Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Song #155 of 9999 - Half Heaven, Half Heartache by Gene Pitney

Song #155 of 9999

Title: Half Heaven, Half Heartache
Artist: Gene Pitney
Year: 1962
Album: N/A - single release only

So here I am peddling a Gene Pitney song again. It was only about a month ago that I featured "Town Without Pity" from the film of the same name. Perhaps it was Pitney's dramatic performance of the 1961 Oscar-nominated song that led him to write so many songs of a similar nature the following year. He scored big as a writer for others ("He's a Rebel" by The Crystals) and as a performer of yet another soundtrack gem ("The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"). But I prefer this tormented tale of a love triangle between the singer, his girl and the former lover she can't forget.

The chord progression in this song is so cool. The verse utilizes one of my favorite devices, the chromatic line (in this case, Bb-B-C) that results in an augmented chord and then the submediant, like this: Eb  Eb+  Cm/Eb  (Ab  Bb). Then, in a clever twist, the chorus that follows sounds nearly identical, but the chromatic line wraps back around, returning to B (Bb-B-C-B) and the chord progression is firmed up by having the bass move to Ab (in place of the Cm) and following with a minor subdominant(!), like this: Eb  Eb+  Ab  Abm  (Eb  Fm  Bb). Couple these well-devised progressions with the string arrangement, Pitney's plaintive wail and a dramatic key change and you've got yourself another mini-opera for teens. I love it.

(P.S. I've probably already gone overboard with the music theory tonight for most, but if you're still with me, check this out. The little coda at the end when Pitney hits the high note on "you" reads like this: I  bVI  I (or E  C  E). What's cool about this is that the chord change reflects the emphasis on the chromatic line mentioned earlier, but instead of making the note "C" the fifth of an augmented chord, the "C" is used as the root of a C Major (bVI) triad instead. How cool is that?)

(P.P.S. Also sounds like he was hanging out a lot with Phil Spector and Roy Orbison with this track.)

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