Composer Clint Ballard, Jr. authored some of the most successful and enduring pop hits of the 1960s, most notably Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders' chart-topping classic "The Game of Love." Born May 24, 1931, in El Paso, TX, Ballard was a child prodigy who first earned attention at the age of three when a local radio station spotlighted his piano playing. During high school and college he played in a series of amateur dance bands, eventually earning a degree in radio production from Texas Western College. After graduation Ballard relocated to New York City, working as a nightclub pianist and pitching his original compositions at the famed Brill Building. During a 1957 visit to Washington, D.C., he befriended local pop duo the Kalin Twins, agreeing to become their manager. Ballard also penned the Kalins' Decca debut, "Jumpin' Jack" -- the record earned little attention, but the follow-up, "When" (written by Ballard pal Paul Evans), cracked the U.S. Top Ten and topped the U.K. charts. Despite the Kalin Twins' success, Ballard wanted to concentrate on his own songwriting career and split with the group. In 1958, he scored with singer Malcolm Vaughan's ballad "Ev'ry Hour, Ev'ry Day of My Life," followed by Frankie Avalon's Top Ten entry "Gingerbread." Other early Ballard efforts include the Flamingos' "The Ladder of Love," Frankie Laine's "Journey's End," and Billy Eckstine's "In the Rain." Considered an excellent judge of new talent, Ballard is also credited with discovering composer Kenny Young, co-author of the Drifters' classic "Under the Boardwalk."
Ballard's attempts to mount his own recording career proved far less successful. In addition to several little-noticed singles under his own name, in 1960 he adopted the alias Buddy Clinton to cut a two-sided single featuring the songs "Take Me to Your Ladder (I'll See Your Leader Later)" and "Joanie's Forever," both co-written by then-unknown composer Burt Bacharach. In the meantime, Ballard continued elevating his profile as a songwriter, teaming with Fred Tobias for Patti Page's "One of Us Will Weep Tonight" and Jimmy Jones' "Good Timin'," which trailed on the heels of the singer's signature "Handy Man." Another hit, 1962's "A Very Good Year for Girls," enjoyed three notable renditions, from Johnny Tillotson, David MacBeth, and Brian Poole. Ballard notched his first unqualified classic in 1963 when soul singer Dee Dee Warwick introduced his "You're No Good" -- a competing version cut by Betty Everett appeared just weeks later and ultimately proved the bigger chart hit, cracking the R&B Top Ten. A year later, British group the Swinging Blue Jeans covered "You're No Good" as well, and their version is considered one of the watershed moments of the Merseybeat era. Still, the most commercially successful rendition remains Linda Ronstadt's, which topped the Billboard pop charts in 1975.
Despite his American origins, Ballard is most closely associated with the music and artists of the British Invasion. In the wake of the Swinging Blue Jeans' "You're No Good" he reunited with the group for "It Isn't There," and in 1966 the Zombies cut his "Gotta Get a Hold of Myself." Ballard penned the smash "I'm Alive" expressly for the Hollies and their renowned close harmonies, but the band initially passed on the song. Another Manchester act, the Toggery Five, quickly laid claim to the song, but the Hollies soon realized their mistake and took it back. "I'm Alive" went on to become their first number one hit. Ballard's most renowned effort is nevertheless "The Game of Love" -- recorded by Manchester-based Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders in 1965, the song clocked in at under two minutes, but the single went number one in the U.S. and peaked at number two in the U.K. Ballard also penned the subsequent Fontana chart singles "Just a Little Bit Too Late" and "She Needs Love." However, as the decade continued on, Ballard gravitated away from pop, writing songs for the Ricky Nelson feature film Love and Kisses and teaming with Lee Goldsmith to write a musical adaptation of the drama Come Back, Little Sheba -- while it never reached its intended destination, Broadway, a 2001 revival yielded an original cast recording. Ballard also wrote a series of commercial jingles, including a theme for the Greyhound bus line. He died in Denton, TX, on December 23, 2008.