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Tin Pan Alley, Country Pop & The Indestructible ‘Release Me’: Engelbert Humperdinck Talks To uDiscover

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Vocal stylist Engelbert Humperdinck has been talking to uDiscover about the remarkable body of work that’s celebrated by today’s (19 May) release of the compilation Engelbert Humperdinck: 50 and the simultaneous The Complete Decca Studio Albums Collection. He discusses how he used to search for new material, how he crossed country music into the pop charts — and how there might be a new Engelbert studio album in the pipeline.

The 50 compilation, which you can order here, is a two-CD, 39-track retrospective featuring all of the Grammy-winning singer’s biggest hits, in a career that has realised 150 million record sales worldwide. It also includes a new DBU Disco Remix of ‘Release Me’ and two brand new songs, ‘I Don’t Want To Call It Goodbye’ and ‘I Followed My Heart.’

“It’s an amazing presentation, I think,” says Humperdinck. “I can’t believe how well it’s been done, and we’ve got a couple of new songs on there, plus the remix of ‘Release Me.’ The new songs were just both a propos, so we put them both on the album, and they’re great songs, well-written.”

Engelbert box set

The 11-album box set (click here to order) is available physically but also makes these albums available digitally for the first time. “I like the idea of the vinyl covers remaining the same in digital form now,”he observes. “Not giving it a different face, giving it the same face, only packaging it in a very contemporary way. It’s wonderful.”

Musing on the remarkable history of ‘Release Me,’ he recalls the long history of the Eddie Miller/Robert Yount composition even before he got near it. Written in 1949, the song was successful for a number of artists before it transformed Engelbert’s career in 1967. It became the UK’s bestselling single of that year, famously preventing The Beatles‘ ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ double A-side from reaching No. 1.

engelbert-humperdinck-release-me-1967-8

“It was a big hit before I got it, a country hit by Ray Price,” says the vocalist. “On stage he said ‘This was my song until Engelbert Humperdinck came along and made it a hit around the world.’ I heard it as an instrumental by a gentleman called Frank Weir. I just heard the melody and I said to Gordon Mills, who was my manager at that time, ‘That’s a hit song.’

“When it was given to Charles Blackwell and he did that amazing arrangement that is so recognisable, even that introduction gives it meaning. Everybody knows it’s ‘Release Me’ before it starts.

“My early years were very exciting for me,” he continues. “Fortunately, I had Gordon beside me, guiding my career. He was a manager that was very musically-minded. He also wrote a lot of my b-sides. He was a great manager.”

The album collection affords the opportunity to recall the wide range of material that Engelbert recorded beyond his well-known hits,. He would often interpret existing material, put his stamp on recent chart successes for others (from ‘Wand’rin’ Star’ to ‘Aquarius’), and put the spotlight on some songs of historical importance. 

“We all hung out in Tin Pan Alley, many times, looking for material for new albums,” he recalls. “But then once you have a hit record, it changes the picture and people start to send you a lot of songs. You don’t have to go looking anymore. That was one of the great things about having hit songs,” he laughs. “It makes life a little bit easier.”

Release Me album

His first Decca album of 1967, also called Release Me, featured a version of ‘Misty Blue,’ which had recently been a country hit for Wilma Burgess but became better-known to later audiences from Dorothy Moore’s soulful interpretation of 1976. “I love that song, it’s a real Nashville song,” enthuses Humperdinck.

“We didn’t go totally country, we went country pop, which is the best way to go, if you’re not a country singer yourself. Some of my hits, like ‘Am I That Easy To Forget’ and ‘There Goes My Everything,’ they were country material which was used before, but I took it and made them hits.” Another fascinating country entry is his reading of the Bee Gees‘ song ‘Sweetheart,’ which became the title song of his 1971 Decca album.

Sweetheart

Humperdinck has fond memories of the recording techniques of this album era. “I like the method we used, because the arranger would come, you would routine it, then he’d take it away and the next time you see it, it’s in the studio with all these wonderful musicians and singers.

