Love At First Sight

About a year ago, I wrote a post on this same song, but today I have more time, so I will improve on my old post.  In 1957, a New Orleans group called The Sparks released a song called ‘Merry Mary Lou’, which goes:
Mary, Mary Lou
Why must you do
The things that you always do
In this song, Mary Lou runs off to marry another man, jilting her previous boyfriend and leaving him heartbroken making him wonder how she could do this to him.  In 1953, Cayet Mangiaracina was 18, fresh out of Jesuit High School and considering a religious vocation when he auditioned as a piano player for the Sparks, a rock ‘n’ roll group whose five members played for $1 an hour at youth dances.  The band’s four other members who were all still in high school included Ronnie Massa on alto sax, Don Bailey on bass, Joe Lovecchio on tenor sax and Don Connell on drums.  In 1954, Cayet sat down at his family’s upright piano and banged out a tune that he titled ‘Merry, Mary Lou’.  Cayet Mangiaracina said there was no Mary Lou and that the lyric just sounded good, and he eventually left the band in 1956 to join the Dominican Order. After he was gone, the band won a “battle of the bands” competition in New Orleans.  The reward was a trip to New York and a Decca Records recording of this song.  ‘Merry Mary Lou’ became a hit in New Orleans, but other than that The Sparks version went nowhere.

In 1957, Bill Haley and the Comets and in 1958 Sam Cooke each liked this song, so they recorded their own versions, both changing the name to ‘Mary, Mary Lou’.  Gene Pitney broke into the music scene writing ‘Hello Mary Lou’ in 1961.  It seems pretty obvious that he must have heard the Bill Haley and the Comets, or the Sam Cooke version of ‘Mary, Mary Lou’ and that he was influenced by this song before he wrote his ‘Hello Mary Lou’.  After ‘Hello Mary Lou’ became a hit, Cayet Mangiaracina’s publisher, Champion Music, took legal action and the lawsuit was settled outside of court, so Mangiaracina got a share of the song, and he is listed as a co-writer along with Gene Pitney.  Pitney died in 2006, and he never spoke of Mangiaracina or the lawsuit.

Pitney started his career as a teenage songwriter, sending self-produced demos to New York publishers from his home in Stanford, Connecticut.  In 1960, one of his early compositions, ‘Today’s Teardrops’ appeared on the B-side of Roy Orbison’s top 10 hit Blue Angel.  Another early success as a writer was ‘Rubber Ball’, a worldwide hit for Bobby Vee and ‘He’s a Rebel’ for the Crystals.  He had a hit with the Carole King and Gerry Goffin ballad ‘Every Breath I Take’ which he recorded in 1961.  Some of Pitney’s biggest hits were ‘Only Love Can Break A Heart’ and ‘(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance’, which were both written by the Burt Bacharach-Hal David team.  Pitney had a brief but intense affair with Marianne Faithfull while they were touring the U.K. in 1964.  Gene sang ‘I’m Gonna Be Strong’ which was written by the duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil as an ode to Marianne, which went to #2 in the U.K and #9 in the US and was later covered by Cyndi Lauper.  Although Gene wrote and recorded ‘Hello Mary Lou’, his record company never released it.  Gene Pitney’s ‘Hello Mary Lou’ was first recorded by Johnny Duncan in 1960.  His publisher shopped the song around to various artists, including Ricky Nelson, whose version became a huge hit.  In 1962, Pitney did record this song on his album Many Sides of Gene Pitney, but it was not nearly as good as Nelson’s cover.

Ricky Nelson did not have to work his way up from the bottom, he got his opportunity to make records, because he was the son of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson.  They had a TV show which was watched by millions of Americans every week called The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet.  Born Eric Hilliard Nelson in Teaneck, New Jersey, on May 8, 1940, Ricky began appearing on his parents’ radio show in 1949, and then on the TV series which aired from 1952 to 1966.  Ricky was known for playing himself on the TV show and he also costarred in the movie Rio Bravo with Dean Martin and John Wayne.  He was also in The Wackiest Ship in the Army with Jack Lemmon, and Love and Kisses with Jack Kelly.  Ozzie played tenor guitar on this song and he had been a successful bandleader in the 1930s, with Harriet being his featured girl singer, so Ricky had plenty of musical experience to call on for advice.  The guitar solo is by James Burton, who later joined up with Elvis Presley.  Burton made his reputation before age eighteen with his guitar soloing on Dale Hawkins’ 1957 hit ‘Suzie-Q’.  James Burton set the tone for future country-rock classics and was widely imitated by later musicians and he also played with Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris and Elvis Costello among others.  The song makes a liberal use of a cowbell and the piano is by Ray Johnson, and other musicians on the record include Joe Osborne on bass and Ritchie Frost on drums.

