was petula clark the best female pop singer of the ’60s?

Estimated reading time is 4 minutes.

IN THE OPINION of many pop music aficionados, the best all-around album by a white female pop singer recorded and released in the ’60s was Dusty Springfield’s DUSTY IN MEMPHIS. But, for my taste, the lady with the best pipes and the best all-around taste in the songs she chose to record was Petula Clark.

And “pop” was the music she recorded throughout her career, which began as a child star in 1949. By 1963, she was an international star who had scored #1 hits in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, and Australia. But in 1964 she became an international superstar when Downtown reached the top of the charts in six countries, including—finally!—the United States.

Was Petula Clark the best female pop singer of the ’60s? Maybe.

In the next three years, she was the top female artist on US singles surveys, reaching #1 once more (with My Love) along with seven more singles reaching the Top 20. Unfortunately, the hits came to a halt in 1967.

Many observers attributed her success to having been caught up in wake of the Beatles-led British Invasion. This is not an unfair observation, as she’d had fifteen years to crack the US charts with a lone Top 40 hit to call her own.

A more accurate assessment might be that the consistently strong singles that she and her songwriting partner/producer Tony Hatch put on disc were irresistible. Her music was also consistent in another way: it was pure pop, almost devoid of anything that could be considered black blues-based music.

 

PetulaClark 1965 GoldRecord Downtown 800 crop

In this 1965 photograph, Petula Clark displays a gold record award for her worldwide smash “Down Town.”

Not taken seriously

Certainly, her standing with the young [white] critics emerging from the San Francisco and Detroit Bay Areas was not helped by the fact that she was at least ten years older than everybody else but that she looked and dressed more like Julie Andrews than Grace Slick!

(And I digress here: few historians have pointed out that, excepting Slick and Joplin, there were almost no female icons that presented themselves to their fans in a manner that did not rely on Carnaby Street or a runway somewhere in New York or Paris.)

Nonetheless, for those of us record buyers not hung up on the ‘purity of the blues’ and other critic-pushed nonsense, she made one great record after another. Hell, even her albums were superior to almost any other pop singer of the era. Oddly, her LPs did not sell anywhere near as well as her singles, which, given the market for white pop singers at the time, is surprising.

While most of her hits were penned by others, Clark did write many songs, usually with Hatch. Perhaps their greatest success as a songwriting team was achieved by another artist: in 1965, she wrote and recorded You’re The One as the final track for her upcoming album. That no one saw this as a potentially huge worldwide smash is mind-boggling in hindsight.

 

This bravura performance of Petula Clark singing “You’re The One” was included in the 1966 concert film “The Big T.N.T. Show.” (And a nod to commenter Mike Jones for telling me where this video originated.)

You’re the one

Of course, there was a mitigating factor in its being shelved as a possible single: the record company had her next few singles selected and slotted for release. The situation was somewhat remedied (at least for the songwriting team) to a degree when a vocal group called the Vogues did a version of the song that mirrored Clark’s arrangement. You’re The One was a huge hit, peaking at #4 on Billboard and reaching #7 on Cash Box.

For this post, I have included a link to a video of Pet singing You’re The One live (although the band and orchestra track may have been pre-recorded). Live she is better than most of today’s singers lip-synching to their records!

The title of this piece is a question that I posed: “Was Petula Clark the Best Female Pop Singer of the ’60s?” Why, yes, I do believe that she was! Although my vote for the best all-around female pop artist (singer, songwriter, guitar player) might be Jackie DeShannon.

Was Petula Clark the best female pop singer of the ’60s? Maybe. Share on X

 PetulaClark on stage 1200

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page was cropped from this photo of Petual Clark on stage in 1966. At the time she reached the top of the charts in the US with Down Town in early 1965, she was 31 years old—meaning she was “old” to most teenage record buyers. It wasn’t until I had matured (quite a bit) that I recognized how attractive a woman she was.

 


 

5 thoughts on “was petula clark the best female pop singer of the ’60s?”

  1. NEAL

    I agree Petula is the best..couple of corrections.. Tony Hatch was not Petula’s husband…he married singer and songwriter Jackie Trent (who died this year 2015) and together they wrote Petula’s ” I couldn’t live without your love” “Color my world” and “Don’t sleep in the subway”.
    Also the “You’re the one” clip is from the American ” Big Tnt Show” which also featured The Byrds, Ike and Tina Turner and the Loving Spoonful.

    Oh and the Top 40 hits finished on the USA in 1968….”Kiss me goodbye” was Top 20..but she did continue to hit the Top 75 with songs such as ” Don’t give up”, “Happy heart”, and in the 70’s “Wedding song” ‚”my guy” and in 1982 ” Natural Love” which was also her first Country Top 20 hit. In 2013 Time magazine voted her ” Cut Copy me” at # 6 in their Top songs of 2013

    MIKE

    Reply
    • MIKE

      Thanks for the correction! I have carried the thought around in my head for fifty some years that Clark was Mrs. Hatch. Oh well, learn and live, as they say.

      THE BIG T.N.T. SHOW was filmed before a live audience in October 1965, It featured Joan Baez, The Byrds, Ray Charles, Petula Clark, Bo Diddley, Donovan, Lovin’ Spoonful, Roger Miller, The Modern Folk Quartet, The Ronettes, Ike And Tina Turner, and special guest star David McCallum, then hot as a pistol in the MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. television series).

      That’s rock and rhythm & blues and folk and pop and country, black and white, female and male, and an international cast! You don’t see anything like this anymore. The 95 minute show can still be seen in its entirety thanks to the magic YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QM9wSyn8BY

      Mike, all my music articles have been transferred to my other site Rather Rare Records. Give some of them a read and do not hesitate to post more comments with corrections.

      Bestest,

      NEAL

      Reply
      • The comments above were submitted by Mike to the original posting of this article on my other site, Neal Umphred Dot Com. I moved that article from there to here and brought Mike’s comments along. My response is also lifted from there. I incorporated Mike’s corrections into the article above here on Rather Rare Records and added pictures of Petula Clark, something that I did not know how to do two years ago . . .

        Reply
    • While it seems like that is the Clark album ranked highest by critics, my faves are:

      1. The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark 
      2. White Light
      3. Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers
      4. No Other

      If you don’t know these records, pick one out and give it a listen. Doesn’t matter which one because you won’t have to cry about whichever choice you make.

      Reply

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