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The man who stopped the Beatles

July 26, 2013
  • Engelbert Humperdinck performs Aug. 4 at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank.
Engelbert Humperdinck performs Aug. 4 at the Starlight… (Courtesy of the…)

Swinging London in the spring of 1967 was a feverish hot house of British big beat, the very latest mod fashions and a burgeoning psychedelic culture. Music was ruled by the Rolling Stones and Beatles, yet in the Ides of March saw a version of the 20-year-old country & western standard "Please Release Me" roar to the top of the UK charts and remain there for six weeks. The singer was, of course, Engelbert Humperdinck and the record ignited one of the most extraordinary careers in pop music.

Humperdinck, who appears at Burbank's Starlight Bowl on Sunday, August 4, had been working British clubs as both a saxophonist and singer for several years prior to "Please Release Me," but nothing had made significant impact.

"In my early days I sang rock stuff, but the career didn't kick until '67," Humperdinck said in a recent telephone conversation. "My first manager was Gordon Mills, who I'd met right at the beginning, we shared a flat in London and traveled with rock bands doing one-nighters. Later he became a songwriter and manager whose stable was Tom Jones, Gilbert O'Sullivan and myself. Gordon gave me the stage name and stamped my style as being a ballad singer and it was not a bad choice, because after he took me on: bingo!"

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"Please Release Me," which ultimately sold over 1.38 million copies and is certified as one of the biggest singles of all time, effectively blocked the Beatles "Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields" from the top spot, ending a nonstop run of a dozen consecutive Fabs chart toppers.

"That's in the Guinness Book of World Records," he said. "And for me to stop the Beatles from having their 12th number one was quite a coup."

From that point on, Humperdinck, born Arnold George Dorsey on May 2, 1936, pumped out one classic hit ballad after another. His rich, warm, honey-toned vocals breathed electrifying new life into such familiar country titles as "There Goes My Everything" and "Am I That Easy to Forget?" and shrewdly exploiting the Continental appeal of songs like "Quando, Quando Quando" and "A Man Without Love (Quando M'Innamoro)." He employed an unusual mixture of heavy gauge masculinity and an almost vulnerable sensitivity, creating a gender simpatico style with which men could instantaneously identify yet unfailingly sent women into a deep state of swoon.

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