Saturday, November 11, 2017

At the Hop!

Gene Pitney

Gene Pitney has one of the most distinctive voices in music. Whether you like it or not you know when it is Gene. Pitney has often been categorized (quite unfairly) as a teen-idol singer responsible only for melodramatic, angst-ridden ballads. This is to deny the true talent of the man and the extensive range he possesses. Born on February 17, 1941 in Rockville, Connecticut, Gene had a love of music from an early age. In high school, he was part of the band "Gene Pitney and the Genials". As well as music, Gene was a keen student and, after high school, he began studying electrical engineering. However, his music and studies were coming into increasing conflict and Gene began to move more towards his musical ambitions. Gene's first foray into the music scene was as part of a duet with Ginny Arnell, their first song being 1959's "Classical Rock & Roll". Gene moved on quickly though and his first solo song came with "Cradle of My Arms" albeit under the name Billy Bryan. With limited success as an artist, Gene began to find more success as a songwriter. The first big breakthrough came when Roy Orbison recorded "Today's Teardrops" as the B-side to "Blue Angel". "Rubber Ball", another Pitney song, became a hit for Bobby Vee in the US and Marty Wilde in the UK. Further success would come with Ricky Nelson recording "Hello Mary Lou" (a Top 5 in the US) and "He's a Rebel" for Phil Spector's group, The Crystals. "He's a Rebel" would eventually reach number 1 in the UK and ironically deny Pitney the chance at a number 1 himself. Gene's career as an artist in his own right began with the self-penned "I Wanna Love My Life Away" which he recorded for $30 at a small recording studio in New York. What was even more amazing is that Gene recorded all 7 vocal tracks as well as playing the piano, guitar and drums on the song. The single made the top 40 in the US and Britain. The real breakthrough for Gene came with the song "Town Without Pity" which was the title song to the movie of the same name. The song received a Golden Globe Award, reached the US top 20 and Gene also performed it at the Academy Awards. He was the first pop singer to ever perform at the Oscar's and it helped to significantly raise his profile in the US. Following hot on the heels of "Town Without Pity" was "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". A Burt Bacharach/Hal David song it was originally intended to be the title song to the movie of the same name but it never did appeared in the movie. Despite this the song was well received and it's mix of the pop and country genres worked extremely well. With his popularity now firmly established in the US and growing in the UK Gene began to churn the hits out with amazing regularity. "Only Love Can Break a Heart", "If I Didn't Have a Dime", "Half Heaven, Half Heartache", "Mecca", "It Hurts to be in Love" and "True Love Never Runs Smooth" were all hit records for Gene in the US. "Only Love Can Break a Heart" was denied number 1 in the US charts by the Pitney own composition "He's a Rebel" sung by The Crystals. "Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa" marked a significant shift in Gene's musical direction. It reached number 5 in the UK charts and marked the beginning of his rise in popularity throughout the UK and Europe. Between 1963 and 1966 Gene consistently produced top 10 hits in the UK. The Mick Jagger/Keith Richards song "That Girl Belongs to Yesterday" established his worldwide fame and he followed it up with "I'm Gonna be Strong", "Looking Through the Eyes of Love" (a million seller), "I Must be Seeing Things", "Princess in Rags", "Backstage", "Just One Smile", "Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart" and "Nobody Needs Your Love". Gene enjoyed a short lived revival in 1974 with the hits "Trans-Canada Highway" and "Blue Angel". Overall, Gene had 16 top 40 hits in the US and an amazing 40 top 40 songs in the UK. Gene's profile was very good outside of the US and UK as well. Especially in Italy where he came second in the San Remo song contest with the song "Nessuno Mi Puo Giudicare". He also recorded a number of his hits in Italian. In addition to this Pitney began to make forays into other areas of music once again demonstrating his vocal range. He recorded albums with country greats like George Jones and Melba Montgomery and was quite successful. He also recorded an album of folk songs. At one point he had hits in Europe, the UK, and the US pop and country charts with four different songs simultaneously. Although disappearing in the late seventies he made a successful touring comeback in 1983 with a sell out North American tour. And finally in 1989 achieved what had eluded him at the peak of his popularity, a number 1 single in the UK. Gene teamed up with Marc Almond to cover his sixties hit "Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart". The duet outdid the original which could only make number 5 in 1967. Gene has never looked back since then and has toured almost continuously throughout the nineties.

In 2002 he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a fitting honour and a long overdue recognition of his talent.

In April 2006, he was in the middle of a tour of the UK when he died in his hotel room following a concert in Cardiff.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jason Derby


  1. Interesting bio. I didn't know he wrote all those songs. And quite versatile crossing over and even an Italian hit. Wow.

  2. I didn't know that either. Interesting to read about them now - back then we only cared about the songs and how good they were to dance to.