Farewell, Gene.
April 5, 2006 10:11 AM   Subscribe

A Town Without Pity. Gene Pitney, the rather dashing rocker behind such hits as "Hello Mary Lou," "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance," and "Only Love Can Break A Heart," has passed away.
posted by Astro Zombie (31 comments total)
His kind of morose, emotion-drenched, near-operatic singing style on the ballads has long lost popularity, but, along with Roy Orbison, I can't think of anyone who as effectively communicated the emotional excesses of young love.

This Astro Zombie will miss him.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:17 AM on April 5, 2006

posted by Faint of Butt at 10:29 AM on April 5, 2006

posted by cookie-k at 10:31 AM on April 5, 2006

posted by JanetLand at 10:45 AM on April 5, 2006

Never was a fan, but gots to respect the influence.

posted by Thorzdad at 10:55 AM on April 5, 2006

posted by Smart Dalek at 11:02 AM on April 5, 2006

posted by briank at 11:22 AM on April 5, 2006

The greatness of Gene Pitney is unmatched. Al Kooper was at Pitney's first Brill Building audition, and called him the most talented person he'd ever seen. Not only did Pitney have an incredible voice, he was as good as any songwriter in America or England. He of course wrote many of his own great hits like "Love My Life Away" and "Hello Mary Lou." But you may not know that he also wrote the incredible "He's A Rebel" by the Chiffons, and "Rubber Ball" by Bobby Vee. His covers were unbelieveablly great. No one did more justice to a Burt Bacharach rocker. "24 Hours to Tulsa" and "Liberty Valence" are as solid in the Bacharach pocket as anything by Dionne Warwick.

The great tragedy is that he never wound up doing any of the great songs Joe South wrote for him -- like "Down in the Boondocks" and "I Knew You When -- which were demoed by somewhat sound-alike Billy Joe Royal, and later released as Royal singles. Imagine what Pitney could have done with those!

What a giant. What a genius. What a waste that album makers in his heyday packed their product with filler, so that his considerable LP output is fairly undistinguished. But those hits! Phew. "Yesterday's Hero!" Or how about "I'm Gonna Be Strong," with that incredible build... and that chill-inducing last note. Oh-oh-oh -- "I Must be Seeing Things" -- Pitney's Al Kooper original. What a hook! I'm so sad it's all passed...
posted by Faze at 11:23 AM on April 5, 2006

Only love can break a heart, only love can mend it again.

posted by sdrawkcab at 11:24 AM on April 5, 2006

posted by jonp72 at 12:05 PM on April 5, 2006

posted by ktoad at 12:41 PM on April 5, 2006

posted by ceri richard at 1:09 PM on April 5, 2006

My mother had a few Gene Pitney records that I listened to about a million times. Great tunes.
posted by Roger Dodger at 1:14 PM on April 5, 2006

posted by lilboo at 1:22 PM on April 5, 2006

Hmph. Gene Pitney made a career out of pretending Elvis and the Beatles never happenned. So 50s, so white, so square. Is it just my imagination or did his schlock feature prominently on a lot of K-Tel collections and similar?

Bless his heart, guess someone had to do it.

posted by Meatbomb at 1:27 PM on April 5, 2006

Well said, Faze. 'I'm Gonna Be Strong' was the first song I put on when I heard the news, followed by 'He's A Rebel'. Seems fitting too, that he was touring to the very end: the BBC reports all ended with the news that he recieved a standing ovation at the end of his last concert, the day before he died.
posted by jack_mo at 1:31 PM on April 5, 2006

On not-preview: Gene Pitney made a career out of pretending Elvis and the Beatles never happenned.

And yet he beat the Beatles to using Eastern instrumentation by a good while, and Elvis didn't exactly hold back on the histrionics as his career matured. I think Pitney was more ploughing a different furrow than wilfully ignoring developments in pop music. You could say the same of Scott Walker (not that I'm comparing the two).
posted by jack_mo at 1:37 PM on April 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

Pretending Elvis and the Beatles never happened? Gene Pitney was right up there with Elvis and the Beatles as a pop music innovator and pioneer. He left his mark on rockabilly with "Hello Mary Lou." He was responsible for a wall-of-sound classic in "He's A Rebel." He broke a Randy Newman song, "Just One Smile," before any one had ever heard of Randy Newman (not that I like Randy Newman). And his pop hits were sui generis -- nobody else was doing tunes like "Mecca," "Backstage" and "Town Without Pity." They couldn't -- they didn't have the vocal chops or musical intellegence. Those songs were outrageously over the top, and outrageously good. He was a pacesetter, not a follower. And that voice -- the powerful vitality that pierced through even the tinniest transistor radio or woofy AM car receiver -- it was the very sound of Top 40 -- lively, creative, emotional, and utterly individualistic. Nobody else sounded like Gene Pitney. There was more vitality in his despair than in most other artist's elation.
posted by Faze at 2:21 PM on April 5, 2006

By the way: Here's the great lost Gene Pitney Album:
"Gene Pitney and Melba Montgomery."