Ricky was good looking and he had a pleasing voice and he sang with conviction, and after Ricky’s cover of Fats Domino’s ‘I’m Walkin’ made it into the Billboard Top 10 in 1957, Ozzie began featuring Ricky singing on his TV show, where he quickly became a teen idol.  Nelson had already run off twelve Top Ten singles before scoring with his biggest double-sided hit in 1961, Travelin Man, the A side of the same record that had ‘Hello Mary Lou’ on it and this went to #1.  ‘Hello Mary Lou’ reached #9 in the US charts and it went to #2 in the U.K. in the spring of 1961.  The song appeared on Nelson’s sixth album Rick Is 21.  Nelson was second only to Elvis Presley during rock ‘n’ roll’s ‘50s pinnacle, putting out 52 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 between 1957 and 1973.  Nelson was killed on December 31, 1985 when a malfunctioning heater aboard a dilapidated behemoth DC-3 he was riding in caught fire spreading to the cabin killing everyone aboard.  When Ricky Nelson entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, he was inducted by John Fogerty of Creedence.

In this bubbly, bouncy song, a guy falls in love with Mary Lou, a girl that he just set his eyes upon.  They passed by each other one sunny day and she flashed her big brown eyes which made him want her and he felt like they will always belong together.  He saw her lips, heard her voice and felt like this gave him no choice.  Wild horses couldn’t make him stay away and he thought about a moonlit night as a way to orchestrate his affections, where he would have his arms around her good and tight and this made him speechless.  The Statler Brothers and Creedence Clearwater Revival both had hits with this song.  Led Zeppelin did a cover of ‘Hello Mary Lou’ on their triple live album How the West Was Won.  James Burton was one of Jimmy Page’s idols as a youth and he said that he carried a picture of James in his wallet.  My last time when I wrote about this song Hello Mary Lou, I included the Ricky Nelson version, so if you need to listen to that, you can go there.  Today I have the New Riders of the Purple Sage, which I think is better.

Hello Mary Lou, goodbye heart
Sweet Mary Lou, I’m so in love with you
I knew Mary Lou, we’d never part
So hello Mary Lou, goodbye heart
You passed me by one sunny day
Flashed those big brown eyes my way
And oo I wanted you forever more
Now I’m not one that gets around
Swear my feet stuck to the ground
And though I never did meet you before
I said, hello Mary Lou, goodbye heart
Sweet Mary Lou, I’m so in love with you
I knew Mary Lou, we’d never part
So hello Mary Lou, goodbye heart
I saw your lips I heard your voice
Believe me I just had no choice
Wild horses couldn’t make me stay away
I thought about a moonlit night
My arms about good an’ tight
That’s all I had to see for me to say
Hey, hey, hello Mary Lou, goodbye heart
Sweet Mary Lou, I’m so in love with you
I knew Mary Lou, we’d never part
So hello Mary Lou, goodbye heart
So hello Mary Lou, goodbye heart
Yes hello Mary Lou, goodbye heart

Written for FOWC with Fandango – Belong, for Ragtag Community – Orchestrate and for Scotts Daily Prompt – Need.

7 thoughts on “Love At First Sight

  1. Very interesting post. I was a big fan of Gene Pitney, but I didn’t realize that he wrote so many great songs for other artists. By the way, back in the late 90s, I worked with a guy who was Gene Pitney’s first cousin, although he and Gene were not close. He told me that Gene was gay, so when you said “Pitney had a brief but intense affair with Marianne Faithfull while they were touring the U.K. in 1964,” that came as a surprise to me. Maybe he was actually bisexual.

    Liked by 2 people

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