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Song Spotlight: “Release Me”

  • Mood: Wistful
  • Theme: The End of a Romantic Relationship
  • Tempo: Moderately slow
  • Genre/Style: Country or Smooth Ballad
Ray Price

Ray Price’s 1954 version of “Release Me” was a breakthrough hit

Here is a song that proves the best songs rise above genre conventions. “Release Me” was penned by Eddie Miller, Robert Yount and James Pebworth in 1946. Since Miller could not find anyone to record the song at first, he recorded it himself in 1949. Fellow country musicians Jimmy Heap, Ray Price, and Kitty Wells recorded their own versions several years later. In fact, Price’s 1954 version, which hit number 6 on the country charts, is sometimes considered his breakthrough hit.

“Release Me” could not stay in the country music world, though. The song started crossing genre lines with a successful release in the R&B world by Little Esther Phillips in 1962. Later versions of “Release Me” were released by artists as diverse as Jerry Lee Lewis (1969) and Def Leppard (1989).

Engelbert Humperdinck

Engelbert Humperdinck released his famous cover of “Release Me” in 1967

Perhaps the most famous cover version of this song was released by Engelbert Humperdinck in 1967. A relatively unknown artist at the time of his version’s release, Humperdinck reached the top ten on the Billboard charts in the U.S., and in the U.K., his version of “Release Me” held the number one spot for six weeks, even preventing The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane” from reaching the top of the charts.

Humperdinck’s version of “Release Me” makes clear that this song rises above genre conventions. Humperdinck sang this in his signature smooth ballad style, with a full chorus joining him towards the end. Bringing in that choral sound lends a completely different feeling to the song from the pensive, solo guitar accompaniment heard in the early country versions.

Why does “Release Me” cross genre lines?

Certainly the song’s lyrics, from the perspective of a person asking his lover to let him go to pursue another relationship, fit well with the common themes of the country music genre. These themes of love and loss are universal to human experience, though, so it’s easy to see why the thoughts and feelings behind this song can be expressed effectively and meaningfully in many different styles.

Why does this matter to us?

This example of one song crossing genre lines tells us that people may be drawn to any one of many different aspects of a song. The lyrical themes, the sounds of a twangy guitar or a backup chorus, the heartthrob behind the microphone – any of these may be what draws someone to a particular song.

When we as caregivers try to determine music preferences, we often take the first song someone suggests and build from there. So, if someone said their favorite song was “Love Me Tender,” we might try other songs by Elvis Presley, or other love songs from the 1950s.

But if someone said their favorite song was “Release Me,” what does that mean? Try a bunch of classic country songs? Or explore more Humperdinck-style love ballads? You must avoid jumping to conclusions about someone’s preferences based on one song.

What other songs cross genre lines? When have you come to the wrong conclusions about your clients’ preferences based on one song? Tell us in the comment section below.

This post is part of an occasional series on special songs to share with your loved ones. For more song spotlights, click here.

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