwards.
  • Along with "Be-Bop-a-Lula" by Gene Vincent, this is mentioned in the first line of the Dire Straits song, "Walk Of Life." The line is: "Here comes Johnny singing oldies goldies, Be-Bop-a-Lula baby What'd I Say."
  • When Charles recorded this, it was a very long song until engineer Tom Dowd edited it down to 6 1/2 minutes. Dowd eventually became a very well-respected producer, working with The Allman Brothers, Derek and the Dominos, Aretha Franklin and many others.
  • In 1975, John Belushi did a skit on Saturday Night Live where he plays Beethoven at a piano, but ends up rocking out to this. He was a big fan of soul music, and performed as The Blues Brothers with with fellow cast member Dan Aykroyd.
  • Charles released a new version on his 2002 album Thanks for Bringing Love Around Again that incorporated hip-hop elements and synthesizers. This rendition met with resistance: the Chicago Tribune called it a "dead, depressing version" in their review of the album.
  • In the early '60s, many acts incorporated this song into their live shows, including Gene Vincent, Adam Faith, John Leyton and Brenda Lee. In 1964, Elvis Presley performed it in the movie Viva Las Vegas (where is sings it to Ann Margret) - this version was released as a single. Here are the charting covers in the US for "What'd I Say":

    1961, #30 Jerry Lee Lewis
    1962, #24 Bobby Darin
    1963, #113 Kenny Burrell & Jimmy Smith
    1964, #21 Elvis Presley
    1972, #61 Rare Earth
  • Glen Campbell played guitar on the Elvis version. Before he became a successful country/pop recording artist, Campbell was much in demand as a session guitarist in the mid-1960s. He even briefly replaced Brian Wilson in The Beach Boys in 1965. Campbell first met Elvis in Albuquerque in 1957 when he was 21 and they stayed in touch. He recalled to UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph in a 2011 interview: "We both come up the same way, in the sticks. Elvis was a great singer, he really was. I wanted to play the guitar more so than I did singing. He was a great guy."

Comments: 17

  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaGlen played with the famous Wrecking Crew for many years. He played on Frank and Deans recordings as well.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn May 19th 1961, Jerry Lee Lewis appeared at the Regal Theater in Chicago, IL...
    At the time his covered version of ray Charles' "What'd I Say" was at #34 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; the week before it had peaked at #30 {for 1 week} and it stayed on the chart for 8 weeks...
    It reached #27 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart...
    Between 1957 and 1973 he had eighteen Top 100 records; with three making the Top 10, "Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On" {#3 in 1957}, "Great Balls of Fire" {#2* for four weeks in 1957}, and "Breathless" {#7 in 1958}...
    'The Killer' will celebrate his 80th birthday in four months on September 29th {2015}...
    * The four weeks "Great Balls of Fire" was at #2 on the Top 100, the #1 record for those four weeks was "At the Hop" by Danny and the Juniors.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn May 19th 1965, Ray Charles performed "What'd I Say"* on the ABC-TV program 'Shindig!"...
    Six years earlier on July 6th, 1959 "What'd I Say" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #82; six weeks later on August 17th, 1959 it would peak at #6 {for 3 weeks} and it stayed on the chart for 15 weeks...
    Two weeks before peaking at #6 on the Top 100 it reached #1 {for 1 week} on Billboard's R&B Singles chart; it was the fifth of his twelve #1 records on the R&B Singles chart......
    It also peaked at #6 {for 1 week} on Cashbox's Singles chart...
    * "What'd I Say" was performed during the closing credits with back-up vocals provided by the Righteous Bros. and the Blossoms.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyRay's original version peaked at No. 6; and three other artists all reached the Top 30 with it. Jerry Lee Lewis peaked at No. 30 in 1961, Bobby Darin reached No. 24 in 1962, and Elvis topped out at No. 21 in 1964!!!
  • Leftykc from Gladstone, MoThe beatles would play this song over and over for about 10 minutes duration in Hamburg the locals loved it..
  • Richard from Charleston, ScSaw Ray Charles with Raylettes in concert in Greenville, SC in early '60s. Best concert I ever witnessed.
  • Kent from Lodi, CaPossibly the greatest example of what a 100 series wurlitzer electric piano sounds like.
  • Jimmy from Birmingham, MiThis is the most intense song I have ever heard/played. I heard this song once and I told myself "I'm gonna learn how to play this." Well, the rythem is so sweet it took me about a month and a half to (kind of!) master it. What a GREAT song.
  • Axe from Singleton, AustraliaThis is the song that spawned a million others, including Watch Your Step by Bobby Parker, I Feel Fine by The Beatles and One Way Out by the Allman Brothers.
  • Cem from Istanbul, TurkeyIf you listen this song next to cemetery i am sure they all open their eyes and start to dance. You are great rest in peace Ray

    Cem from Istanbul
  • Justin from Chicago, IlSung by Chris Farley with his dad, Brian Dennehy in he movie Tommy Boy, with Farley doing cartwheels during their rendition
  • Ross from Independence, MoThis is #10 in Rolling Stone's list of 500 greatest songs.
  • Pete from Nowra, Australiagod.....? Greek or Roman???
  • Tom from Bowie, MdTo listen to the open of this song is a truly sublime experience. If this song was truly improvised on the fly, then Charles' talent was the equal of Mozart's.
  • Roy from London, EnglandIf you haven't seen it yet, do go and see the biopic 'Ray': Jamie Foxx's performance as the great man is astounding!
  • Shell from Riverdale, GaThe Blues Brothers were first seen on SNL, as a sketch actually, but Belushi and Aykroyd were serious about the blues. After several appearances as Jake and Elwood, on the show and elsewhere, they made the eponymous film. They left SNL to pursue bigger things.
  • C.j. from Tunkhannock, Paperhaps the greatest soul song ever, ray charles is a god
see more comments

Billy Joe ShaverSongwriter Interviews

The outlaw country icon talks about the spiritual element of his songwriting and his Bob Dylan mention.

Stand By Me: The Perfect Song-Movie CombinationSong Writing

In 1986, a Stephen King novella was made into a movie, with a classic song serving as title, soundtrack and tone.

Timothy B. SchmitSongwriter Interviews

The longtime Eagle talks about soaring back to his solo career, and what he learned about songwriting in the group.

Michael SchenkerSongwriter Interviews

The Scorpions and UFO guitarist is also a very prolific songwriter - he explains how he writes with his various groups, and why he was so keen to get out of Germany and into England.

WeezerFact or Fiction

Did Rivers Cuomo grow up on a commune? Why did they name their albums after colors? See how well you know your Weezer in this Fact or Fiction.

Corey HartSongwriter Interviews

The Canadian superstar talks about his sudden rise to fame, and tells the stories behind his hits "Sunglasses At Night," "Boy In The Box" and "Never Surrender."