Downtown

Album: Downtown (1964)
Charted: 2 1
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  • Lyrics
  • This was Petula Clark's first hit in the US, which was slow to discover her talents. In the UK, she was a star as a singer and as a television performer, where she was a regular on the BBC. In the early '60s, she also caught on in France when she started recording her songs in French. Oddly, she didn't get an American record deal until late in 1964 when a Warner Bros. executive named Joe Smith, who was vacationing in England, heard the song and signed her to a deal.

    When "Downtown" was released in the US, it shot to #1, making Petula the first female singer from the UK to hit #1 in the US during the rock era (after 1955). Remarkably, she didn't even promote the song before it hit the top spot, as she was touring French-speaking countries at the time. "The Ed Sullivan Show had been calling every day while I was on tour in Canada saying, 'You've got to get here,'" Petula told Songfacts. "I couldn't get there. Eventually I got there, and the record was #1." (Here's our full Petula Clark interview.)
  • On the surface, this song is about having a delightful time during a trip downtown. But what happens when the night is over and the singer returns to her everyday life? After all, the trip into the city is merely an escape.

    While many listeners don't process the song on this level, Petula does. An accomplished actress, she thinks of her songs as "mini movies" when she performs them, and considers the feelings behind them. This song, to her, isn't so chipper. "I've always thought there was this loneliness and there's even a slight feeling of desperation in it," she told us.
  • A British songwriter and producer named Tony Hatch wrote this. During the '60s, he wrote most of Clark's material, including her follow-up hit "I Know a Place" (which also dealt with city life). Hatch was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2013.
  • Does Petula envision a specific downtown when she performs this song? Here's what she told us: "It's usually a general image of the sense of getting out and seeing something else. This idea of being alone... I've been there. I have my down days when I'm feeling alone and a bit sorry for myself. And the best thing to do if you can is just to get out there and think about something else and see something else and possibly even talk to someone else - without getting your head bashed in. Not to get too deep into your own solitude and sadness."
  • The word "downtown" had a different meaning in America than it did in the UK. In America, "downtown" is the heart of the city where the action happens. The word wasn't used much in Britain at the time, but it generally meant the less affluent part of the town's central area. The song's writer, Tony Hatch, used the word in its American meaning, as he was inspired by a walk down Broadway during his first visit to New York. These days, the the American "heart of the city" use of the phrase is common in the UK.
  • Allan Sherman did a parody of this song called "Crazy Downtown," which went to #40 in the US in August 1965. Sherman's song is about how the parents are elated when their children go downtown, as they finally have some time to themselves at home.

    In 1966, a 59-year-old grandmother billed as "Mrs. Miller" released her version, taking it to #82. Mrs. Miller earned a brief bout of stardom by covering popular songs quite poorly, including "Downtown."
  • Petula Clark came to record this song at a time when she had carved a successful career in French, Italian and German-speaking territories. She recalled to The Guardian that Tony Hatch suggested she should be recording again in English. "My head wasn't in it at the time," she admitted, "I was totally into French, Italian, German, whatever. I said: 'Well, you know, if I could find the right song' and he said he had an unfinished song he wanted to play me, and he played 'Downtown' on the piano. I said: 'Woah, I like that.' So I asked him to write a lyric up to the standard of the tune, and two weeks later we did it."
  • This won a Grammy in 1965 for Best Rock & Roll Recording, making Clark the first British singer to win a Grammy. In 2003, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Jerro - New Alexandria, PA
  • Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie sing this in the 1999 movie Girl, Interrupted, and it plays during the ending credits. The song was also included on the soundtrack to the 1997 movie Twin Town, starring Rhys Ifans. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Jerro - New Alexandria, PA
  • After the words, "And you may find somebody kind to help and understand you," there is the drum roll from Little Peggy March's #1 version of the French tune "Chariot." In 1962 Petula had a big continental hit with the same song, which was also known as "I Will Follow Him."
  • Artists to record this song include Patty Duke, Frank Sinatra, The B-52s and Yo La Tengo. One of the more popular renditions is by Dolly Parton, who released it on her 1984 album The Great Pretender. Parton is known as a country singer, but her "Downtown" is keyboard-driven and totally devoid of twang. It was a minor hit, going to #80 that year in the US.
  • This features prominently in the Seinfeld episode "The Bottle Deposit," when George, oblivious to his orders on a major work project and afraid to ask his boss for clarification, discovers he must go downtown. When his boss references the song, George and Jerry try to decipher the lyrics for clues.
  • Clark recorded a new version of this song for her 2013 album Lost in You, which was released when she was 80 years old.
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Comments: 30

