Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Snow In April

Yes, it's early April and it's snowing in New York City. Yesterday was my fourth anniversary, and it snowed on the day I got married too, but that was Chicago.

Gene Pitney died today, in Cardiff, Wales, oddly enough. In case you don't know, Gene Pitney was a prolific and talented songwriter and performer who recorded a large number of hits in the early sixties and wrote an even larger number. Some of his best-known songs include
"(I Wanna) Love My Life Away"
"Town Without Pity"
"(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance"
"Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa"
"It Hurts To Be In Love"

In addition, he wrote "Hello Mary Lou" and "He's a Rebel," both of which are great, and the lesser, but still very good song "Rubber Ball," not to be confused with "Red Rubber Ball" (which Paul Simon wrote).

That's a pretty impressive body of work, isn't it? I sometimes wonder why some of the early sixties songwriters get respect and critical acclaim (Carole King, Burt Bacharach) while others are ignored (Mann/Weill, Barry/Greenwich, Pomus/Shuman) or slighted (Pitney, Neil Sedaka). I have a theory about this, actually. Notice that I listed all the 'ignored' songwriters as partnerships. This is because none of them had succesful careers as performers, and thus are usually not thought of as individuals. Moreover, the critically acclaimed songwriters were also succesful performers, but only after they had established themselves as songwriters, and, moreover, only after their styles had matured and progressed from their roots in commercial pop for teenagers. Pitney and Sedaka, on the other hand, became recording and performing stars in the pre-Beatles days of the early sixties. Thus they are personally associated with commercial, teenage-oriented pop, and tarnished as a result. I wonder if we would think of Carole King or Burt Bacharach the same way if King had recorded "The Locomotion" or "Take Good Care Of My Baby," or if Bacharach had recorded "Magic Moments" or "Baby It's You." (Incidentally, it is worth noting that Bacharach wrote a number of Gene Pitney's hits, including "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance" and "Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa.")

To return to a theme I have posted on earlier, namely the complex relation between American and British pop music, I will note that in the mid-Sixties, when Pitney started to seem hopelessly square here in America, he continued to enjoy success in the United Kingdom; in fact, he was currently touring there, which is why he died in Wales. The Beach Boys experienced a similar second wind, as it were, in the UK in the late sixties. I sometimes wonder if this was a factor shaping British pop, that unfairly discarded American musicians had greater success in the UK in their mature periods.

But the bottom line is that Gene Pitney was underrated, and unfairly so. That's my point here, I think. My other point is that you shouldn't judge pre-Beatles pop too harshly; it's more sophisticated than you might think.


the chocolate lady said...

Happy Anniversary!

Ben said...

A sheynem dank!