“When you’re alone and life is making you lonely you can always go downtown.
“When you’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurry seems to help, I know, downtown.”
So sang Petula Clark way back in 1964.
Downtown? Well, you might try it when visiting America because there “downtown” – especially in the early 1960s – is/was the heart of the city where the action happens.Here in the UK – especially in the early 1960s – the term “downtown” is/was more generally associated as the less affluent part of a town and not really the kind of place where the former winner of the BBC’s Top TV personality would likely be seen wandering.
Petula Clark – Global Star
But then again Petula Clark would have probably gone anywhere if it had given her a hit – and in this case made her a global star.
Born in 1932 she had first hit the charts with The Little Shoemaker which reached number seven. Her only number one was in 1961 with Sailor, her most embarrassing hit was Ya Ya Twist in 1962 and her last UK chart entry was, ironically, a remix of Downtown which reached number 10 – her original version in 1964 peaked at number two, being held from the top spot by The Beatles with I Feel Fine.
Perhaps surprisingly the American themed and sounding
Walking Along Broadway
Downtown was actually written by Tony Hatch (aka Anthony Peter Hatch, born in Pinner, Middlesex, on June 30, 1939) who early in 1964 made his first trip to New York City in search of new material for Clark and was inspired to write Downtown after walking along Broadway – though he did originally have The Drifters in mind for the song.
He was making his way through the music business and first worked with Clark when he had a part time job with Pye Records, where he assisted Alan A. Freeman, with the recording of Sailor – Pet’s only number one hit.
Hatch continued to write songs for Pye label artists, sometimes under the pseudonym ‘Mark Anthony’, including Messing About on the River for Josh MacRae.
In 1963, Philadelphia teen idol Bobby Rydell hit the charts with Forget Him written and produced by Hatch, who went on to produce, arrange and write for other American stars such as Chubby Checker, Connie Francis, Pat Boone, Big Dee Irwin and Keely Smith.
After Valentino, the first of Hatch’s compositions to be recorded by Petula Clark, he became her regular producer and collaborated on a series of French-language recordings for Vogue Records (Clark, whose husband was French and who spoke the language fluently, already had a successful career throughout Europe).
Hatch became one of her regular songwriting partners, in addition to supplying English lyrics for songs she had composed with French lyricists. When she heard the still unfinished Downtown tune, she told him that if he could write lyrics to match the quality of the music, she’d record it as her next single. The rest, as the cliche goes, is history. Its release transformed her into a huge international star, topping charts globally and introducing her to the US market – where the song reached number one.
Back home she then charted with three consecutive hits written by Hatch: I Know a Place, You’d Better Come Home and Round Every Corner, which all charted higher in the US than in the UK. She and Hatch also co-wrote You’re The One, which peaked at 22 in Britain but which gave The Vogues a major debut hit in the States. And for a while Tony Hatch and Petula Clark became established as the British equivalent of Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick.
Downtown was her first hit in the US where strangely she didn’t get a record deal until late in 1964 when a Warner Bros executive who was vacationing in England, heard the song and signed her to a deal.
Grammy Best Rock Song
When it was released in the US, it shot to the top making her the first female singer from the UK to hit number one there during the rock era (after 1955). Not bad considering she didn’t even promote the song in the US before it hit the top spot, as she was touring French-speaking countries at the time.
As for the song itself surely it’s little more than a jolly and danceable travelogue of the virtues of big city life?
“Don’t hang around and let your problems surround you, there are movie shows downtown, maybe you know some little places to go to where they never close downtown.
“Just listen to the rhythm of a gentle bossa nova, you’ll be dancing with ’em too before the night is over, happy again.
“The lights are much brighter there, you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares. Downtown.”
But what happens when the night is over and the singer returns to her everyday life? After all, isn’t the trip into the city merely an escape?
“I’ve always thought there was this loneliness and there’s even a slight feeling of desperation in it,” she said in interview years later.
Apart from various covers and revivals Downtown even won a Grammy for a Best Rock Song and its writer was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2013. So at least Tony Hatch could forget all his troubles, forget all his cares – for a while at least.
|LABEL||PYE (UK) Warner Bros (USA)|
|RELEASED||16 October 1964|