Above, Valerie Loeffler, who may be the only female to attempt to cover "Mecca." And below, well, the highly individual journalism and oh so coherent critical views you've come to expect here.
If I was a conspiracy theorist, I’d wonder if Gene Pitney REALLY died of a heart attack. Could he have been murdered by some crazed hummus-faced armpit-bearded Allah-kazam? They’re a bit touchy and humorless, aren’t they? (They might not even be laughing at this very moment while reading this!)
Who is behind almost every bombing and cowardly attack on unarmed people? It ain’t the Druids. It’s the bunch that believes in circumcising WOMEN, killing cartoonists, and going into a raving fatwa denying “freedom of speech” to anyone that disagrees with them. With most people, “I don’t believe what you believe” isn’t an invitation to a beheading. So…
Is it possible somebody slipped Pitney a heart-stopping drug because he equated “Mecca” with his girlfriend’s house? Sacrilege! Radical Islam, awakened at the turn of the century, had begun flying planes into U.S. buildings and blasting London transit. Some Habib Felafel deciding to be offended over “Mecca” and taking out Pitney isn’t that far-fetched. After all, Gene died in Great Britain, where they can slip polonium-210 in your tea in a restaurant and get away with it faster than you can say Litvenenko.
If I'm being honest, an observant, that teeny-tiny bunch of radicals who have hijacked “a fine religion” have killed people for much less. I mean, these are people who get touchy even if you try and compliment them. Like: “You know, I really like your stinky halal food.” or, “Danny Thomas did a great job playing a Jew in “The Jazz Singer.” Or “You fuckers sure know creative uses for pressure cookers.”
Those who insist we can’t expel every Muslim (true enough) try to allay our fears by muttering that only 10% or 20% of the Muslim population support or approve of terrorists who want to make the world all-Muslim all the time. Okay, that’s several MILLION maniacs (more than Natalie Merchant could imagine). Given that it only takes two or three to blow up a Boston marathon, a Paris theater, a Brussels airport, or a mental health hospital in San Bernardino, who is to say ONE of ‘em didn’t off Pitney?
We’ll never know for sure if some Jihadi Jay anti-American didn’t get to Gene when he turned up in Cardiff. I quote Pitney’s tour manager, James Kelly: "He was found fully clothed, on his back, as if he had gone for a lie down. It looks as if there was no pain whatsoever."
Suspicious, huh? Kelly remembered that the last show Gene performed was happy. And you know how Muslims feel about “happy.” They hate it. James Kelly: “Last night was generally one of the happiest and most exuberant performances we've seen out of him. He was absolutely on top of his game and was really happy with the show." And was his encore…”MECCA?” And was there someone in the audience wearing a frown without pity?
Coincidence: “Mecca” began its climb up the charts in April of 1963…and Gene was found dead in April of 2006. How many years is that? Exactly 43. If you check the Koran, note what page you find after 42.
43 also happens to be the number of days it takes for fig yogurt to reach its expiration, and frankly, what can happen to fig yogurt can happen to Gene Pitney.
Mecca is a holy destination. It's possible a Catholic would be mildly irked if a lyric went: "That brownstone house where my baby live's like the Vatican, THE VATICAN, to ME!" A Jew might raise an eyebrow over: "My baby's birthday is holy like Yom Kippur, Yom Kippur, to ME!" So to have an Arab overreact these days, to the point of jihad, is hardly surprising, is it? If you saw a news item about a Muslim stabbing somebody for joking that visiting Disney World was like Mecca for the wife and kids, would you really be shocked?
When “Mecca” first appeared, Arabs were fairly peaceful, if you weren’t Jewish. There was no Isis and Muslims didn’t attack England, Spain, France or America. Omar Sharif got along with Peter O’Toole. There were no protests about Pitney’s latest hit, because people in general weren't so "PC" or touchy, or just plain dismissive of somebody else's right to live. Gore wasn't routine in movies and mass murder was rare.
"Mecca" was just an odd novelty with a faux-Middle East arrangement and some snake-charmer clarinet playing. No Arab complained that the chick singing background could as easily have been singing about a lion sleeping in Africa. Ok, so it wasn’t authentic. It offended nobody at the time, and neither did "Little Egypt” by The Coasters. People enjoyed harmless ethnic stereotypes, and the charts embraced ethnic music from Nicola Paone's "Blah Blah Blah" and Horst Jankowski's jaunty "Walk in the Black Forest" to the foreign babblings of “Volare” and “Sukiyaki.”
