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Obituary: Gene Pitney

Pitney's career spanned five decades

Gene Pitney went from being a successful songwriter for other acts to become a major international pop star in his own right.

He enjoyed more than 20 hits, including songs like Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa and Something's Gotten Hold of my Heart.

With an unmistakeable singing voice, at once plaintive and melodramatic, Gene Pitney had hits on both sides of the Atlantic.

A friend of The Rolling Stones, Phil Spector and Burt Bacharach, Pitney was also a noted songwriter.

He was born on 17 February 1940 in Hartford Connecticut and soon gained a reputation as a musician while studying at the nearby Rockville High School, where he earned the nickname the Rockville Rocket.

But his early flirtation as a performer initially failed to lead to anything bigger. Undaunted, Pitney moved to New York, where he worked as a songwriter at the fabled Brill Building alongside titans like Carole King, Gerry Goffin and Doc Pomus.


Success was not slow to come, and he was soon penning hits like Rubber Ball for Bobby Vee and Ricky Nelson's Hello Mary Lou.

By 1961, when The Crystals' He's a Rebel gave Pitney his first US No 1 hit as a writer, he was a star in his own right.

But Pitney's career was anything if predictable. After his own successful 1961 single, (I Wanna) Love My Life Away, he was approached by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

They co-wrote three of his best known hits, Only Love Can Break a Heart, (The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance and the classic 24 Hours from Tulsa.

Together with songs like Town Without Pity and Half Heaven-Half Heartache, they constituted a formidable range of work.

Pitney also enjoyed a fruitful collaboration with country music legend George Jones, with whom he recorded an album of duets.

And, in 1964, he met The Rolling Stones, whose then manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, was his publicist - and recorded the Jagger-Richards composition That Girl Belongs to Yesterday

Always more popular in the UK than America, Pitney also made his mark in Italy, Spain and Germany.

More recently, he could be found duetting with Marc Almond on an 1989 version of Something's Gotten Hold of my Heart which gave him his only UK No 1 hit.

Pitney later reflected: "Musically I got along perfect with Marc. The video in the middle of the desert, with me in the white tux and him in the leather, that was great."