Gene Pitney – a boy-next-door type if you happen to live in well-heeled Hartford, Connecticut – seemed to lurch from one emotional crisis to the next, if his records are to be believed at least. From It Hurts to Be in Love to 24 Hours From Tulsa, few artists have relied on the melodramatic as heavily as the clean-cut Pitney.
A trip back to that well in 1967 resulted in a hit version of Something’s Gotten by Hold of My Heart, a song by the Two Rogers, Cook and Greenaway. It reached number 5 in the UK (and a decidedly modest 130 in the US), but he later hit the top spot with it when he featured on Marc Almond’s 1989 cover. All respect to the pair of them, but the original’s the one that should have reached number one. Almond sings his remake with a nod and a wink, and whether Pitney was aware of it or not (and seeing as he promoted it on Top of The Pops with Almond while wearing a white tuxedo and red bow tie it’s probable that he was), the song devolved into camp.
The original is not camp. It is a man caught between ecstasy and torment. Neither of which lends itself well to understatement, true, but the emotion in Pitney’s original is real enough. Structurally, the song is appropriately knotty. It takes so many twists and turns that just when you think it’s reached its climax, Pitney is buffeted by another wave of despair, elated by a new possibility, and his brittle, nasal voice reaches still higher, fighting to make itself against an orchestra, a choir and a drummer who can’t stop himself playing triplet drum rolls.
In its rather old-fasioned Bacharachian pomp, it stood out in a year defined by the psychedelia of the Beatles, Hendrix and Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale (which shares its relentless piddly-piddly-piddly drum rolls). But it was Pitney’s last artistic hurrah. Until it resurfaced in 1989, Something’s Gotten Hold of my Heart was his last top-ten hit in the UK and he was done as a commercial force by 1970, only Blue Angel hitting number 2 in Australia breaking the pattern of low placings. Pitney was a songwriter (he’d written Rubber Ball, He’s A Rebel and Hello Mary Lou) but lacking the writing rep of, say, Neil Sedaka he wasn’t able to maintain songwriting as a career until his time as a performer came round again. Instead, he was lost to the oldies circuit, so it was no disgrace that he willingly participated in Almond’s desecration of his finest moment; after all, it provided him with a chance at damn near 50, white-haired but eternally boyish, to stand in front of a teenage audience in the Top of the Pops studio and all that cool stuff, just one more time.
Gene Pitney in 1967,