Born Gene Francis Alan Pitney, 17 February 1941, Hartford, Connecticut Died 5 April 2006, Cardiff, Wales
Pop balladeer, songwriter.
Gene Pitney was one of the few American solo singers who had chart success all through the 1960s. His soaring high tenor voice is probably not everyone’s cup of tea but it was a very distinctive sound and his material was generally of a high standard.
Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Gene grew up in Rockville, also in Connecticut. He was educated at Rockville High School, Ward’s Electronic School and (briefly) the University of Connecticut. He studied piano, guitar and drums while at Rockville High and by the time he graduated he had already written and published some songs. Pitney first recorded for Decca in 1959 with Ginny Arnell, as Jamie and Jane. Next he made a record for Herb Abramson’s Blaze label as Billy Bryan, followed by a release on another of Abramson’s labels, Festival, this time under his own name. These early recordings were undistinguished but his career began to take off when he was signed to Aaron Schroeder’s fledgling Musicor label in the autumn of 1960. For his debut single on the label, the self-penned rocker “(I Wanna) Love My Life Away”, Gene overdubbed his voice six times, using his electronics experience and thus creating a very big sound. It rose to # 39 in the USA and # 26 in the UK. The second Musicor single was a complete flop but the third one, the Carole King / Gerry Goffin composition “Every Breath I Take” was produced by Phil Spector and reached # 42. This was followed by the film theme “Town Without Pity”, which went to # 13 (# 32 in the UK) in late 1961.
By this time, Pitney was also successful as a songwriter. The first artists to record one of his songs were the Kalin Twins (“Loneliness”, recorded January 26, 1960). Later in 1960, “Today’s Teardrops” was a source of substantial royalties for Gene, on the B-side of Roy Orbison’s million seller “Blue Angel” ; the song was also cut by Ricky Nelson. Bobby Vee had a # 6 hit with “Rubber Ball” in late 1960 (written under the pseudonym of "A. Orlowski", the name of Gene’s mother) and Ricky Nelson took “Hello Mary Lou” to # 9. Pitney’s greatest success as a writer came a little later (November 1962), when the Crystals topped the Billboard charts with “He’s A Rebel”. Despite this success, Pitney tended to sing the songs of other writers for his own recordings. Thanks to his producer, Aaron Schroeder, he had access to the songs of New York’s best songwriters.
In 1962-63 Gene had a brief but fruitful collaboration with Burt Bacharach and Hal David, resulting in the hits “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (# 4), “Only Love Can Break A Heart” (# 2, his biggest US hit, kept from the top by his own “He’s A Rebel”!), “True Love Never Runs Smooth” (# 21) and, best of all, “Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa" (# 17 US, # 5 UK). The latter song established Gene as an international star. “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” was written for the film of the same name, but was not included in the movie.
Pitney was present at some of the early recording sessions of the Rolling Stones in London and played piano on “Little By Little”, the B-side of their third single, “Not Fade Away”. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards returned the favour by supplying Gene with their composition “That Girl Belongs To Yesterday” (# 49 US, # 7 UK, 1964). It was the first Jagger-Richards song to enter the US charts. The B-side of that record, “Who Needs It”, is my personal Gene Pitney favourite. Other 1964 hits included “It Hurts To Be In Love” and “I’m Gonna Be Strong”.
During the second half of the 1960s, Pitney was more popular in the UK than in his native country, though he continued to score his there until 1969. Especially in 1965-66 he had one Top 10 hit after another in Britain. Some titles : “I Must Be Seeing Things”, “Backstage”, “Nobody Needs Your Love”, “Just One Smile” (written by Randy Newman) and “Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart”. When Gene re-recorded the latter song in 1989 with Marc Almond, he achieved his first and only # 1 UK hit (for four weeks).
In the mid-1960s Pitney scored a few hits on the country charts, most notably a duet with George Jones, “I’ve Got Five Dollars And It’s Saturday Night” (# 16). His recordings with Jones were assembled on a Bear Family CD (“Gene Pitney And George Jones”) in 1994. Gene also recorded some songs in Italian.
He stayed with Musicor until 1973 but there were no more US hits after 1969. In the UK his hit career lasted a little longer, until 1974. During 1974-75 he recorded for the British Bronze label and in 1976-77 for Epic. Throughout the years, Gene maintained an active touring schedule, preferring international tours over long US tours. Altogether, Pitney had 24 chart entries (pop) in the US and 22 in the UK. Three songs were million sellers : “Town Without Pity”, “Liberty Valance” and “Only Love Can Break A Heart”.
Gene Pitney died of a heart attack in 2006 in Cardiff, Wales, during a tour of the UK. He was 65. In 2002 he had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the first resident of Connecticut to receive that honour.
More info : http://www.waybackattack.com/pitneygene.html
Official website : http://www.genepitney.com/home.html
Biography : Joseph A. Angiolillo, Gene Pitney : His Climb To International Success. Lebanon, CT : Self-published by the author, 2004. 280 pages.
Discography / sessionography :
CD recommendations :
Acknowledgements : Michael Jack Kirby, Michael Brocken, the official website.
Dik, November 2015
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