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Gene Pitney

Updated on March 25, 2015

"How can we keep love alive

"How can anything survive

"When these little minds tear you in two?

"What a town without a pity can do"

Gene Pitney, born Gene Francis Alan Pitney on February 17, 1940 in Hartford, Connecticut ,was one of the most accomplished musicians in popular music during the 50s, 60s, and 70s. He was a singer songwriter and a sound engineer.

He also wrote hits for other pop stars and was recording and touring as a top artist himself right into 21st century.

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.

Gene Pitney
Gene Pitney

Gene's early influences were Clyde McPhatter, country-blues singerMoon Mullican and doo-wop groups like The Crows. Gene attended Rockville High School, where he was dubbed The Rockville Rocket, and where he formed his first band, Gene & the Genials. He was an avid doo wop singer and sang with a group called The Embers. Gene made records as part of a duo called Jamie and Jane with Ginny Arnell, who had a solo hit, Dumb Head, late in 1963, and in 1959 recorded a single as Billy Bryan. The first of their two Decca 45s as Jamie and Jane was Snuggle Up, Baby.


Although he's been called "a poor man's Roy Orbison" thanks to his uncanny falsettos and flair for the dramatic, Gene Pitney probably hasn't been given his due. A terrific songwriter (Ricky Nelson's "Hello, Mary Lou" and the Crystals' "He's a Rebel"--the only Phil Spector production without a Spector co-writing credit) who recorded material by others, this "teen idol" worked with the Stones and dated Marianne Faithfull. He also scored a smash with his grea...


In 1961 Gene signed with songwriter Aaron Schroeder's newly formed label Musicor and recorded his first chart single, (I Wanna) Love My Life Away, which made the Top 40. Gene wrote the song, played several instruments on the recording and multi-tracked the vocals. Later in 1961 he scored his first Top 20 single, the title song from the Kirk Douglas movie Town Without Pity. The song was written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington. It won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for the Oscar for best song. Moon River won the award, but Gene performed the song at the Oscars ceremony on April 9, 1962.

Gene charted with the song "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", written by Burt Bachrach and Hal David. It peaked at No. 4 in 1962.

All the while, Gene wrote hits for other artists. These included He's a Rebel for The Crystals, Vikki Carr and Elkie Brooks, Hello Marylou for Ricky Nelson, Rubber Ball for Bobby Vee and Today's Teardrops for Roy Orbison.

Gene's popularity in the UK was secured with the success of Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, which peaked at #5 in the UK charts in early 1964. It was only Gene's third single release in Britain to reach the singles chart and the first to break into the Top Twenty there. Of course, it was a hit in the U.S. and peaked at #17 on the Hot 100.

Gene had a hit with That Girl Belongs to Yesterday in the UK in 1964. it was in fact the first song composed by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to become a Top 10 hit in the UK! The single only reached No. 49 in the U.S. however, ending a run of seven Top 40 singles for Gene.

After another single, Yesterday's Hero, finished low in the charts, Gene bounced back with another string of hits in the mid-1960s, including 1964's singles It Hurts To Be In Love, and I'm Gonna Be Strong, which reached #7 and #9, respectively, in the U.S., and 1966 single Nobody Needs Your Love, which peaked at #2 in the UK.

Gene recorded two successful albums with country singer George Jones in 1965. They were voted the most promising country-and-western duo of the year. He also recorded songs in Spanish, Italian and German. Gene finished second in Italy's annual Sanremo Music Festival twice! He had a regional hit with Nessuno Mi Può Giudicare.

In The United States, Gene's career took a downturn after mid-1966, when Backstage ended another run of Top 40 hits. He returned a final time to the Top 40 with She's a Heartbreaker in mid-1968 and had several singles in the lower ranks of the Hot 100 after that, but by 1970 Gene was no longer a hit-maker in the states.

Gene enjoyed a successful career throughout Europe into the 1970s. He appeared regularly on UK charts as late as 1974. After a slow period in Australia in the early 1970s,Gene returned to Top 40 in 1974, as both Blue Angel and Trans-Canada Highway were significant hits. Gene continued to place records in the Australian charts through 1976. Gene's last hit on the British charts came in 1989, when he and Soft Cell singer Marc Almond recorded a duet version of Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart. Gene had charted No.1 with the song on the British charts in January of 1989.

In 2000, Gene re-recorded Half Heaven, Half Heartache as a duet with Jane Olivor on her comeback album Love Decides.

Gene was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 18, 2002

Gene Pitney died on 5 April 2006 of a heart attack in a Hilton Hotel room in Cardiff, during a UK tour. He was 66 years old. Gene's final show at St David's Hall had earned him a standing ovation. He concluded the show with Town Without Pity. He was survived by his wife Lynne and their three sons Todd, Chris, and David. Gene was buried at Somers Center Cemetery in Somers, Connecticut.

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