Song 156: Petula Clark, “Downtown” (1964)

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My dad used to say that “Downtown” was the most perfect song ever, and it’s hard to argue with that opinion. Okay, so maybe the lyrics are corny and trite. But listen to that melody, which seems engineered to get stuck in your head. It’s well-crafted, but it’s as if someone just went up and down the major scale until they struck gold.

That someone was Tony Hatch, who came up with this song while wandering around New York. As you can guess by his lyrics’ general use of the term “downtown,” Hatch was not, in fact, in downtown New York City when he was inspired; he was in Times Square and Broadway. “I loved the whole atmosphere there,” he said, “and the music came to me very quickly.”

“Downtown,” with its bright lights, dancing, and movie shows, may be the most romantic view of urban life ever committed to record. New York wasn’t exactly worry-free in 1964, and this song must have seemed like a sort of escapism from the encroaching madness of the late sixties (though the World’s Fair did provide some spectacle). This song perfectly captures what we want New York to be: that place where everything happens, where dreams come true, where people fall in love, where you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares. In other words, the New York City of “Downtown” is pop music.

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