Gene Pitney

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Gene Pitney
Gene Pitney 1967.JPG
Pitney in 1966.
Background information
Birth name Gene Francis Alan Pitney
Also known as Billy Bryan
Born (1940-02-17)17 February 1940
Hartford, Connecticut, United States
Origin Rockville, Connecticut, United States
Died 5 April 2006(2006-04-05) (aged 66)
Cardiff, Wales
Genres Rock and roll
Occupation(s) Singer, songwriter, musician
Instruments Guitar, piano, drums
Years active 1961–2006

Gene Francis Alan Pitney (17 February 1940 – 5 April 2006) was an American singer-songwriter, musician, and sound engineer. Through the mid-1960s, he enjoyed success as a recording artist on both sides of the Atlantic and was among the group of early 1960s American acts who continued to enjoy hits after the British Invasion.

Pitney charted 16 Top-40 hits in the U.S., four in the Top 10. In the UK he had 22 Top-40 hits, and 11 singles in the Top Ten. He also wrote the early 1960s hits "Rubber Ball" recorded by Bobby Vee, "He's a Rebel" by the Crystals, and "Hello Mary Lou" by Ricky Nelson. In 2002, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Early years[edit]

Pitney was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and grew up in Rockville, now part of Vernon, Connecticut. His early influences were Clyde McPhatter, country-blues singer Moon Mullican and doo-wop groups like the Crows. He attended Rockville High School, at which he was named "the Rockville Rocket", and where he formed his first band, Gene & the Genials. Pitney was an avid doo wop singer and sang with a group called The Embers. He made records as part of a duo called Jamie and Jane with Ginny Arnell (who in late 1963 had a solo hit, "Dumb Head"), and in 1959 recorded a single as Billy Bryan. The first of the two Decca 45s as Jamie and Jane was "Snuggle Up, Baby," a cover of a song Charlie Gracie recorded at Cameo 1957 or early 1958, which remained unreleased until London Records released Gracie's original version in Europe in 1978.

Career[edit]

Rise to fame (1961–1964)[edit]

Signed to songwriter Aaron Schroeder's newly formed Musicor label in 1961, Pitney scored his first chart single, which made the Top 40, the self-penned "(I Wanna) Love My Life Away", on which he played several instruments and multi-tracked the vocals. He followed that same year with his first Top 20 single, the title song from the film Town Without Pity starring Kirk Douglas. Written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington, the song won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song, but lost the award to "Moon River". Pitney performed the song at the Oscars ceremony on 9 April 1962 (honoring the film year of 1961).

Pitney is also remembered for Burt Bacharach-Hal David song "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", which peaked at No. 4 in 1962. Though it shares a title with a 1962 John Ford western with the same title, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, starring John Wayne, the song was not used in the film because of a publishing dispute between Famous Music and Paramount Pictures.

Meanwhile, Pitney wrote hits for others, including "He's a Rebel" for the Crystals, Vikki Carr, and Elkie Brooks; "Today's Teardrops" for Roy Orbison; "Rubber Ball" for Bobby Vee; and "Hello Mary Lou" for Ricky Nelson. The Crystals' version of "He's A Rebel" kept Pitney's own No. 2 hit "Only Love Can Break a Heart", his highest-charting single in the U.S., from the top spot.

His popularity in the UK market was ensured by the breakthrough success of "Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa", a Bacharach and David song, which peaked at No. 5 in Britain at the start of 1964. It was only Pitney's third single release in the UK to reach the singles chart and the first to break into the Top Twenty there; it was also a hit in the U.S, peaking at No. 17 on the Hot 100.

Involvement with the Rolling Stones (1964)[edit]

Pitney was present with Phil Spector at some of the Rolling Stones' early recording sessions in London, including "Little by Little" and other tracks for their debut album;[1] he played piano, though the extent is uncertain.

The Jagger/Richards song "That Girl Belongs to Yesterday" was a UK hit for Pitney in 1964; it was the first tune composed by the Rolling Stones to become a Top 10 hit in the UK.[2] In the U.S. the single stalled at No. 49, ending a run of seven Top 40 singles for Pitney as a performer.

Maintaining popularity[edit]

After another low-charting single, 1964's "Yesterday's Hero", Pitney rebounded with another string of hits in the mid-1960s, including the 1964 singles "It Hurts to Be in Love" and "I'm Gonna Be Strong", which reached No. 7 and No. 9, respectively, in the U.S., and 1966's "Nobody Needs Your Love", which peaked at No. 2 in the UK, matching the No. 2 UK peak of "I'm Gonna Be Strong". "It Hurts to Be in Love" had been planned for and recorded by Neil Sedaka, but RCA refused to release it because Sedaka had recorded the song outside RCA Victor in violation of his contract. The writers, Howard Greenfield and Helen Miller, presented the song to Pitney. Miller replaced Sedaka's voice with Pitney's, though Sedaka's trademark backing harmonies were left intact.

In 1965, Pitney recorded two successful albums with country singer George Jones. They were voted the most promising country-and-western duo of the year. Pitney also recorded songs in Italian, Spanish and German, and twice finished second in Italy's annual Sanremo Music Festival, where his strong vibrato reminded older listeners of the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso. He had a regional hit with "Nessuno Mi Può Giudicare".

