About the song
If you are a fan of classic pop songs, you probably know the catchy tune of “Downtown” by Petula Clark. But do you know the story behind this iconic hit that topped the charts in 1965? In this blog post, we will explore the history of “Downtown” and how it became one of the most successful songs of the 1960s.
“Downtown” was written and produced by Tony Hatch, a British composer who had worked with Petula Clark since 1961. Hatch was inspired by his first visit to New York City in 1964, when he was impressed by the vibrant atmosphere of Broadway and Times Square. He said, “I loved the whole atmosphere there and the [music] came to me very, very quickly”. He was standing on the corner of 48th Street waiting for the traffic lights to change, looking towards Times Square when “the melody first came to me, just as the neon signs went on.”
Hatch originally envisioned “Downtown” as a doo-wop R&B song that he thought to pitch to the Drifters, but he changed his mind when Petula Clark expressed interest in recording it. Hatch said, “it never occurred to me that a white woman could even sing it.” He completed the lyrics after Clark asked to record it, and they arranged a session in London on October 16, 1964.
Clark was already a star in the UK and France, where she had recorded songs in both English and French. However, she had not yet broken into the US market. That changed when Joe Smith, an executive from Warner Bros. Records, heard “Downtown” while vacationing in England and signed Clark to a deal. The song was released in the US in November 1964 and quickly climbed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1965, making Clark the first female singer from the UK to hit #1 in the US during the rock era.
“Downtown” was also a huge hit in other countries, reaching #2 in the UK, #1 in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Germany, and #3 in France. It sold over three million copies worldwide and won Hatch the 1981 Ivor Novello award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically. It also launched Clark’s career in the US, where she had 15 consecutive Top 40 hits between 1965 and 1970.
“Downtown” is a song that celebrates the joys of urban life and offers a solution for loneliness and sadness. Clark sings about escaping from the troubles of everyday life by going to the city center, where “the lights are much brighter there” and “you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares”. She invites the listener to join her and enjoy the music, the crowds and the excitement of downtown.