The Unknown Music: ‘Petula’ Petula Clark
A treasure trove of memories.
Editor’s note: As part of CMN’s ongoing music journalism program, we asked our team of music writers to find and write about a physical piece of music (CD, album or cassette) they had no prior knowledge of. You can find out how it all unfolded by browsing our music section.
Sometimes, in my dreams, I walk into my grandmother’s old house.
The television still has antennae on it and the sofa is a horrendous orange color that matches the floral wallpaper spread out from wall to wall in the living room. There’s a record player in the corner of the room and this time, The Supremes are playing. A new record catches my eye—the album cover reminds me of Twiggy when her modeling career was at its peak and Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink.
On my embarrassingly frequent thrift store trips, I make it a point to check out the CDs, cassettes, and vinyl. I pick up a cassette of Speaking in Tongues by Talking Heads, vinyl of Hot August Night by Neil Diamond and a bright, pink number that reminds me of the record I remember from my dream.
A first glance at this vinyl has me thinking Twiggy is actually on the cover. Petula Clark is on the cover. This record is another self-titled.
The front reads:
DON’T GIVE UP KISS ME GOODBYE
And the back reads:
Cheek soft, heart warm
and sassier than ever in a collection of
Side one of the vinyl begins with “Don’t Give Up.” Instantly, the instrumentals have me imagining my grandparents in America’s 60s scene, dancing in a ballroom having the time of their lives.
The horns and strings remind me of Louis Armstrong.
I let the rest of the record spin and am reminded of various objects from my childhood: a green, floral couch my parents purchased second hand when we first moved to our first home, the console television in the basement that never turned on, and a wooden chessboard that became centerpiece in my aunt’s sunroom.
“The Good Life”, the first track on side two of the record reminds me of the opening to an old-timey Disney movie. The song feels like a dream—Petula Clark’s vocals make me nostalgic for a life I never lived. Maybe, in another life I was a housewife whose husband was drafted into the war, never came home and is reminiscing life before then.
I find myself listening to the song on repeat and picture the people behind the instruments wearing blue velvet suits like Austin Powers.
The way Clark’s voice flows with the instrumentals reminds me of black and white photos. I don’t know how or why, but they just do.
“Why Can’t I Cry” may be one of the more eerie songs I’ve heard. The opening keys remind me of the keys that garner suspense in horror films. A trumpet decrescendo in the background of Clark’s vocals that adds to the song’s uncanny feeling. Though, the most chilling aspect of this song is Clark’s vocal range that I find myself swaying to with every high and low.
Her voice brings me to picture my parent’s old wedding portrait that was displayed in the living room for years, moved to the basement, and never seen again.
I end my listening session with “The Good Life,” again. As the song comes to an end, I’m reminded of the road trips my family took to Florida in our 1999 Nissan Pathfinder. If it wasn’t too hot outside, the windows would be rolled down. I still remember my father smoking Marlboro Reds while driving and my mother yelling at him for doing so. It might not sound like it but, life was good back then.
The song ends, my record player stops, and all the memories and events I was reminded of in each song become repressed again.
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