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Gene Pitney

September 23, 2022

Gene Piney (February 17, 1940 – April 5, 2006) is a name that many of us remember from the 1960’s.

Signed to the newly formed Musicoe 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,  Town Without Pity.

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. Both of these latter two songs were the stuff of my early years in junior high. I learned a lot about carrying long notes from both of these.

Meanwhile, Pitney wrote hits for others, including “He’s a Rebel” for the Crystals, “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 U.S., from the top spot, the only time that a writer shut himself (or herself) out of #1.

Due to a publishing conflict, he was unable to receive a writing credit for Bobby Vee’s “Rubber Ball”. The credit goes to Ann Orlowski, his mother, although it’s commonly known that he wrote the song. “Only Love Can Break a Heart”, “If I Didn’t Have a Dime”, “Half Heaven, Half Heartache”, “Mecca”, “It Hurts to be in Love” and “True Love Never Runs Smooth” were all hit records for Gene in the US. I owned all of them at one time.

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.

Pitney was touring the UK in the spring of 2006 when his manager found him dead in his hotel room in Cardiff 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.

If you are a 1960’s song enthusiast like me, you are sure to remember Gene Pitney with a great deal of affection.

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From → America, Music

  1. Some great songs.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Come mi piaceva, quando cantava in italiano 💙💙💙

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Like you, I remember him with affection. Never knew he also wrote songs.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I sure remember him and his great music. Thanks for reviving the memories, Allen. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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