Gene Pitney is an interesting figure on the face of the rock-and-roll map. He was a good singer with a distinctive voice who sang songs written by others, and he was a good songwriter, whose songs were recorded and made into hits by others.
He was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1941, but spent most of his youth in Rockville, Connecticut. He formed a band while a student at Rockville High School, then headed for New York City and the Brill Building.
In 1959 Gene Pitney joined with a young singer named Ginny Arnell and recorded some tunes for Decca as Jamie & Jane. After a stop at Blaze and some solo recordings under the assumed name, Billy Bryan, Gene recorded under his own name for Festival in 1960. He was also a budding songwriter and tried to push his songs to anyone who would listen. Brill Building veterans Burt Bacharach and Hal David liked what they saw and formed an alliance with the ambitious young singer/songwriter.
Under the guidance of Phil Spector, Gene recorded a song for Musicor in 1961 that was to be his breakthrough hit. Town Without Pity, a song from the film of the same title, was a smash hit record in 1962 and the record-buying public began to take notice. Bacharach and David were churning out songs in the early 60's that Gene turned into hits: [The Man Who Shot] Liberty Valance, Only Love Can Break A Heart -- his biggest hit ever, and Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa. Valance was inspired by the John Wayne/Jimmy Stewart movie of the same name, but the song was never actually sung in the movie itself.
And he wasn't just singing. Some of the songs he wrote [or co-wrote] were just as popular as those he sang -- the Crystals with He's A Rebel, Ricky Nelson with Hello Mary Lou, Bobby Vee with Rubber Ball, Roy Orbison with Today's Teardrops, and the list goes on.
As the 60's wore on, Gene continued to sell records: Mecca, It Hurts To Be In Love, I'm Gonna Be Strong.
As big a star as he had become in the United States, Gene Pitney was an even bigger star in the United Kingdom. His publicist, Andrew Loog Oldham, acted in the same role for the Rolling Stones and Gene did some things with them. A song written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, That Girl Belongs To Yesterday, was recorded by Gene and went to number seven on the UK charts. He played maracas on the Stones' recording of Buddy Holly's Not Fade Away, and piano in the background of some other songs by the Rolling Stones. Pitney had 16 top forty songs in the USA from 1961 to 1968, and he had more than forty such songs in the UK all the way up to 1989.
In later years Gene sang some country music, and made some recordings in Italian. Pitney continued touring and performing throughout his life. On April 4, 2006, during a tour of the UK, he performed at St. David's Hall in South Wales and received a standing ovation following the show; his final song that night was Town Without Pity. The following morning he was discovered dead in his bed at the Hilton Hotel in Cardiff, Wales. He died from natural causes.
Gene always had a strong voice and was well liked in the music business. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
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