27
Feb 06

PETULA CLARK – “This Is My Song”

Popular21 comments • 3,056 views

#229, 18th February 1967

Of course this isn’t her song (that would be “Downtown”). It’s Charlie Chaplin’s song – the royalties from it helped pay for the final, flop film it starred in – which may explain why it sets its cap so firmly against the sounds of the 1960s. With its slightly awkward phrasing and chintzy light opera arangement it could have fitted into an early Eurovision contest from a decade prior, though it’s too unsophisticated to have actually won. Chaplin’s rhymes and sentiments are mawkish and impersonal, and Petula’s decision to weight every noun so heavily makes her sound like she’s had a course of vocal botox.

1

Comments

  1. 1
    Anonymous on 28 Feb 2006 #

    Doctor Mod says:

    Early on in Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia, there is an incident in which one of the characters switches Abbey Road for the music teacher’s recording of Beethoven, and the class goes wild when “Come Together” blasts out unexpectedly.

    But–in my own school, back in 1967, suddenly the intercom system for the whole school came on one day during the middle of the class period. No one spoke, but “This is My Song” blared off and on for about twenty seconds. The school didn’t exactly go wild–this is not a song to inspire teenage rebellion–only nervous giggling followed. I recall thinking that if someone were going to take the risk of creating mayhem, they could have chosen a more exciting song. There was absolutely no explanation for Petula’s interference with our education.

    The lesson to be learned was that much in this universe happens for apparently no reason at all–which is probably the best way to think of this insipid but ultimately inoffensive song.

  2. 2
    Mark Gamon on 1 Mar 2006 #

    This was a number one?

    Funny how your memory screens out the garbage.

  3. 3
    Rosie on 1 Mar 2006 #

    Indeed it was a number one. My parents contributed to this I’m afraid.

    It stinks, IMHO, in a kind of sub-Rombergian way, but 1 is a little harsh – it doesn’t stink quite as much as Jackie Trent did a year or so earlier.

  4. 4
    Tom on 1 Mar 2006 #

    I think I was probably a bit harsh on it too, it maybe should have got a 2. Oh well – sorry Pet!

  5. 5
    Doctor Mod on 31 Jul 2006 #

    It’s better than Engelbert, though.

  6. 6
    wichita lineman on 20 Jun 2008 #

    Engelbert’s WMC dirges at least have tunes; this is all faux-continental fluff, expensive sounding but meaningless, and hard to recall beyond the line that includes the title. It’s inexplicable how this got to number one when none of her Tony Hatch-penned 45s did the same. It also made no.1 in the US. Number 2 watch if I’m not mistaken (don’t have Guinness book to hand but I’m fairly sure) was Harry Secombe’s version!

    Pet’s The Little Shoemaker had been happily tapping his clogs in the very first chart, while Al Martino did his own quiet/loud thing at no.1; yes, it’s a much better record than This Is My Song.

    Charlie Chaplin did write a couple of hits in the 50s which fell one spot short of Tom’s attention: Nat King Cole’s Smile (the instrumental of which was the theme to Modern Times) and Frank Chacksfield’s Limelight are both gorgeous melodies, both epitomise the post-war swaddling sound, that communal cocoa, and would rate a 7 each from me. This Is My Song is a stone 1.

    Was Chaplin the first person to change his first name, to indicate a maturing of the young buck (Charlie) into a serious artiste (Charles, as he was in ’67), and thus setting an example to Ricky Nelson, Rob Newman, and my uncle Mick? Probably.

    Listening to this sentimental tosh reminds me of the Letterists who greeted Chaplin’s 1952 visit to Paris by handing him their No More Flat Feet missive: “The footlights have melted the make-up of the supposedly brilliant mime. All we can see now is a lugubrious and mercenary old man. Go home Mister Chaplin.”

  7. 7
    wichita lineman on 20 Jun 2008 #

    Rosie, you really think Where Are You Now stinks as a song? I know Jackie T sounds a little plummy, but I think the song and arrangement are pure Anglo Bacharach with Jackie playing the schoolteacher stood up in the rain, walking back to her West Hampstead bedsit. A real (non-swinging) sixties London song, to file alongside Donovan’s Young Girl Blues, Lorraine Silver’s Happy Faces, The Kinks’ Big Black Smoke and David Bowie’s London Boys.

