These posts are about the songs that just barely failed to cross the key line of chart success, entering the Billboard Top 40. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 41.
Ray Charles made a name for himself in the nineteen-fifties and a tremendous performer who could move effortlessly back and forth between jazz and rhythm and blues. He also spoke regularly about his love for country music, cultivated during his upbringing in the South. “Hillybilly music” is what Charles called it, and he was convinced he could make a fine record with a batch of suitable songs, albeit tinged with his unique sensibility. After a jump from Atlantic Records to ABC-Paramount afforded Charles the opportunity to operate within a wider creative range, he set out to make his study of country music, recruiting skilled jazz arrangers to give the tracks an uncommon lushness. If music fans were surprised to see a Charles album entitled Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, the shock didn’t prevent them from warming to the material. The 1962 album’s first single, “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” became Charles’s third chart-topper is as many years. The follow-up, “Born to Lose,” was similarly languid and jazzy, but it didn’t have the same staying power, peaking at #41.
Eight years later, no one questioned Charles’s status as a music legend, but his commercial prospects were on the wane. Largely pushed aside as rock ‘n’ roll evolved toward its nineteen-seventies thunder and bombast, Charles had a few mildly successful Top 40 singles across the latter half of the sixties, but he hadn’t seen one of his tracks make it into the Top 10 since “Crying Time,” early in 1966. He tried invoking country music again. In 1970, Charles released the album Love Country Style. The album’s first single, “If You Were Mine,” just missed the Top 40, and its follow-up, “Don’t Change on Me,” climbed just a little bit higher, peaking at #36. Charles found his way to the Billboard Top 40 as lead artist only one more time, logging another meager hit with the near-novelty 1971 single “Booty Butt.”
Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Top 40 Smash Near Misses” tag.