Petula Clark – Singer of the century…?


Just some facts; Petula Clark (1932 – ) will turn 85 years old in November this year. She made her first public appearance on radio in the early 40’s, and her first record, “Put your shoes on, Lucy” in 1949. None of that is very remarkable, but what is remarkable is that Petula is still performing, and still recording. And, may I add – still doing it very well, with no signs of aging. Now, that is a feat!

During the last 5 years, Petula has put out 3 new albums: “Petula Clark” (2012), with songs mostly in French. She followed that one in 2013, releasing “Lost In You” – and last year, just before Christmas her final one so far, “From Now On” came out. I found it rather gutsy, that at age 84 she makes a new record – and gives it that title. What is most unbelievable, is that 67 years after her first record, she makes this one – AND she still sounds like a young woman! Also, none of these three albums are in any way a throw-back to days gone by, no no – Petula is spot on, doing very current material and sounding like the equal to many contemporary singers who are like 55 years younger than she is.

Petula’s 2013 album, “Lost In You” writes this about “Lost In You“: “Petula Clark hadn’t made a studio album featuring original compositions since the mid-70s when Lost in You was released in early 2013. Amazingly, it came 57 years after her 1957 debut album. Almost as amazingly, the 80-year-old Clark’s voice has held up remarkably well, and throughout most of the album’s 12 songs she sounds strong and soulful with only the occasional bit of studio trickery used to help her out. Working with producer John Williams, she’s crafted an album that relies on a few covers (an MOR country take on Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” an earnest version of “Imagine”) and a batch of newly written songs that feature Clark looking back over a long life in music (“Reflections”), lamenting lost love (“Next to You”), and looking for new love (the country-rocking “Never Enough”). Apart from her voice being so strong and soulful (check out her pleading tones on “Lost in You” if you doubt that even a little), there are two big surprises on the album. First is the slowed-down and elegiac version of her biggest hit, “Downtown”; second is the opening track on the album, “Cut Copy Me.” An insistent late-night ballad that blends acoustic guitars and swooning strings with Clark’s Auto-Tuned voice and some icy synths, it’s the kind of sad and pretty song Saint Etienne would kill for. It also serves notice that Lost in You isn’t a nostalgic exercise for Clark; she’s fully up to date. It’s a quiet triumph of a song that stands as an equal to her best work from the past. There are a couple of missteps (the thin-sounding cover of the Gershwin standard “He Loves and She Loves,” the overwrought take on Elvis’ “Love Me Tender”) and one can’t help but wish at times that she had chosen to work with a producer who was a little more sonically adventurous than Williams; he’s stuck firmly in the middle of the road and while that fits some of the songs, it would have been interesting to hear what Air, for example, would have done with the sound. Wishes aside, Lost in You is an impressive achievement that shows Clark is still alive and kicking, and stands as a reminder that she is one of the great vocalists of her era.”

I might not agree with everything said above, I find the album a joy to listen to – this is great music, performed by one of the most enduring female vocalists of all time!


Petula’s 2016 album, “From Now On” writes this about “From Now On“: “Petula Clark began her career as an entertainer in 1939, when she was just seven years old, and hosted her own radio show at age 11. The mere fact she still has a singing career at the age of 84 is remarkable in itself, but on 2016’s From Now On, the U.K. pop legend sounds impressively up to date. It’s hard to imagine an octogenarian pop singer who is able to get over without nostalgia being part of the formula. But Clark comes very close to that here; her voice isn’t as strong as it once was, but it still possesses a remarkable clarity, and her command of her instrument is precise. Clark and producer John Owen Williams are smart enough to give her material that allows her voice to float with the current rather that push against the grain. But the largely electronic backings on “Sacrifice My Heart” and “Sincerely” push Clark toward contemporary pop (the former even finds her embracing Auto-Tune for effect), and Clark’s subtly passionate, confident delivery suggests the work of an artist a fraction of her age. Clark also wrote or co-wrote seven of the eleven tracks on From Now On (“Pour Etre Aime de Toi” finds her composing in tandem with Charles Aznavour), and she’s an able tunesmith who can walk the line between pop classicism and 21st century gloss with a capable stride. Though the production sometimes feels a bit cool, there’s a genuine warmth to Clark’s performances that’s effective and winning. And while a reasonable person might wonder if they ever need to hear another cover of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” or Peggy Lee’s “Fever,” Clark puts an unexpectedly fresh spin on her interpretations, and brings a playful sexiness to the latter that one would not expect from a woman her age. Anyone hoping Clark will re-create the sound of her Tony Hatch-produced singles of the ’60s is bound to be disappointed, but From Now On is music that’s mature but not dated or stiff, and reminds us she’s still one of the most thoughtful and capable pop vocalists at work today. An admirable achievement in a career that has spanned eight decades … so far.

