What can I say, people? Lately I’ve been thinking about Engelbert Humperdinck.
And no, I don’t mean the 19th-century German composer. I mean the crooner (although apparently he hates having the term “crooner” applied to him) who was ever so popular in pretty much exactly the time period (mid-1960s to mid-1970s) when I was a kid growing up here at the Manse in Queensborough.
The Sedgwicks were not big Engelbert Humperdinck fans. I believe we owned exactly one of his records (and being a detail person, I’ll tell you that it was this one). And I’m fairly certain that it entered our household only as a result of us having had to order a certain number of albums from the Columbia House Record Club, or another of those “get-15-albums for 99¢!” record clubs that were so popular back in those days. Since the last time the last song on that album (which was I’m Holding Your Memory, But He’s Holding You, if you must know) spun its way around the turntable on the old Electrohome (or was it RCA?) stereo here at the Manse in 1974 or 1975, I doubt I’d thought of Engelbert Humperdinck more than three times. Until about two months ago. But weirdly, he’s come across my aural radar screen several times since.
That first time, a couple of months ago, I was driving to Kingston and amusing myself by listening to the Jim Wright oldies show (I love that show) on good old CJBQ radio, the Belleville-based station of my youth that I’ve written about many times before. Just as I turned off the Marlbank Road, an unintroduced easy-listening-type song by a guy with (I soon decided) a really great voice came on. The voice was oh so familiar, and yet I just couldn’t put my finger on which of the crooners of the late ’60s/early ’70s it might have belonged to. Tom Jones? Not rough and sexy enough. Frank Sinatra? Way too modern-sounding (well, mid-century modern) for that. Pat Boone? Perish the thought. It was a little too cool for that. Elvis? No, not the distinctive voice. By process of elimination, I decided that Engelbert Humperdinck was my best guess. And when Jim got back on the mike, I learned I was right!
But then I almost immediately forgot what song it was, which tends to be the case with those interchangeable midcentury crooner songs. I think it might have been this one – which I will tell you, at the risk of getting ahead of myself, has now become one of my favourite Engelbert Humperdinck numbers because of its sheer hummability:
Or maybe it was this one, which is, frankly, pretty great:
But anyway, it got me thinking after all these years – nay, decades! – about Engelbert Humperdinck. And not just thinking about him, but re-evaluating him. Because I’d always considered him a lower-end Tom Jones, a showboat at whom women even more desperate than were Tom Jones fans would fling underwear at concerts. (And that was true; that did happen.) But what I’d failed to appreciate in my younger days, when I was listening to the Beatles and Bob Dylan and (embarrassingly) the Partridge Family, when I was so (I thought) much smarter than anyone a generation or more older than I, was that Engelbert Humperdinck had – and has – an amazing voice, and an insanely great way of delivering a song.
And so when I happened across an album called Engelbert Humperdinck: His Greatest Hits in the used-record bin one recent Saturday at the wonderful thrift shop in downtown Madoc, I snapped it up, cheesy cover photos and all:
And I took it home and listened to it. And, well… have been humming Les Bicyclettes de Belsize, and Spanish Eyes, and Release Me, and The Last Waltz, on and off ever since.
(But not Quando Quando Quando. That is a terrible song, and I defy anyone to say otherwise.)
Then a couple of weekends ago, I came across still more Humperdinckia!
Yup, it’s an old, battered and stained collection of Engelbert songs, though not really his greatest hits; this one is more about songs made famous by others (Gentle On My Mind, for instance) that he had also covered. But still, it is a great piece of midcentury nostalgia, and I love it.
And hey! Should I ever need to know the chords for A Man Without Love – well, I’ve got them.
But meanwhile, let’s leave with another great song by Engelbert Humperdinck from back in his prime. Heck, let’s go all out and have his greatest hit ever. It’s got emotion, and a love that’s grown cold, and a hot new love waiting in the wings. Not to mention one of those sleek and funky late-1960s microphones. What more could you want?