Top Ten Songs by Gene Pitney

He was one of the most prolific recording artists of the 1960s. His voice sounded like a tenor sucking helium balloons. He showed up on the pop charts, the country charts and the rock charts. He was beloved in Italy. He was Gene Pitney.

Pitney got the raw end of a singing career. He had the vocal style of Johnny Ray, the distinctive delivery of Wayne Newton and the versatility of Bobby Darin, yet those performers were better known and better paid. Pitney was kind of a nerd. He was an electronics engineering student before he took up singing and he continued to look like the pocket protector type. Nevertheless, he knew how to tell a story in a song. Pitney died in early 2006 shortly after performing for a still-appreciative European audience.

Here is an offering of the ten best songs of Gene Pitney:

1. Town Without Pity – This may be the song most often associated with Pitney. It was written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington and is a great vehicle for Pitney’s trademark note bending, roller coaster vocals.

2. It Hurts To Be In Love – The production on this recording aspires to the Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” and comes quite close with a driving, catchy rhythm, overdubs and background singers.

3. Hello Mary Lou – Pitney co-wrote this Buddy Holly style rock tune, but he never had as big a hit recording it as Ricky Nelson did.

4. Every Breath I Take – A classic Brill Building composition by Gerry Goffin and Carol King complete with soaring violins and heavenly background singers. Pitney’s falsetto coloratura toward the end of the piece with crazy swirling strings is not to be missed.

5. I Must Be Seeing Things – This sounds like a song that might have scored in the Eurovision Song Contest. Wait for the final sustained high note driven along by kettle drums.

6. Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa – Hal David and Burt Bacharach found themselves with a country chart cross-over hit in this ballad about fickle love. As performed by a male singer, it seems to be about a long-haul trucker who allows his heart to be stolen by someone new. But women recorded it as well, most notably Dusty Springfield. The same message coming from a female perspective takes on a whole new meaning and sounds more like a liberating discovery of true love. “Dearest. Darling. I had to write to say that I won’t be home any more. Cause something happened to me while I was driving home and I’m not the same anymore.”

7. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – An entire Cinemascope western epic in a three minute ballad. Another over-wrought composition by Hal David and Burt Bacharach. Hard to believe the same guys could write something like this and “What’s New Pussycat.”

8. Only Love Can Break A Heart – A more traditional pop tune by Hal David and Burt Bacharach recorded in the early 1960s complete with a whistling interlude, a gimmick that was apparently quite popular in its day.

9. Backstage – With a Las Vegas style intro, the famous performer who seems to have it all spills his guts about losing the only thing he cares about. “A thousand hands applaud tonight. I sing my songs. My star shines bright. I stop and smile. I take my bow. I leave the stage and then somehow. Backstage I’m lonely. Backstage I cry. You’ve gone away and each night I seem to die a little.” You can bet Pitney goes to town vocally from that point.

10. I’m Gonna Be Strong – The gold standard of bombastic ballads. Nothing comes close to Pitney’s escalating finale. Not even Tom Jones’ last amazing blast in “Thunderball.”

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