We all know that Gene recorded duets (not all that inspiring) with George Jones. But this album of duets with Melba Montgomery is first-rate, and should not be missed by any Gene Pitney fan. Mongomery's a rough-voiced country mama, the real thing, and their voices mesh superbly. The songs are great, too! "When We're Together (We're All Alone)," the leadoff song, is as good as any Gene Pitney song out there. Too bad this one's not on CD.
posted by Faze at 2:41 PM on April 5, 2006

Thank you, Faze. Your erudition on Pitney is greatly appreciated.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:52 PM on April 5, 2006


He even did a duet with Marc Almond (of SoftCell) too--Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart.
posted by amberglow at 2:53 PM on April 5, 2006

posted by Lynsey at 3:51 PM on April 5, 2006

I'm really sad about this. I'm a huge Pitney fan. Great, great singer, who seemed, to me, to be on the verge of something of a critical reassessment, which would be most richly deserved. So sad.
posted by Dr. Wu at 4:39 PM on April 5, 2006

Quite honestly I thought he was already dead, so this came as a bit of a shock. Goodbye Gene.
posted by tellurian at 4:44 PM on April 5, 2006

How sad.

That said, I hadn't known he was still around, probably because I'd lumped him together with Del Shannon and Buddy Holly and Bobby Darin. So many died so young.
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:54 PM on April 5, 2006

Shannon was somewhat older than the others when he died, but your point is well taken, as his suicide did take him quite prematurely.

Pitney's death might encourage the sort of critical reassessment Dr. Wu mentions. But, then, I thought Sonny Bono's death would have brought about some recognition of his exceptional songwriting talent. Perhaps his politics had simply gotten so annoying that they overwhelmed his work in music.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:35 PM on April 5, 2006

posted by geekyguy at 5:57 PM on April 5, 2006

Astro Zombie's first comment astutely links Gene with Roy Orbison. Both gents were the undisputed virtuosi of the early 60s pop rock art song: "angsta rappers" extraordinaire. Each was blessed with a powerful and expressive tenor voice, perfect for cutting through AM radio's low fi sound reproduction. Each belted out dramatic songs that centered on the primary obsessions of the young males of their target audience: acceptance and rejection of and by women. Each wrote interesting, even classic songs, and had the wit to record excellent songs written by others. "24 Hours from Tulsa, " a Bacharach-David song, is a Pitney classic that combines all the obsessional themes. These songs captivated young men (like me) who went on to become the cannon fodder of the gender revolution(s)of the late 60s and beyond.

Gene was from the Northeast rather than the South, and was musically drawn in by the gravitational pull of NY and the original Tin Pan Alley. Roy--five years older than Gene--went from Texas to Memphis (the navel of American music) to Nashville, where he got in on the ground floor of The Nashville Sound. Gene's music was aimed at the Top 40 radio market; Roy's crossed over into that market from the Country & Western side, as did artists like Marty Robbins, Johnny Horton and the Everly Brothers.

They sang the songs of the Jilted Suitor and the Rejected Swain, longing for the idealized "dream lover" like the mooncalf fifteen year olds with whom the songs resonated so strongly. And they sang them in voices like thunder: we may be whingeing about Leah or Mary Lou, but we're doing it at full volume and in three octaves, by cracky. We may be sensitive, but we're *powerfully* sensitive. And thus catharsis sets in. . .
posted by rdone at 7:04 PM on April 5, 2006

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—2002 Inductee:
All the while he toured the world extensively and even recorded entire albums in Italian and Spanish for the lucrative and loyal foreign market. Pitney was actually voted Italy’s top singer in a 1964 poll, and he became enormously popular in Britain. He’d tour the U.K. twice a year, often for a month at a time, on packages that included such fellow performers as the Kinks, the Troggs, Peter and Gordon, and Joe Cocker Long after the hit streak faded in his homeland, Pitney continued to tour the continent with great success.
Ah, America the fleeting.
posted by cenoxo at 7:14 PM on April 5, 2006

Imagine that lineup, cenoxo: Gene Pitney. The Kinks. Peter and Gordon. On one bill. (I've seen the Troggs so often, the thrill is gone.)
posted by Faze at 8:21 PM on April 5, 2006

In her autobiography Marianne Faithfull said Gene Pitney was the best lay she'd ever had. I can't find a link to it, but it stuck in my mind because I almost crashed the car one day when I heard her say this in a radio interview. The interviewer was incredulous, and she confirmed, yes, he was the best. So I know I didn't mishear it.

Way to go, Gene.
posted by essexjan at 4:19 AM on April 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

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