Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Turning Point: Gene Pitney: "No One Needs Your Love"

There is a quiet revolution happening at this time in music, quiet because those participating cannot, so to speak, be heard. There is a division - and to a certain extent there always will be - between those who write the songs and those who record them; between those who sit at pianos in tiny rooms pounding away writing songs (such as in the Brill Building) and those who have to puzzle over how to sing those songs best to do themselves and the songwriters justice. As things have been going it is the upstart rock groups who are writing their own songs, while everyone else is still dependent to a certain extent on the (mostly) men who write lyrics and melodies. There were a few performers - such as Gene Pitney - who wrote songs as well (oddly enough he didn't record his own songs), but by and large singers did the singing.

This is how things stood in '66, so if you were a young man who wrote songs who, perhaps, didn't consider yourself (or maybe the labels didn't) teen-idol material, you just ploughed away writing songs for others. Eventually, if your talent was appreciated and understood, you would go on to some regard and even fame, of a kind. But that would be in the 70s; for now, you hone your craft and hopefully have some hits.

If you listen to this, you might be able to guess who wrote the song. It is the lovelorn ballad taken to the extreme - he cannot live without her and questions her continuously as to why she has changed - it suits Pitney's astringent quality with its own ruthlessness. He is part lover here and part interrogator, and this could be an incredibly annoying song...and yet it isn't, and that's due to the music. It is hopeful, the chorus rising to a word-on-every-note precision that is proud and vulnerable at the same time, as if he knows he is being a pain and is trying to make up for it the best he can.

Yes, '66 is a turning point for music in that musicians were soon to split into two camps: those who wrote for others and those who wrote for themselves, and as the market for songwriters dried up in the US (much less so in the UK), songwriters such as this one - Randy Newman - would slowly begin to take to the studio and stage themselves for their own reasons*, while singers like Pitney would slowly fall out of the charts (though Pitney was always able to pack 'em in live). Newman found his voice in having his own to sing his songs(such as this** one), writing about subjects that were far off the usual Top 40 map, but in this song his solid skills in building a mood and having hooks galore are already evident.

We will soon be returning to L.A. for heart-tugging of a different sort, but next we go back to Europe...

*As Greil Marcus explains Newman's: "He made a lot...but since he didn't much like the way other people did his stuff, he began recording it himself." (Mystery Train, pg. 99)

** "This peaceful, quiet song is more outrageous than anything the Rolling Stones have ever done..." (ibid, pg. 108)

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