Gene Pitney was quite the star in the 1960s, making hits of his on with his incredible voice, and writing hits for others. "He's a Rebel" by The Crystals, and "Hello Mary Lou" by Rick Nelson were just two of the big hits he wrote, both remarkable in their individuality. He was also noteworthy for he continued his success even while he must have seen several of his fellow American artists falling victim to the British Invasion, when acts like The Beatles, The Who, and the Rolling Stones were taking up the top spot on the charts. Pitney had a gorgeous voice, one that remained strong and true. Stylistically, it would be easy to call Pitney pure Pop, but I don't think that would communicate the facts. When I hear him sing, I immediately hear Folk in his voice,the way he tells the story. And there is the remnants of some Doo-Wop, a bit of a holdover from the 1950s. But give him a listen, and hear for yourself. And start with a single that was released in April of 1962. "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance" was written by the young duo of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, looking to cement their place in the music business. Pitney took the song to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100, and on radio everywhere.
They followed that up with another entry in the Bacharach/David songbook. "Only Love Can Break A Heart" was the second song in the summer of 1962 to make it to the Top 10, scoring #2 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The song tread the fine line between ballad and self-pitying. It was rescued from the over-wrought by Gene's wonderful vocal depth.
While he had many songs playing on the radio following those, I will fast forward to July of 1964, and a song written by Howard Greenfield and Helen Miller. "It Hurts To Be In Love" was a classic look at unrequited love, and Pitney gave just the right amount of angst in his performance. The song went to #7 on the Billboard Hot 100.
However, my favorite Gene Pitney song was released in the Fall of 1961. He sang a song written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington, for a movie starring Kirk Douglas. The song was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost to the great "Moon River" The opening bars of music screamed out teen soap opera, and soon "A Town Without Pity" paid off on the promise. As I listen to the first minute or so, I feel like a waitress just delivered a plate filled with cotton candy, waiting to get my fingers and lips all sticky with sugar. And I mean all that in a great way. I love "A Town Without Pity"!
You can find all these songs on Gene Pitney: 18 All-Time Greatest Hits, available on iTunes and Amazon. Pitney passed away while on tour in Wales in 2006. Legend has it his last performance was "Town Without Pity" for which he received a standing ovation. Gene Pitney was 66 years old. He was survived by his wife and three sons. And a legacy of some amazing music.