"Motel Time" (Not Recommended For Radio Broadcast)
From our 21st Century vantage point, the source for the phenomenal appeal that Eddie Miller's "Release Me" enjoyed in the fifties and sixties is, shall we say, elusive. The song was a huge country hit for Jimmie Heap, Ray Price, and Kitty Wells in 1953-54, and its appeal to a country audience at that time is somewhat understandable -- it is a divorce song but one that never bluntly mentions that once-taboo subject, instead substituting the neutral and metaphoric descriptor "release" in its place. What is less decipherable is the song's appeal to non-country audiences in the sixties, first as a huge R&B hit for Esther Phillips in 1962, then as an international pop smash for Arnie Dorsey, aka Engelbert Humperdinck in 1967. Eddie Miller's original 1949 version for 4-Star ranks alongside Red Hayes' version of "A Satisfied Mind" as among the least known of all 'original versions' of popular songs.
Country music folklore has it that Miller wrote "Release Me" in 1946, tried to get everybody to record it without success, finally recording it himself as an afterthought three years later. Like most "country music folklore," this fable is a transparent example of bovine scatology. Miller co-wrote "Release Me" with a guitarist in his band, Bobby Gene Yount, in 1949, probably inspired by the current Floyd Tillman/Jimmy Wakely hit, "Slippin' Around." As Yount told Kevin Coffey, "We had been down to Pasadena, where 4-Star Records and Publishing companies were located. Coming home we got to talking about divorce. I think it was Eddie who said, 'Wouldn't it be easy to just sign a release form.' We stopped off at the club where we were working to unload our instruments, and then we got to messing around. I started doodling around with my guitar and Eddie started singing the words 'release me.' In about 45 minutes to an hour...and a few beers later...we had written 'Release Me' -- at least the basic form of it. (Guitarist) Dub Williams was working with us, so we gave him one-third of the song."
Eddie Miller and his Oklahomans in Los Angeles, c. 1950. Miller is at the mike, Bobby Gene Yount is to his right, Teddy Anderson is on piano, Bob Hines is on steel guitar, and Bob Morris is possibly the second guitarist.
When the record was released, the writer's credits read Miller-Williams-Gene (sic). Yount's middle name was printed instead of his last. 4-Star owner Bill McCall usually added his "W.S. Stevenson" pseudo to the credits of songs that he thought had potential, but McCall judged "Release Me" too ordinary to bother with. Sales of Miller's version bore out this judgement. Three years would lapse before Jimmie Heap remembered the song, and recorded a new version at one of his Capitol sessions.
More interesting to 21st Century ears is the outrageous flipside, "Motel Time." Miller had sang that "to live together is a sin" in "Release Me," but "sinning" doesn't seem to be a problem for Miller in "Motel Time." The song seems related to "Release Me," in a perverse way: once the divorce went through, one could expect a freer, happier life devoted to guilt-free one-night stands in motels.
After "Release Me" became a huge hit in 1954, Eddie Miller started a second career as a tireless promoter ... of Eddie Miller. Reimagining himself as a great songwriter, Miller publicized himself as the sole author of not only "Release Me" but "There She Goes" (co-written with Durwood Haddock), "Playboy" (co-written with Bob Morris), "Thanks a Lot" (co-written with Don Sessions), and many more, as the late sixties Country Song Round-Up puff-piece shown below demonstrates. Miller boasted of writing 800 songs, which sounds impressive until one realizes that about 750 of those are songs like "Annie, the She-Buckaroo" and "Patty Cake Man." And that quite a lot of them are co-written, anyway. Eventually he helped found the Academy of Country Music, still going strong today, and became a born-again Christian before his death in 1977. In his later years, he had re-recorded a spiritual version of "Release Me" with new lyrics, and thanked God that no one remembered or ever recorded "Motel Time" again.
"Release Me" had an afterlife that no one could have known in 1954. No one except the remarkable Bill McCall, who decided that his name should be on the song after all, and bought out Yount and Williams' share of the song in 1957. When the song became a huge pop hit in 1967, the writer's credit read Miller-Stevenson.
4-Star labels courtesy Al Turner Collection.
Below: Eddie Miller in Country Song Round-Up. Click to enlarge.