UK, Australian and European stardom (1966–1970s)[edit]

Pitney's career in the U.S. took a downturn after mid-1966, when "Backstage" ended another run of Top 40 hits. He returned one last time to the Top 40 with "She's a Heartbreaker" in mid-1968 and placed several singles in the lower reaches of the Hot 100 after that, but by 1970 he was no longer a hit-maker in the U.S.

Pitney maintained a successful career in Britain and the rest of Europe into the 1970s, appearing regularly on UK charts as late as 1974. In Australia, after a fallow period in the early 1970s, Pitney returned to Top 40 in 1974, as both Blue Angel (No. 2) and Trans-Canada Highway (No. 14; production by David Mackay) were substantial hits. Pitney continued to place records in the Australian charts through 1976, including the hit "Down This Road", written and produced by distant relation Edward Pitney. They also collaborated in the production of the hit song "Days of Summer".

In the early 1970s, Pitney decided to spend only six months each year on the road.

Later career[edit]

Pitney's last hit on the UK charts came in 1989, after an absence of 15 years, when he and Soft Cell singer Marc Almond recorded a duet version of "Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart" by British writers Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway. The song had been a UK No. 5 for Pitney in 1967. The duet brought him his first UK No. 1, in late January 1989. The single remained at the top for four weeks, and also went to No. 1 elsewhere in Europe. Pitney and Almond appeared on the Terry Wogan television show in Britain, Almond dressed in leather, Pitney in a white tuxedo.

On 26 February 1993, Pitney performed at Carnegie Hall in New York on the day of the first World Trade Center bombing.

In 2000, he re-recorded "Half Heaven, Half Heartache" as a duet with Jane Olivor on her 'comeback' album Love Decides.

On 18 March 2002 Pitney was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

This Morning incident[edit]

Pitney was involved in a memorable gaffe on ITV's This Morning in 1989, owing to a "technical mishap".[3] Giving an ostensibly live performance of his track "You're the Reason", Pitney missed his cue and was seen "failing dismally to mime along in time to his backing track";[4] he tried not to laugh and continued with the song.[5] The incident has been repeated on television over the years, notably on a 2002 episode of BBC One series Room 101,[4] where host Paul Merton described it as a "very funny moment" in which Pitney came in "unbearably late".[6] It was re-aired on the 25th anniversary edition of This Morning in 2013, where presenter Holly Willoughby "broke out into a cold sweat" while reliving the moment.[3]

Death[edit]

His tour manager found Gene Pitney dead on 5 April 2006 in a Hilton Hotel room in Cardiff, during a UK tour. Pitney was 66.[7] His final show at Cardiff's St David's Hall had earned him a standing ovation; he ended with "Town Without Pity".[citation needed] An autopsy revealed that he had died of a heart attack and had severely constricted coronary arteries. He was survived by his wife Lynne and their three sons Todd, Chris, and David.[8] He was buried at Somers Center Cemetery in Somers, Connecticut.[9]

Posthumous tributes[edit]

Marc Almond recorded "Backstage (I'm Lonely)" for his 2007 covers album, Stardom Road.

On 20 September 2007, a plaque to Pitney was unveiled at the town hall in his hometown of Rockville, Connecticut. Members of the family attended. The event was emceed by nationally known oldies radio DJ and Pitney friend "Wild" Wayne. The Gene Pitney Commemorative Committee established a music scholarship in Pitney's name. It is awarded annually to Rockville High School. In October 2008, an international fan convention was held in Rockville.

Discography[edit]

Albums[edit]

Notes
A ^ Originally released as Dedicated to My Teen Queens
B–H Released in the UK as: B. ^ I'm Gonna Be Strong, C. ^ Gene Pitney More Big Sixteen, D. ^ Looking Through the Eyes of Love, E. ^ Sings the Great Songs of Our Time, F. ^ Nobody Needs Your Love, G. ^ Pitney Today, H. ^ Ten Years Later

Singles[edit]

