Gene Pitney

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Gene Pitney
Pitney in 1967
Pitney in 1967
Background information
Birth nameGene Francis Alan Pitney
Also known asBilly Bryan
Born(1940-02-17)February 17, 1940
Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.
OriginRockville, Connecticut, U.S.
DiedApril 5, 2006(2006-04-05) (aged 66)
Cardiff, Wales
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter, musician
Instrument(s)Guitar, piano, drums, vocals
Years active1958–2006
LabelsMusicor, Columbia

Gene Francis Alan Pitney (February 17, 1940 – April 5, 2006) was an American singer-songwriter and musician.[1]

Pitney charted 16 top-40 hits in the United States, four in the top ten. In the United Kingdom, he had 22 top-40 hit singles, including 11 in the top ten. Among Pitney's most famous hits are "Town Without Pity", "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance", "Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa", "I'm Gonna Be Strong", "It Hurts to Be in Love", and "Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart". He also wrote the early-1960s hits "Rubber Ball" recorded by Bobby Vee, "Hello Mary Lou" by Ricky Nelson, and "He's a Rebel" by the Crystals. In 2002, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Early years[edit]

Pitney was born in Hartford, Connecticut, United States,[2] on February 17, 1940,[3][4] as the son of Anna A., née Orlowski, and Harold F. Pitney.[4] The third of five children of a lathe operator, Pitney lived with his family in Rockville, Connecticut, during his formative years. He also grew up in Rockville, now part of Vernon, Connecticut.

Pitney's early influences were Clyde McPhatter, and doo-wop groups such as The Crows. He attended Rockville High School where he formed his first band, Gene & the Genials. Gene's first recordings were in 1958 with a Connecticut singing group called the Embers. Those recordings were not released until 1990. In early 1959, he released two records on the Decca label, "Snuggle Up Baby" and "Classical Rock and Roll", as part of a duo called Jamie and Jane with Ginny Arnell. Later that year, he had his first solo release "Cradle Of My Arms" under the name Billy Bryan on the Blaze record label. His first release under his real name was in 1960 on the Festival label titled "I'll Find You".


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, "Town Without Pity", from the 1961 film of the same title. 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 to "Moon River". Pitney performed the song at the Oscars ceremony on April 9, 1962.

He is also remembered for the Burt BacharachHal David song "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance", which peaked at #4 in 1962. Though it shares a title with the John Wayne western, the song was not used in the film because of a publishing dispute.

Meanwhile, Pitney wrote hits for others, including "Today's Teardrops" for Roy Orbison, "Rubber Ball" for Bobby Vee, "Hello Mary Lou" for Ricky Nelson, and "He's a Rebel" for the Crystals (later recorded by Vikki Carr and Elkie Brooks). "Rebel" kept Pitney's own #2 hit "Only Love Can Break a Heart", his highest-charting single in the US, from the top spot on 3 November 1962, the only time that a writer shut himself (or herself) out of the #1 position.[5]

He followed up in December with "Half Heaven, Half Heartache", which reached #12 on the Billboard chart. Because of his success on the music charts, and as he explained to his friend, oldies DJ 'Wild' Wayne, an unknown radio disc jockey at the time gave Pitney the nickname 'The Rockville Rocket', which caught on.

Pitney's 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 #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 US, peaking at #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;[6] he played piano, though the extent of this is uncertain.

The Jagger/Richards song "That Girl Belongs to Yesterday" was a #7 UK hit for Pitney in 1964; it was the first tune composed by the duo to become a Top 10 hit in the UK.[7] In the US, the single stalled at #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 #7 and #9, respectively, in the US, and 1966's "Nobody Needs Your Love", which peaked at #2 in the UK, matching the #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".

Pitney's career in the US took a downturn after mid-1966, when "Backstage" ended another run of Top 40 hits. He returned one last time to the Top 40 in April 1968 with "She's a Heartbreaker" (#16) 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 United States.

