A rare example of a country song that became a significant pop hit is the song “You Don’t Know Me”. However, that was proven years after its original release. And this time, it reached the Country Charts summit.
The Idea and Writing of the Song
The idea of this song was from Eddy Arnold. He was pulled over the title and a storyline for a couple of years before he took it to a songwriter named Cindy Walker. She was one of Nashville’s most respected songwriters. Not only that, Walker provided Eddy with a number one hit before with 1950’s “Take Me In Your Arms And Hold Me”.
The scenario of “You Don’t Know Me,” was brought to Walker’s attention as she attended Nashville’s annual disc jockey convention in the fall of 1955. As Walker was leaving, she stopped by the RCA Victor suite to say goodbye to producer Steve Sholes. Eddy Arnold walked up to her and said:
“I’ve got an idea for a song called ‘You Don’t Know Me,’ and
I was hoping that you could do something with it.”
Eddy Arnold intended to portray a man who is too shy to approach a woman he cares about. And, stands in the shadows as he watches her settle down with another man.
Walker promised Eddy that she would work on the idea. Within days, she completed the song and sent it to her publisher. Although the title and the basic storyline were Arnold’s, the first rendition of “You Don’t Know Me” was issued by pop singer Jerry Vale. He carried it to No. 14 on Billboard’s pop chart in early 1956. Eddy’s country version made it to No. 10 two months later.
The Ray Charles Version and Other Versions
Six years after that, in 1962, Ray Charles included the tune on his No. 1 pop album “Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music”. His single of “You Don’t Know Me” went all the way to No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Unfortunately, it was blocked from the top spot by Tommy Roe’s “Sheila.” However, Ray’s record did spend three weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s now known as “Easy Listening” chart. Over 30 years later, Charles’ version of “You Don’t Know Me” was also featured prominently in the 1993 hit movie “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray. Ray Charles re-recorded the song as a duet with jazz singer Diana Krall for his 2004 album “Genius Loves Company”. It made “You Don’t Know Me” the only song common to both of Ray Charles’ two No. 1 pop albums.
“You Don’t Know Me” was cut through the years by dozens of other top artists. Those artists include Elvis Presley, Anne Murray, Bob Dylan, Patti Page, Rick Nelson, Bette Midler, Kenny Loggins, Juice Newton, Charlie Rich, Floyd Cramer, Michael Bolton, Emmylou Harris, Harry Connick, Jr. and Willie Nelson.
Cindy Walker’s tremendous catalog of classic hits made her a shoo-in for country music’s highest honor. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997.
Walker is one of only five non-performing songwriters so recognized.
No. 1 At Last
With all of the great recordings of “You Don’t Know Me” over the years, it finally reached the top spot on one of Billboard Magazine’s charts. It was the Billboard country singles chart on the day of September 19, 1981. The song “You Don’t Know Me” at last made it to No. 1 by Mickey Gilley.
Mickey Gilley was super-excited when his producer Jim Ed Norman brought the song in. However, he was kind of nervous about it too. He had always loved “You Don’t Know Me”. But, he was really intimidated about trying to cover a Ray Charles performance. Jim Ed reassured Gilley by promising to “make a great record”. With that promise from his producer, Mickey became more at ease and they went to work on it. The two men put their best efforts into the finished product. It paid off when “You Don’t Know Me” became Gilley’s 12th number one country hit. Although he believed he did his best possible job, Mickey still felt that he hadn’t topped the Ray Charles version. In his mind, nobody could.