    This Is My Song can be filed alongside Engelbert’s Les Bicyclettes de Belsize and Where Do You Go To My Lovely. A ferry to Boulogne has more je ne sais quoi.

  8. 8
    Dispela Pusi on 17 Dec 2010 #

    “Thees ees mah sawnng … ” ….. Pet had obviously by this time spent too much time with her French husband!

    Worse was to follow a couple of months later, when ex-Goon Harry Secombe all but scored a No 1 hit WITH THE SAME SONG!!

  9. 9
    lonepilgrim on 3 Apr 2011 #

    Petula had a far more credible chart success in the USA with ‘Downtown’ – as noted here:

    http://nohardchords.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/126-petula-clark-downtown/

  10. 10
    Billy Smart on 5 Dec 2011 #

    TOTPWatch: Petula Clark twice performed This Is My Song on Top Of The Pops;

    2 February 1967. Also in the studio that week were; Paul Jones and Chris Farlowe, plus The Go Jo’s interpretation of ‘Sugar Town’. Pete Murray and Samantha Juste were the hosts.

    25 December 1967. Also in the studio that Christmas were; Sandie Shaw, The Foundations, Jimi Hendrix, The Tremeloes, The Who and Tom Jones. Jimmy Savile, Alan Freeman and Pete Murray were the hosts.

    Neither edition survives.

  11. 11
    Jimmy the Swede on 14 May 2013 #

    Now here’s an interesting little snippet. I was listening to Jools Holland interviewing Petula last night on his Radio 2 show. Pet was her usual charming self, name-dropping Brel, Quincy Jones, Edif Piaf et al, as well as her main songwriter in her pop years, Tony Hatch. She also confirmed her membership of the Plastic Ono Band, would you believe? Seems Pet was in the same Canadian hotel where John and Yoko were staying when they gave an inpromptu performance of “Give Peace a Chance”. Pet claims that she wasn’t aware it was being recorded but like the rest of the guests, which included the popular Smothers Brothers, joined in at the chorus. She also revealed that Lennon gave her some advice for life but teasingly said that it was unbroadcastable “even on your show, Jools!” Pet Clark is a truly wonderful Gal.

    As for “This is My Song”, I simply must pick Tom up for his comment all of seven plus years ago that this record was “too unsophisticated to have actually won (Eurovision)” Just one thing to say – “Ding-a-Dong”. There are other examples, of course, some even back in the sixties. I also think the score of 1 was extremely harsh but there you go.

  12. 12
    lonepilgrim on 28 Nov 2013 #

    a different number 1 for the USA – one that I’m unfamiliar with – as noted here

  13. 13
    Mark G on 28 Nov 2013 #

    Harry Seacombe the original rapper? When The Goons were signed by Decca to make their comedy records, Harrry was already signed to Phillips for his serious/religious records, but he was given the all clear to be on Goons records as long as he didn’t actually sing.

    Which is why, as on “Ying Tong Song”, his part is more a spoken word middle section….

  14. 14
    punctum on 28 Nov 2013 #

    Who’s that singing at the beginning then?

  15. 15
    Mark G on 28 Nov 2013 #

    Sellers, I think. (The “There’s a song that I recall” bit?)

  16. 16
    punctum on 28 Nov 2013 #

    Yes. Sounds much more like Secombe to me – Sellers never really had a singing voice.

  17. 17
    Mark G on 28 Nov 2013 #

    I tried searching for details, came up with nowt.

  18. 18
    romy on 21 May 2014 #

    Like her previous (US) #1 (‘My Love’), Petula hated this. I agree with her.

  19. 19
    lonepilgrim on 29 Nov 2015 #

    I’m sure that I would have despise this when I was younger but now as I crumble into middle age I find this pleasantly comforting. The melody is easy to sing along to which may explain its appeal and the arrangement suggests an Italian fantasy of Chianti bottles and frilly shirted waiters. It’s not great, I don’t care if I hear it again and clearly Petula Clark was capable of better but I don’t hate it.

