About The Song
Certain songs feel like they’ve always existed, to the point where it’s strange to imagine them as being new, as being songs that people would hear on the radio for the first time. “Hit The Road Jack” is one of those. As we experience it today, it’s less a song, more of an all-purpose signifier of the idea that someone should get out. It’s what plays over the PA at the hockey arena when someone get sent to the penalty box. But of course, before all that, it was a pop single.
It’s a slight song, less than two minutes. The setup is simple: The woman knows she’s stuck with someone who isn’t worth shit, and she’s kicking him out. The guy begs and pleads for another chance, but he knows it’s hopeless. They’re following a script, and they know it. Maybe they’ve had this argument before. Maybe this really is the end. But the contours of it will always be familiar.
Charles was a genius at straddling genre lines, and “Hit The Road Jack” is a fine example. It’s an R&B song, but it pulls some of its swagger from big-band jazz, and some of its intensity from rock ‘n’ roll. It sounds tough, and simple, but the sounds are there to get the story across. It’s not the work of transcendent genius that Charles’ “Georgia On My Mind” was, but it remains plenty durable anyway.