Engelbert Humperdinck decided to do an album of duets — a two-disc, 23-track duets set with Elton John, Smokey Robinson, Il Divo, Willie Nelson, Kiss’ Gene Simmons, Wynonna Judd and more — for one simple reason: He’d never done it before.
“I figured this’ll be my 80th album, and I’ve never done a duets album, so it was kind of a change for me,” Humperdinck, who releases “Engelbert Calling” on March 17 in the U.K. and later this spring in the U.S., tells Billboard. “It was a big change and a great honor to work with all these legendary people. All of (the songs) are pretty personal; I wouldn’t have chosen them if I didn’t particularly like them. They all have a certain significance attached to them that relates to my life and to (the other singers).”
Humperdinck credits John, with whom he sings “The Way You Look Tonight,” with the “Engelbert Calling” concept — and title.
“He said on one of his live CDs that in the early days, when he was a struggling writer in London, ‘I used to live in a little flat with my partner Bernie Taupin, writing songs and hoping and wishing that one day an Engelbert Humperdinck would call and take one of my songs.’ So we finally called, and that’s why we called the album ‘Engelbert Calling,’ and Elton John was the first to answer, and it was a delight to work in the studio with him.”
Humperdinck says “quite a few” of the tracks were recorded with both singers in the room, wrapping up with Judd and Johnny Mathis — “Two of my favorite people. And Mathis is out of this world; I’ve been a big fan of his since the beginning of time.”
Judd, meanwhile, had the honor of cutting a new version of Humperdinck’s signature hit “Release Me,” which the two “re-did in a modern fashion.” And he’s well aware that Simmons in particular sticks out on his list of collaborators.
“Not only do I like his band — I like him,” Humperdinck says of Simmons, who joins him for “Spinning Wheel.” “He was just an amazing person. He’s got a great personality, a lot of pizzazz to it and a great sense of humor. And he helped me a little bit by telling me, ‘Why don’t you do this? Why don’t you do that?’ and I’d think, ‘yeah, that’s a great suggestion.’ Coming from him, I would take it.”
Robinson, meanwhile, was perfectly happy to let Humperdinck have his way with “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me.” “I said to him, ‘I Know this was a super big hit, but can we do it this way?’ And he said, ‘It’s your time, it’s your song, you go ahead and do it the way you want to do it, man,’ ” Humperdinck recalls with a laugh.
Humperdinck, who continues to tour regularly, says he’d like to recreate “Engelbert Calling” in a live setting at some point.
“A lot of them have said, ‘Any time you ever need us to do anything, we’ll be happy to oblige,” he says. “The first one, of course, was Elton John, and Gene Simmons said he would do that, too. So therefore we’ve got those two people to start with. And of course Willie Nelson for sure, and Kenny Rogers — quite a few of them.” And Humperdinck says his next recording project “will probably be another duet album I think. And we’ll probably call it ‘Re-Dialed.’ “
The full track list for “Engelbert Calling” includes:
“Something About The Way You Look Tonight” with Elton John
“Since I Lost My Baby” with Cliff Richard
“Never Never Never” with Olivia Newton-John
“Spanish Eyes” with Il Divo
“Make You Feel My Love” with Willie Nelson
“Spinning Wheel” with Gene Simmons
“I Need You Now” with Lulu
“You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” with Smokey Robinson
“Real Love” with Shelby Lynne
“She Believes In Me” with Kenny Rogers
“Better” with Louise Dorsey
“Ain’t That Peculiar” with Andrea Corr
“A Certain Smile” with Johnny Mathis
“After The Lovin’” with Beverley Knight
“The Hungry Years” with Neil Sedaka
“It Matters To Me” with Dionne Warwick
“She” with Charles Aznavour
“Kiss Me Honey” with Tini
“It’s Impossible/Somos Novios” with Armando Manzanero
“Quien Te Dijo Eso” with Luis Fonsi
“Release Me” with Wynonna Judd
“Something To Hold On To” with Ron Sexsmith
“Father And Son” with Bradley Dorsey