Far from downtown

Cover art, Petula Clark From Now On 2016Next month, Petula Clark will be 84 years old. Now forget that number. She’s touring the UK to support a new album, which might be her sixtieth; I lost count a long time ago.

And From Now On, I have to admit, is a title that somewhat reminds me of the corporate-finance term “forward-looking information”; looking backward is not on the agenda. The lead single, “Sacrifice My Heart,” is pure British synthpop, almost Tears for Fears-y, and if maybe they’ve tweaked her voice a little bit here and there, you might not care.

The program on offer is mostly Clark originals, with several shrewdly chosen covers: a minimalist “Blackbird” that McCartney surely approves, a quavery but sincere “While You See a Chance” (yes, the Steve Winwood song), and a version of “Fever” that I think owes just as much to the McCoys’ 1965 garage-rock version as it does to Peggy Lee’s drum-and-bass opus. The title song speaks strongly to me: everything that happened before you and me, well, that doesn’t count. (Looking backward is not on the agenda.) And fond as I am of Pet’s French recordings, I was delighted to hear “Pour être aimée de toi,” a song she’s sung in concert in recent years, her own melody with words by Charles Aznavour, spare and unadorned and intimate in the way of the French. The closer, “Happiness,” is Petula on piano, one verse in English, one in French. “That sweet and fleeting feeling / We all need to know / Is waiting here inside us.” If only … but never mind. We’ll save that for her next collection.

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A cellarful of noise

You may recall the Cavern Club, a music venue at 10 Mathew Street in Liverpool which lived up to Petula Clark’s description in “I Know a Place.” The Beatles played there upwards (or downwards, being in a basement and all) of 250 times.

The MonaLisa Twins, major Beatles fans from Austria, have now settled in Southport, a few minutes up the coast from Liverpool, and have begun a residency at that very same Cavern Club, playing a two-hour gig every Saturday afternoon. They’ll also be playing, with and without their backing band, at International Beatle Week, later this month.

Which is as good an excuse as any to trot out Mona and Lisa doing a Beatles track:

Unexpectedly, there are pronoun adjustments.

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And the harmony isn’t bad

Yours truly reporting in 2004:

NPR’s All Things Considered had an obituary for Billy Davis, 72, whom they identified as an advertising executive. Which indeed he was; he created that “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” bit for Coca-Cola that grabbed the attention of the tragically-hip types at NPR, and the “If you’ve got the time…” spot for Miller Beer.

The bit, yes; the song, not so much. And in fact, it wasn’t originally written as a Coke commercial:

And we should also credit adman Bill Backer, like Davis then attached to the Coca-Cola account at McCann-Erickson, who’s responsible for wanting to buy the world a Coke.

Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, of course, you know from zillions of hit records; they wrote “True Love and Apple Pie.” Susan Shirley made half a dozen singles before disappearing on the far side of the hill; you might like the wonderfully overproduced “Too Many Tears,” cut three years earlier, which was apparently her second single for Mercury UK, following a version of “The Sun Shines Out Of Your Shoes,” a cute Tony Hatch/Jackie Trent song I know from Petula Clark’s recording.

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With the obligatory Big Voice

Little Peggy March rolled up five Hot 100 singles in eleven months, starting with “I Will Follow Him” in March 1963, an English-language remake of a French hit by Petula Clark. And she wasn’t that little: four foot nine. She was, however, well up to the music industry’s standard for Cute Girl Singers, and age didn’t dull her much:

Little Peggy March

“Every Little Move You Make” died at #84, and after RCA Victor set her free, she relocated to Germany, where she continued to have hits until 1980. (One curiosity from those years: the 1978 single “Oklahoma Bay,” a tribute to Soonerland’s endless shorelines. Or something like that.) Sixty-five today, she’s not even close to retired; her last album in English (Always and Forever) came out in 2010. The German version, however, had a bonus track: a duet with Dutch singer José Hoebee.

This song, you have to believe, is her destiny, even if John Waters did work “I Wish I Were a Princess” into Hairspray.