Note that release dates refer to initial release. Pitney's early singles generally appeared one to four months later in the UK/Australia. Many of his later releases are UK/Australia/NZ only.
Year Month Title Chart positions
AU CA UK[10] US US
Country
1959 "Snuggle Up Baby" (with Ginny Arnell as Jamie and Jane)
"Classical Rock And Roll" (with Ginny Arnell as Jamie and Jane)
1960 "Cradle of My Arms" (as Billy Bryan)
"Going Back to mMy Love"
"I'll Find You" (as Gene Pitney)
"Please Come Back"
1961 January "(I Wanna) Love My Life Away" 29 23 26 39
April "Louisiana Mama"
July "Every Breath I Take" 42
October "Town without Pity" 31 10 32 13
1962 April "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance" 3 2 4
August "Only Love Can Break a Heart" (A-side) 4 11 2
→ "If I Didn't Have a Dime (To Play the Jukebox)" (B-side) 42 58
December "Half Heaven – Half Heartache" 11 4 12
1963 March "Mecca" (A-side) 7 2 12
→ "Teardrop by Teardrop " (B-side) 130
June "True Love Never Runs Smooth" 18 17 21
October "Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa" 3 6 5 17
1964 January "That Girl Belongs to Yesterday" (A-side) 9 41 7 49
→ "Who Needs It" (B-side) 41? 131
April "Yesterday's Hero" (A-side) 18 36 64
→ "Cornflower Blue" (B-side)
July "It Hurts to Be in Love" 6 2 36 7
"Lips Are Redder on You" (Australia-only release) 83
October "I'm Gonna Be Strong" 5 3 2 9
1965 February "I Must Be Seeing Things" (A-side) 12 6 6 31
→ "Marianne" (B-side)
April "I've Got Five Dollars and It's Saturday Night"
 (with George Jones as George & Gene)
65 99 16
May "Last Chance to Turn Around" 13 4 13
June "Louisiana Man" (A-side) (with George Jones as George & Gene) 25
→ "I'm a Fool to Care" (B-side) (with George Jones as George & Gene) 115
July "Looking Through the Eyes of Love" 34 3 3 28
November "Princess in Rags" 13 2 9 37
"Big Job" (with George Jones as George & Gene) 50
1966 January "Baby Ain't That Fine" (with Melba Montgomery) 15
March "Nessuno Mi Puo' Giudicare" 30 115
April "Backstage" 29 2 4 25
May "That's All It Took" (with George Jones as George & Gene) 47
June "Nobody Needs Your Love" (Europe-only release) 2
July? "Being Together" (with Melba Montgomery)
September "(In the) Cold Light of Day" (A-side) 19 38 115
→ "The Boss's Daughter" (B-side)
December "Just One Smile" (A-side) 55 51[11] 8 64
→ "Innamorata" (B-side)
1967 March "I'm Gonna Listen to Me"
"Animal Crackers (In Cellophane Boxes)" 87 106
April "Tremblin'"
September "Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart" 69 5 130
1968 March "The More I Saw of Her"
"Somewhere in the Country" (Europe-only release) 19
April "She's a Heartbreaker" 39 13 16
October "Billy, You're My Friend" 31 92 92
November "Yours Until Tomorrow" (Europe-only release) 34
1969 March "Maria Elena" (Europe-only release) 25
August "Playing Games of Love" (Australia-only release) 85
December "She Lets Her Hair Down (Early in the Morning)" 88 89
1970 March "A Street Called Hope" 37
October "Shady Lady" 29
1971 "Higher and Higher"
"Gene Are You There?"
1972 "I Just Can't Help Myself"
"Summertime Dreamin'"
1973 April "24 Sycamore" (Europe-only release) 34
1974 October "Blue Angel" (Europe/Australia-only release) 2 39
1975 March "Trans-Canada Highway" (Europe/Australia-only release) 14
1977 "It's Over, It's Over"
"Dedication"
1989 January "Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart"
 (with Marc Almond, Europe-only release)
24 1

Sources include Joel Whitburn's Record Research material for the U.S. Top 100, "Bubbling Under" and U.S. Country charts; Tim Rice et al., Guinness Book of Hit Singles for the UK; CHUM Chart for Canada prior to mid-1964, and the Canadian RPM charts thereafter; and The Kent Report for Australia

References[edit]

  1. ^ Zentgraf, Nico. "The Complete Works of the Rolling Stones 1962–2008". Retrieved 2008-02-23. 
  2. ^ Elliott, Martin (2002). The Rolling Stones: Complete Recording Sessions 1962–2002. Cherry Red Books. p. 16. ISBN 1-901447-04-9. 
  3. ^ a b "25th Anniversary". This Morning. 3 October 2013. ITV. ITV Studios. 
    Phillip Schofield: "Well, today we're live from the Albert Dock where 24 years ago, this happened."
    [Clip rolls]
    Holly Willoughby: "Oh my goodness. I just broke out into a cold sweat, watching that...Gene Pitney's technical mishap."
  4. ^ a b Mills, Barrie (23 April 2002). "TV REVIEW – Romantic interlude". Liverpool Echo. TheFreeLibrary. Retrieved 29 March 2015. 
  5. ^ "This Morning's top moments". Virgin Media. 1 October 2002. Retrieved 29 March 2015. 
  6. ^ Merton, Paul (22 April 2002). "Ricky Gervais". Room 101. Season 7. Episode 8. 10 minutes in. BBC One. British Broadcasting Corporation. You [Gervais] mentioned people being late: this is a very funny moment from This Morning with Gene Pitney, where Gene Pitney was unbearably late. 
  7. ^ "Gene Pitney found dead in hotel". BBC Online. BBC News. 5 April 2006. Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  8. ^ Pore-Lee-Dunn Productions. "Gene Pitney". Classicbands.com. Retrieved 2012-04-23. 
  9. ^ "Singer Gene Pitney buried in US". BBC Online. BBC News. 13 April 2006. Retrieved 18 March 2015. 
  10. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 428. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  11. ^ "Results – RPM – Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. Retrieved 2012-11-09. 

External links[edit]