Sunday, May 11, 2008

It Hurts To Be In Love, Gene Pitney (1964)

Continuing with our cavalcade of male vocalists whose talents were well beyond what anyone would consider normal - let's look at an early song by Gene Pitney, It Hurts to Be In Love.

Gene Pitney and I were born in the same hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, so for some dopey reason I always felt a kinship with him. One of the pre-Beatles artists who proved able to withstand the siege of the British Invasion, Pitney was already very well known in 1964 as a singer, musician and songwriter when this song broke into the Top 10.

It's a recording with many unusual qualities, not the least of which is that the unrequited love theme is presented in such rocking fashion. Get out there on the dance floor, kids, and work off that heartbreak! Love sucks, but there's no reason not to get the endorphins flowing just the same!

The dramatic Pitney treble, usually multi-tracked to even more acute effect, also had the perfect showcase in this song. One of the notable features is the intervals of rushed lyrics - the breathless "who's not in love with you" and "no matter what you do" are awesome touches.

The song was co-written by Howard Greenfield, Neil Sedaka's Brill Building partner, with Helen Miller, and seemed a perfect vehicle for Sedaka. In fact, the song's first incarnation came in the form of a Sedaka demo but various contractual issues prevented its release. There seems to be a controversy over whether the Pitney version of the song was accomplished by merely laying his vocals over the existing backing tracks of the demo (see this interesting blog where some fairly first-hand knowledge from a commenter disputes the conventional wisdom).

And the controversies keep coming: One of the many songs Pitney wrote for others was He's A Rebel, by the Crystals. Should be a fairly straightforward statement, except that as I looked for the connection between Pitney and Darlene Love, who inducted him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, I come to find that Phil Spector allegedly used Love and her Blossoms to record the song to rush it out ahead of a Vicki Carr version, yet still gave credit to the Crystals, who were not available for the recording session when it was scheduled. Oh, bad form, Phil!

By the end of his life in 2006, Gene Pitney had had many more interesting associations, but further anecdotes will make this post too long. I'll end with a final oddity of which I was completely unaware: before It Hurts was released, that same year Pitney recorded That Girl Belongs to Yesterday, written by none other than Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, their first song to chart in America. How bizarre is that?


cornbread hell said...

very intersting write-up and links.

my mind wanders...i couldn't help but think of 'the man who shot liberty valance' which somehow made me think of johnny rivers' 'secret agent man' and now i have the latter stuck in my turntable of a mind...must be a guy thing, huh?

wendy said...

I would say YES ... it's a guy thing! ;)

(Although I did like Secret Agent Man, songs about shootings rarely resonated with me)

karmasartre said...

Love the song and had no idea of the mysteries behind it. I tried to read the Brill Building book but gave up after so many descents into drugs and Beatles-phobia. You're so right about the downbeat lyrics against the upbeat tune.

By the way, Gene-written "He's A Rebel" kept Gene-sung "Only Love Can Break a Heart" out of the #1 spot in 1962.

There was a little-known duet in SF in the mid-'70s called the Durocs. If memory serves, they wrote some of the funnier Tubes and Pablo Cruise songs. They did a hot version of "It Hurts..." on their own album.

The thing that always struck me was the voice, "well beyond what anyone would consider normal" as you put it. Its beautiful but unearthly quality hit an all-time high on "Every Little Breath You Take", (in my unabbreviated opinion), combining doo-wop, Phil's wall-of-sound, and Gene's gorgeous, insane vocals.

Mombi said...

I've never been so simultaneously inspired to boogie and slit my wrists at the same time! ;-)