Cindy Walker’s Shy Sad Classic
“You Don’t Know Me” is a uniquely haunting song that’s been performed by many.
Cindy Walker is one of the great unwritten stories. The full Hollywood treatment would suit her — you only have to look at her photograph to understand looks were definitely part of the equation. As lovely as she was, her talent, in full flower at a time when songwriters were mostly guys, is what makes her special. That and a song called “You Don’t Know Me.” Her version does the trick for me, but few know it.
Custom written for country star Eddie Arnold, who had a big hit with it, it has been recorded by everyone and their second cousin. The most compelling version, even with the annoying background vocals and oceanic string section, will always be Ray Charles. No surprise, he always seemed to have the best take on every song he sang. He took the story of a too-shy suitor who winds up alone and put some serious ache in it.
Watch this video. Cindy not only explains how the song was suggested to her by Eddie, she also explains what it feels like when an idea rolls out of the heavens and plops right down in your lap. It was a tough assignment. Just a title from her friend, Eddie, and a very short explanation of the concept — how a feeling never expressed to the only one who could do something about it could haunt someone. So Cindy, write a song about nothing. That’s what it was until she tackled the muse by the ankles and demanded answers. She describes how the lines presented themselves to her one at a time. It must have been pretty exciting. But there was a hitch and we’ll talk about it after you scan these:
You give your hand to me
And then you say hello
And I can hardly speak
My heart is beating so
And anyone can tell
You think you know me well
But you don’t know me
No you don’t know the one
Who dreams of you at night
And longs to kiss your lips
Longs to hold you tight
Oh I am just a friend
That’s all I’ve ever been
Cause you don’t know me
I never knew the art of making love
No my heart aches with love for you
Afraid and shy I let my chance go by
The chance that you might love me too
You give your hand to me
And then you say goodbye
I watch you walk away beside the lucky guy
Oh you will never know
The one who loves you so
Well you don’t know me
© Cindy Walker Eddy Arnold
There was a gap of a couple weeks after the original inspiration as Cindy searched for the perfect ending. She was “away from her desk” when the solution presented itself, but luckily she caught it. The trick was to double back to the beginning and steal the first line, “You give your hand to me.” Symmetry, just like they teach in creative writing classes, and it works so damn well. In this instance, anyway. When all is said and done, nothing was said or done in the story this song tells. A sad state of affairs with a sadder narrator who has ventured and gained not one damn thing. I don’t know of any other song like it.
The difference between writing a title and a song apparently wasn’t clear when Arnold added his name to the credits. Arnold was a powerful man doing what they did back then, grabbing publishing. It’s not a unique story, in fact it was so common it probably didn’t feel all that wrong to do it. Later, when the Voice From Valhalla, Roy Orbison, recorded Walker’s song “Dream Baby,” he was gentleman enough to keep his name off. As Ms Walker was preparing to leave this earth, there was a one-man appreciation society called Willie Nelson recording an album of her songs. Alas, it came out days after she passed away.
Now about that Cindy Walker screenplay, when is it coming and who’s going to play her? I’m going with Jennifer Lawrence.