Reaction amongst friends at the time was a sort of bemused approval: it was a Good Thing for this kind of record to get to number one, but nobody really seemed to love it, and the Pitney/Almond team up was faintly baffling. Of course, that was the odd-couple appeal of it: a gentleman from some ancient past allied to a leathered perv from a more recent one. And even though I remembered “Tainted Love”, in the bright world of Kylie and Jason both pasts seemed equally lost, both sides of this revenant alliance surprising.
Twenty years later, “Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart” has aged well, and seems to look forward rather than back – the cross-generational duet became a 90s fad, then a commonplace, and by the end of that decade we had Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews crooning at each other, and Jarvis Cocker writing for Tony Christie. Placed in that micro-continuum “Something” has aged rather well, mostly because neither singer acknowledges the curiosity value or leans too hard on their particular schtick. Almond, with a chance to be the old-style showman he’s always wanted to be, puts his back into it. Pitney glides witchily over the top with rather less audible effort but still steals the show.
So why Pitney anyway, and why this? Almond may have felt some sympathy for a man who’d began his prime decade as a new star only to not quite fit in. The Gene Pitney past feels exotic partly because it never really happened: he’s a wanderer from a parallel 60s, where rock’n’roll gave the pop establishment a shot in the arm then slipped into history. Or he might just have been attracted to Pitney’s voice, which could give corny material a sense of urgent dread – “24 Hours From Tulsa” being the obvious example, where the compulsion and mystery in the song is all down to Pitney’s delivery. As for the choice of song, Nick Cave had covered it before Almond took it on, identifying the Gothic streak in it which this version acknowledges and ripens. The strings do the heavy lifting, the intro cutting through whatever else was on 1989 playlists and the arrangement helping the two singers locate the exact point where kitsch bleeds into mystery.