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The list of artists that wouldn’t exist if not for The Beatles is probably one of the longest in the history of music. But there’s a flip side to that coin: artists that The Beatles wouldn’t have existed without. You don’t have to dig too far to find some of the more obvious ones, including Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Carl Perkins. Some less obvious yet equally important figures like Lonnie Donegan and The Shadows also helped mould The Beatles into what they became. Whoever you include, it’s necessary to throw in Ray Charles as well.

The legendary pianist and singer from Georgia profoundly changed popular music in the 1950s, mixing elements of jazz and R&B to create a smoother style soon known as soul music. Charles wasn’t just a game-changer in one genre either: his forays into traditional pop, rock and roll, and even country music helped expand many fans’ musical tastes. Four of those fans happened to be the future members of The Beatles.

Throughout their days performing in Hamburg, Germany, the early incarnations of The Beatles frequently performed ‘What’d I Say’ at their shows. It was a well-known song that was popular among both American GIs and native clubgoers, with a highly danceable drum beat that made it one of their more popular numbers. The rhythms of ‘What’d I Say’ would eventually filter into Ringo Starr’s unique drum pattern on the Beatles track ‘I Feel Fine’.

“The song itself was more John’s than mine,” Paul McCartney said in the book Many Years From Now. “We sat down and co-wrote it with John’s original idea. John sang it, I’m on harmonies and the drumming is basically what we used to think of as ‘What’d I Say’ drumming. There was a style of drumming on ‘What’d I Say’ which is a sort of Latin R&B that Ray Charles’s drummer Milt Turner played on the original record and we used to love it. One of the big clinching factors about Ringo as the drummer in the band was that he could really play that so well.”

But ‘I Feel Fine’ wouldn’t be the last time that Charles had a major impact on a Beatles song. Towards the end of the band’s career, George Harrison was attempting to find the right words for his new love song, having nicked the first line from James Taylor’s ‘Something In the Way She Moves’. Harrison had heard Taylor sing the song at his Apple Records audition, but for the rest of the soulful track, Harrison imagined Charles singing ‘Something’.

“Actually, when I was writing that song, in my mind I was thinking of Ray Charles singing it,” Harrison recalled. Charles even covered ‘Something’ himself, but that version left Harrison unimpressed. “As it happened, the song ended up with over 150 cover versions, but when Ray Charles did it, I was really disappointed, except for the middle, the bridge to it, he sings great. But it was a bit of a corny sort of way he did it.”

Check out both ‘I Feel Fine’ and ‘Something’, and try to imagine Ray Charles playing along down below.

The two Beatles songs inspired by Ray Charles

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