Gerry Marsden, whose band Gerry and the Pacemakers proved to be formidable rivals to the Beatles in the early Liverpool rock scene of the 1960s, scoring smash hits like "Ferry Cross the Mersey," "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" and "You'll Never Walk Alone," died Sunday in the Liverpool area. He was 78.

His death, at Arrowe Park Hospital in the Merseyside metropolitan area, was confirmed by his family in a statement. British news outlets said the cause was a heart infection.

Gerry and the Pacemakers were the second band signed by the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein, but they earned a No. 1 single on the official United Kingdom singles chart before the Beatles ever did, accomplishing that feat in 1963 with their debut single, "How Do You Do It." It beat the Beatles' maiden chart-topper, "From Me to You," by three weeks.

The Pacemakers' next two singles, "I Like It" and "You'll Never Walk Alone," followed suit, making them the first act to summit the U.K. singles chart with their first three releases.

Marsden's talent as a songwriter emerged in 1964, first as co-writer, with his bandmates, of "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying," then as the sole writer of "Ferry Cross the Mersey,'‚ÄČ" named for the waterway that flows by Liverpool.

The melodies in those songs had a grandeur that exuded both melancholy and rapture, enhanced by Marsden's billowing voice. While he could nail the bouncy flair of the band's lighter singles and mirror it with his brisk rhythm guitar work, his soaring range gave him the chops to turn songs like "You'll Never Walk Alone" into anthems. His group's version of "Walk Alone" became the signature song of the Liverpool Football Club and was later adopted by sports teams around the world.

The Pacemakers took off more slowly in the United States. Their first trifecta of U.K. hits missed the U.S. charts before "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" soared to No. 4 in Billboard magazine and "Ferry Cross the Mersey" got to No. 6. The group had two other U.S. scores, a rereleased "I Like It" and "I'll Be There," which each made Billboard's Top 20 in 1964.

After Marsden's death, Paul McCartney wrote on Twitter: "Gerry was a mate from our early days in Liverpool. He and his group were our biggest rivals on the local scene. His unforgettable performances of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' and 'Ferry Cross the Mersey' remain in many people's hearts as reminders of a joyful time in British music."

Gerard Marsden was born Sept. 24, 1942, in the Toxteth section of Liverpool His parents encouraged both Gerry and his older brother, Fred, to play instruments. Gerry chose guitar; Fred, the drums.

The brothers' first band, Gerry Marsden and the Mars Bars, played skiffle music, a British precursor to rock 'n' roll. After the Mars company objected to the band's appropriating the name of their chocolate candy, they became Gerry and the Pacemakers.