There was nothing nefarious about John Gluck Jr., a co-writer of “Mecca.” He was a professional who worked with anyone who had a tune that needed some lyrics. (I’m assuming he wrote the lyrics. It seems that way.) Born in Ohio (1925-2000) he worked with Richard Maltby on “Who Put the Devil in Evelyn’s Eyes” (recorded by the Mills Brothers) and “Beloved Be True” (vocal by Russ Emerick).
With Diane Lampert he co-wrote “No One Home” (recorded by Alan Dale), “Little Lovin’” (performed by Mimi Roman), “Pinch Me” (done by Somethin’ Smith and the Redheads), “Can’t Wait for Summer” (sung by Steve Lawrence), “One Teenager to Another” (from Brenda Lee), “Precious Years” (a single by Glenn Reeves), and “Nothin’ Shakin’,” (yes, The Beatles performed it on a BBC broadcast). Not to mention “Wacky Wacky.” Forget I mentioned it.
With Bob Goldstein John co-wrote “The Other Girls,” a flip side for Jay and the Americans, and with Ben Raleigh, he co-wrote the Connie Francis tune “Blue Winter.” John took sole credit on “That’s Me Without You” by The Wilson Sisters, “Up Jumped a Rabbit” by Frankie Lymon, and “The Bridge” by The Harbingers and also The Cowsills.
Now, what about “Mecca?”
It was a co-write done with the exotic-named Neval Nader, who had Middle Eastern music in his blood, and was born Neval Abounader in Utica (1917-2009). This is not a joke: Neval served in World War 2 and then tried for a career in cartoons and art, marketing his novelties under the pseudonym Screwloose LaTrec.
Neval discovered he had a talent for music. When he needed lyrics for an exotic melody, John Gluck provided it. Just another ballad about young lust, the twist was in making the Middle Eastern melody part of the story line. The girl could’ve been given an Egyptian name, but a cleverer idea was turning her home into “Mecca.” Instead of loving a girl from the wrong side of town, our hero (frantic, high-pitched excitable Gene) was hot about the street where she lived. He had an almost religious view of it, which hints that the girl's parents may be Middle Eastern immigrants. Well, he probably considered her TWAT to be “Mecca,” not the house, but this was 1963.
Exotic, driven by the haunting ‘Mecca…MECCA…MECCCCCAAA” chorus, abetted by some screaming cat-goddess in the background, and wailed by the greatest siren-voice in pop history, the tune was the best thing the Nader-Gluck team produced. But it wasn’t the only thing. Though not as prolific as some of Gluck’s other partners, Neval Nader wasn’t a one-hit wonder. He provided the music for The Fleetwoods’ “Lovers By Night, Strangers By Day,” which was the flip side to the Randy Newman-penned “They Tell me It’s Summer.” The team also scored with “Trouble is My Middle Name” recorded by The Four Pennies and “Punish Her,” which Bobby Vee took into the Top 20 in 1962.
John Gluck’s most famous co-write was still to come. With Herbert Wiener and Wally Gold, he concocted the music for “It’s My Party,” the Lesley Gore smash. By this time Gluck had been hired (along with veterans Mel Mandel and Norman Sachs) to work at Aaron Schroeder Music. Any number of people would be called in to help punch up a song. In this case, the name of one guy was left off. Seymour Gottlieb had the idea for the song, if not much of the lyrics. It was based loosely on events at his daughter Judy’s 16th birthday party.
While “It’s My Party” was instantly covered by a number of artists (notably Helen Shapiro), few have dared improve on Pitney’s “Mecca.” The Cheetahs offered a fairly insane and nauseating cover in 1964 for Philips. Playing it for punk laughs, New Zealand’s goofy Otis Mace took a shot at it in 1981. Let’s just say he was several years too late to be Elvis Costello, and that Split Enz were more authentic eccentrics.
Just two years ago, the group Varjokuva recorded it in Finland as “Mekka,” for their album “Tahti.” They finished it off with fresh lyrics in Finnish, as sung by eye-chart favorite Kyösti Mäkimattila. I think it won an award at the annual Lajso Music Festival, held in a graveyard in Croatia. The winner gets to leave the graveyard.
