Gene Pitney was a singer and songwriter who played multiple instruments (guitar, piano, and drums). He had 16 songs in the Top 40 in the US, four of which made the Top 10. He had even greater successs in the UK, with 22 Top 40 songs, 11 making it to the Top 10. He also wrote the hit records “Rubber Ball” for Bobby Vee, “He’s A Rebel” for The Crystals, and “Hello Mary Lou” for Rick Nelson, and played piano on some of The Rolling Stones’ early sessions.
His first Top 40 hit in the US was “Town Without Pity,” the title song for the 1961 movie starring Kirk Douglas. It reached #13 on the Hot 100 that year, his first major hit, and #10 in Canada.
The following year, Gene had a #4 hit (#2 in Canada and #3 in Australia) with “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” A Bacharach/David composition, it wasn’t in the 1962 movie which starred James Stewart and John Wayne due to a dispute between the publishing company and Paramount Pictures, or it might have been an even bigger hit. He came back with another Bacharach/David composition, “Only Love Can Break A Heart,” which peaked at #2 in the US and #4 in Australia, prevented from going to #1 by his own composition, “He’s A Rebel.”
Gene’s next Top 10 hit would be “It Hurts To Be In Love” in 1964. Written by Howard Greenfield and Helen Miller, it reached #7 in the US, #2 in Canada, and #6 in Australia.
Gene had one more Top 10 in the US, “I’m Gonna Be Strong” (#9 US, #3 in Canada, #5 in Australia, and #2 in the UK), but by that time, he was making a name for himself in the UK, where he had already had two Top 10 songs, 1963’s “Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa” (#5) and 1964’s “That Girl Belongs To Yesterday” (#7), the first Top 10 single written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. His career essentially moved across the Atlantic at that point, and he continued to have chart success in Europe, including his lone #1, 1989’s “Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart” with Marc Almond.
Gene was found dead in a Cardiff hotel room while he was touring the UK in 2006. The cause was determined to be a heart attack.
Gene Pitney, your Two For Tuesday, May 15, 2018.