Check out my other comments for biographical detail on Gene.
In late 1969 Gene was not riding high in the charts, well, not the US charts, His album sales had slumped and he wasn't a big album seller anyway. But importantly his singles had also dried up
1968 had seen him do well with a #16 ("She's A Heartbreaker") in The Billboard Hot 100, but that had been followed up with a #92 ("Billy You're My Friend") in the same year. 1969 saw no placings (and 1970, ultimately, would see his last placing in the US Top 100 charts, #89 for "She Lets Her Hair Down (Early In The Morning)")
And this was from a guy who had had one #1, another nine top 10s, plus another nine top 20s in the early to mid 60s.
But music is a games of snakes and ladders played on a world domination board. Whilst Gene was dipping in the US he was a major draw in UK, Australia and Europe and had substantial hits there. Smaller national ponds perhaps but enough work to keep the wolves from the door.
But that doesn't explain this album.
Gene was a quirky guy and did march to the beat of his own drum. As a singer of pop he is sometimes dismissed. But he wrote a lot of his own tunes and, more importantly, he directed how his music should sound.
I think it is this quirkiness which led to a guy like Gene recording this in 1969.
The Vietnam was is raging, protesters are being clubbed, people are rioting, whilst musically, Dylan is raving, the Stooges are signalling the decline of western civilisation, The Band have headed for the mountains and psychedlia and excess is everywhere.
Pitney's response: an album of Platters songs.
I had to check that this album wasn't a compilation of Platters song that Gene may have recorded over the years and then compiled into this release but no, it seems Gene recorded these fresh in 1969.
The Platters were a leading R&B vocal group of the 1950s. Under the guidance of Buck Ram they had a romantic and quite "white" sound when compared to other doo wop bands of the 50s. They carried on the tradition of the Ink Spots" and The Mills Brothers and white vocal groups rather than the traditions of the black R&B groups. That's not to say they didn't sound black just that they were slick and smooth enough and free of enough regionalism to have major crossover appeal .
Clearly they were a big influence on Pitney, and not be cause he is doing an album of their hits but because their heartfelt singing really presupposes the highly emotive style that made him famous.
Slick, white make out music with a R&B vocal line …perhaps wasn't that novel in late 1969, early 1970 ./..it was after all one of the corner stones of the emerging MOR cabaret sound.
The beauty is Gene makes no attempt to update the music.
It's as if he has hopped into a time machine and transported himself back to the 1950s … a time when, on the surface at least, everything was simpler. There was no war, no civil unrest, people were happy, the country was prosperous, and the only fear you had was whether you were going to make it to the next base with your date.
This isn't retreatism, this is the one finger salute to the world.
And while I admire Gene's affection of times past I know (and not with the benefit of the here and now) that this was always going to be musical suicide.
Tracks (best in italics)
- The Great Pretender – (B. Ram) – a magnificent song done beautifully. It has been covered often but this is one of the best. I think Freddy Mercury's 1987 version is based on this more than on the original.
- Twilight Time – (B. Ram, A. Nevins, M. Nevins, A. Nunn) – another good version
- Harbor Lights – (J. Kennedy, H. Williams) – I'm partial to Bing Crosby's version (1950) and Elvis Presley's version (1954, first released 1976) but this is a great version also.
- I'm Sorry – (B.Ram, P. Tintrurin, B.White) – good only.
- The Magic Touch – (B. Ram) – good but not as good as the original.
- My Prayer – (KJ. Kennedy, G.Boulanger) – lush.
- Smoke Gets in Your Eyes – (O.Harbach, K, Kern) – emotion packed on emotion.
- Heaven on Earth – (J. Kennedy, H. Williams) – excellent
- Only You – (B. Ram, A. Rand) – another great song and a great version where Gene takes the emotion to "11".
- One in a Million – (T. Williams, G. Miles) – nice
Well, of course …. I'm keeping it.
The Great Pretender
mp3 attached (sorry about the scratch and pop – my vinyl is poor)
The Platters and their charting songs: