The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

5 April 2006

Through the eyes of love

Singer Gene Pitney died in his hotel room in Cardiff today after singing up a storm on his UK tour.

Pitney was a songwriter first — "Hello Mary Lou" and "He's a Rebel" are his — and while he'd cut some singles with Ginny Arnell as "Jamie and Jane" and released a handful of solo 45s, some as "Billy Bryan," his recording career seemingly started by accident: he sent up a one-man (he played everything but the bassoon) demo to publisher Aaron Schroeder, who liked it enough to start a record company (Musicor) and to release it as the first single. "(I Wanna) Love My Life Away" eased into the lower reaches of the Top 40 in 1961, and suddenly Gene was a big-name singer. He cut a version of the title theme from the film Town Without Pity, and sang it at the Academy Awards; "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," written for the film of that name but not used in it, also clicked.

Pitney went on to chart twenty-nine singles for Musicor, plus a duet with George Jones; he recorded country songs, songs in Italian ("Nessuno Mi Puo' Giudicare" — "Nobody Can Judge Me" — even bubbled under the US Hot 100), and all manner of pop artifacts. (On this very site, Dawn Eden reviews "Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa". Short version: loved him, hated the song.)

Not a lot of Pitney gets played on the radio these days. In an era which respects attitude more than altitude, Pitney's soaring voice is way out of place, and some of his hits seem scandalous today, though not in the sense you'd expect: "Mecca," a metaphor for the brownstone house where his baby lives, is almost forgotten these days. (You can hear what he sounded like here.) In 2002, at the age of 61, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And he'll always have a place on my record shelf.

Addendum: The aforementioned Dawn Eden shares personal recollections of Gene.

Posted at 1:52 PM to Tongue and Groove

He was indeed a great one. "A Town Without Pity" is a personal favorite of mine and, if I am thinking of the right son, "Every Breath I Take."

Posted by: Chase at 4:49 PM on 5 April 2006

After reading this, I'm almost embarrassed to admit I had no idea who he was when I saw his obit this morning. Now, at least, I'm going to go find out.

Posted by: Jennifer at 5:14 PM on 5 April 2006

"Every Breath I Take" was Pitney's second charted single for Musicor: it sounds like a maelstrom cooked up in the mind of Phil Spector, which in fact it was. (Reportedly, session costs for this track ran to $14,000, by 1961 standards a fortune and a half.) Since Spector had been under the collective wing of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, I suspect that this was his effort to outdo "There Goes My Baby," which they'd produced for the Drifters the year before.

Posted by: CGHill at 5:27 PM on 5 April 2006

I was introduced to Gene Pitney through my mother's albums when I was very young. I remember singing along to so many of his tunes. My favorite was always "If I Didn't Have a Dime". Today I can still put that tune in a loop and never tire of it. Thank you Gene Pitney for some wonderful childhood memories. I'll play a collection album tomorrow for old times sake.

Posted by: joe at 9:51 PM on 5 April 2006

Umm... I meant to write "one," not son. I hope that wasn't a Freudian slip. I'm happy with my daughter - honest!

Posted by: Chase at 6:43 PM on 6 April 2006