When Gene Pitney released “It Hurts to Be in Love,” his ninth studio album, he unleashed two monster hits which would become staples in his repertoire for the rest of his career – the title track, “It Hurts to Be in Love” and the emotional ballad “I’m Gonna Be Strong.” With both singles running to the top of the Billboard charts in North America, Australia and Europe, the album became the biggest seller of his career. But what Pitney fans probably didn’t know at the time, and what is criminally overlooked today, is that there was something special hiding on that album. A song on the second side titled “That Girl Belongs to Yesterday” was released as a third single but didn’t quite set the world on fire. However, for many middle American teenagers buying the album, “That Girl Belongs to Yesterday” would be the first song they ever heard by the young bright new song writing team of Jagger and Richards, and when it did appear on the US Billboard Charts in February 1964, it marked the first time anything by the Rolling Stones had “made it” in America.
So just what was the Gene Pitney-Rolling Stones connection? Their music is so different that it sounds unbelievable that they’d even be talked about in the same conversation. Well, the crossover is more fluid than you’d think.
Although it seems to be lost to time, there was a time in music where Gene Pitney was one of the most popular recording artists in the world. A multi-talented musician and song writer with a strong performance style, Pitney was one of the more outstanding performers who rose to fame between Elvis’ entrance into the Army in 1958 and Beatlemania in 1964. Coming onto the scene in 1959, unlike many of his contemporaries which were singing insipid bops about crushes, cars and summer romance, Pitney’s songs had a maturity about them which transcended the usual teenage tracks on the pop charts, hitting an emotional chord with music lovers of all ages. Whether singing a boppy pop song or an emotional ballad, Pitney delivered with his extremely unique vocal style – kind of nasally but extremely commanding. As a result, in the early years of the 1960’s, Gene Pitney was a headlining performer. Pitney didn’t open for you – you opened for Pitney.
One of the other unique things about Gene Pitney was that while he was popular in his home country of the US, he was even more popular in Europe. In America he had 16 songs in the Billboard Top 40, but in the UK, he had 22 top forty hits! Most artists are lucky to have only two, so that shows you just how big Pitney was in Europe.
It should also be reminded that at the time Pitney was dominating the charts in Europe, England was having its own musical revolution, so it was a pretty big deal that Pitney was still holding his own in an era where British rock was dominate. It is just a testament to the strength of Gene Pitney’s music. Once The Beatles hit the scene, artists like Fabien, Frankie Avalon and Tab Hunter faded away due to the dynamic new sound and style in music, but Pitney would maintain chart success for most of the 1960’s.
Due to his popularity in Europe, Pitney obviously spent a lot of time touring there, and head of his promotion team was Andrew Oldham, a future music insider who would go on to be a notable business manager and music producer. Pitney and Oldham struck up a friendship and in 1963, while Pitney was touring the UK, Oldham told him that he was starting to represent new bands and played him some recordings of a group that he had just discovered and signed – The Rolling Stones. Pitney liked what he heard, and had Oldham introduce him to the band. The Stones were just preparing to cut their first studio album, but Pitney said he’d like to record one of their songs and chose “That Girl Belongs to Yesterday.”
Although Pitney does the song in his own style, upon playback of “That Girl Belongs to Yesterday,” the sound is distinctly early Jagger and Richards and reflects the same mood and tone of songs like “Playing with Fire” and “Time is On My Side.” You can even hear Mick’s vocals through Pitney’s phrasing. It’s not a stretch. Furthermore, Gene Pitney would be the first artist other than the Rolling Stones to record and release a Jagger and Richards song.
“That Girl Belongs to Yesterday” was released as the third single on “It Hurts to Be in Love” in February 1964, but it didn’t top the charts. It petered out at #47. It was a disappointment to the Pitney camp as his last ten singles had entered the top forty.
But for the Rolling Stones, “That Girl Belongs to Yesterday” was their first success in America. It was the first time anything written by Jagger and Richards had made it on the American charts. The Rolling Stones would not have a hit record in America until a month later with their cover of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” which only went to #48, and the first hit in America by the Stones written by Jagger and Richards would be “Tell Me,” which didn’t hit until that June. But 1964 was a big year for the Stones’ rapid rise to fame, and while they primarily did it on their own, “That Girl Belongs to Yesterday” by Gene Pitney made it seem like the Stones were everywhere.
But that isn’t the end of Pitney’s strange crossover with the Stones. In fact, there is an even stranger moment in Pitney/Stones history. Pitney was part of an all-star drunken jam session during the recording of their debut album which produced a notorious X-rated recording that was too extreme to be released on any album, then or even later, but became passed around so much by everyone that it became well known to fans.
Story goes that Pitney visited the Stones at London’s Regent Studio in February 1964, incidentally the same time “That Girl Belongs to Yesterday” was on the charts, and, along with Graham Nash and Alan Clark from the Hollies, and fabled music producer Phil Spector, recorded a tribute to their pal Andrew Oldham called “Andrew’s Blues.” With Pitney pounding on the piano, the song had lyrics that went:
“Yes now Andrew Oldham sitting’ on a hill with Jack and Jill (Jack and Jill)
Fucked all night and sucked all night and taste that pussy till it taste just right
Oh Andrew (yes Andrew) oh Andrew (yes Andrew)
Oh suck it Andrew (go on Andrew), fuck it Andrew (go on Andrew)
Oh Andrew Oldham (yeah) A guy who really know his way around.”
Yeah – “That Girl Belongs to Yesterday” is the Rolling Stones collaboration that Gene Pitney probably wants you to remember.