Burt Bacharach, Hal David
My favorite is the Gene Pitney version—I like the gusto of it. It isn’t lush or smooth and that seems suitable considering the subject and the setting. I like the cry in his voice when he sings “but the point of a gun was the only law that Liberty understood”. I appreciate the musical arrangement—the whine of the strings in the opening notes, the “Western” guitar playing. As a child, in conversation with friends, I mentioned the title “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, and a boy muttered, “John Wayne”. ‘What?”, I asked. “John Wayne…that’s who killed Liberty Valance”. He had seen the movie but did not know there was a song. I knew the song but did not know there was a movie. 5 decades later, he still occasionally reminds me that John Wayne killed Liberty Valance.
Whoa! Written by Bacharach & David?!? No wonder it is such a great song. I only associate their songs with Dionne Warwick and Streisand. Thanks for the new knowledge!
Great to hear the three versions.
The Pitney version was what I heard first as a child and have loved it ever since so I am biased. I think Pitney’s vocalization captures the drama of the story best.
This is the first time I’ve heard The Fairmont Singers version. While the instruments are great, I find the arrangement and vocal style give it a ‘cheery’ tone that is a disconnect from the gravity of the story being told - after all, there is a brute terrorizing a town to the point of death!
James Taylor’s version captures the gravity of the story but I find the jazz makes it a little too polished for the wild west. I also don’t like that he changes ‘girl’ to ‘woman’ and left out “from the time that a girl gets to be full grown, the very first thing she learns — when to men go out to face each other — only one returns”. That is a key moment in the song expressing the reality of the suffering of women during that time, but also creating an effective segue to the climax of the last line “everyone heard two shots ring out ..”. The song is diminished for eliminating it.
Thanks again for bringing this great song to light 😊
Great to know all this. BTW, after growing up in the Boston area and spending more than a decade in North Dakota and Minnesota,, I ended up living in San Jose in 1989, and that may be why I was thinking about "Do you know the way to San Jose?" recently and admiring the skill and poetry of the lyrics. I think more people would like poetry if it told stories half as memorably as that song. "Weeks turn into years, how quick they pass. And all the stars that never were are parking cars and pumping gas." A non-sequitur, my husband and I named our son Liberty because there was at least one well-known figure by that name, even though he was the dastardly Liberty Valence. Our hippy dippy friends were naming their children after concepts, and we followed suit, since liberty (probably more accurately license) was our ideal.
I vote for the fairmount singers version.
Just great. Many thanks! Always liked the movie, the actors and the song. I never heard the James Taylor and Fairmount Singers versions before. Fairmount harmony is the best. Keep up the good work.
Thank you for that background. You have a great point at the end. When I first heard the song as a child, my thought was, “who is this guy Liberty Valance?” I had no context.
My favorite is the Gene Pitney version with the Fairmount Singers a close second, but then I am kind of a folkie. Also, I grew up with the Pitney version. It has a drive to it that I think the Taylor version lacks. Great song!
That's interesting. I was surprised to learn that James Taylor did a version on the song as I never remember hearing it. But, then again I was most likely playing baseball or other sports and never much of a music lover. As I get older I'm discovering much of what I missed, thanks in large part to your work!
I vote for Gene Pitney’s version since it fit the time the movie came out. I don’t really care for James Taylor’s version even though I’m a fan of many of his songs. I’m going to try to watch the movie as I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it. Thank you Debra.
Each of the three versions blew me away, but Gene Pitney's voice seems to have the best haunted and hunted quality needed to accompany this fabulous film. Thanks for all your great research, Debra!
Thanks, Debra. I really enjoyed reading this. Never knew that 3 versions of the song were made. I like Pitney's the best.
People were a lot less fanatical about spoiler alerts in those days, but the lyrics do a fine job of threading the needle and implying that Stoddard shot Valance without stating it outright.