Pitney in 1966
|Gene Francis Alan Pitney|
|Born||February 17, 1940|
Hartford, Connecticut, U.S
|Origin||Rockville, Connecticut, U.S.|
|Died||April 5, 2006 (aged 66)|
|Singer, songwriter, musician|
|Instruments||Guitar, piano, drums, vocals|
Pitney charted 16 Top 40 hits in the United States, four in the Top 10. In the United Kingdom he had 22 Top 40 hits, and 11 singles in the Top Ten. He also wrote the early 1960s hits "Rubber Ball" recorded by Bobby Vee, "He's a Rebel" by the Crystals, and "Hello Mary Lou" by Ricky Nelson. In 2002, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Pitney was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the son of Anna A. (Orlowsky) and Harold F. Pitney. The third of five children of a lathe operator, Pitney lived with his family in Rockville, Connecticut during his formative years. He grew up in Rockville, now part of Vernon, Connecticut.
Pitney's early influences were Clyde McPhatter, country-blues singer Moon Mullican, and doo-wop groups like the Crows. He attended Rockville High School where he formed his first band, Gene & the Genials. Pitney was an avid doo wop singer and sang with a group called the Embers. He made records as part of a duo called Jamie and Jane with Ginny Arnell (who in late 1963 had a solo hit, "Dumb Head"), and in 1959 recorded a single as Billy Bryan.
Signed to songwriter Aaron Schroeder's newly formed Musicor label in 1961, Pitney scored his first chart single, which made the Top 40, the self-penned "(I Wanna) Love My Life Away," on which he played several instruments and multi-tracked the vocals. He followed that same year with his first Top 20 single, the title song from the 1961 Kirk Douglas United Artists film Town Without Pity. Written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington, the song won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song, but lost the award to "Moon River". Pitney performed the song at the Oscars ceremony on April 9, 1962.
Pitney is also remembered for the Burt Bacharach-Hal David song "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance", which peaked at No. 4 in 1962. Though it shares a title with the John Wayne western, the song was not used in the film because of a publishing dispute. That same year "Only Love Can Break a Heart" became his highest charting song in the US at No. 2, followed in December by "Half Heaven, Half Heartache", which reached No. 12 on the Billboard chart.
Because of his success on the music charts, and as Pitney explained to his friend Oldies DJ "Wild" Wayne, an unknown radio disc jockey at the time dubbed him with the nickname "The Rockville Rocket," which caught on.
Meanwhile, Pitney wrote hits for others, including "He's a Rebel" for the Crystals (later covered by Vikki Carr and Elkie Brooks), "Today's Teardrops" for Roy Orbison, "Rubber Ball" for Bobby Vee, and "Hello Mary Lou" for Ricky Nelson. The Crystals' version of "He's A Rebel" kept Pitney's own No. 2 hit "Only Love Can Break a Heart," his highest-charting single in the US, from the top spot, the only time that a writer shut himself (or herself) out of No. 1.
His popularity in the UK market was ensured by the breakthrough success of "Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa," a Bacharach and David song, which peaked at No. 5 in Britain at the start of 1964. It was only Pitney's third single release in the UK to reach the singles chart, and the first to break into the Top Twenty there; it was also a hit in the US, peaking at No. 17 on the Hot 100.
Pitney was present with Phil Spector at some of the Rolling Stones' early recording sessions in London, including "Little by Little" and other tracks for their debut album; he played piano, though the extent is uncertain.
The Jagger/Richards song "That Girl Belongs to Yesterday" was a No. 7 UK hit for Pitney in 1964; it was the first tune composed by the duo to become a Top 10 hit in the UK. In the US, the single stalled at No. 49, ending a run of seven Top 40 singles for Pitney as a performer.
