Gene Pitney was born in Hartford, Connecticut. He grew up in
Rockville, now a part of the town of Vernon. His early musical influences were Clyde McPhatter and Doo Wop groups
likeThe Crows. He
attended Rockville High School from which he earned the name "The Rockville Rocket," and where he formed his first
band called "Gene & the Genials." He also made a couple of records as part of a duo called
"Jamie and Jane" with Ginny Arnell (who later had a solo hit of her own,"DumbHead"), and
then released a single in 1959 under the name Billy Bryan.
In 1961, Gene Pitney released his first chart single,"(I Wanna) Love My Life Away", on which he played several instruments and multi-tracked the vocals. This was followed by
his first big hit,"Town Without
Pity", that same year. This song, from the film of the same
name starring Kirk Douglas, won the Golden Globe Award for Best Song in a Motion Picture and was nominated for an
Academy Award for Best Song. Pitney was the first pop singer to perform at the Oscars, singing"Town Without Pity" at the 34th Annual Academy Awards on April 9, 1962.
Pitney helped his musical career by writing hit songs for others.
Notable songs include"He's a
Rebel" for TheCrystals, Vikki Carr andElkie Brooks,"Today's Teardrops"
forRoy Orbison,"Rubber Ball" forBobby
Vee and"Hello Mary Lou" forRicky Nelson.The Crystals'"He's A
Rebel" kept Pitney's highest peaking Hot 100
record "Only Love Can Break A Heart" from being atop that chart on November 3, 1962.
Gene Pitney is also well remembered for"The Man Who Shot Liberty
Valance", which was associated with the 1962 John
Ford film of the same name, starring Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles and Lee Marvin. Pitney gave a
strong and distinctive vocal performance of the song, penned by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Although it was
a certified Top 10 hit for Pitney, it was never used in the movie due to a publishing squabble between Famous
Music and Paramount Pictures. A theatrical trailer included with a DVD release mentions a forthcoming title
track, but not by name.
His 1963 hit "Mecca" is considered by some to be a precursor to
psychedelia in its use of Indian musical influences, at least three years beforeThe Beatles began incorporating these
influences. The use of exotic musical instruments became something of a Pitney trademark, judging by the Mariachi
trumpets employed in"Lonely
Drifters", the ukuleles in"Hawaii", and the gypsy fiddle in"Golden
His ongoing popularity in the UK market was ensured by the chart
success of "Twenty Four Hours From
Tulsa" at the end of 1963/beginning of 1964, when in
January the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song peaked at #4. "Tulsa" was also a big hit in the US and would become the
song that opened up Pitney's career to the international markets.
Along with Phil Spector, Pitney was present at some of the Rolling
Stones' early recording sessions in London, including one for"Little by Little" (the b-side of their
first top-10 single) and other tracks for their debut album; he apparently played piano, though the extent to which
his contributions were used -- if at all -- is uncertain.
The Jagger/Richards-penned song"That Girl Belongs to Yesterday" was a UK hit for Pitney in 1964; it was the first tune composed by the Rolling
Stones' songwriting duo to become a top-10 hit in the UK: In the US, however, the single was a comparative
flop, stalling at #49 and ending a run of 7 straight Top 40 A-sides for Pitney as a performer.
After another low-charting single (1964's"Yesterday's Hero"), Pitney released another unbroken string of hit singles in the mid-1960s, with the
unrequited love classic"It Hurts To Be in
Love" (US #7) and"I'm Gonna Be Strong" (US #9) in 1964,
and"Nobody Needs Your
Love" in 1966 (the first two were top 10 in the US;
the last two peaked at No. 2 in the UK)."It Hurts To Be in
Love" was originally planned as a vehicle for Neil
Sedaka. When Sedaka decided not to record it, Pitney used the existing backing tracks and just added his lead
In 1965, Pitney recorded two successful albums with country legend
George Jones. They were voted the most promising C & W Duo of that year. Pitney also recorded songs in Italian
and Spanish, and twice finished second in the Sanremo Music Festival, where his strong vibrato may have reminded
older listeners of the Italian tenor Caruso. He had a regional hit with"Nessuno Mi Puo' Giudicare".
Gene Pitney's career in the US took a downturn after mid-1966,
when"Backstage" ended another run of top 40 hits. He would return one last time to the top 40 charts
with"She's a Heartbreaker" in mid-1968, and have a few other very minor hits in the lower reaches of the Hot 100 after
that, but by 1970, he was no longer a hitmaker in the US.
However, Gene Pitney maintained a successful career in Britain and
the rest of Europe well into the 1970s, appearing regularly on the UK charts as late as 1974. One of the few star
performers to have survived the 1960s unscathed, his fitness regime built the stamina he required for his
singularly dithyrambic stage act.
In the early 70s, Gene Pitney made a personal decision to cut back
on his touring deciding only to spend six months of each year on the road, and the remainder with his
Gene Pitney last hit the UK charts after an absence of fifteen
years with 1989's duet with Marc Almond, a new version of"Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart", a
song by British writers Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, which had originally been a No. 5 solo hit for Pitney in
1967, and which belatedly brought him his first UK Number 1 hit, staying there for four weeks. It also went #1 in
many European countries as well. Sales were boosted particularly by the two vocalists' appearance on the Terry
Wogan TV show as it was climbing the charts. Pitney's US record company declined to issue the record in America on
the grounds that buyers would mistake it for a vocal duet by two gay men, Almond being leather-clad as usual, and
Pitney dressed in a white tuxedo.
Before that,Cult band Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds had already
recorded"Something's Gotten Hold of My
Heart" on their cover album "kicking against the pricks" in
1986.Even though the album was critically acclaimed & did very well on independent charts,it never reached the
commercial success of the Pitney / Almond duet.
On February 26, 1993, Gene Pitney performed at the prestigious
Carnegie Hall in New York coincidentally the same day of the first World Trade Center bombing. On March 18, 2002 he
was inducted into theRock and Roll
Hall of Fame.
Pitney died on April 5, 2006 at the age of 66. He was found dead
by his tour manager in the Hilton Hotel in Cardiff in the middle of a UK tour. His final show at Cardiff's St
David's Hall was deemed a huge success, with a standing ovation, ending the show with his 1962 hit "Town Without
Pity". An autopsy confirmed the singer died of natural causes He was laid to rest on April 13, 2006 at Somers
Center Cemetery in Somers, Connecticut.