I was saddened to hear about the death of Gene Pitney this May. The baby boomers will remember Gene as a singer who occupied that short transition period at the beginning of the sixties just before the Beatles when the fifties sound gave way to the typical 4 man ensemble; lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass and drums. Just before Rock ‘n Roll became simply Rock. His most memorable tunes were co-written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David: The man who shot Liberty Valance, (inspired by the John Wayne/Jimmy Stewart movie of the same name) 24 Hours from Tulsa and Only Love can Break Your Heart. Gene was also a fair pop tune writer having penned such hits as The Crystal’s He’s a Rebel, and Ricky Nelson’s Hello Mary-Lou. Roy Orbison sang one of Gene’s creations: Today’s Teardrops.

However it wasn’t until Gene teamed up with Phil Spector and recorded “Town Without Pity” for Musicor in 1961 that he produced a major breakthrough hit. Written by Dimitri Tiomkin & Ned Washington the song, titled after the movie of the same name, became a smash hit in 1962. The movie, starring Kirk Douglas tells the story of a a sixteen year old girl who was brutally gang raped by 4 American soldiers stationed in post war Germany. Douglas plays the part of Major Steve Garret, a military attorney, who is assigned to defend the soldiers in the subsequent courtroom drama. Major Garret reluctantly uses the, by now, time worn tactic of placing the victim on the stand and portraying her as a harlot. Many consider this film to be the best rape trial movie ever made. The title song was nominated for an Oscar but lost out to “Moon River” featured in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

As the 60's wore on, Gene continued to churn out hits: Mecca, It Hurts To Be In Love, I'm Gonna Be Strong. He became famous on both sides of the Atlantic with a huge following in the United Kingdom. It’s not very well known that Gene actually worked with the Rolling Stones for a while playing background piano on some of their sessions and recording a song written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richard’s, That Girl Belongs to Yesterday. The tune reached number 7 on the UK charts. Pitney had 16 top forty songs in the USA from 1961 to 1968 but he scored 40 in the UK and was heard on popular radio all the way up to 1989.

In Later years Gene did a little country music and (my wife will love this) recorded in ITALIAN!!! Gene continued doing what he loved to do, performing at casinos in Vegas and music venues throughout the world up till his death a few months ago on April 4, 2006. Born in 1941 he lived 65 creative years. He was touring the UK and received a standing ovation following a show at St. David’s Hall in South Wales. He was found dead in his bed at the Hilton Hotel In Cardiff, Wales the following morning. He died from natural causes. The final song he ever performed, that night, was “Town without Pity”. A great song with a lot of chords a lot of changes and a unique, unforgettable vocal. In the version I am offering up as a kind of tribute to Gene, I’ve kept as close as possible to the original, but I did take liberties with the guitar making it sound a bit more dominant and modern. Hope you all enjoy it.

-Brian K. Forrest

Town Without Pity