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Downtown once more

The introduction to last fall’s “Pet Project”:

It occurs to me that I ought to do something for Petula Clark, who turns 80 (!) next month. Despite being ten years older than everybody else in the British Invasion, she sold a whole lot of records here in the States, starting with “Downtown” in 1964, though she’d been recording for at least a decade before that. So between now and the 15th of November, I’ll be tossing in the occasional Petula classic for your dancing and dining pleasure.

Cover art for Lost In You by Petula ClarkAnd now Petula has done something for us: a new album! Lost In You, due out in Britain on the 25th of this month, is the first I’ve heard from her since she turned up on the Saw Doctors’ 2011 remake of “Downtown.” The first track, “Cut Copy Me,” has already been announced as a single: heavily synthed and Auto-Tuned, it comes off, to me anyway, as something less than wonderful, although the Guardian says that “Lana Del Rey would no doubt trade her David Lynch box set to have written [it].” In fact, since it’s the leadoff track, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the whole thing is a feeble whimper augmented by electronic fudge factors.

Until you get to the second track, the title song, and you realize that the game plan was to pay obeisance to the marketing department early on and get it out of the way. From this point on, it’s the sound of a woman who has been there, done that, and isn’t jaded about any of it. The covers of “Imagine” and “Love Me Tender” are okay, maybe a little better than that, but the real revelation is her reinvention of “Crazy.” Yes, the Gnarls Barkley tune. And if Petula’s singing isn’t quite as all-over-the-staff as Cee Lo Green’s, it’s every bit as soulful.

Inevitably, there is a version of “Downtown,” but it’s a radical revision: instead of bouncy 4/4, it’s a languid, dreamy waltz. On its own terms, it’s nearly as startling as Lesley Gore’s 2005 reworking of “You Don’t Own Me” into a torch song.

We won’t be getting this album Stateside until April, but assuming you can’t wait and you don’t want to deal with Amazon.co.uk, you can have the entire album streamed in your general direction, courtesy of the Guardian music blog. I’ve already turned in my preorder for the CD.

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On her 80th

Petula Clark turned 80 today, and I must acknowledge Roger’s contribution to celebrating her birthday (which, he says, might have been my idea). I’ve done a few celebratory posts myself, and I need to do just one more.

First, a seriously cute shot from the British Invasion days:

Petula Clark on a piano

Given my complete and utter lack of musical talent, this to me seems to be the only justification for someday owning a piano.

And this is the one song of hers that is guaranteed to break me up, every single time:

This was Petula’s second visit to the Les Reed/Barry Mason catalog: she’d previously recorded “The Last Waltz,” a big hit for Engelbert Humperdinck. “Kiss Me Goodbye” came out in early 1968, with Reed himself on piano. It was nearly four minutes long at a time when so-called “middle-of-the-road” songs seldom touched three and a quarter, and it packs more heartbreak per minute than almost anything else from that era.

This was her last Top 20 hit in the States. (The British spurned it for some reason.) I wore out a copy of the Petula LP (Warner Bros. 1743), which included the follow-up (comparative) flop “Don’t Give Up.” According to the album’s uncharacteristically sparse liner notes, she’s “cheek soft, heart warm, and sassier than ever.” No argument from me.

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Indeed the one

The New Petula Clark AlbumSometimes things just don’t go according to plan. After “Downtown” and the very similar “I Know a Place,” Tony Hatch and the rest of Petula Clark’s brain trust decided to move in a different direction. However, the next two singles, the moody “You’d Better Come Home” and the anthemic “Round Every Corner,” were only smallish hits. What to do? Clark herself had cowritten three songs on the I Know a Place LP, which in the UK was curiously titled The New Petula Clark Album, and one of them, “You’re the One,” was selected as the comeback single.

Well, in Europe, anyway. (There’s a lovely French version with the same backing track, called “Un mal pour un bien.”) Warner Bros. was ready for some hot 45 action in the States with this record, but a cover by the Pittsburgh vocal group the Vogues had beaten them to it, and, said Petula, “Let the boys have the hit.” Just the same, it showed up on Greatest Hits Vol. 1, alongside “Call Me,” a Hatch original that brought one-hit wonder Chris Montez his second hit. Judging by her reaction to his follow-up, “The More I See You,” Petula apparently didn’t mind that either.

