One night in Stockholm, Sweden, half a century ago, Ray Charles delivered a blood-pumping, soul-shaking concert that was almost lost to history.
The evening begins with a finger-snapping rendition of Charles’ classic concert opener, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” followed by an electrifying “What’d I Say.” Charles then delivers two more rarities, a lazy, bluesy version of “I’ve Had My Fun” followed by “Games People Play.” He closes with a frantic “Marie” followed by an extended, eight-minute version of “I’ve Got a Woman.” The crowd goes wild.
Many details of that night are lost, like the exact date, which venue in the city hosted Charles and the identity of the mysterious engineer who nailed his or her job. But there’s no denying that it is a remarkable record.
“It captured an incredible moment where he was particularly playing and singing well and the band was on, and so they’re just great versions,” said John Burk, who produced Charles’ last album, the Grammy-winning Genius Loves Company, “released just after his death in 2004.” He was kind of at the peak of his powers. “
Amid the songs, Charles can be heard interacting with the audience. “Ladies and gentlemen, I want to introduce at this time some femininity – I like it myself,” he says before singing “Games People Play,” giving each of his four-part backing vocalists The Raelettes a chance to shine.
“You get a window into the power of this artist at that time when he was relatively young, strong and the top of his game,” Burk said. “And it’s so cool that no one’s heard it before.”
An eight-track distillation of that night made its way to digital platforms last week. It was previously released on limited-edition vinyl for Record Store Day in 2021.
The recording was discovered while Burk and The Ray Charles Foundation, led by Valerie Ervin, were putting together 2021’s “True Genius,” a limited-edition box set celebrating what would be his 90th birthday by featuring 90 songs from Charles’ legendary career.
Burk wondered if there might be an exciting live recording in the vault. “Live in Stockholm” was unearthed.
“A lot of the live recordings that are in the vaults are not necessarily of very high quality, but this sounded great,” said Burk, a co-founder of Exceleration Music, which is releasing the album via Tangerine Records. “It also had an incredible energy from the audience.”
It was added to the box set.
The rerelease is just one Charles album celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The year 1972 also saw the release of the studio album “A Message From the People,” perhaps Charles’ most socially conscious record. It will be remastered and rereleased on June 17.
“A Message From the People” contains “Hey Mister,” a powerful call to end hunger; “Abraham, Martin and John,” about three slain icons of social change; a cover of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” ; and a version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” It closes with the now-classic “America the Beautiful.”
“I think it’s the only record that he ever did where he made the whole record about a statement about the world and what’s going on,” Burk said. “It’s about hope of what the American dream can be, and he’s also highlighting some of the obstacles to really achieving that dream.”