Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"Downtown" (1965)

35. Petula Clark, "Downtown" (Jan. 2, 1965, #1, 2 wks.)

In past exercises like this I have always placed this song high, even #1 on at least one occasion, and I defend it still though it has become something of an object of occasional ridicule, as on "Seinfeld," and even though I can hear better how exceedingly slight it is in many ways. The connection for me is personal—it was my first "favorite" song on the radio, and a song that pulled me toward the radio to hear music in the first place. From here, it's all sentimental bathos. When my grandmother was dying, in the small town my father grew up in some 100 miles from our home in the Minneapolis suburbs, I often rode along with him when he traveled to visit her in her final days. It was a day away from school for me and something like a bonding experience for my father and me. There was serious weather in Minnesota at that time—early spring and unusual flooding. We always managed to get where we were going, but sometimes circuitously. I probably wasn't much comfort to him, barely 10 at the time, a kid with essentially no grasp of what was happening beyond the heavy vibe. I wasn't even allowed in my grandmother's hospital room, but instead left to wait in the lobby, where people looking out for me introduced me to games of Battleship on graph paper. For the several hours that my father and I traveled in the car together each day I begged him to play the radio and find the pop stations and I listened especially for this song, which seemed to concern itself in such dedicated fashion to a fantasy of urban living, one that has ultimately been imprinted on me. I internalized every word, viz., "You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares" and, especially, "Downtown, everything's waiting for you."