Born Bernard Alfred Nitzsche, 22 April 1937, Chicago, Illinois
Nitzsche began getting arranging jobs, and when writer/producer Phil Spector relocated to the West Coast, he went to work with Spector, arranging many of Spector's hits, among them "He's a Rebel" by the Crystals and "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes. He also scored his own recording contract with Reprise Records, which released his instrumental "The Lonely Surfer" in the summer of 1963. It became a Top 40 hit, and Nitzsche followed it with an album of the same title, but he did not go on to a successful recording career, though he did release a few more albums. His next success came with a song he co-wrote with Sonny Bono : "Needles and Pins", initially a small hit (# 84) for Jackie DeShannon in 1963, and a US Top 20 hit the next year when it was covered by the British group the Searchers. (The song was revived for a chart entry by Smokie in 1977 and became a Top 40 hit for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with Stevie Nicks in 1986.)
Nitzsche's work with Spector stood him in good stead with another British Invasion group. In the fall of 1964, he played on sessions for the Rolling Stones album The Rolling Stones, Now!, beginning a long association with the group that would find him contributing to such Stones recordings as "Play with Fire," "Paint It, Black," and "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (choral arrangement).
In 1965, he wrote his first film score, for the low-budget Village of the Giants, though it would be another five years before he really began to work in films consistently. In the meantime, he continued to produce, arrange, and record with a wide variety of musicians including Tim Buckley, Bobby Darin, Doris Day, Marianne Faithfull, Frankie Laine and the Monkees and he had a long association with Neil Young. Nitzsche got his chance to return to movie work in 1970 with Performance, starring Mick Jagger. It really launched his career as a composer of film scores. By 1973, he was working on major studio films like The Exorcist, and in 1975 he earned an Academy Award nomination for his music to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. By the 1980s he was working full-time on film scores, averaging two a year during the decade. He got another Academy Award nomination for An Officer and a Gentleman in 1982, and, with Will Jennings and Buffy Sainte-Marie (at the time, Nitzsche's wife), he won the Oscar for best song for "Up Where We Belong," which had already become a # 1 hit for Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes.
Nitzsche's film work slowed after the early '90s, his last film score coming with The Crossing Guard in 1995. He died at 63 of cardiac arrest brought on by a bronchial infection. The "Lonely Surfer" Reprise LP (1963) was reissued on CD by Collector's Choice in 2001.
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