Petula Clark

Her Greatest Hits

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In his essay "The Search for Petula Clark" (published in High Fidelity, November 1967) Glenn Gould refers to this archetypal mainstream '60s vocalist as "pop music's most persuasive embodiment of the Gidget syndrome" (Gidget being a composite adolescent entity portrayed by various females in movies and television during the late '50s and early to mid-'60s). Gould's invocation occurs during a thoughtful if somewhat ruthless analysis that lines up Petula Clark's major hits of the mid-'60s in order to trace a pattern of compressed maturation and "emotional metamorphosis" beginning with "Downtown" and culminating (for him at that time) in the sobering imagery of "Who Am I?" Released in 1998, Snapper's Petula Clark: Her Greatest Hits places Gould's comments within a larger context by presenting no less than 40 titles in chronological sequence, beginning with the cutesy-pie niceties of "The Little Shoemaker" (1954), touching upon the mannered conventionality of several minor hits from the rest of the '50s, then easing into the next decade with the controlled wistfulness of "Sailor" (1961). Her ascent towards stardom in the U.S.A. is shown to have been gradual, and includes a made to order "Twist" cover of Lee Dorsey's "Ya Ya" (1962) and the lovely "Chariot (I Will Follow Him)" (1963), which is sung in French. The concisely arranged "Downtown" (1964), "I Know a Place" (which could be construed as its sequel), and the triumphant "My Love" (1965) are three glowing examples of this singer's remarkable collaborations with producer and songwriter Tony Hatch. Western civilization was profoundly affected by "Downtown." Later a weird apex of sleazeball marketing was attained when the bittersweet "A Sign of the Times" (1966) was retooled, as it were, at the behest of B.F. Goodrich as "The Radial Age" and used as the soundtrack on a television commercial for Radial 990 automobile tires, starring a dolled up babe in a metallic miniskirt who measured at least one hundred and twenty feet in length from her silver high heels to the tips of her flyaway flip hairdo. The remainder of Petula Clark's golden age is documented with the existentially charged "Who Am I?" (1966), then with the endearing "Don't Sleep in the Subway" and that veritable sunshine pop anthem "Color My World" (1967). Clark's '70s material was pleasant enough, and her protracted later career is a testament to this woman's strength and perseverance. Still and all, the original "Downtown" was her greatest achievement. It is utter and absolute perfection; a ritual of distilled innocence that may be heard again and again without ever losing its precise and peculiar potency. The song was revisited as a disco routine in 1976 but that cul-de-sac pales when compared with the chunky techno funk version (1988), which seems like a logical coda for this useful and entertaining anthology.

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