This was not the first number one song of 1965. That honor goes to “I Feel Fine” by the Beatles, but I already covered that in 1964. Then the Supremes came back to the top with “Come See About Me” and, by January 23, it was time for Petula Clark to take over the top spot.
Petula Clark was the first woman of the British Invasion to hit number one. The last time a female from England hit number one was in 1952, when Vera Lynn hit with “Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart.” Petula was born Sally Olwen Clark in 1932 in Epsom, Surrey, England. She sang in the chapel choir when you was young and had a talent for mimicry. She could impersonate many different female singers of the time. She wanted to be an actress when she grew up. She said she wanted to be Ingrid Bergman in the worst way. She ended up being an actress and a singer.
In 1957, she was invited to perform at the Paris Olympia, which is a music hall in Paris. It was there that she met her future husband Claud Wolff and established herself as a singer. She learned French and sang most of her songs in that language. One day a songwriter named Tony Hatch came to her with several songs he had written and one of them was “Downtown.” Hatch had worked with Petula before and told her, he thought it was time for her to record in English.
Hatch had made a trip to New York City a few months earlier and while walking around Times Square, the melody for “Downtown” came into his head. He said he first thought of it as a doo-wop song and thought he could pitch it to the Drifters. Later, when he was in Paris, playing demo songs for Petula, she heard the melody of “Downtown” and immediately liked it. She told him if he could write good lyrics to the tune, she would record it. So he did, and she did.
She went back to Britain to record “Downtown.” She recorded the song on October 16, 1964 at Pye Studios in Marble Arch which is a 19th Century white marble faced triumphal arch and a London landmark. Twenty minutes before the session was to begin, Hatch was still tweaking the words to the song. He must have done a good job, because the end result was great.
Petula Clark had a wonderful career. She had another number one in 1966 and hit the charts in America fifteen times. She became an actress and appeared in many movies and television shows over the years. Since 2012, she has lived most of the year in Geneva, Switzerland. As of this writing, she is still alive and is 84 years old.
“Downtown” was number one in the United States and number two in England, turning Petula Clark into an international star. It entered the Hot 100 in the States on December 19, 1964 and took five weeks to get to number one which it hit on January 23, 1965. It stayed at number one for two weeks.