Friday, September 18, 2009

Petula Clark

My wife and I, we both have our Pet Clark experiences. For me, Pet was part of my childhood, my cousin had a copy of Downtown and we borrowed it for a while, and from the age of 8 I lived with her singles on the radio. She was a regular. She had 21 top 100 records, 16 of which I actually remember hearing, plus one that I remember that wasn’t on the top 100 (Call Me). All of her stuff was chirpy and happy, even the sad songs were happy, which should tell you something. I got a greatest hits collection from the West Kildonan Library, that was a long time ago. It was a standard collection, Supersounds From The Superstar, and it was missing some key tracks, like Don’t Sleep In The Subway, but it had most of the big ones.

So I remember the hits, but I have no association with any of them, unlike other songs that I can place at various times and places.

My wife, she missed those radio years, but she grew up with a K-Tel collection, called 20 Fantastic Hits, and it had Don’t Sleep In The Subway. So between the two of us, we had an almost complete Petula Clark hits collection. Maybe that’s why we got married.

Pet Clark, by the way, was big in England at least 10 years before she was discovered in North America, and her early UK hits remain obscure. I only have three of them, myself. In 1965 she reinvented herself as a more up-to-date pop singer, helped along by the popularity of UK recording artists, and she was bigger than Dusty Springfield, who was better, and than Cilla Black, who was almost shutout in North America.

We saw her on TV a few years ago, and she’d gotten old, and the promotion said that she could sing as well as ever, but she couldn’t, she could barely reach the notes. And she was never a great artist to begin with. Let her legacy remain undisturbed…

Petula Clark:

The Little Shoemaker – The Gaylords, I think, did an earlier version of this. There is always something out there that we long for; if I had the right shoes, I would dance. Her voice here sounds very young, even compared to her 60s hits like Downtown.
Alone – Not The Sheppard Sisters song. Just another song about being alone, and she sounds a bit like Ann-Margaret. A UK hit in the fall of 1957.
Sailor – A hit in the winter of 1961 in the UK. The more famous version was sung in German by Lolita.
Downtown – Her signature song, number 1 in the winter of 1965, kicked off her North American career, and reinvented her as a would-be British invasion artist. The song is weirder than it sounds on the surface. Downtown as a kind of cure for despondency. Who needs anti-depressants when you can go downtown?
You’d Better Come Home – Heartbreak as ultimatum. From the summer of 1965. This is probably the first Pet Clark song that I heard, and I remember hearing it, but I have no association with that summer.
‘Round Every Corner – Starts a capella with a chorus of voices that is probably Pet overdubbed. A song about discovery, and the surprises that await us. It’s a bit too cute. From the fall of 1965.
The Cat In The Window (The Bird In The Sky) – A song of longing, limitations, freedom imagined. I don’t remember hearing this one. From the fall of 1967.
Two Rivers – A tribute to London and to Paris. A bit of autobiography; she was English, her husband was French.
A Sign Of The Times – From the spring of 1966. A bad relationship gone good. Sounds like there’s just a bit of denial going on here. And temporally, it’s a bit confused…
Colour My World – Not the Chicago song. Colour as emotional metaphor, like Love Is Blue, but happier. From the winter of 1967. I’ve seen the spelling both ways, but given that she was English, I assume that the original spelling had the “u.” • Who Am I – An identity crisis in song? An uptempo, chirpy song about depression. From the fall of 1966.
Call Me – A hit for Chris Montez, and recorded by many, including Frank Sinatra. It seems that this is the version that I remember, though it doesn’t seem to have been on the pop charts anywhere.
I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love – “Didn’t like you much when I first met you, but somehow I just couldn’t forget you.” Love those lines. Another dippy song, but there’s something about the descending melody here then works. From the summer of 1966.
You’re The One – A hit for the Vogues in 1965. Pet’s version is suitably upbeat.
• I Know A Place – Down At Lulu’s, Sugar Shack, 333, take your pick. From the spring of 1965, kind of sequel to Downtown.
Don’t Sleep In The Subway – This isn’t your run-of-the-mill love song. Norman, the guy she singing to, he sounds kind of dysfunctional. Her talk sounds like therapy talk. His name wasn’t really Norman, and I see homeless people sleeping in the subway quite frequently. Maybe they should play this song over the PA. A hit in the summer of 1967.
This Is My Song – From the spring of 1967, and I don’t remember this one. A celebration of life, which was also a hit for Goon Show star Harry Secombe – In England, anyway…
Kiss Me Goodbye – Let’s keep it friendly. These make-believe breakups are always so bogus. From the spring of 1968.
Winchester Cathedral – A not very convincing cover of the 1966 hit by The New Vaudeville Band.
American Boys – From the winter of 1968 / 1969. She’s not stereotyping or anything…
The Windmills Of Your Mind – Noel Harrison did this and it was used as the theme for The Thomas Crowne Affair, and it was hit in NA for Dusty Springfield. Pet’s recording is less then stellar; it’s serviceable.
Happy Heart – She and Andy Williams were on the chart at the same time with this song (spring of 1969); Andy hit the top 40, she didn’t. Andy owns this.
• What Now My Love – Another serviceable cover. I listen to various versions of this song listening for the hit that got away. This wasn’t it.
For All We Know – There are two songs with this title; this is the one that The Carpenters did. Better listen to Karen Carpenter.
Don’t Give Up – Pep talk. It’s always easy to tell someone else that things’ll be fine when things are fine for you. But maybe she’s talking to herself. Appropriately chirpy. From the summer of 1968.
The Other Man’s Grass Is Always Greener –This pop music sermon was in the top 40 during the winter of 1967 / 1968.
My Love – Not The Wings song. This paean to great romance was number 1 in the winter of 1966.

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