DEAR JERRY: For many years, I have been hearing the Ray Charles recording of “America the Beautiful,” especially at sporting and other public events.
Did Ray ever have a hit with this tune? If so, I don't recall it. Did anyone else?
William Oliver, Orland Park, Ill.
DEAR WILLIAM: No, and yes. Since the song that many feel should become our national anthem is more than 100 years old, we should review a bit of its history.
Katharine Lee Bates wrote the original version of “America the Beautiful” in 1893. Bates penned another draft in 1904, then settled on her final version in 1913.
Though you rarely hear any recording or performer singing more the first verse the eight lines beginning with “Oh Beautiful, for spacious skies” and ending with “sea to shining sea” the complete composition has seven additional verses.
As for the event that inspired “America the Beautiful,” Katharine Lee Bates offers this account:
“One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse.” Opera singer Louise Homer is the first to have a hit record with “America the Beautiful.” Her stirring rendition, which came out in 1925, is both the first and the last to make the pop charts.
As for the venerable Ray Charles, it is really a stretch to say that “America the Beautiful” became any kind of a hit for him. In 1976, a bicentennial-timed single did linger for two weeks near the bottom of the R&B charts, reaching only No. 98.
Another bicentennial issue, this one by Charlie Rich, did make the C&W Top 25 in the summer of '76.
One is “I'm a Happy Man,” a 1965 hit for the Jive Five. The other is a piano instrumental that came out in 1961, or '62. I do not recall the artist, but the title is “Like Long Hair.”
How can I find these two songs?
G. Huber, Spring Hill, Fla.
DEAR G.: I'm going to go two for two for you, because both are easily available.
Because the “I'm a Happy Man” master belongs to a different company than the other Jive Five hits (“My True Story; What Time Is it,” etc.), it is the one hit of theirs missing from nearly all of the Jive Five reissue compilations.
Fortunately, you will find it among the two dozen oldies on “Rock Is Dead But It Won't Lie Down (24 Greatest Hits of All Time).” Though the EMI first issues (1992) are out of print, a Gold Rush reissue (1996) can be had very inexpensively. As of this writing, at HALF.COM, for example, I see 12 like new copies listed at prices from $3.99 to $7.75.
You sure get your money's worth with this collection, which also includes solid gold oldies by Billy J. Kramer, Bob Lind, Bobby Vee, Charles Brown, Don McLean, Fantastic Baggys, Fats Domino, Fleetwoods, Freddie & the Dreamers, Garnet Mimms & the Enchanters, Gene McDaniels, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Hollies, Hour Glass, Irma Thomas, Johnny Burnette, Manfred Mann, Ricky Nelson, Shirley Bassey, Smiley Lewis, Swinging Blue Jeans, Timi Yuro, and the Yardbirds.
As for “Like Long Hair” (Gardena 116), it represents the American chart debut for Paul Revere & the Raiders. It is indeed an instrumental, as is their first Gardena (“106) release, “Beatnik Sticks,” which did well in several regional markets, but not nationally.
Five years later, almost to the day, “Kicks” entered the charts en route to the Top 5, making the boys major stars.
The three tracks mentioned here, and 52 more, are found on “The Legend of Paul Revere” (Columbia C2K 45311). I spotted this two-disc set selling online for $15.00 to $25.00.
IZ ZAT SO? With roughly 90 R&B hits to his credit spanning over 50 years it is amazing that Ray Charles has only one No. 1 hit to his credit as a solo artist: “I Can't Stop Loving You” (1962).
Ray, in collaboration with Quincy Jones and Chaka Khan, did make it to the top in 1989 with “I'll Be Good to You.”