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

Pitney maintained a successful career in Britain and the rest of Europe into the 1970s, appearing regularly on UK charts as late as 1974. UK pianist Maurice Merry was his musical director from 1970 onward. In Australia, after a fallow period in the early 1970s, Pitney returned to the Top 40 in 1974, when both "Blue Angel" (#2) and "Trans-Canada Highway" (#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 relative 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 in order to spend more time with his family.

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 #5 for Pitney in 1967. The duet brought him his first UK #1, in late January 1989. The single remained at the top for four weeks, and also went to #1 in Germany, Finland, Switzerland and Ireland. Pitney and Almond appeared on the Terry Wogan television show in Britain.

In 2000, Pitney sang harmony vocals on Jane Olivor's recording of his 1962 hit "Half Heaven – Half Heartache", which was released on her 'comeback' album Love Decides.[8]

On 18 March 2002, Pitney was inducted by singer Darlene Love into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[9]

This Morning incident[edit]

Pitney was involved in a gaffe on ITV's This Morning in 1989, owing to a "technical mishap".[10] Giving a 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";[11] he continued with the song, and found humor in the incident.[12] It has been repeated on television over the years, notably on a 2002 episode of BBC One series Room 101,[11] in which host Paul Merton described it as a "very funny moment" in which Pitney came in "unbearably late".[13] It was re-aired on the 25th anniversary edition of This Morning in 2013, in which presenter Holly Willoughby "broke out into a cold sweat" while reliving the moment.[10]

Personal life[edit]

At the height of his fame in 1967, Pitney married his childhood sweetheart, Lynne Gayton, and the couple had three sons, Todd, Christopher, and David.[14][15]


Pitney was touring the UK in the spring of 2006 when his manager found him dead in his hotel room following a concert in Cardiff, Wales, on April 5. An autopsy found the cause of death to be a heart attack and that he had severely occluded coronary arteries.[2] His final show at Cardiff's St David's Hall had earned him a standing ovation; he ended with "Town Without Pity".[16] He was laid to rest at Somers Center Cemetery in Somers, Connecticut.[17]

Posthumous tributes[edit]

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

On September 20, 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 oldies radio DJ and Pitney friend "Wild" Wayne. Governor Jodi Rell also declared September 20, 2007, as Gene Pitney Day in the state of Connecticut. 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.



  • The Many Sides of Gene Pitney (1962)
  • Spotlight on Gene Pitney & NewCastle Trio (1962)
  • Only Love Can Break a Heart (1962)
  • Gene Pitney Sings Just for You (1963)
  • Gene Pitney Sings World Wide Winners (1963)
  • Blue Gene (1963)
  • Gene Pitney Meets the Fair Young Ladies of Folkland[A] (1964)
  • Gene Pitney's Big Sixteen (1964)
  • Gene Italiano (1964)
  • It Hurts to Be in Love and Eleven More Hit Songs[B] (1964)
  • Gene Pitney's Big Sixteen, Volume Two[C] (1965)
  • For the First Time! Two Great Stars - George Jones and Gene Pitney (1965)
  • I Must Be Seeing Things[D] (1965)
  • It's Country Time Again! (with George Jones) (1965)
  • Looking Through the Eyes of Love[E] (1965)
  • The Great Songs of Our Time (1965) Stateside SL 10156
  • Español (1966)
  • Being Together (with Melba Montgomery) (1966)
  • Big Sixteen Volume 3 (1966)-
  • Backstage (I'm Lonely)[F] (1966)
  • Nessuno Mi Può Giudicare (1966)
  • Greatest Hits of All Times (1966)
  • The Country Side of Gene Pitney (1966)
  • Young and Warm and Wonderful (1966)
  • Just One Smile (1967)
  • Golden Greats (1967)
  • The Gene Pitney Story (1968)
  • Español, Volume 2 (1968)
  • Gene Pitney Sings Burt Bacharach and Others (1968)
  • She's a Heartbreaker[G] (1968)
  • The Greatest Hits of Gene Pitney (1969)
  • This is Gene Pitney Singing The Platters' Golden Platters (1970)
  • Super Star[H] (1970)
  • Ten Years Later (1971)
  • New Sounds of Gene Pitney (1972)
  • The Golden Hits of Gene Pitney (1972)
  • Pitney '75 (1975)
  • Backstage: The Greatest Hits and More (1990)
  • You're The Reason (1990)
  • Anthology(1961–1968) (1990)
  • Hits and Misses (1993)
  • Heartbreaker (1994)
  • George Jones & Gene Pitney (1994)
  • More Greatest Hits (1995)
  • Greatest Hits (1995)
  • Great Gene Pitney (1996)
  • Very Best of Gene Pitney (1997)
  • 22 Greatest Hits (1998)
  • 25 All-Time Greatest Hits (1999)
  • Defenitive Collection (1999)
  • Many Sides of Gene Pitney/Only Love Can Break a Heart (1999) (2010)
  • Looking Through (Ultimate Collection) (2001)
  • His Golden Classics (2001)
  • I'm Gonna be Strong (2002)
  • Blue Angel: The Bronze Sessions (2003)
  • Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart (2003)
  • Street Called Hope (2004)
  • Big Twenty: All the UK Top Hits, 1961-1973 (2004)
  • Love Grows (2005)
  • 24 Hours From Tulsa (2005)
  • Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart (2005)
  • Platinum Collection (2007)
  • Best of Gene Pitney (2008)
  • Sings Just For You/World Wide Winners (2011)
  • Country Side of Gene Pitney (2012)
  • Blue Gene/Meets the Fair Young Ladies of Folkland (2013)
  • I'm Gonna be Strong/Looking Thru the Eyes of Love (2013)
  • Cradle of My Arms: Complete Gene Pitney (2013)
  • The Collection: The Original Musicor Master Tapes (2018)


