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

Es­ti­mated reading time is 4 min­utes.

IN THE OPINION of many rock critics, the best all-around album by a white fe­male pop singer recorded and re­leased in the ’60s may be DUSTY IN MEMPHIS. But, for my taste, the lady with the best pipes and the best all-around taste in pop music in that decade 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.

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.



Petula Clark had been a hit­maker in France since 957, but when Vogue re­leased Down Town there, they failed to in­clude a pic­ture sleeve. They fol­lowed the single with a an EP ti­tled Petula Chante En Anglais (“Petula Sings In Eng­lish”) that fo­cused on her first in­ter­na­tional hit. She al­ways re­minded me of Julie An­drews at this stage of her life: beau­tiful but too damn wholesome!

 Not taken seriously by critics

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.



“We were making yet an­other LP, and that’s like twelve-thirteen songs. [Tony had] written twelve and he said, ‘Listen, I haven’t got a number thir­teen in me at all. Write some­thing.’ And I said, ‘Okay. I’ll try.’ And I wrote the melody of You’re The One and he wrote the lyric.” You’re The One was is­sued as a single in other coun­tries, reaching the Top 10 in France and Aus­tralia. Ger­many is­sued the single in stereo (above).

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. (Oddly, in hind­sight, it sounds like a doo-wop take on the Turtles.)


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.



By 1967, Ms. Clark had hipped up her image: while Twiggy re­ceived all the at­ten­tion for the short ‘do, Petula was the one who al­ways seemed to me to cap­ture the Swinging London image best. Here she has the near-pixie cut and the poorboy cap that was in vogue at the time. The sun­flowers could be an in­ten­tional nod to the emerging Flower Power scene or just hap­pen­stance. Anyway, I wanted to end this brief piece with this lovely image of this lovely lady.

PS: Due to Mike Jones’s com­ments below, I checked on The Big T.N.T. Show on YouTube and that is where the video above was taken. Need­less to say, I have been watching the movie for the past few hours. And I have to say that Petula Clark had to follow the Byrds who were about to top the US charts for the second time with Turn! Turn! Turn! If any­thing, Clark blows my fave group away with You’re The One . . .





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