I had known Gene Pitney for his gunslinger ballads, especially the themes to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and Town Without Pity. He was also a successful songwriter, whose material was performed by Roy Orbison, Bobby Vee, The Crystals – heaps of others. Many are jaunty pop or country numbers with no lyrical pretensions:
Hello Mary Lou goodbye heart
Sweet Mary Lou I’m so in love with you
I knew Mary Lou we’d never part
So hello Mary Lou goodbye heart
“Hello, Mary Lou” was first a hit for Ricky Nelson, but The Seldom Scene do a fabulous bluegrass version: flim-flam, but great fun.
Pitney did have a more serious side, though. He released a song in the late 1960s called “Somewhere in the Country”, sympathetically exploring the world of an unmarried mother. Nothing to raise an eyebrow now, but brave for a mainstream artist at the time. This track likewise explores darker terrain. You wouldn’t pick it from the arrangement, which is up-tempo and almost bouncy, but it is a subtle subversion of the girl-next-door love song. I have always found this sub-genre a bit creepy: possessive male watches girl grow into woman, plots marriage. “Rose of Spanish Harlem” is one; “Living Next Door to Alice” is another. If I were Alice, I too would get as far away as possible.
The “Blue Angel” of the title is a doomed beauty from the wrong side of the tracks, and at the time of singing has fallen very low. The male singer does care for her, but respects her art and her independence: loyal friend rather than brooding control freak.
A strange song which lures you in, then makes you think.
- Artist: Gene Pitney
- Single Title: Blue Angel / Song Without A Friend
- Track: Side A “Blue Angel”
- Format: 7”, 45 rpm
- Label: Bronze
- Manufactured in: Australia
- Catalogue number: Bronze – 21-011
- Year: 1974
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