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There are few things in life as unrewarding as merely “keeping tabs” on someone from afar.

Watching them to make sure they don’t slip out of sight or get into trouble without actually interacting much with them is a task best left to British butlers in 1940’s light comedies, not music historians trying desperately to get through the calendar year of 1950 in under two full years of writing.

Yet Ray Charles seems determined to make sticking to this game plan anything but easy for us as he makes yet another appearance on these pages for little reason other than keeping tabs on him as he wanders around the music world like a blind man.

I know, that’s a cheap (and potentially offensive) joke at his expense, but I think we’ve earned that right by now… besides, I’m pretty certain Ray himself would’ve found it funny.


I’ll Take You Strolling…
The planning stages of this project laid out a very clear outline for who and what we’d cover – rock artists doing rock songs, period.

For the most part we’ve stuck to that assiduously.

We’ve skipped over plenty of non-rock B-sides by artists who were rockers in every other circumstance without batting an eye over excluding them. We’ve avoided pulling prominent non-rock acts into this survey of rock’s history even if at times they veered close enough to it stylistically to qualify on a technicality.

Heck, just this month we’ve covered three versions of Oh Babe! and left out a rendition by Roy Milton whose instrumental break could conceivably slip it in the back door (not that it’d earn more than a (5) if it did). More pertinently today’s review of Ray Charles is staring you in the face precisely because we chose not to cover the B-side of Wynonie Harris’s Oh Babe! because it wasn’t a Harris record, but rather it was credited to Lucky Millinder who had Myra Johnson turn in a racy vocal on Silent George which is absolutely worth your nickel in a jukebox, possibly even more so than Harris’s top side in fact.

You could even persuade me to suggest that Johnson was skewing closer to rock aesthetics than the typical big band jazz that Millinder favored in her reading of the song which is merely one extended series of sexual euphemisms. But Lucky Millinder is not a rock act, the music he’s leading isn’t anywhere close enough to qualify and so we never even considered including it.

All of which is to say that Ray Charles could easily find himself in that same boat, on the outside of rock’s harbor looking in. Yet here he is again with I’ll Do Anything But Work, a song that hints at rock but never makes a full commitment to it… kinda like the last one, and the one before that.

So why is he wasting space here again? Is it just because he’s Ray Charles and that’s arguably the biggest name we’ve encountered yet and thus maybe it’ll give us more traffic? Not exactly, because who on earth would bother searching for this long forgotten side?

But yes, the reason it’s here IS because it’s Ray Charles and while we could care less about how many eyeballs are reading about this throwaway effort, what we DO care about is trying to figure out just how this eclectic, ambitious character could’ve existed during the rise of rock ‘n’ roll, a style that he later proved he could handle with aplomb, and manage to flirt with it, sweet talk it some, even buy it candy and flowers for years without taking her to bed and consummating the relationship until 1953 or so.

That’s a story worth exploring and so here he is, ready to frustrate and bewilder us again with another efficiently carried out, but ultimately aimless record on a road to nowhere.


Sing Your Praises
Most of this record, from the instrumentation to the arrangement, the vocal textures and the song’s subject, are comfortably outside of rock’s borders.

But far more than a mere afterthought this came from a recording session stuffed with some great musicians, all of whom are listed on the label as if to show the stock this came from. Meanwhile Charles himself came up with a really unique and humorous perspective to use as the record’s selling point as he portrays a many either lazy or conniving who wants the benefits of being perceived as a romantic catch by the ladies all while insisting I’ll Do Anything But Work.

Though the lyrics are solid it’s really his acting job that sells them so well, as he drops his singing voice for spoken dialogue at times which makes it seem more like a one act play than a record. That aspect also provides maybe the clearest connection to what would later emerge in rock ‘n’ roll, not the delivery itself per say (though that does have some similarities to other more widely known rock songs) but rather the off-handed snarky attitude he conveys in this, a form of mild insolence that was one of rock’s trademarks.

He’s mocking the very idea of holding a job and in the process thumbing his nose at one of society’s bedrocks – responsibility. Ray’s utterly convincing, rakishly charming and vocally alluring as he shifts tones throughout the performance and never fails to find the right way to express each thought to draw the maximum humor from the line. It’s a really good job in an approach he’d revisit a few times over the next dozen years.

But is it rock?

Not really. But then again it’s not anything else either. Not jazz, not cocktail blues which he was ostensibly a part of at this stage in his career, not pop either. It’s not even a hybrid of a few styles even. It sort of stands alone, recognizable but not identifiable.


I’m All Yours If You Pay The Check
Maybe if the musicians were a little more assertive then this would find a more comfortable home in some genre or another. They all carry out their parts well, but never seem to inhabit a distinct role.

The mincing horns that open this are bordering on humorous in a cartoonish way but refrain from taking that far enough for it to qualify as farce. The rhythm section provides a steady pulse but never force themselves on you which makes their presence here too subtle to let you focus on them and let everything work off the bottom they’re laying down.

Ray’s own piano gets plenty of standalone spots on I’ll Do Anything But Work, showing – as always – that Charles wasn’t afraid of rolling up his own sleeves and putting in an honest day’s labor in the studio, but it too is a weird amalgam of approaches, the early solo having a decent left hand to start with before shifting its focus to the right hand flourishes, then comes back later for more flamboyant trilling, none of which seems a proper fit in any specific style, yet isn’t completely alien to any of them.

The best hope comes with Jack McVea’s sax solo which leans closest to rock’s aesthetics with its slightly beefier tone but he doesn’t push it enough, nor does he get the time to really stretch out before Ray’s piano returns for that second go-round on the treble keys.

Had they let McVea really cut loose, digging deep for notes as he honks up a storm, then the association with rock would be a lot clearer, but here it bears only a passing resemblance to what we’ve come to expect and in lieu of anything more definitive that’ll have to do.

It’s A Shame
There’s not much more we can do with such a record like this than to say that it was a mildly interesting, fairly enjoyable, but mostly failed experiment.

Ray Charles, soon to be a pillar of music, The Genius himself, was still adrift in 1950 and though his ideas were interesting enough to explore, they were not yet establishing him as anything more than a quirky artist without a home.

You can sense the creativity on I’ll Do Anything But Work and ironically enough considering its theme you can even appreciate the genuine effort involved to make something out of it, but those aren’t things you can build off of without a more consistent and focused image to build from.

The thing about these dead-ends he keeps going down is how you don’t mind the starting and stopping and backing up to try another alley as much as you’re bothered by the fact it’s keeping us from seeing how he’s progressing artistically.

But that’s just it… he’s NOT progressing artistically, not coming up with something one step closer to that ultimate breakthrough, yet because he’s not regressing or floundering at his job either we’re left trying to explain it all without an end point in sight.

In one of the best lines in the song he tells us, “The word ‘work’ leaves me cold” yet so far he’s forced US to do a lot more work for much less reward than we usually care to undertake.


(Visit the Artist page of Ray Charles for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)