If George Michael, born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, is spanakopita transformed into white bread, what are we to make of the career of Arnold George Dorsey?
Performing as Gerry Dorsey, he was small-big in the UK in the 1950s. He was featured on television shows, and toured with Marty Wilde (best known now as father of Kim, but a star in his own right back in the day). Dorsey could sing, he had a powerful and expressive voice, but something was missing, that X factor which could elevate him to stardom. A new stage name, perhaps?
It had worked for his friend Marty Wilde, who had entered life as Reginald Leonard Smith. And so, perhaps the oddest makeover in stage name history occurred. Gerry Dorsey was rebranded, adopting the name of a real person, a German opera composer who had died in 1921: Engelbert Humperdinck. One of those ideas which is so silly it works.
Under this strange moniker, white bread disguised as pumpernickel, Engelbert became a hugely successful singer of power ballads, selling millions of records. I have to admit that for me, the strange name makes it hard to take Humpy seriously. Just listen, though, and there is no denying that he was good at his craft: pop ballads with swelling orchestral backing. His producer in the 1960s was Gordon Mills, who also handled Tom Jones, and there is a lot of similarity in the arrangement and style of their records from this period.
Most of Humperdinck’s work is sentimental love songs. “My Marie” is a little unusual. It tells the story of a man who has been driven to despair by the poverty of his family. He tells the Marie of the title that he is heading off. He will either return before nightfall with all the money the family needs, or … we he doesn’t say, but suggests she should flee with the children, and remarry.
We never learn exactly what sort of errand the singer is intending. Not, one suspects, picking up the dry cleaning. Nor do we learn Marie’s opinion of this high-risk strategy which is likely to leave her destitute and a fugitive, and even less able to care for her children than before. Curiously, the original Engelbert Humperdinck is best remembered for the opera Hansel and Gretel, a story which also involves poverty and some questionable parenting choices.
But never mind. The song is not intended to be taken too seriously, and succeeds on its own terms. A nice slice of pumpernickel.
- Artist: Engelbert Humperdinck
- Single Title: My Marie
- Track: Side A “My Marie”
- Format: 7”, 45 rpm
- Label: Decca Y-9152
- Manufactured in: Australia
- Year: 1970
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