  • Shu from Hastings UkDowntown means exactly the same thing in the UK as it does in the US; "City Centre" and nothing else. It's probably been derived from "...head down to town".
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 13th 1955, Petula Clark entered the United Kingdom's National Music Express chart for the very first time; her "Majorca" debut at #17, two weeks later on February 27th it would peak at #12 {for 1 week}...
    And exactly nine years and ten months later on December 13th, 1964 Ms. Clark would debut on the American Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart when "Downtown" entered at position #87; and on January 17th, 1965 it would become the first of her two* records to reach #1 in the U.S.A.
    Ms. Petula Sally Olwen Clark Wolff will celebrate her 84th birthday this coming November 15th {2016}...
    * Her other #1 record was "My Love" in 1966.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn March 14th 1965, Petula Clark performed "Downtown" on the CBS-TV program 'The Ed Sullivan Show', it was also her American TV debut…
    At the time the song was at #27 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; eight weeks earlier on January 17th, 1965 it peaked at #1 {for 2 weeks} and spent 15 weeks on the Top 100...
    Though it only peaked at #2 in her native United Kingdom, it would reach #1 in Canada, Australia, Germany, and Italy...
    And on the same 'Sullivan' show she also performed her next release, "I Know A Place", and on that very day it entered the Top 100 at #94; and six weeks later on April 25th, 1965 it peaked at #3* {for 1 week} and stayed on the chart for 12 weeks...
    * "I Know A Place" was kept out of the #1 spot by two fellow British acts; at #1 was "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter" by Herman’s Hermits and #2 was "Game of Love" by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 23rd 1961, Petula Clark would reached #1 for the first time on the United Kingdom's Record Retailer chart when "Sailor" peaked at #1 for one week...
    Exactly four years later on February 23rd, 1965 her first U.S. charted record, "Downtown", would be at #4 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; and a little over a month earlier on January 17th, 1965 it also became her first #1 record in America, she had one other #1 on the Top 100 when "My Love" reached the top spot in 1966.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 31st 1966, Mrs. Miller* performed "Downtown" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
    Earlier in 1966 on April 24th this covered version of the song entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart for a four week stay, peaking at #82...
    On the same 'Bandstand' show she also performed the record's B-side, a covered version of the Toys' "A Lover's Concerto", it also made the Top 100 and reached #95 on its 2nd and last week on the chart...
    * Mrs. Miller was Elva Ruby Connes Miller; she passed away on July 5th, 1997 at the age of 89...
    May she R.I.P.
  • Susan from Atlanta, GeorgiaRodney from Toronto, I had never noticed the similarities between "Downtown" and "Call Me", but they are so obvious now that I will never unhear them. Thanks for pointing this out. Incredible.
  • Duke from Fresno, CaMelissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What are the differences between recording then and recording now?

    Petula Clark: I was very fortunate because Tony Hatch, who is the producer and also the writer, was writing fantastic songs for me. He wrote "Downtown," "Don't Sleep in the Subway" and "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love." He wrote all of the great hits. It was a very different thing. We would go into a big studio in London. Mostly the songs were recorded in London.

    We'd have a big orchestra. I mean, not a band, an orchestra sitting on a rock rhythm section, and we would record live. It was a big sound immediately. There was no fiddling around with it afterward to make it sound big or anything. It just was big (laughs). It was very exciting, singing live with a lot of musicians. There's nothing quite like it. It was the way Sinatra loved to record and most of the great singers of that time.

    Everything has changed. The world has changed. Music has changed. But the basic thing of singing a song hasn't changed that much. We've all had to adjust to the different way of getting to that point. To me, making Lost in You is just as exciting in its own way as recording any of those LPs that we used to do in the 60s.

    Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Jimmy Page, legendary guitarist of Led Zeppelin, was 70 years old last week.

    Petula Clark: Oh, bless his heart.

    Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): He played guitar on the album Downtown.

    Petula Clark: Yes. He was a session guitar player. I saw him not that long ago at a cocktail party. The Queen was present, and it was at the Royal Academy of Arts, and everybody in the recording business was there. This guy was leaning against the wall, and I was walking past, and he said, "Hello Petula. Remember me? I played on your sessions." I looked at this nice looking guy and said, "Jimmy Page!" He's a lovely man.

    Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you ever think Jimmy would one day be one of the greatest guitarists of all time?

    Petula Clark: No. But we had great musicians on those sessions. They were the cream of the crop when we were working in London, and it was the same thing when we were working in LA. We'd have the Wrecking Crew, the rhythm section from LA, and they played on everything. They were the top guys.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn January 20th 1965, Petula Clark performed "Downtown" on the ABC-TV program 'Shindig!'...
    One month earlier on December 13th, 1964 it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; and on January 17th, three days before her appearance on 'Shindig!', it peaked at #1 (for 2 weeks) and spent 15 weeks on the chart...
    It reached only #2 in her native England, but also peaked at #1 in Canada, Australia, Germany, and Italy...
    Between 1964 and 1982 she had twenty-two records on the Top 100; with five making the Top 10 and two reaching #1 (her other #1 record was "My Love", for 2 weeks in 1966)...
    R.I.P. Jimmy O'Neil (Shindig's host; 1940 - 2013) and Ms. Clark celebrated her 81st birthday two months ago on November 15th (2013).
  • Martin from Fresno, CaIt is one of the first songs I remember hearing.
  • Jim from West Palm Beach, FlIt's about oral sex?? You have these simple lyrics all figured out? And were you born post 1980? The song is about what the words/melody imply.
  • Kat from Adelaide, AustraliaThis song is not about New York City, it's about oral sex.

