It is unknown what early country star Don Gibson was thinking when he wrote “I Can’t Stop Loving You” during late 1957. He did not consider it strong enough to be a lead single and so it became the b-side of “Oh Lonesome Me.” While the a-side reached number one on the Billboard Magazine Country chart, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” became a Top Ten hit in its own right.
Enter Ray Charles, who by 1962 was an established star in the United States. He was gathering songs for what would become his signature album and one of the seminal releases in American music history. Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music fused country and rhythm & blues music into a unique mix that was a huge commercial success with the mainstream pop audience.
The lead single from the album was “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and it would become the biggest hit single of Ray Charles’ long career. A half-century ago this week it topped the Billboard Pop Singles chart and there it remained for five weeks.
The phrasing on the opening verse is one of the most memorable of the era. The piano, the lush string arrangements, and the soulful vocal floating over the top transformed the old traditional country song into a modern masterpiece. Rarely has a song sounded so passionate while still having the ballad retain the gentle nature of the lyrics.
It is easy to forget the impact of the song, as Ray Charles created new rules for what would become popular music. He was a black man who sang a country song and made it palatable for white audiences. His adventurous nature would set the tone for the generations of musicians that followed.
When Ray Charles passed away during 2004 at the age of 73, he left behind one of the superior catalogues of music in American history. His list of memorable performances is almost endless but “I Can’t Stop Loving You” ranks with the best and it ruled the music world at this period of time 50 years ago.
Note: All chart references are taken from Top Pop Singles: 1955-1996 by Joel Whitburn, Record Research, 1997.