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