Clocking in at exactly two minutes, “Hit The Road Jack” draws up the short course in how to make a Rock-N-Roll record. Among the vanguard of the second wave of pioneers, Ray Charles leads the attack with humor, aplomb and an infectious beat in his second #1 mainstream chart song (after “Georgia On My Mind”). It was his first song to hit #1 on both the mainstream and the R&B charts.
What does Hit The Road Jack mean?
The popularity of the Ray Charles song has made “Hit the road jack” into a popular pop culture phrase with multiple meanings. It has become a slang term to use when firing an employee, or breaking up with someone as a couple. It is also used generally whenever the target of the phrase does something that negatively impacts the person who is referring to them using the phrase.
Now, back to the song. The scene is simple enough. A ne’er-do-well man is trying to slip back into his woman’s good graces after hound-dogging around. She wants no part of him and his lousy moneymaking abilities and a presumed propensity to spend what little money he has on bad habits.
The vocal interplay between Charles and Margie Hendricks, one of the “Raelettes,” his backing singers, is tight and familiar, the result of strenuous practice sessions and a deep familiarity with the timeless story. It didn’t hurt that Ray and Margie were lovers and he refused to leave his wife for her.
She’s got his number and it’s a wrong number:
Now baby, listen baby, don’t ya treat me this-a way
Cause I’ll be back on my feet some day.
(Don’t care if you do ’cause it’s understood
you ain’t got no money you just ain’t no good.)
The pace of the song gallops. It’s got a touch of Country swing in it; a little Rock-a-Billy; some fast-paced Blues and the smirk of a novelty rrrrrrsong. A howling good horn section carries most of the action. A walking bass line snuggles in beautifully with not just the arrangement but with the sentiment, because, the singer surely is walking and walking after being thrown out.
Charles’s voice is commanding, protesting and lamenting all at once. He has some of the greatest Rock/Blues pipes of the last 60 years. The band’s playing is kept together in large part because his growling, barking voice demands that it toe the line.
The theme of “Hit The Road Jack” is an old one and can be found from the earliest rise of Ragtime, Country Blues and dancehall ditties. The diversity of such songs is striking. “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey”; “Tramp,” sung by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, as well as a freight car full of Country tunes about men (or women) turned out for drinkin’, cheatin’ or havin’ no ready cash.
There’s no deeper meaning to “Hit The Road Jack,” just a lot of tartly overstated emotions and a guy hightailing it out of town.
It rock with a vengeance – R&R course 101. Nothing advanced about it. Just flawless. Ray Charles is one of the Founding Fathers and this is part of the preamble to the constitution.