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With his success as a solo artist coming with ballads it’s no surprise that Mel Walker doubles down on the slower material on this single hoping that if the top side failed to click he might get a second chance with this one.

That turned out to be unnecessary for the A-side became one of his biggest hits of his career and as a result this side was mostly forgotten.

But because Walker himself had a hand in writing it this at least gives us the chance to see where he thought his own strengths lay… which as it turns out it wasn’t that far off from where others had slotted him.

At least they were all on the same page.


You’ll Never Be Mine
As this starts off you wonder if perhaps you’ve tuned to the wrong station… maybe clicked the wrong file or chosen the wrong record thanks to Walter Henry’s saxophone playing a slow and very placid melody that sounds almost pop-like at first listen.

It’s not sultry at all as you’d expect for such a band, but instead it comes across as almost wheezy… a tranquil sound for a passive record.

Was this some stab at crossover appeal or a genuine interest in toning down the fireworks for purely aesthetic reasons?

It could’ve been both of course, but if you’re placing wagers go with the latter explanation because My Heart Tells Me was cut back in early May, a time when Johnny Otis’s band of musical miscreants did have two chart toppers to their name but only one featured Mel Walker in what was largely a supporting role while his own solo debut had only just reached the charts.

In other words it’s doubtful they were so confident of their appeal yet that they’d ease away from their core constituency to make a futile grab for pop acceptance.

But middle-aged white America wasn’t the only ones who found that style appealing presumably so while this approach might be atypical for Otis’s primary output it didn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t curious about how it might be melded to something more recognizable.

Sure enough, once that intro fades the rest of the song takes on a far more familiar tint.


Just To Have And To Hold
Mel Walker was slightly unusual in his vocal stylings as he was a baritone with a breathy delivery, and not one who was emphasizing sexual anticipation like prime Elvis Presley, but rather he was coming across as someone who was emotionally unsure of himself which tended to make the female audience much more receptive to him… almost protective at times.

Granted, a former football star wasn’t the kind of frail wayward soul who needed protection but it was a role he played well and one which resulted in plenty of hits along the way.

Maybe they hadn’t even had those earliest hits, or known the true impact of them, when Walker – under his real name Melvin Lightsey – wrote this with Otis. The fact it was recorded while on tour in Baltimore at a hastily arranged session tells you it was probably a last minute composition, maybe even a head arrangement with Walker scribbling down lyrics in the studio, but he’s definitely playing to his strengths here, acting vulnerable as he openly yearns for a woman no longer interested in him.

It’s easy to see to see how this might connect, especially with those females in the audience who I assume were showing their affection for him night after night on tour. Much like Sonny Til of The Orioles the response Walker was getting stemmed as much from his vocal persona as his looks and by playing that up on My Heart Tells Me they already knew what the response would be before the session ended.

He’s acting wounded and yet there are moments when he seems to get his back up and almost lashes out before settling back down, giving just enough signs that he’s got a spine that he manages to earn a little respect in the process of pouring his heart out.

Nothing in the plot is a surprise – a girl leaves a guy for someone else, the first guy is sad, cue the violins – but it’s not what is being said that really matters as much as how he’s saying it. If he comes across as whining or bitter then he’ll get no sympathy, but if Walker can sell the shock and sadness of the situation and show glimmers of resiliency then he’ll be alright.

For the most part he does the job, aided by what turns out to be a solid melodic line and good judgement in his delivery.

Now if only the band could match that.

Someone’s Not Being True
That early sentimental pap they offer up isn’t a record killer by any means, but it establishes a troublesome vibe if they seek to keep that up at the expense of something with a little more anguish in it.

What I mean is, the mood they set is almost dreamy by nature, wistful, as if Walker is fondly remembering what he’s missing out on since this girl left him rather than aching over the loss itself.

Both are legitimate feelings in that situation of course, but as to which has the greater ability to impact you as a listener I don’t think there’s any question that the more visceral response would win out.

Yet on My Heart Tells Me the band largely avoids that to focus on expressing the sorrow more than the pain.

They carry it off fairly well all things considered, sort of presaging Otis’s work on Johnny Ace’s “heart ballads” down the road in terms of arranging touches including his own vibes and that saxophone with a light touch, but there’s no real hook to the song, nothing really distinctive to imprint it on your brain and though it’s somewhat discreet in its overall sound it’s also a little busy at the same time.

What you’re left with is… a serviceable B-side. Good enough to listen to and get something out of, but not so good that you seek it out on its own very much.


Don’t Keep Me In The Dark
To no one’s surprise then this was held back for months on end while other more captivating sides were released and only when Otis and Savoy felt they had a surefire winner on the top half with Rockin’ Blues did they haul this out to give audiences something they’d be likely to accept without wasting a better cut in the process.

As totally nonessential recordings go however My Heart Tells Me is something we’re glad exists and got to be heard, if only to let Walker have a say in his own output for once.

Despite the record’s strong sales courtesy of the hit side of the single it’s highly unlikely he ever saw a dime for co-writing this one, but at least he gets to join the club of disgruntled artists in rock’s first decade who have legitimate beefs with the business practices of their labels when it comes to handing out royalties.

In the end this doesn’t move Walker forward or backwards on the board. We knew he could do this sort of thing well and he doesn’t disappoint, yet he also doesn’t surprise us by pouring it on more emphatically either. If you liked him before you’ll like just as much now. While that might not sound very productive it’s also never a bad thing to hold serve, especially on a B-side.


(Visit the Artist pages of Mel Walker and Johnny Otis for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)