When Tom Jones recorded an unreleased gospel ‘Release Me’ before rival Engelbert Humperdinck

19 October 2021, 15:26 | Updated: 10 January 2024, 13:26

Engelbert Humperdinck and Tom Jones in happier times
Engelbert Humperdinck and Tom Jones in happier times. Picture: Getty

By Mayer Nissim

Engelbert Humperdinck's 'Release Me' kept The Beatles off the number one spot in 1967 – but Tom Jones nearly released it first.

Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck have long been rivals.

It's believed that their feud first started a few years after Engelbert was signed up by manager Gordon Mills, who had already helped catapult Tom Jones to success.

The pair were initially friends, but fell out after Humperdinck split from Mills and left the MAM Record label founded by Mill and Jones.

Engelbert Humperdinck - Release Me [Old Video Edit] 1967

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While Engelbert has made repeated overtures of peace to Tom over the years, he hasn't reciprocated.

Their relationship probably hit their lowest in 2015, when Tom brushed off the idea of patching things up with Engelbert by telling Metro in 2015: "No. It’s as I say – once a c*** always a c***."

But did you know that Engelbert's breakthrough hit 'Release Me' was actually offered to Tom Jones first, and that he even recorded a gospel version of the track that was shelved?

Humperdinck's version went all the way to number one when it was released in 1967 on the back of a live performance on Sunday Night at the London Palladium.

Flashback Friday 22 • 'Release Me & Sunday Night at the London Palladium' with Engelbert Humperdinck

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Not only that, but it kept The Beatles 'Strawberry Fields Forever' / 'Penny Lane' off the top spot, ending the band's four year run of number ones, and stayed in the charts for over a year.

All that pop history would have been different had Tom Jones been happy with his version of 'Release Me'.

"At the end of 1966 when I was looking for a hit song, I found an instrumental called 'Release Me' by the jazz saxophonist Frank Weir," Engelbert told The Guardian.

"The melody was so beautiful. I said to Gordon, 'This is a hit tune'. It was written in 1949 and had been done by a few people, but we found a lyric version by Esther Phillips, which was R&B.

"I wanted to do it more like the Frank Weir version, but with lyrics. Gordon also suggested it to Tom Jones, but Tom didn’t like it, so Gordon said to me, 'You can have it'."

Release Me

Gold's Hall of Fame: Tom Jones

Arranger Charles Blackwell revealed that rather than just offering it to him, a version had actually been recorded with Tom a week before.

"Tom Jones's version was more gospel, so for Engelbert I changed the arrangement into what you might call orchestral country music," he said.

Blackwell also confirmed that as well as top session player Big Jim Sullivan featuring on the track, also playing guitar was a 23-year-old Jimmy Page, who was then in The Yardbirds and would go on to form Led Zeppelin the following year.

The arranger added: "I don’t think they found the 'Release Me' session all that interesting – they played pocket chess between the takes"

Tom did go on to perform 'Release Me' live, and a studio version was also eventually released – you can find it on a number of his compilations, including 2008's Green Green Grass Of Home.