After another low-charting single, 1964's "Yesterday's Hero", Pitney rebounded with another string of hits in the mid-1960s, including the 1964 singles "It Hurts to Be in Love" and "I'm Gonna Be Strong", which reached No. 7 and No. 9, respectively, in the US, and 1966's "Nobody Needs Your Love", which peaked at No. 2 in the UK, matching the No. 2 UK peak of "I'm Gonna Be Strong". "It Hurts to Be in Love" had been planned for and recorded by Neil Sedaka, but RCA refused to release it because Sedaka had recorded the song outside RCA Victor in violation of his contract. The writers, Howard Greenfield and Helen Miller, presented the song to Pitney. Miller replaced Sedaka's voice with Pitney's, though Sedaka's trademark backing harmonies were left intact.
In 1965, Pitney recorded two successful albums with country singer George Jones. They were voted the most promising country-and-western duo of the year. Pitney also recorded songs in Italian, Spanish and German, and twice finished second in Italy's annual Sanremo Music Festival, where his strong vibrato reminded older listeners of the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso. He had a regional hit with "Nessuno mi può giudicare".
Pitney's career in the US took a downturn after mid-1966, when "Backstage" ended another run of Top 40 hits. He returned one last time to the Top 40 with "She's a Heartbreaker" in mid-1968 and placed several singles in the lower reaches of the Hot 100 after that, but by 1970 he was no longer a hit-maker in the US.
Pitney maintained a successful career in Britain and the rest of Europe into the 1970s, appearing regularly on UK charts as late as 1974. In Australia, after a fallow period in the early 1970s, Pitney returned to Top 40 in 1974, as both Blue Angel (No. 2) and Trans-Canada Highway (No. 14; production by David Mackay) were substantial hits. Pitney continued to place records in the Australian charts through 1976, including the hit "Down This Road," written and produced by distant relation Edward Pitney. They also collaborated in the production of the hit song "Days of Summer."
In the early 1970s, Pitney decided to spend only six months each year on the road.
Pitney's last hit on the UK charts came in 1989, after an absence of 15 years, when he and Soft Cell singer Marc Almond recorded a duet version of "Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart" by British writers Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway. The song had been a UK No. 5 for Pitney in 1967. The duet brought him his first UK No. 1, in late January 1989. The single remained at the top for four weeks, and also went to No. 1 in Germany, Finland, Switzerland and Ireland. Pitney and Almond appeared on the Terry Wogan television show in Britain.
Pitney was involved in a gaffe on ITV's This Morning in 1989, owing to a "technical mishap." Giving an ostensibly live performance of his track "You're the Reason," Pitney missed his cue and was seen "failing dismally to mime along in time to his backing track"; he continued with the song, and found humor in the incident. It has been repeated on television over the years, notably on a 2002 episode of BBC One series Room 101, where host Paul Merton described it as a "very funny moment" in which Pitney came in "unbearably late". It was re-aired on the 25th anniversary edition of This Morning in 2013, where presenter Holly Willoughby "broke out into a cold sweat" while reliving the moment.
Pitney was touring the UK in the spring of 2006 when his manager found him dead in his hotel room in Cardiff, Wales, on April 5. An autopsy found the cause of death to be a heart attack and that he had severely occluded coronary arteries. His final show at Cardiff's St David's Hall had earned him a standing ovation; he ended with "Town Without Pity". He was buried at Somers Center Cemetery in Somers, Connecticut.
On September 20, 2007, a plaque to Pitney was unveiled at the town hall in his hometown of Rockville, Connecticut. Members of the family attended. The event was emceed by oldies radio DJ and Pitney friend "Wild" Wayne. The Gene Pitney Commemorative Committee established a music scholarship in Pitney's name. It is awarded annually to Rockville High School. In October 2008, an international fan convention was held in Rockville.
