It was 1967, the year the Beatles released "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." The Summer of Love was in full swing. And a former pub singer using the unwieldy but unforgettable moniker Engelbert Humperdinck recorded a romantic ballad called "Release Me (And Let Me Love Again)."
It was an unlikely top-five hit, even beating out the Beatles' "Penny Lane" for the No. 1 spot in England. Mr. Humperdinck's (real name: Arnold George Dorsey) dramatic reading appealed to the same crowd who had made Tom Jones an international superstar two years earlier. "Release Me," issued on Parrot, the same record label as Jones' first big hit, was an instant success.
Mr. Humperdinck, now 55, still enjoys singing the 25-year-old tune. "As soon as the band plays the intro, the audience
gets right behind it," he said in a recent interview. "They just love it."
Despite a quarter-century of solid bookings, "The King of Romance," as he calls himself, remembers well the early years that led him to "borrow" the name Humperdinck, the composer of "Hansel and Gretel."
"My given name was all right, but 'Engelbert Humperdinck' had that something extra," the crooner said. "People remembered it. My friends call me Eng."
Mr. Humperdinck, who has homes in Beverly Hills and England, likes to bring
along a 30-member orchestra in many of his concerts.
"We're very much into a musical show this year rather than a big showy production," he said.
Mr. Humperdinck will release a new album next month, "Hello Out There," of which he wrote six of the 12 tracks. He said he often wakes up in the morning with a melody in mind.
"When I write, I try and think of a title first and keep it in my head," Mr. Humperdinck said. "If I have a melody the next morning, I sing it into a tape recorder. Then, we finalize the lyrics with an arranger. As an artist, I think I can write what my audience wants to hear. I think they want to hear about real-life situations."
"Reach Out," one of the original songs on the new disc, "gets my feelings across about the innocent children of the world," he explained. "We should reach out and help these children is what I'm saying."
The song title also refers to a charity Mr. Humperdinck is involved with. Reach Out is a 40-bed Las Vegas pediatric AIDS hospice run by volunteers.
"It's a charity that really hits home," he said. "These kids are so wonderful, you want to help them immediately when you meet them."
Mr. Humperdinck is raising money for the charity through his 40,000-member fan club. "My fans have been very supportive of this," he said, adding that the image of his followers as underwear-tossing matrons is false.
"They're slightly more civilized than that. A lot of the original fans now have their own daughters hooked into the show. They range in age from 7 to 70."
Mr. Humperdinck claims he has a much younger fan base in Europe, where he has had more luck with the pop charts. "We're not trying to be rock 'n' roll stars. We're trying to give the people what they want."