Tender moonlight breaks free of those blasted piano shackles so in vogue at the time. The B-side isn’t quite as successful, but the milky-clean voice still makes a gorgeous cellmate while you wait for Mr. Cooke to post bail.
Come On / Nowhere to Go (1959)
If his first single hit the sweet spot between tender and tormented, Adams’ follow-up straddles the poles to much less success. This is just tired, right down to the cold-fish break one minute in.
For as much as the B-side boxes it in, this single marks the full introduction of Johnny’s honeyed falsetto and the forging of a distinct artistic voice. “Bells” de-emphasizes rhythm in favor of delicate piano and rich horns, evoking romantic woe almost as sensitively as Adams, leaving him heartbroken outside the chapel without even a shoulder to cry on.
More of a contrast this time, with chipper backing rumbles tugging against further vocal ventures into the stratosphere. He makes weeping sound so effortless.
Adams needs backing strings like Cooke, Orbison, or any other singer worth their salt needs them: not at all. The small victories here come in spite of the dross, and are mostly confined to the B-side’s willingness to give the man some breathing room—and, of course, the sighs within that space.
Less falsetto, fewer tears, and his most balanced single yet, with both sides using more melisma and gusto to expand his persona to moods less pitiable. “Struggle”‘s barroom hollers are especially smart in the way they play off the rollicking piano.
Wedding Day / Ooh So Nice (1961)
One-half mannered melodrama and one-half blues-ish blight, this shoehorns staid harmonies into the crossover hopes already molding on “You Can Make It”. Why the B-side has such a garish string break is beyond me.
He’s exploring his assertive side more, and the integration of romantic vulnerability with a bluesy ache is certainly no losing battle. Props for his first R&B chart hit (and a juicy bass clarinet part).
Obvious rewrite of “A Losing Battle” with wobbly rhythms and phoned-in vocals? Not the showdown I had in mind.
A new label and a new paradigm: Adams’ phrasing has grown truly devotional, laying down kiss after kiss on your sweet, tender forehead with far less restriction from nagging triplets. The harmony singers exercise welcome subtlety, and when they step out of the room, Johnny aims for the heavens with one of the most goddamn-intense falsetto leaps ever to grace your ears.
Shame upon shame: Johnny Adams is nowhere near as popular as he deserves to be, and it took a decade since his first single for an LP of his work to be released. For your convenience, Heart & Soul actually includes that inaugural song, and while its sound is undeniably 50s, “I Won’t Cry” is representative of Adams’ aesthetic. The man’s tone is clean and mellow, as if he’s doing his best to prevent a titular outburst. His emotions betray him, though, when he breaks into his unfathomably beautiful falsetto, one that has me reeling from mere recollection—no matter the song.
At its best, Heart & Soul thrives on that contrast between composure and exclamation, encompassing both ballads and groovers, neither solely dominated by one of its singer’s strains.