|1959||"Snuggle Up Baby" (with Ginny Arnell as Jamie and Jane)|
|"Classical Rock And Roll" (with Ginny Arnell as Jamie and Jane)|
|1960||"Cradle of My Arms" (as Billy Bryan)|
|"Going Back to My Love"|
|"I'll Find You" (as Gene Pitney)|
|"Please Come Back"|
|1961||January||"(I Wanna) Love My Life Away"||29||23||26||39|
|July||"Every Breath I Take"||42|
|October||"Town without Pity"||31||10||32||13|
|1962||April||"(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance"||3||2||4|
|August||"Only Love Can Break a Heart" (A-side)||4||11||2|
|-> "If I Didn't Have a Dime (To Play the Jukebox)" (B-side)||42||58|
|December||"Half Heaven - Half Heartache"||11||4||12|
|-> "Teardrop by Teardrop " (B-side)||130|
|June||"True Love Never Runs Smooth"||18||17||21|
|October||"Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa"||3||6||5||17|
|1964||January||"That Girl Belongs to Yesterday" (A-side)||9||41||7||49|
|-> "Who Needs It" (B-side)||131|
|April||"Yesterday's Hero" (A-side)||18||36||64|
|-> "Cornflower Blue" (B-side)|
|July||"It Hurts to Be in Love"||6||2||36||7|
|"Lips Are Redder on You" (Australia-only release)||83|
|October||"I'm Gonna Be Strong"||5||3||2||9|
|1965||February||"I Must Be Seeing Things" (A-side)||12||6||6||31|
|-> "Marianne" (B-side)|
|April||"I've Got Five Dollars and It's Saturday Night"
(with George Jones as George & Gene)
|May||"Last Chance to Turn Around"||13||4||13|
|June||"Louisiana Man" (A-side) (with George Jones as George & Gene)||25|
|-> "I'm a Fool to Care" (B-side) (with George Jones as George & Gene)||115|
|July||"Looking Through the Eyes of Love"||34||3||3||28|
|November||"Princess in Rags"||13||2||9||37|
|"Big Job" (with George Jones as George & Gene)||50|
|1966||January||"Baby Ain't That Fine" (with Melba Montgomery)||15|
|March||"Nessuno Mi Puo' Giudicare"||30||115|
|May||"That's All It Took" (with George Jones as George & Gene)||47|
|June||"Nobody Needs Your Love" (Europe-only release)||2|
|July?||"Being Together" (with Melba Montgomery)|
|September||"(In the) Cold Light of Day" (A-side)||19||38||115|
|-> "The Boss's Daughter" (B-side)|
|December||"Just One Smile" (A-side)||55||51||8||64|
|-> "Innamorata" (B-side)|
|1967||March||"I'm Gonna Listen to Me"|
|"Animal Crackers (In Cellophane Boxes)"||87||106|
|September||"Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart"||69||5||130|
|1968||March||"The More I Saw of Her"|
|"Somewhere in the Country" (Europe-only release)||19|
|April||"She's a Heartbreaker"||39||13||16|
|June||"Love grows" (Europe-only release)|
|October||"Billy, You're My Friend"||31||92||92|
|November||"Yours Until Tomorrow" (Europe-only release)||34|
|1969||March||"Maria Elena" (Europe-only release)||25|
|August||"Playing Games of Love" (Australia-only release)||85|
|December||"She Lets Her Hair Down (Early in the Morning)"||88||89|
|1970||March||"A Street Called Hope"||37|
|1971||"Higher and Higher"|
|"Gene Are You There?"|
|1972||"I Just Can't Help Myself"|
|1973||April||"24 Sycamore" (Europe-only release)||34|
|1974||October||"Blue Angel" (Europe/Australia-only release)||2||39|
|1975||March||"Trans-Canada Highway" (Europe/Australia-only release)||14|
|1977||"It's Over / It's Over" A medley of two songs with the same title, the first by Roy Orbison, the second by Jimmie Rodgers|
|1989||January||"Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart"
(with Marc Almond, Europe/Australia-only release)
Sources include Joel Whitburn's Record Research material for the US Top 100, "Bubbling Under" and US Country charts; Tim Rice et al., Guinness Book of Hit Singles for the UK; CHUM Chart for Canada prior to mid-1964, and the Canadian RPM charts thereafter; and The Kent Report for Australia
You [Gervais] mentioned people being late: this is a very funny moment from This Morning with Gene Pitney, where Gene Pitney was unbearably late.