229. ‘This Is My Song’, by Petula Clark

This next #1 has an intro that really sets a scene. A laundry-strung alley in old Napoli. Candles. Red-chequered tablecloth. The strings flutter. The guitar is lightly-plucked. When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza-pie…

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This Is My Song, by Petula Clark (her 2nd and final #1)

2 weeks, from 16th February – 2nd March 1967

Nope. Wrong song. This one goes: Why is my heart so light, Why are the stars so bright…? Questions, questions. I’m sure you’ve already guessed why. Why is the sky so blue, Since the hour I met you…? Petula’s in love. And so she runs through various clichés: Flowers are smiling, stars are shining… We know we’re getting a big ol’ chorus, but she builds up to it very slowly, keeping us waiting… I know why the world is smiling… It hears the same old story, Through all eternity…

Finally it comes. Love… This is my song… It’s a chorus made for movie-soundtracks. It’s outrageously cheesy, but undeniable. Don’t try to argue with it. Just let yourself get swept along by it. The world, Cannot be wrong, If in this world, There is you… It’s timeless stuff. By the solo, with its Bierfest horn section, I’m sold. I love it. Here is a song, My serenade to you…

Of the last six chart-toppers, half could be described as sentimental schmaltz. ‘Distant Drums’, ‘The Green, Green Grass of Home’, and now this. But ‘This Is My Song’ is different. I’m not sure how, but it is. Somewhere in there, buried deep in the swaying, woozy rhythm, the spirit of the sixties remains. Somehow, it manages to be quite sexy, in amongst all the cheese…

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I may be biased. Petula Clark was one of my first true loves, ever since ‘I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love’ – to which ‘This Is My Song’ was the follow-up – featured on a ‘60s Hits cassette on heavy-rotation in my parents’ car. Not that I listen to her very often now, but… This is a woman who was a child star – a ‘singing sweetheart’ and mascot to WWII troops, whose hit first records were released in the 1940s, who first charted alongside the likes of Vera Lynn and Doris Day, whose two #1s – ‘Sailor’ and this – bookend the swinging sixties, who caused scandal in the USA by (gasp!) touching Harry Belafonte on the arm, who is as comfortable singing in French, German or Italian as she is in English, and who still performs to this day, aged eighty-six! (She’s currently playing in ‘Mary Poppins’ in the West End.) She is, to apply an over-used but in this case completely appropriate term, a legend.

Meanwhile, the story of this record is almost as interesting. It is not, though it sounds it, based on an old Neapolitan folk tune. It had been written just the year before, for the soundtrack of the film ‘A Countess From Hong Kong’, by one Charlie Chaplin. Yep, that Charlie Chaplin. The film was set in the thirties, and so Chaplin wanted a song that would invoke the sound of that time. I’d say he managed it. To give it that period finish, he also wanted Al Jolson to record it. Except – small problem – Jolson had died in1950. So, he asked Petula Clark to record it instead. Clark, apparently, hated the lyrics…

Anyway, I enjoyed that. And if you didn’t enjoy this one, if you thought it was just a bit too much, too overblown and old-fashioned, just you wait till you hear what’s up next…

113. ‘Sailor’, by Petula Clark

Ladies and Gentlemen, something strange is about to occur atop the British Singles Chart. For the first time since 20th March 1959 – that’s twenty-three months and thirty-two #1s ago – the following chart-topper will be sung by – dun dun dun – a woman!

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Sailor, by Petula Clark (her 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 23rd February – 2nd March 1961

The gap between this song and Shirley Bassey’s ‘As I Love You’ is, I’m going to assume, some kind of record for the longest gap between female-led number ones. Though, quickly glancing down my list o’ chart-toppers, it is genuinely surprising how male-dominated the sixties will be. Certain consistent stars aside – Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw, Nancy Sinatra and the like – there will be huge swathes of #1 territory taken up by blokes with guitars. I wonder that more hasn’t been made of it, to be honest. But, I suppose, that’s all a story for another day. We have a new number one – let’s take a look at it…

It starts with a harmonica, an instrument under-represented so far in this countdown… Sailor, Stop your roamin’, Sailor, Leave the sea… Sailor, When the tide turns, Come home, Safe to me… It’s cute, and lilting, like the waves upon the ocean. Then comes the chorus, and it’s a proper sing-along one: As you sail across the sea all my love is there beside you…

It’s kind of old-fashioned. Kind of cheesy. Above all I’d describe it as ‘sentimental;  what the Germans call a ‘schlager’ song. It’s a hard one to place –  a song that might have been a hit any time between 1940 and 1975 – and one that reminds me of certain #1s from years already gone by. It’s a ‘Come Home to Me, My Love’ kind of song, the sailor in the title presumably being in the navy and separated from his amour against his will, as in Anne Shelton’s 1956 hit ‘Lay Down Your Arms’. But I’m more reminded of Jo Stafford’s ‘You Belong to Me’ – the second ever UK #1 – when Clark lists all the countries to which her man is sailing: In Capri or Amsterdam, Honolulu or Siam… (not sure which war he’s fighting in to take him on that erratic route, but anyway).

And then the pub-at-closing time feel of the chorus puts me in mind of The Stargazer’s 1954 smash ‘I See The Moon’, albeit with the crazy dialled back several shades. It’s a light little song that just about stays on the right side of cheesy, aside from the line about his final destination being ‘the harbour of her heart’…

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To be honest this song is perhaps best used as an excuse to draw people’s attention to the Life and Times of Petula Clark. In my post on the last female chart topper, I referred to Shirley Bassey as the First Lady of British pop. But that title might just as equally go to Ms. Clark. She went from being a childhood star, to a WWII Forces’ Sweetheart, to a global, multi-lingual superstar – equally as popular in France (‘Sailor’ was released there, in French  as ‘Marin’, reaching #2) and the USA as she was in Britain. Her first chart hit – ‘The Little Shoemaker’ – came in 1954, although she had been releasing singles since the dusty pre-chart days of 1949. And then, while all the big female pre-rock stars fell by the wayside – Vera Lynn, Kitty Kallen, Kay Starr, Rosemary Clooney et al – Clark kept going. Rock ‘n’ roll didn’t hurt her. In fact, she grew in popularity. Not even the Merseybeat revolution will be able to see her off!

We’ll meet Petula again in six years or so for her second #1, which is officially A Good Thing. Between then and now she will release her signature hit, ‘Downtown’, and my personal favourite – possibly the most uplifting song ever – ‘I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love’, which featured on a cassette of sixties hits that stayed on heavy rotation in our family car back when I was eight or nine. The songs on it were strictly 2nd-tier hits in chart terms – no Beatles, Elvis or Stones for obvious licensing reasons but plenty of Tremeloes, Emile Ford, Kenny Ball and T. Rex (sixties T. Rex, before they were particularly famous) – but I’d give anything to find out what the hell that tape was called. My love for all this glorious fifties and sixties pop stems directly from that compilation – in fact this very blog probably stems from what that tape awakened in me. As a small child I listened to very little music recorded post-1969. Until I turned ten and The Spice Girls came along, that is… But that’s yet another story for yet another day.