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


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
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 My 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) 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[19] 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
June "Love grows" (Europe-only release)
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" A medley of two songs with the same title, the first by Roy Orbison, the second by Jimmie Rodgers
1989 January "Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart" (with Marc Almond) (Europe/Australia-only release) 24 1

Sources include Joel Whitburn's Record Research material for the US Top 100, "Bubbling Under" and US 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


  1. ^ "Hartford Courant obituary". Archived from the original on 24 November 2018. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  2. ^ a b "Gene Pitney found dead in hotel". BBC News. 5 April 2006. Archived from the original on 19 December 2008. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  3. ^ "FamilySearch". Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Gene Pitney Obituary - Rockville, CT". Hartford Courant. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  5. ^ Casey Kasem, American Top 40, 24 May 1986.
  6. ^ Zentgraf, Nico. "The Complete Works of the Rolling Stones 1962–2008". Archived from the original on 27 February 2008. Retrieved 23 February 2008.
  7. ^ Elliott, Martin (2002). The Rolling Stones: Complete Recording Sessions 1962–2002. Cherry Red Books. p. 16. ISBN 1-901447-04-9.
  8. ^ "Love Decides - Jane Olivor". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 6 May 2016. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  9. ^ "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2002 Archived 24 September 2016 at the Wayback Machine", The Plain Dealer, January 01, 2012. Retrieved June 18, 2016.
  10. ^ a b "25th Anniversary". This Morning. 3 October 2013. ITV. ITV Studios. Archived from the original on 11 December 2021.
    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."
  11. ^ a b Mills, Barrie (23 April 2002). "TV REVIEW – Romantic interlude". Liverpool Echo. TheFreeLibrary. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 29 March 2015.
  12. ^ "This Morning's top moments". Virgin Media. 1 October 2002. Archived from the original on 21 March 2014. Retrieved 29 March 2015.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Pore-Lee-Dunn Productions. "Gene Pitney". Archived from the original on 7 February 2009. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
  15. ^ "Gene Pitney". 5 April 2006. Archived from the original on 24 November 2018. Retrieved 5 April 2018 – via
  16. ^ "Fan's final chat with Gene Pitney". 5 April 2006. Retrieved 25 January 2020.
  17. ^ "Singer Gene Pitney buried in US". BBC News. 13 April 2006. Archived from the original on 9 October 2007. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  18. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 428. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  19. ^ "Results – RPM – Library and Archives Canada". Archived from the original on 22 June 2013. Retrieved 9 November 2012.

External links[edit]