The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

5 April 2004

Only one day away

By way of explanation: Rich Appel has a spiffy e-zine called Hz So Good, and for the next, um, cycle, he asked rock critic, liner-note maven and all-around dreamboat Dawn Eden to put together some thoughts about Gene Pitney's 1963 hit "Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa." Since I'm somewhere within that radius myself, Dawn offered a copy to me for my own wacky site, and of course I said yes, so here it is.

Gene Pitney "Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa" by Dawn Eden

The first thing I notice about this song is that Billy Joe Royal or his arranger shamelessly lifted its intro for the intro of "Down in the Boondocks." Neither song is a favorite of mine, despite my appreciation of Royal and downright adoration of Pitney — a masterful songwriter and one of the greatest performers I've ever seen.

This song gets under my skin from the beginning, with Hal David's lyric, "Dearest... darling..." I realize that, compositionwise, it's a great lyric, because it captures the guilt that the protagonist feels in his situation. But knowing that doesn't make it sound any less cloying.

Bacharach and David understood camp, even before Susan Sontag popularized the term. Indeed, this song has a sense of wicked irony that would do Quentin Tarantino proud. It's all in the lyrics' unusual, twisted perspective.

Usually Brill Building songs sung by men were written in such a way that a female listener could pretend the song was being sung to her. This was true of so many of Pitney's early hits: "(I Wanna) Love My Life Away," "Every Breath I Take," "Only Love Can Break a Heart." What Hal David did with this song was put the listener in Pitney's place, imagining the risk and delight of succumbing to temptation. The girl to whom Pitney is singing — or, as the lyrics say, writing his letter — is a pathetic dupe, robbed of her eternal bliss by some floozy Pitney picked up at a motel just a few hundred miles down the road.

Even the title "Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa" is camp. To a pair of hack songwriters (and say what you will, Bacharach and David in 1963 were hacks) in an airless cubicle in the Brill Building, Tulsa was truly down in the boondocks. Those young but already hardened Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths, cigarettes dangling from their mouths, probably visualized the recipient of the protagonist's letter as some blonde Southern belle — maybe the virgin daughter of a wealthy oilman. How funny to think of her soldier-boy beau, returning from duty on some Texas base (for we know those Southerners are too thick to get a college deferment), falling for a streetwalker outside a Red Roof Inn.

Excuse me while I press "skip."

You can read Dawn Eden's daily exploits at The Dawn Patrol; if you'd like a free sample of Hz So Good, write to Rich Appel at audiot.savant@verizon.net.

Posted at 8:38 PM to Special Guest Scriveners , Tongue and Groove