This week we have two oldies that are linked in a very interesting and ironic piece of pop music history.
Let’s begin with Gene Pitney, a clean-cut crooner who was a teenage idol in the early 1960’s. The Guardian wrote “his unique voice – a piercing yet panic-stricken tenor – quickly seized the ear of the listening public.”
In late 1962 Pitney had his biggest hit, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. And yes, he did the whistling, too.
Pitney’s greatness was that he not only could sing, but write hit songs, too.
“Today’s Teardrops” for Roy Orbison, “Rubber Ball” for Bobby Vee, and “Hello Mary Lou” for Ricky Nelson.
On November 3, 1962, when the Billboard Hot 100 chart was released, Pitney’s “Only Love Can Break a Heart” climbed from Number 4 to Number 2. The record wouldn’t go any higher.
What was the recording that prevented Pitney from climbing to the highest spot on the chart?
It was “He’s a Rebel,” a song Pitney ironically wrote for The Crystals.
Except that the Crystals never sang or recorded the song.
This requires some explanation.
There really was a girl group called The Crystals.
They already had two hits for famous producer Phil Spector on his Philles label.
Spector heard Pitney’s demo of “He’s a Rebel” and knew immediately it was going to be a smash. Having learned that vocalist Vikki Carr was planning to release her version of “He’s a Rebel” as her debut single, Spector wanted to beat her to the punch by having The Crystals record Pitney’s song, and as soon as possible.
Problem. The Crystals were not available. They were touring on the east coast, 3,000 miles from Spector in California.
So Spector enlisted another girl group, The Blossoms to go into the studio instead: Fanita James, Jean King, and lead singer Darlene Love.
The Crystals have told a different story. Over the years they’ve claimed Spector pushed out the record with their name on it without telling them.
“He’s a Rebel” marks the first and only time in chart history that an artist hit #2 only to be surpassed by a song the artist wrote for someone else.
The Blossoms (above) kept working with Spector. They did background vocals on The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” and performed again as The Crystals on “He’s Sure the Boy I Love.”
The Blossoms on stage with Elvis during his 1968 Comeback Special.
Darlene Love still performs today, and yes, she sings and tells the rebel story.
The Crystals, the real Crystals, had two more top 10 hits: “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Then He Kissed Me.”
Vikki Carr did eventually release “He’s a Rebel” but it went nowhere. Carr had to wait until 1967 for her first Top 100 single, “It Must Be Him” that went to #3.
On Feb. 3, 2003, 40-year-old actress Lana Clarkson was found dead in the early hours of the morning in Phil Spector’s mansion in Alhambra, California. Her body was found slumped in a chair with a single gunshot wound to her mouth. Spector’s limo driver, who was waiting outside at the time of the fatal shooting, testified that the music producer walked outside with a gun in his hand and told him “I think I killed somebody.” Spector later claimed that the actress’s death was an “accidental suicide. Spector was accused of murdering the 40-year-old actress, just hours after meeting her at a Hollywood nightclub. He was convicted of second-degree murder and was sentenced to 19 years to life in prison on May 29, 2009, and will be 88 years old before he becomes eligible for parole.
Gene Pitney was considered to be in great shape when it came to older pop stars.
“Hell, I got into the sex but not the drugs and my advice to anyone tempted by cocaine is to try a nice bottle of German wine. I avoided that entire lifestyle and that’s why I’m still around,” he once said.
Pitney died in 2006 of natural causes. He was 65.