One of the most incredible careers was the one carved out by Petula Clark, who started singing before audiences when she was a young girl during World War II, when England's Vera Lynn was all the rage with nostalgic ballads that provided a catharsis for both the men fighting the war and their anxious families back home. It was only natural that Clark's performances at the time included songs Lynn had made famous.
Clark went on to become famous in England in her own right in the 1950s. She made a few movies, composed several songs, and also worked a lot in France. By 1962, however, Clark's career stalled. Two years later, when she was 32, she became a most unlikely pop sensation in the United States when she teamed up with Tony Hatch, who had written a song inspired by a visit to New York City. The song was called "Downtown." For several years thereafter everything Hatch and Clark touched turned to gold.
She starred in a couple of big budget movies, "Finian's Rainbow" in 1967, and a musical version of "Goodbye Mr. Chips" with Peter O'Toole in 1968. This was a time the pop music scene was more tolerant of a wide variety of styles. Clark could never be considered a rock star, but she was as popular as most rock 'n' roll groups, and popular with many of the same people.
I can't remember the reason – it may have been an appearance on Red Skelton's TV show – but Petula Clark did some phone interviews in 1966. By the time she called the Beacon Journal she sounded weary, perhaps tired of this very strange process. When I attempted a compliment, I went too far, suggesting that her latest album, "My Love," was so good that every song on it could be a hit single.
She clearly regarded that statement as ridiculous – I wish I had been able to see her face when she heard my words – and responded with a short lesson on the facts of life as they apply to the music business. She was proud of the album and appreciated that I enjoyed it, but she harbored no illusions. Nine of the 12 songs on the album were written by Hatch, with Clark sharing credit on some of them. Three of those songs on the album were hits – "My Love," "Hold On to What You've Got" and "A Sign of the Times."
Also on the album was "We Can Work It Out," a Beatles hit written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and "If I Were a Bell," written by Frank Loesser for 1950's Broadway hit, "Guys and Dolls," and recorded by several people.
Clark dropped off the charts a few years later, but kept performing and remains a star in much of the world.