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Waiting for the moment

“The Cat in the Window,” subtitled “The Bird in the Sky,” is arguably the least typical of Petula Clark’s 1960s recordings, and unsurprisingly, it’s from her Not Working With Tony Hatch period.

In search of new — in other words, not written by Hatch and/or Jackie Trent — material, she went to West Coast impresarios Charlie Koppelman and Dan Rubin, who had several braces of songwriters in tow. K&R duly sent her some songs, including two by newly-signed duo Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, recently arrived from Annandale-on-Hudson. (The mind boggles: Petula Clark singing Steely Dan?) When the first batch failed to pass muster, K&R brought in the big guns: Gary Bonner and Alan Gordon, who’d hit big for the Turtles with “Happy Together,” which I’ve always argued (and correctly, I might add) was a lot more substantial than anyone thought. Gary and Alan served up “The Cat in the Window,” a brief (1:55) musing that resembled Petula’s Hatch-Trent tunes hardly at all, which may explain why it died at #26 in Billboard — and why Hatch was back on board for the next single, “The Other Man’s Grass Is Always Greener.”

Rather than embed a still picture this time, I’m just giving you a link to the song. You don’t need video for this one, anyway: the imagery of the lyric is more than enough to keep your brain occupied, and that last line — “You won’t find me / Don’t even try to” — is just this side of haunting.

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Pet project

It occurs to me that I ought to do something for Petula Clark, who turns 80 (!) next month. Despite being ten years older than everybody else in the British Invasion, she sold a whole lot of records here in the States, starting with “Downtown” in 1964, though she’d been recording for at least a decade before that. So between now and the 15th of November, I’ll be tossing in the occasional Petula classic for your dancing and dining pleasure.

In 1967, Charles (no longer “Charlie”) Chaplin directed his final film, A Countess from Hong Kong, starring Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren. (Chaplin’s own appearance was brief.) The film was intended as homage to the old shipboard romances of the 1930s, and Chaplin had written a theme song for it with the intention of having Al Jolson sing it. Jolson was not available, having died in 1950, and in the end, Chaplin cut the film with an instrumental version of the song.

Still wanting to hear his throwback lyrics actually sung, Chaplin sent a copy to Claud Wolff, Petula Clark’s husband and manager; Wolff liked it, but Clark’s regular collaborator, Tony Hatch, didn’t. For that matter, Clark didn’t much like Chaplin’s words, and she first recorded the song in French, with words by the reliable Pierre Delanoë, though session producer Sonny Burke talked her into doing an English version as well.

With the very-Thirties opening shaved off the single, “This Is My Song” went to #3 in the US. You may be sure, however, that it sounded great in French:

Of course, I bought the album, though I suspect the cover may have had something to do with that:

Petula Clark LP sleeve These Are My Songs

Well, that and an already-established desire not to sleep in the subway.

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Je pars avec toi

Kevin Walsh, proprietor of Forgotten NY, occasionally posts classic hits (via YouTube) on Facebook, and the other day he got around to an old favorite from 1963: “I Will Follow Him,” by Little Peggy March.

Still, when I got around to compiling a Valentine’s Day Mix several years ago, I passed Peggy by in favor of the original French-language version by Petula Clark, which you can see here in what appears to be a Scopitone film.

These days, of course, most people probably remember the 1992 adaptation in Sister Act, which was splendid in its own right. But I’m here to tell you, Petula has been singing this song for almost fifty years, and she still sounds pretty darn good:

The Charlie Chaplin reference near the end is to “This Is My Song,” written by Chaplin for his 1967 film A Countess from Hong Kong, starring Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren; it was a smash hit for Petula and presumably was the next song on the program. It sounds something like this.

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Downtown Octopus

You know, I always wondered about those bright lights; it would never have occurred to me to attribute them to cephalopods.

Mark Vidler does lots of this stuff.

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