  20. 20
    Turn on 18 Feb 2017 #

    A conflict I have as a reader with the early years of this project is an apparent tendency to mark records down for not being rock ‘n’ roll-derived, as I think the most interesting number 1s are those that aren’t part of that culture. Things before or after their apparent time are always more interesting than things that are of their time, because they reveal the plurality of any time and its no. 1-buying public. This record seems to be the least-defended casualty of this slant, so I’d like to try to defend it.

    Apart from the mandolins in this arrangement, I’m not sure why WL calls this song ‘faux-continental’. Chaplin was writing a kind of classical pop which, though more obviously European than American, had been as popular in America as in Europe in the thirties, and he had originally hoped that Al Jolson would record the song, not having been aware that Jolson had died (had Jolson been alive and accepted, this choice would have had personal and historical significance – Jolson had mocked Chaplin’s objections to the coming of sound in personal terms). All his influences were classical, but they would be, wouldn’t they? He was 77 when he wrote this. He had been living in Switzerland for years, and, if his children’s subsequent Europeanness is any indication (check out their careers), this wasn’t purely an 80s Bowie or Phil Collins kind of tax exile. The number of times it was recorded by European artists also seems to indicate that it functioned as a European song for European listeners without any impression of imposture.

    But for me, the Europeanness of this isn’t the main thing about it, the main thing about it is that its old-fashioned composer is deliberately exaggerating rather than diminishing his old-fashionedness; lines like ‘I care not what the world may say’ would have been ideal for voices like Jeanette MacDonald’s or Irene Dunne’s. Or Harry Secombe’s, despite his apparent derision. This kind of bloodyminded focus on the logic of the work at hand and indifference to possible incomprehension is always admirable. The film and this song both made Chaplin momentarily harder to swallow for the youth audience gathering around his earlier films, especially Monsieur Verdoux, and anything that prevents the co-opting of older artists into young people’s narcissistic Whig histories of culture (“wow, he was such a genius, he was almost as clever as *us*”) is positive in my view.

    A Countess from Hong Kong, a very underrated film, is worth Popular readers’ time for the scene in which Angela Scoular’s character listens to pop on her transistor radio – Chaplin’s idea of what pop sounds like in 1966, fifty years after his first tunes were published, is swing with an adenoidal singer (basically an effete version of what he thought rock ‘n’ roll sounded like in 1957’s A King in New York, which had been relatively accurate). You can laugh at this or with it; I laugh with it. Your amusement may depend on whether you think a septuagenarian who had lived through the Jazz Age should have been impressed by – but of course, I’m loading the question there.

    Looking at what I’ve written, perhaps I’m defending the composer, context and intention more than the record itself, which you either like or don’t. I think one real flaw it has may be that waltz-time(?) thing the brass does during the chorus under Clark’s (manually) double-tracked vocals, which seems slightly to weigh down something that could have soared in the way the instrumental theme on the film’s soundtrack does, but on the whole, I like it a great deal. 10.

  21. 21
    wichitalineman on 22 Feb 2017 #

    Interesting defence, Turn. It is the record we’re considering rather than the song, which is reasonably catchy and would work fine as a piece of incidental film music (it reminds me of John Barry’s score for The Wrong Box).

    I don’t think “faux continental” is wrong, though. You could say the same of Scott Walker’s Copenhagen, another open-hearted paean to mainland Europe from an enthusiastic American emigree. The difference is that Pet’s This Is My Song has a baguette in its back pocket and onions round its neck, where Copenhagen has a beautifully frosty production.

    Knowing that Pet hated the song hardly minds me to hear it in a new way – I’m guessing I can sense that in the performance, which is another reason it’s a stinker, much more Save Your Love than Downtown.

    Maybe Downtown is the best point of comparison – a wide-eyed embrace of NYC by a British songwriter that doesn’t make the mistake of using regional cliches in its production or structure.

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