Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Man Who Sang "Liberty Valance"

Both the movie and the song of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance were big hits back in 1962, when Gene Pitney's record went to Number Four. But the song - one of the first collaborations between a composer named Burt Bacharach and a lyricist named Hal David - doesn't appear in the film, which seems a little strange since the song (actually titled "[The Man Who Shot] Liberty Valance") clearly couldn't exist without the movie. I mean, if Phil Collins' "Against All Odds" hadn't appeared in Against All Odds, no one would have noticed, because who would be surprised by Phil Collins titling a song with a cliche?

The bigger question is, why didn't Gene Pitney's song make it into the movie? I have found four distinct explanations:

1. John Ford, who directed Liberty Valance, hated the song and decided not to use it. I can buy this; it's not hard to imagine John Ford disliking contemporary pop music.

2. There was a dispute between the Paramount Pictures, which made the film, and the song's publishing company, Famous Music, over the rights to the song.

3. Pitney, Bacharach and David got the song done too late - the story goes that while he was in the studio cutting the track, Pitney heard that the movie had already been released. It's possible: The film was released on April 22, 1962, and though I don't know when the single came out, it entered the Top Forty on May 19, 1962. Given the speed with which pop music was created back then, I could believe Pitney was in the studio less than a month before the single crashed the charts. But I doubt it.

4. The song was never intended to be used in the movie, but was just intended as kind of a synergistic way to promote the film, as the film would simultaneously promote the record - just like Will Smith's terrible "Wild, Wild West" theme song, which went to Number One in 1999 despite being nothing more than a commercial for the equally lame film. Except that one did actually get played in the movie, because you know the Civil War era was just a hotbed for pop rap.

So I don't know why "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance" did not get played in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. I do know that, as good as the song is, the movie is even better. If you haven't yet, I urge you to check it out.


Mark Lerner said...

I can pretty safely shoot down theory #2, because Paramount Pictures owned Famous Music (until very recently). It really existed to be the music publishing division of Paramount.

I had a sad ridiculous internship (is there any other kind?) at Famous Music during my last semester of college. I copied cassette tapes and mailed them to people in an effort to get folks to record Famous Music and make it famous music.

T. Nawrocki said...

I probably didn't phrase that properly in the original post, but since I have no idea what really went on, there's no point in trying to fix it. At any rate, Gene Pitney himself thought that corporate in-fighting was the problem: "There was some screw-up between the publishing company, Famous Music, and the parent company, Paramount Pictures," saith Gene, according to

Mark Lerner said...

Did Gene mention me or my internship?

T. Nawrocki said...

Yeah, that was mostly what he wanted to talk about, but I felt it was outside the scope of this post, so I didn't mention it.

montecristo said...

I first heard the song when the movie first played,and
I still believe till today. That you get a totally different filling about this movie once you watch the
movie,with the song playing. Without the song the
movie is just another movie.