Petula Clark

Downtown

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Sometimes success can create its own crisis, and the number-one chart placement of "Downtown" in late 1964 was one of those times for Petula Clark and the record labels to which she was signed. Faced with a number-one hit on either side of the Atlantic, Pye Records in England and Warner Bros. in America, both needed an album to take advantage of the mega-hit, and the result was the Downtown LP, a quickly assembled collection of recent singles coupled with the title track and a handful of additions. Strangely enough, it worked, even earning a Grammy nomination despite the fact that not too much on the record resembled the sound of the hit song. As it turned out, several of Clark's prior records, even if they weren't as alluring as "Downtown," did embrace a heavier beat than her purer pop numbers of the very early 1960s. Her version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "True Love Never Runs Smooth" features a good beat and a fairly heavy rhythm section beneath its orchestral backing, and Clark's vocal is a delicate mix of mid-1960s pop-music cool masking a hint of very convincing vulnerability; "Be Good to Me" wasn't a great piece of rock & roll, but it had a youthful enough sound and a heavy enough beat to pass muster regardless of an outmoded girl chorus; and "This Is Goodbye," which she co-authored with producer Tony Hatch (writing under his pseudonym of Mark Anthony), was dramatic and cool, with a smooth and interesting arrangement (at least until its chorus, which is predictable). Clark had even cut one bluesy piece of R&B, the old Moonglows number "In Love," which worked well showing off a huskier, harder side to her singing, backed by some understated blues guitar. With a few new style numbers -- such as the moody, high haunt-count "Tell Me (That It's Love)," with its ethereal chorus and lyrical use of electric rhythm and lead guitars and electric piano -- as well as a couple of dignified pop numbers to protect her standing with her old audience, the public readily accepted the older style pieces like "Crying Though a Sleepless Night" and "Let Me Tell You." Clark managed to straddle the old and new parts of her career with this album, which was truly both a snapshot of where she was in the second half of 1964 and a fair representation of her work. The 1993 Sequel Records reissue of Downtown includes a recreation of the French Vogue Records cover of the album, and also three bonus cuts: her 1963 English recording of "I Will Follow Him" (which she'd done first in French the year before under its original title, "Chariot"); the torch song "Darling Cheri"; and "You'd Better Love Me," a pop ballad that starts out dramatic and becomes teasing and flirty, casting Clark in a light, playful mode.

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