A recent photo of the great Petula Clark

Her recording career stretching from 1949 until 2016 is in itself quite a feat! But the fact that she makes music that sounds so current and fresh is remarkable, and the fact that her voice still is just fabulous – that is really something. There are other singers out there, who had very long recording careers – but some of them should have given it up many years earlier. Anita O’ Day (making records between 1941 and 2006) had no voice left when she made her final album. Peggy Lee (whom I totally love) recorded between 1941 and 1995, but made a poor choice when she re-recorded some of her early 1940’s hits in 1990 – making the new versions proving once and for all that they should have been left in the can. Margaret Whiting made records from 1942 until 1990 (and sang live even longer), but she mostly stuck to evergreens and standards, and knew exactly how to make them sound still good even when she approached the age of 80.

Petula can just go on singing forever, if she keeps up sounding like this! Her career is a textbook example on “how to do it”, and tracing her musical development from 1949 and up until today, makes one thing very clear: Petula Clark is one of the best singers in popular music ever!





Barbara Acklin – A soulful piece of Chicago….

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Barbara Acklin entered the world in Chicago, on February 28 1943, and left the world behind in Omaha, Nebraska on November 27 1998. In between those dates, she was for a short time one of the many glowing soul sisters who made a string of very good records, yet she never achieved superstar status, was never nominated for any big awards nor graced the coveted number one spot on the charts…

She did, however, leave behind a recorded legacy which is not only pleasant, but quite interesting as well. Being a colored girl, she was automatically tagged as a “soul” singer when she started out, but although she was soulful, she also seemed to be equally at home singing pop tunes and more middle of the road material, and she had even studied classical music for a time, which might explain how she so easily reached those high notes she sang occasionally. In addition to a great voice, she was also a gifted song writer – and her credits as such is proved by a lot of her songs being recorded by other singers.

Vocally, Acklin was never a gutsy, deep soul wailer – she emits a soft, pleasant – at times almost breathy – kind of voice, but it more than proves that her subtle way is equally effective as those heavy shouting mamas! If any other singers is to be compared with her, she is vocally closest to Jackie Ross and Barbara Lewis, maybe even Mary Wells at times…. She also had the opportunity to see the music business from the inside – she started working as a secretary-receptionist at Brunswick Records in her early twenties! Somebody in that company obviously discovered her, as within a few years she was labeled “First Lady” of that company – and not because of her typing skills!

Before long, Barbara luckily found herself in front of the microphone, rather than behind the receptionists desk – and a couple of her first records (“I’m not mad anymore” and “Nobody cares”) went absolutely nowhere. Then Brunswick thought of pairing her with Gene Chandler – which proved to be a match made in heaven! She made a total of six duets with him, and the first to make any impact was “Show me the way to go”. Following Barbara’s first small hit “Fool, fool, fool (Look in the mirror)”, she & Gene were cast into a great duet about puppy love gone adult very fast, “From the teacher to the preacher” – a truly classic slice of late 60’s soul! She also wrote songs for other singers, and both Jackie Wilson and The Chi-Lites recorded some of her songs.

This 1968 single saw Barbara going from the teacher to the preacher with Gene. Then she went on to solo stardom

With a hit duet to her credit, Barbara started working on her first album for Brunswick. Titled “Love Makes A Woman” and released in 1968, it was a very good album that showed this new talent to her best advantage, and also made her stand apart from all the other soul girls active at the same time. Aided by great songs like “I’ve got you baby”, “Come and see me baby” and two covers of recent hits: “The look of love” and Lulu’s No. 1 hit “To Sir, with love” it was full of gems. The title track soared up the charts, and even today stands out as the most famous of Acklin’s hits – and a real classic. It was re-done some ten years later by Phoebe Snow, another great and much underrated singer – whose version of the song compares favourably to the original.