IF you want to say something nice about Arabs, it’s that they usually try and learn the language of the country they’ve invaded. That makes it easier to send threats to the local newspaper, as well as demands to government officials: “Attention infidels, we expect free housing, all our holidays off, and very light inspection of our luggage when we travel. Do not expect us to dress like you do or believe in your decadent ways. Respect our customs or we’ll kill you.”
Compare this to Latinos. At the moment, the United States is almost bilingual. At the risk of seeming to endorse Donald Trump, there’s no question that many Latino immigrants, legal or not, don’t speak English and don't want to or need to. The government prints every booklet in Spanish, and every ATM machine has a Spanish option and call up any major business like the phone company, electric company or a baseball stadium, and you get a recorded message with a prompt to press #1 if you actually want to continue in English; #2 "para Espanol."
Back in the early 60’s, many American pop stars took pity on foreigners. “They’d learn our language if they emigrated here,” they reasoned, “but if they’re staying in Spain, let’s say, or Mexico or South America, why not re-record in phonetic Spanish?” Below, Pitney burns his uvula on a Spanish translation of “Mecca.” Egyptian pop, Spanish lyrics with too many syllables…this IS an earache. Spanish, Mr. Dylan assured us, is a loving tongue, but maybe only when spoken by Ricardo Montalban or sung by Jose Feliciano. Fact: the average lowlife Latino immigrant, like the average asshole from Brooklyn in America or Grimsby in England, speaks his language grotesquely, and usually 20 rpm too fast. It definitely doesn't help any American's ears to not only hear Spanish (or Italian or Korean or whatever) but to hear it in the mongrel version babbled by someone too stupid to learn anything else. Or as Henry Higgins, said, "Why can't people stop sounding so fucked up?"
Below, rounding out the odd covers is a vaginal one.
So far, I’ve found only one female cover version of “Mecca.” It’s from Valerie Loeffler, who recorded it back in 2009 when she was apparently a student at Gateway Regional High School (in New Jersey). She performed it in a local coffee house, pausing from her versions of Natalie Imbruglia and Anna Nalick tunes. She sang “Mecca” in honor of her grandma. Yes, the old, old lady played some old, old Pitney songs for the young girl, and surprise-surprise, one ancient tune was weird enough to find favor.
Valerie takes a sincere stab at “Mecca,” which is more than you can say for most young girlies. Too many of today's shaven babes stick to wispy and baldly off-key Taylor Swift covers, expecting guyyyysss to join their Facebook fan club and iTunes and Spotify to send them huge checks for songs nobody wants to download or hear. Valerie might not completely nail those high pitched blasts of “MECCA,” but who did? Only Gene Pitney, and that’s why the Arabs killed him. At least, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it, because this is an irreverent blog that is often full of put-ons.
Poor Gene. Had he not equated “Mecca” with lust and twat, he may be alive today. All seriousness aside, most Islamites are very nice people as long as you leave them alone, convert, tear down your church or synagogue and build a mosque, and put your wife in a fucking bee keeper’s outfit.
Oh yes, you are allowed to chew on dates, but if Papa Omar gets mad, you’ll have a misadventure with his mates.
PS, the second most upsetting possible Arab murder of a beloved creative artist would be Bob Clampett. He worked on Warner Bros. cartoons but later created the “Beany and Cecil” TV series. In one episode of the cartoon show, he had a gag in which Cecil the sea serpent announced he was going over to “Mecca Records” in order to…”mecca record.” This may have been enough to put Bob on the hit list, since the Ayatollah met with several Hamas terrorists and determined Cecil was a cartoon character, and would therefore be hard to murder.
Below, five difference variations on Mecca, including Pitney’s in Spanish. Blue Gene, baby, shall I mourn you with some Thunderbird wine and a black handkerchief? Shall I ask why in the world people are killing each other over a fucking imaginary friend they can’t prove even exists?
Well, Gene, here’s hoping you’re reading this in heaven (the real deal, not the one full of goats, but the one with angels and Mother Mary singing “Let it Be” for everyone and “He’s a Rebel” for her son).
Gene, may you be sitting on a cloud wanting something to eat, and a waitress comes over and shows you where. Or didn’t you know heaven was 24 hours from Tulsa?
GENE PITNEY MECCA (en Espanol)
OTIS MACE MECCA
THE CHEETAHS MECCA
VARJOKUVA MECCA (LIVE)
VALERIE LOEFFLER MECCA (LIVE)