I GOT A WOMAN (1955) According to Michael Lydon's Charles biography, the singer's first major hit was written almost by accident. Ray and cowriter Renald Richard were driving around listening to gospel music when Ray suddenly sang, ''I got a woman.'' Richard responded, ''Yeah, she lives across town,'' to which Ray added, ''She's good to me.'' The potency of their improv remains evident.
DROWN IN MY OWN TEARS (1955) Charles' knack for yoking gospel cadences to the blues is perfectly realized in this classic weeper.
HALLELUJAH I LOVE HER SO (1956)The definitive expression of romantic jubilation, in just 2 minutes and 34 seconds.
WHAT'D I SAY, PARTS 1 & 2 (1959) Unadulturated aural dynamite. Even without its in-your-face sexuality (dig those outrageous ''Unnhs'' and ''Ohhs'' that Ray and the Raelettes exchange!), this would still be one of the single most exciting songs ever released.
I BELIEVE TO MY SOUL (1959) A slow-burning lament about a love gone wrong that's guaranteed to give you goose bumps.
GEORGIA ON MY MIND (1960) Was Charles singing to a Southern state, or to a woman named Georgia? The charming spell he casts on this sublimely sensual song renders all such questions moot.
HIT THE ROAD JACK (1961) This lighthearted look at the battle between the sexes (which may or may not have been inspired by Jack Kerouac's then-recent book, On the Road) remains one of the master's best-loved tunes.
UNCHAIN MY HEART (1961) He sings about being chained by love, but Charles' performance here beautifully expresses one thing: an exhilarating feeling of total artistic freedom.
LET'S GO GET STONED (1966)Ironically released the year after Charles kicked heroin, the rollicking ''Stoned'' was often played by hipsters back-to-back with Bob Dylan's concurrent ''Rainy Day Women #12 & 35'' (with its ''Everybody must get stoned!'' chorus).
AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL (1972) Charles' emotion-drenched take on this standard is capable of coaxing the latent patriotism out of even the most apolitical.