Wayne Fontana, hitmaker with ‘The Game of Love,’ 74

After leaving the Mindbenders, Mr. Fontana struggled to find similar success, but went on to perform in oldies tours.
David Redfern/Redferns
After leaving the Mindbenders, Mr. Fontana struggled to find similar success, but went on to perform in oldies tours.

NEW YORK — Wayne Fontana, a British invasion-era singer best known for his 1965 hit song “Game of Love,” died Thursday at a hospital in Stockport, England. He was 74.

Pam Dixon, his social media administrator, said the cause was cancer.

Mr. Fontana, who made a name performing as Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, found brief success with the band when “Game of Love” hit No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard chart the week of April 24, 1965.


The song, by American songwriter Clint Ballard Jr., is instantly recognizable to many by its opening lyrics: “The purpose of a man is to love a woman/And the purpose of a woman is to love her man/So come on baby let’s start today, come on baby let’s play/The game of love.”

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
A look at the news and events shaping the day ahead, delivered every weekday.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

The song got another burst of attention in 1987 when it was played by the disc jockey portrayed by Robin Williams in the movie “Good Morning, Vietnam.”

“Professionally he was a bit of a genius,” musician Peter Noone said of his friend Mr. Fontana in a phone interview. (Noone had success of his own in the British invasion as the frontman of Herman’s Hermits.) He added, “There are only two great singers in the northwest of England, and he was one of them.” The other, he said, is Allan Clarke of the Hollies.

But Mr. Fontana grew frustrated as the group’s other singles flopped in 1965; at one point he stormed off the stage in the middle of a concert in October.

“We did well, but we had disagreements about the kind of music we were recording; it happens when you’re young and in a band,” Mr. Fontana said in an interview in 2017. “One night onstage, I decided to sing ‘Save the Last Dance for Me,’ and I could hear the band mumbling, ‘Why are we always doing the slow ones.’ ”


The Mindbenders had other hits in the United Kingdom, including “Pamela Pamela” in 1966. When Mr. Fontana departed for his solo career, his remaining bandmates, Bob Lang, Ric Rothwell and Eric Stewart, made the band a trio.

As a solo act, Mr. Fontana struggled, but his former group went on without him to reach No. 2 on the UK and US Billboard charts in 1966 with “A Groovy Kind of Love,” which Phil Collins covered in 1988.

Mr. Fontana was born Glyn Geoffrey Ellis on Oct. 28, 1945, in Manchester, England, to Mildred and Richard Ellis. He trained as a telephone engineer apprentice before starting his career in music.

He began singing in the 1960s as the frontman of Wayne Fontana and the Jets, taking his stage name from Elvis Presley’s drummer D.J. Fontana. He soon formed the ultimately more successful Mindbenders (its name was inspired by the title of a 1963 movie), and they signed a contract with the entirely unrelated Fontana Records.

Later in life, Mr. Fontana performed in oldies tours around Europe.


His marriage to Suzanne Davis in 1966 ended in divorce. His survivors, whom his representatives declined to identify, include his partner, three children, eight grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.