This madly over-choreographed clip, clearly an influence on the “Austin Powers” movies, stars the shiny red Aston Martin, Austin Healey and Jaguar E Type Mk 1 (and I know nothing about cars). Centre stage is the most internationally successful of the British female singers of the 1960s. New York, Paris, London, Petula Clark was there. A massive worldwide smash in 1964, “Downtown”, was parlayed by “Pet” and writer-producer Tony Hatch into 15 consecutive Top 40 singles in the U.S.A. Pet’s sounds (sorry !) were upbeat, clearly enunciated, big chorus kind of things. She was in her early 30s, married with children. She had been in the business since she was 9 years old and could sell a song with the confidence of the experienced trouper she was.
Petula enjoyed British hits in 1960-61 as a young English rose Julie Andrews type. She married a French guy and lived in France where she raised her family. She was able to avoid the Year Zero of the Beatles arrival where everyone in the business of show was suddenly so over. On her return with “Downtown” she was grown up with a chic Gallic elegance that was lacking in both the leftovers from the 1950s cabaret scene or the new younger would-be dolly birds. Petula was never really cool. It was Jane Birkin, with “La Chanson de Slogan” (1966) who defined the entente cordiale of Swinging London and Parisian chic. Petula’s songs were for drunkenly singing on the way home from the pub. “Don’t Sleep In The Subway DARLING !!” that was a good one. Looking back at them now they still have a charm and appeal.
Here is the queen of the 60s scene. There were other contenders but Dusty Springfield was the class of the field. All of these girls, Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw, Lulu, were quickly assimilated into the mainstream of the TV variety show. Any artistic development was subordinate to sticking to a hit formula and pretty soon they were all dressed up with nowhere to go but workingmen’s club cabaret. Dusty was bigger than these three, her records were better and so was her TV show. She still met resistance to moving away from the blonde beehived, heavily made up, evening gown balladeer the public expected.
Dusty sang these, often overwrought , ballads peerlessly. Her interpretations of “Wishin’ and Hopin’ ” and “Goin’ Back” are smooth accomplishments which set the standard for these classic songs. There was, however another side to Dusty which her hit 45s did not always reflect. She was the best white soul singer of her generation. I always thought that she looked more comfortable, even happier, when she performed those great 60s soul songs. I chose this clip of “Nowhere To Run” over something more obvious because I think that she looks and sings amazingly. She also throws some great shapes. I loved Dusty when she got her groove on.
In 1968 she signed with Atlantic Records in the US. She recorded with Jerry Wexler and Arif Mardin. The Sweet Inspirations and the Memphis Cats provided musical assistance. The resultant “Dusty In Memphis” LP is her crowning glory. A record for the ages and maybe only a few years too late. I cannot do better than to quote a review from Rolling Stone… “Most white female singers in today’s music are still searching for music they can call their own. Dusty is not searching—she just shows up, and she, and we, are better for it.”…We liked and still like some of those 60s pop girls, we loved and still love Dusty Springfield.
Now this, to use the vernacular, was a game changer for the 15 year old me in 1968. I was well versed in pop’s rich tapestry. Music was getting serious but I was still a sucker for 180 seconds of pure pop distraction (I still am). Then I hear the most innovative and challenging song ever made by a British female singer. I check it out and discover that the said singer is the most beautiful young woman I have ever seen ! Well…roll over Diana Rigg and tell Julie Christie the news. It was love at first sight. Julie Driscoll seemed to be the first hippie chick I’d seen who was not styled by Vogue or some other glossy rubbish. I am sure in that London the streets were full of such women. In my small provincial front room she was an exotic bird of paradise.
With Brian Auger and the Trinity she recorded some of the best new songs of the time. “This Wheel’s On Fire” was one of Dylan’s Basement Tapes which did the rounds during his hiatus. It was a hit and I imagined a long and beautiful musical friendship. By 1971 she had left the rock scene for more experimental vocals with her (lucky) husband, jazz pianist Keith Tippett.
In 1969 my friend Butch and I would sit in his bedroom with nothing stronger than a can of cider and a blue light bulb for atmosphere. We would listen to “Electric Ladyland” and the Driscoll/Auger double LP “Streetnoise”. Praise Jah that we discovered drugs and had to leave the house to buy them. We just may still be sat in that room saying that “Indian Rope Man” is the best song ever, that Julie is the best dancer ever and the best looking woman on the planet. Come to think of it I have had worse decades…I wonder what Butch is up to now.