    Baby Spice did a very cute version of this a few years ago, and if you watch the film clip (it's on Youtube), she really hams it up with the oral sex allusion.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyA Mrs. Miller covered this song in 1966, it peaked at #82...
  • Kurt from Evansville, InThis song appeared in a season 3 epidode of the standout sci-fi series Lost.
  • Jacques from Nontreal, QcI told Petula and showed her my copy of Cashbox magazine when the song Downtown first hit the charts. I was working at radio station CHRS on the South Shore of Montreal and Petula was singing at La Comédie Canadienne in Montreal.
    Jacques Coco Letendre
  • Jere from Bellevue, WaWas this ever a "theme" song to a TV show or movie?
  • John from Jasper, CanadaFirst of all,this is not the theme to MTM.The song love is all around is by Sonny Curtis.Petula was singing french songs and not having much luck with english.Clark asked Tony Hatch(writer of her songs)to give it another try;if it fails she will go back to singing french songs.Hatch hummed the tune adding the title to her(lyrics were not written).In fact he was still wrtiting them a half hour before it was recorded.Clark saw the finished product and said that is the one for me.
  • Rodney from Toronto, Canada"Downtown" was written specifically in reference to New York city.

    Some of its rhythms bear an interesting similarity to those of another Tony Hatch song, "Call Me":

    Downtown! Things'll be great when you're
    Downtown, no finer place for sure.
    Downtown everything's waiting for you

    Call me, don't be afraid, you can
    Call me. Maybe it's late but just
    Call me--call me and I'll be around.

    However, I must say "Downtown" strikes me as a much greater song!
  • Alison from Bloomington, InThis song has been referenced on two episodes of the 3rd season of Lost. In specifics, the song is used only in relation to the character "Juliet", an "other".
  • Bert from Pueblo, Nmi HATE this song with a passion. this is the only song it seems like they play at work. Thank you songfacts for telling me who did this song. they are on my Axis of Evil!
  • Jaime from Martinez, CaTony Hatch's song sang by Petula Clark spoke to my heart and I cried thinking of a friend who has bi-polar disorder. She is a beautiful person who often looked for external ways to manipulate her difficult emotions and escape the pain of depression. The activities found in a 24 hour downtown center would have had an appeal to her for that reason. The darkness of night or a lack of activities can be challenging for people with extree periods of depression. Thank you Tony and Petula for bringing this song to us.
  • Scott from Harrisburg, PaSara, no "Downtown" was not used as the theme for TV's "Mary Tyler Moore Show." The show's theme was called "Love is All Around," and was written by Paul Williams (editor note - according to Williams, he didn't write "Love Is All Around" - It was written and performed by Sonny Curtis). Part of the lyrics are below.

    Love is all around, no need to waste it
    You can have a town, why don't you take it
    You're gonna make it after all
    You're gonna make it after all

  • Pete from Nowra, AustraliaTeddy!!!!!!! Seinfeld what a show yep George was trying to work out what "downtown "meant

    got to love the Drake!!!!!!
  • Fyodor from Denver, CoCovered by the B-52's.
  • Sara from Nashville, TnIsn't this the theme song to the Mary Tyler Moore Show?
  • X from Nowhereville, Hong KongI believe that this was done in the 40's or 50's first.
  • Leya Qwest from Anchorage, AkMy best friend Laurie Richards in Anchorage is the only cross-dressing performer I know who can successfully lip-synch this beautiful song in any drag club in the world with the style and panache it truly deserves. No doubt upon hearing the rendition, Pet would say "Laurie, YOU ROCK!"
  • Ted from Indianapolis, InAnd who can forget the Seinfeld episode based on the lyrics to the song.
  • Wayne from Beverly Hills, CaThis was the first Warner Bros. single to be given a Gold Record Award by the RIAA for sales of 1,000,000 units.
  • Destinee from Auckland, New ZealandThis song was also sang in Girl, Interrupted by Suzanna (Winona Ryder), to comfort Lisa (Angelina Jolie) after she had just been locked into her own room when she had an outburst in the psychriatric hospital they were living in.
  • Tom from Largo, FlInitially, Tony Hatch was writing "Downtown" for the Drifters, but when Petula Clark heard the incomplete tune, she told him if he could write lyrics as great as the music, she wanted to record the song. Joe Smith from Warner Brothers heard it while visiting the offices of Vogue Records (Clark's French label) in Paris, and immediately signed her for the WB label. Clark's Grammy Award for the recording was the first ever won by a British vocalist. Her follow-up tune, "I Know a Place," also by Hatch, continued the theme of life in the city and won her a second Grammy.
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