“Love Makes A Woman” (1968), the debut album that also made Barbara Acklin’s career

She made her sophomore album the next year; called “Seven Days Of Night” it gave her more charted singles, and standout tracks from this album include “Just ain’t no love”, the fabulous “Where would I go” and of course “Am i the same girl” which was covered effectively in the UK by Dusty Springfield, and also saw an instrumental cover, “Soulful Strut” by Young-Holt Unlimited. She also recorded another cover, the recent hit song “This girl’s in love with you”.

Second album, “Seven Days Of Night” came out 1969. The cover shot however, shows just day with no trace of night….

Her first two albums were stylistically in the same vein. For her third album, “Someone Else’s Arms” she turned a little more funky, adding an exciting line of horns and some jarring guitars to back her up, while also doing even more MOR material. On this record she did great versions of the Mondo Cane movie theme “More”, the samba hit “Quiet night of quiet stars” (recorded by everyone from Doris Day to Cleo Laine!), and she was one of many female singers who covered Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “Spinning wheel”. This last song was also recorded in 3 great, but different versions by caucasian Motown soul girl Chris Clark, Peggy Lee and Shirley Bassey! Barbara was one of the first girl singers to record “More today than yesterday”, a song which has also been done by Dee Dee Warwick, Lena Horne and Patti Austin – all of them very good!

The 1970 album “Someone Else’s Arms”

After this, the chemistry between Brunswick and Barbara lost some of its sparks, and her next albums “I Did It” (1971) and “I Call It Trouble” (1972) contained some of the same songs, and didn’t give Barbara any big hits. She recorded one of the many versions of “Stop, look (Listen to your heart)”, but stuff like “I’ll bake me a man” was way beneath her talent, and she was obviously sad about having to record such crap! Her last Brunswick single, “Love, you are mine today” is very good though! Throughout the 70’s and 80’s there were several compilations of her hits from the Brunswick years put on the market. It wasn’t until 2003 that somebody finally came up with the idea of collecting ALL her Brunswick recordings, and so the great 2 CD collection “The Complete Barbara Acklin on Brunswick Records” contains all her 5 albums for that label and some songs that had been released as singles. It’s a great document on a much underrated singer, chronologically guiding you through her career 1968-73. Strongly recommended!

Get this! It contains absolutely everything Miss Acklin recorded as a solo artist from 1968 up to 1973, great collection!

She switched label, and signed up with Capitol – for what turned out to be her last album – the 1975 “A Place In The Sun”. One track, “Raindrops” was put out as a single, and it did fairly well. It was the last time the Acklin name graced the charts. The album shows a more mature Barbara, spreading her voice on some longer tracks and also being a bit playful on “Fire love”, which surely uses the First Choice’ recent hit song “Armed & Extremely Dangerous” as its model. I always found the cover of this album to be awful! Sporting a big afro, Barbara is pictured up close, wearing no make-up and looking rather pallid. I’m sure the idea was to make it “natural”, but she comes off looking rather tired and worn….

Great music, lousy cover! Barbara Acklin’s last album came out on Capitol in 1975…

After this, Barbara Acklin faded from public view, but not from the business entirely. She kept on writing songs for others, and made live appearances here and there. She had a local radio hit in 1990 with “You’re The One”.  She was one of the headliners at the 1994 “Windy City Soul” tribute at the Chicago Blues Festival, and the audience got to see this rather neglected and half-forgotten lady sounding and looking tremendously well!

There was talk about her being in the studio recording a new album in 1998, it would have been the first new Acklin album in 23 years. Sadly, this never happened when Barbara got pneumonia, and died from it in Omaha, Nebraska in November 1998. She was just 55 years old, and it’s a very sad end indeed. If the 1998 sessions produced any result, it is to hope that the studio will release them. Otherwise we will make do with the rest of her musical legacy, which is rich in both great songs, great arrangements – and all of it given vivacity and sparkle by one of the great unsung heroines of soul….

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