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It Should Have Been Me - Ray Charles

Ray Charles had his first chart hit in 1953 with the boogie come blues song "Mess Around". When I say "hit", I mean it reached number 3 in the US r&b charts, but didn't register on the main US "Hot 100". In those days, this didn't mean that the single didn't sell well, it meant that it was recorded by a black artist and had sold well in record stores in black neighbourhoods. To make the main US charts, you had to sell well in shops in white and main street areas. Often an r&b hit would have been at the top of the Billboard chart if actual total numbers of sales counted.

His second hit, "It Should Have Been Me" reached number 5 on the r&b chart the following year. Unusually, at least to the retrospective ear of those who have heard his array of hits over the subsequent 20 years, Charles sings the verses in a voice that isn't him, but rather that of a hick, hanging round in the street. So the joke seems at first to be that of the covetous but idle bum, lusting after what he can't have: he thinks he could, but is just unlucky, someone else had beat him to it, but really, we know he never stood a chance. So we're laughing at his pathetic male delusions, the fact that he thinks he could date the succession of "real fine chicks".

But the song, written by Eddie Curtis, is really about privilege: the track's narrator is a poor guy, and maybe his delusions and fantasies are all that keep him going, all that enable him to maintain his self respect. Ultimately, we all have to put up with those that are extremely well off and are feted beyond measure, not though their own effort and ability, but through inherited wealth and privilege.

"I ate a bowl of chili and I felt okay at least until I passed this fine cafe I saw a guy eatin' a great big steak while a waitress stood by feedin' him ice cream and cake......

it should've been me eatin' ice, cream and cake."

So maybe we shouldn't be laughing at him because the joke's on us. After all, if we're honest, we've all been there.


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