229. Petula Clark – This Is My Song (1967)

1376a1e3ee1b9238b057f177593f5136As winter 1967 drew to a close, Britain’s second Polaris nuclear submarine HMS Renown was launched at Birkenhead on 25 February. The following day, non-league footballer Tony Allden died in a freak accident. While playing for Birmingham-based Highgate United, he was struck by a bolt of lightning. Three other players were also hit, but somehow survived. The day after, Britain’s hopes for entry into the EEC were given support by the Dutch government.  1 March saw the opening of popular concert venue Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.

Ruling the singles chart, for the first time in six years, was one of the biggest female singers of the decade, Petula Clark. The music scene had changed several times over since Sailor was number 1, but Clark had soldiered on throughout. Her follow-ups, Romeo and My Friend the Sea, entered the top ten later that year. Being multilingual, she had hits in France with Ya Ya Twist and Chariot during 1962. Around this time she was also given the song Un Enfant by Jacques Brel – one of the few artists to have the honour.

By the time we reach 1964, she had moved into soundtracks, having moderate success with A Couteaux Tirés, in which she also starred, and was on This Is Your Life for the first of three appearances. At her home in France she recieved a visit from her composer Tony Hatch. Having recently been to New York, he played Clark some chords from an incomplete song he was working on. She was very keen, and said if he could come up with some lyrics as good as the melody, she’d record it. That song was Downtown. Her most famous track, a sophisticated slice of classic 1960s pop, was a hit all over the world, and reached number 1 in the US, but missed out on the Christmas number 1 here due to I Feel Fine by the Beatles.

She was now an established star in the US, but back at home she had varying degrees of success. However, My Love reached number four in 1965, and I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love was number six in 1966. As 1967 began, fortune smiled on Clark once more,

In 1966, legendary comedian Charlie Chaplin was making A Countess from Hong Kong (1967). Starring Marlon Brando, it was the final film that Chaplin, wrote, directed, produced and scored. However his plan to have Al Jolson singing This Is My Song had hit a snag. Jolson had died in 1950 – a fact Chaplin refused to believe until somebody showed him a photo of his gravestone. Who could replace him? Chaplin remembered that Clark had a house near him in Switzerland. Neither Clark nor Hatch wanted to record it. They understandably found the lyrics simplistic and old-fashioned. To be fair to Chaplin, this was deliberate. The movie was a throwback to the 30s, hence him wanting Jolson to record it. Hatch declined but Clark eventually relented, recording it in English, French, German and Italian. She had asked Chaplin to consider some new English lyrics, but he refused. To her horror, she discovered Pye Records were going to release it as a single. The last thing she expected was to reach number 1.

And nor can you blame her. Poor Clark, she didn’t like either of her number 1s, and neither do I, really. They’re nowhere near the quality of Downtown. Opening with what sound like mandolins, This Is My Song features, like so many other 60s number 1s, members of the Wrecking Crew as the band. Her twin vocals are strong, but combined they’re too warbly. The words are indeed forgettable – the intro rhymes ‘light’ with ‘bright’ and ‘blue’ with ‘you’. The whole thing sounds rather laboured, like nobody’s heart was really in it. It was dated then and is even more so now. It’s a curio really, rarely heard and only famous now because Chaplin was the writer. Also, am I the only person that hears a similarity between this and the 1982 Christmas number 1, Save Your Love?

Interestingly, Harry Secombe recorded a version at the same time, which reached number two in the charts, before Clark overtook him. He had to re-record his singing because he kept bursting into laughter at how bad the lyrics were.

In 1968 Clark and singer Harry Belafonte caused controversy by becoming the first black man and white woman to make physical contact on television, four days after the death of Martin Luther King. For further info, see Sailor further up the page. Also that year she moved back into acting, appearing in Finian’s Rainbow alongside Fred Astaire. She was nominated for a Golden Globe and was Astaire’s final on-screen partner. The following year she appeared alongside Peter O’Toole in Goodbye, Mr Chips. She also ended up singing backing vocals on John Lennon’s debut solo single. Clarke had visited him during a bed-in with Yoko Ono and before long she was among the singers on Plastic Ono Band’s Give Peace a Chance.

In the early-to-mid-70s she had considerable success with her music and TV appearances on both sides of the Atlantic, but by the middle of the decade she scaled back her career to concentrate on her family. Her children urged her to return to the stage, which she had avoided since 1954. In 1981 she starred as Maria Von Trapp in the West End production of The Sound of Music. She was so good in the role, the real-life Von Trapp proclaimed her to be the best version ever. Her theatre work continued throughout the 80s, along with an updated version of Downtown in 1988.

Ten years later Clark was made a CBE, and in 2000 she toured a one-woman show around the globe, performing songs and anecdotes. 2006 saw the transmission of a BBC Four documentary, Petula Clark: Blue Lady, and in 2013 she released the album Lost in You, featuring a cover of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy and yet another version of Downtown. Her latest English-language album was 2017’s Living for Today, and only last year she released the French-Canadian album Vu d’ici. Now 86, she shows no signs of slowing down.

Written by: Charlie Chaplin

Producer: Ernie Freeman

Weeks at number 1: 2 (16 February-1 March) 

Births:

Politician Ed Balls – 25 February

Designer Jonathan Ive – 27 February