Gene Pitney's 10 greatest songs, ranked
23 November 2022, 13:41 | Updated: 23 November 2022, 13:54
Gene Pitney wrote for The Crystals, played with the Rolling Stones and scored hit after hit after hit in the early 1960s.
Listen to this article
Growing up in the appropriately named Rockville, Gene Pitney was one of the finest singer-songwriters of the early 1960s.
He had 16 top 40 US hits and did even better in the UK, getting into the charts a whopping 22 times, with 11 top tens.
- The best hits of Summer 1966 when England last won a major football trophy
- Listen to the Gold 60s Live Playlist on Global Player
He wrote for The Crystals, played with the Rolling Stones and was one of the biggest stars at the start of the decade.
The hits may have dried up by the end of the decade (with a few notable exceptions), but he kept on recording and playing, and was rightly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
Below we round up ten of Gene's very best hits for you to enjoy.
It Hurts to Be in Love
Written by Howard Greenfield and Helen Miller, this Brill Building track was originally intended for Neil Sedaka, but twiddly contract issues meant it ended up being a top ten hit for Gene in 1964, later being covered by Bobby Vee, Dan Hartman and others.
Gene's hit version actually still features Neil's backing vocals, piano-playing, and usual female backup singers, as producers simply zapped Sedaka's voice from the recording and replaced it with Pitney's.
Written by Roger Cook, 'Blue Angel' got Gene Pitney back in the upper reaches of the charts – in Australia at least, where it peaked at number 2 in 1974.
It's a bouncing stomper that melds Gene's early rocker vibe with his later country twang.
I’m Gonna Be Strong
Speaking of Blue Angel... Cyndi Lauper's band of that name recorded a cover of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill's 'I'm Gonna Be Strong' in 1980 – and Cyndi covered it as a solo artist in 1994.
It was actually first recorded by Frankie Laine in 1962, but the single didn't do all that much until the following year when Gene Pitney took it to number 9 in the US and number 2 in the UK.
She’s A Rebel
While nothing can quite match The Crystals' performance of 'He's A Rebel', Pitney's own gender-swapped version 'She's a Rebel' is actually... pretty good too.
It's worth noting that The Crystals actually stopped Gene from scoring what would have been his first and only number one solo single with the song he had written for them – more on that shortly.
That Girl Belongs to Yesterday
If we asked you to guess the first song written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to be a top ten hit in the UK, you may guess at 'Tell Me' or 'Heart of Stone', but neither was actually released as a single over here.
While they scored a load of UK hits in their first couple of years with tunes written by other people, it wasn't until February 1965 that 'The Last Time' took a Jagger/Richards Rolling Stones song into the top ten (all the way to number one, in fact).
It wasn't the duo's first top ten as songwriters though. They reached that landmark when Gene Pitney recorded 'That Girl Belongs To Yesterday' and took it to number 7.
Pitney and Phil Spector popped by the studio when the Stones were recording 'Little By Little', apparently adding piano and maracas respectively.
Only Love Can Break a Heart
Taken from his second album of the same name 'Only Love Can Break a Heart' was written by the peerless songwriting duo of Hal David and Burt Bacharach.
The song was vital in cementing Gene's status as a performing artist, rather than simply a songwriter for hire for other acts.
He took it all the way to number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1962, being denied the top spot by Gene's 'He's A Rebel' as performed by The Crystals.
Town Without Pity
Gene Pitney's soaring first top 40 single was a significant one.
Written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington for the film of the same name, 'Town Without Pity' was nominated for an Oscar for best song, missing out to Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer's 'Moon River' from Breakfast at Tiffany's.
(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance
Not released as a single the UK, '(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance' scored Pitney a top five hit in the US, Canada and Australia.
Written by David and Bacharach, it doesn't actually appear in the film of the same name.
Pitney later claimed that Paramount had paid for the studio session but changed their mind about the release, launching the film before he'd even finished recording the song.
It was later covered by Jimmie Rodgers, who didn't mess too much with the sound of an instant Western classic.
Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa
Yet another Burt Bacharach and Hal David song that Gene Pitney turned into a stone cold classic, 'Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa' was a quirky hit single about infidelity.
In the 1963 recording, Gene's travelling man is just a day away from his partner's embrace, but he takes a detour outside a small motel and ends up dancing the night away with a new woman.
The song was later covered by the likes of Dusty Springfield and French icon Claude François, who gave it a twist as 'Maman chérie'
Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart
Few of Gene Pitney's hits were are storied as this absolute classic.
Written by Rogers (Greenaway and Cook), 'Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart' was first recorded by David and Jonathan.... the David and Jonathan in question being the stage name of Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook themselves 1967.
It didn't become a hit till later that year when Gene Pitney recorded it for his Just One Smile album.
It didn't chart in the US, but Gene took it all the way to number 5 in the UK, scoring one of his biggest ever hits in the process.
Over the years the song has been covered many, many times over, by everyone from Cilla Black to Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, but it was former Soft Cell man Marc Almond who really gave it a second life.
Almond had recorded the song for his 1988 album The Stars We Are, but by the time it came to release it as a single, someone had clued up Gene Pitney about Marc's take on it.
He offered to join Almond for a duet, and the unlikely cross-era collaboration resulted in a single that went to number one and stayed there for four weeks at the start of 1989 – becoming Gene's only-ever chart-topper.