August 23, 2015 10 Comments
You all know that I don’t subscribe to ‘The Cult of Celebrity’. but in a fairly long lifetime, there have been a few exceptions, in the field of popular music there is only one, and we’re going to talk about her today.
One of you this week linked to my all time favorite singer, and one of my favorite songs, that she sang. When it burst out of the car speaker, late in 1964, a lot of things changed, for American music, for her, and maybe more.
This is the version from The Dean Martin Show in early 1967, and yes it was still getting some airplay.
When Downtown came on the radio, it was completely different, and it spoke to something in us all, I think. her voice is very obviously British, in that exact way, that Americans adore, and as far as us kids were concerned she was was one of us, although our dads (sometimes) did tell us that she had been recording since during World War II, and was a TV star as well, in the UK.
That’s all true, but she was also the first British female to make it onto the Billboard chart since Vera Wang in 1952. Downtown was #1 starting the week of 23 January 1965. The song was also #2 in the UK, and Ireland, and number one in Australia, New Zealand, Rhodesia and South Africa, and was also a hit in Denmark (#2), India (#3), the Netherlands (#3) and Norway (#8). She was far from the last, though, the Atlantic got very narrow there for a few years, and American top 40 radio sounded an awful lot like BBC 1. And after Downtown, she would have fourteen more consecutive hit on the Billboard chart, and there was plenty of competition those days.
When asked why he approved it for a quick release in the States since it was so very English. Joe Smith of Warner Brothers replied: “It’s perfect. It’s just an observation from outside of America and it’s just beautiful and just perfect.” And you know, it was, and it is still.
But there was a lot more to Pet, than that wonderful voice, she is perhaps one of the greatest female entertainers of the twentieth century, like Julie Andrews, Judy Garland and such. In fact I think she could have been better than them all, by a fairly wide margin. here’s a bit more about her.
When they talk about how she became Norma Desmond in the play, it’s sort of creepy, isn’t it, but that is what the great actors do, it’s why we are able to suspend our disbelief for a while. Petula could, and did, do it too, even on the concert stage. Watch her eyes her, closely, this is more than singing, I think she is feeling it, even as she shares the emotions with us.
So let’s head on Downtown, but remember Don’t Sleep on the Subway.