“Then they went to another method where they just gave you a rhythm track, and you’d put your voice on that, but I never liked that method. I always liked the entire arrangement, the bed of music, to lie on, because it lends your voice to going in so many different directions, and I think that’s one of the reasons that brought success to these albums in the early years.”

Winter World Of Love

Arrangers were, and remain, key to his distinctively luxuriant sound. “Arrangers of the past, they were just brilliant musicians themselves,” he says. “People like Les Reed, he wrote great songs for me like ‘The Last Waltz,’ ‘Les Bicyclettes de Belsize,’ ‘Winter World Of Love,’ some massive hits that came from him.

“I’ve started to work with an arranger I worked with about 50 years ago, his name is Johnny Harris. He did great stuff for me like ‘Quando Quando Quando,’ that’s his arrangement. And he did the track for ‘I Follow My Heart,’ one of the new songs on the CD. It is harder to come by great songs [now], but I can honestly say that the two new ones are in this fashion.”

At 81, Engelbert’s diary continues to be packed. “A whole new album is in store, of new songs,” he reveals, but before that, there are many more shows to fulfill in his datebook, starting in June in Bucharest, Romania. “I love it. There’s not many places in the world I haven’t been, but I’m going to Iceland, I haven’t been there before, or Romania. But I’ve been everywhere else. ‘I’ve been everywhere, man…’” he sings with a chuckle.

Engelbert recent

“You do get that little nervousness when you play countries like Russia, but the funny part — although I have to have an interpreter on stage to do my talking for me — but the songs themselves, they tend to sing them in some phonetical fashion, and they sing along with you, it’s amazing.”

Of the double CD and box set packages, he concludes: “For the people that haven’t heard my music before, it’s going to be quite an eye-opener, because it does lend itself to great compositions and great arrangements. The entire package is so well done.”

Click here to order Engelbert Humperdinck: 50.

Click here to order The Complete Decca Studio Albums Collection.    

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Margaret Pavesi

    May 19, 2017 at 7:58 pm

    I have most of these songs either on 45’s or original albums, but still can’t wait to receive the cd,s with your news songs. Thank you for 50 wonderful years and more to come! Good health and God Bless Always! Just a fan, then, now, and always

  2. Arto Sarla

    May 19, 2017 at 8:06 pm

    Dear Mr. Humperdinck, there is one Nordic country where we have never had the pleasure of experiencing your live performance: Finland.
    How’s about completing your list European countries?

  3. Bettie Smal

    May 19, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    Yes I am going to get the CDS and the box set no doubt. I have 2 DVD’S, is their more perhaps.? I will like to have them all. Pse tell me will Engelbert ever come to South Africa again in the near future.? I have asked this question so many times. I saw him in November 2015 here at Montecasino in JHB. Please let me/us know. Thanks so much. Biggest Fan.❤

  4. madeleine grinyer

    May 19, 2017 at 11:25 pm

    Engelbert is an amazing singer, entertainer and wonderful person. Congratulations on 50 and to many more years with even greater success. Thank you for your beautiful music and the incredible difference you make in life.

  5. Patricia A.Lee

    May 21, 2017 at 1:13 am

    Engelbert, you are wonderful and I have always had s crush on you. I have traveled many miles to see you and hear your awesome voice and songs. I was so excited when I got to meet you in Pennsylvania in 2014. You are and have always been a truly handsome,man. Your Patricia is such a lucky woman. May God bless you and keep on performing as long as y can.!

  6. Patricia A.Lee

    May 21, 2017 at 4:23 am

    Engelbert; hope to see you at the Kennedy Center belng honored in the near future. You deserve it as I believe you have the most beautiful voice ever. Best singer AWARD……..to you…….

  7. Ann

    May 22, 2017 at 1:36 am

    I saw you in Greenville, South Carolina (USA) in the eighties and I have never forgotten you. I am now 82 (April 4, 2017 and I listen to your music almost every day on my computer. I used tp sin on the Karoke machine when was in my 60’s. I miss it. I sang Patsy Cline song. I had to have my thyroid removed and could not sing after that. I would still be singing now like you otherwise.. Keep on singing!!!!

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