A country classic recorded by well over 100 artists, "Release Me (and Let Me Love Again)" dates back to the late '40s, and has a convoluted history. It was written by Eddie Miller and two of his bandmembers: guitarists Bobby Gene Yount and Dub Williams. Miller fronted an act called Eddie Miller and his Oklahomans, which recorded the first version of this song in either 1949 or 1950.
The song is about a guy who wants to get out of his current relationship so he can pursue another. According to Yount, the song came about when they got to talking about divorce, and Miller wondered if there was some kind of release form one of the spouses could sign. They worked on the song before a gig and came up with the basic version in about an hour.
The original version got little attention, but it was noticed by the Country singer Jimmy Heap, who recorded it in 1953. Ray Price and Kitty Wells also recorded the song, and it soon became a standard, with Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, Chet Atkins, Roger Miller and Elvis Presley among the many acts to record it.
This was the first single recorded under the name Engelbert Humperdinck, and it became the biggest hit of his career. He had previously recorded as Gerry Dorsey. Humperdinck's 1967 version is the most successful cover of the song.
Long before it became trendy for Pop stars to get their own perfumes, Humperdinck attached his name to a fragrance for women called "Release Me," which was sold through the Home Shopping Channel in 1994.
This single sold 1,365,000 copies in the UK, and it prevented the Beatles' "Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever" from getting to #1 and making it 18 consecutive #1s for the fab four. It was #1 in 9 countries and the biggest hit in the UK in 1967.
This song holds the record for the longest stay in the UK charts for consecutive weeks at 56 weeks. It is one of only two records (Acker Bilk's "Stranger On The Shore
" is the other) to have spent more than a year on the singles chart in an unbroken run. The song didn't become popular for 3 months until Engelbert Humperdinck was a last minute replacement for Dickie Valentine, who had become ill, on the popular television variety show Sunday Night At The London Palladium
, where he sung this song and watched it race up the charts.
According to 1000 UK #1 Hits
by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh, the idea for the song came to country music songwriter Eddie Miller in a bar in San Francisco. He overheard a husband and wife talking about their marital troubles. The wife said, "If you'd release me, we wouldn't have any problems and everything would be all right."
This was Esther Phillips' (formerly known as "Little Esther") comeback song after she was rediscovered by Kenny Rogers at a Houston club. Her 1962 version topped the R&B charts and landed at #8 on the Pop charts. Her version was re-released in 1967 after Humperdinck scored with the song, this time going to #93 in the US.
The songwriting credits on this one are tough to decipher. The only name to consistently appear is Eddie Miller, and while Bobby Gene Yount and Dub Williams (listed as his real name, William Pebworth) appear on early versions, they apparently sold their rights to the song to Bill McCall, who owned the label that Eddie Miller and his Oklahomans recorded for: 4 Star Records. McCall used the pen name W.S. Stevenson, so many later pressings credit the song to Miller/Stevenson.
It was Engelbert Humperdinck's manager Gordon Mills who discovered the tune when he found an instrumental version of "Release Me" by British saxophonist Frank Weir. Humperdinck, who had never heard the song, recalled to Billboard magazine:
"I heard the melody and thought it could be a hit. I asked if we could find the lyrics. When we heard the words, it was a double whammy for me because they sounded terrific. Then we brought in a great arranger, Charles Blackwell."