Let’s face it, some things sound better in French. Just ask Petula Clark. The British singer was bigger – and cooler – in France than in her homeland.
It all began in 1957, when she was invited to sing in French for the Vogue label, which had links with her record company in London. She wasn’t interested at first, until she found out it would involve working with handsome French publicist Claude Wolff.
She spoke no French at the time but began recording in the language having learnt the words phonetically. Of course, that left her pronunciation heavily accented, but that appears only to have added to her charm.
By the early 1960s, she had married Wolff and was topping the French charts regularly. This included a hat trick of consecutive chart toppers in the form of Romeo, Ya Ya Twist and Chariot (the original of I Will Follow Him, which went on to become a worldwide smash for Little Peggy March).
For me and many other fans, La Nuit n’en Finit Plus, Petula’s take on US singer Jackie de Shannon’s Needles and Pins (later a UK hit for the Searchers) remains one of her absolute best. It is an an emotional tour de force.
Such was her popularity in France that she was on the verge of giving up recording for the British market. However, she was then offered Downtown, the song that turned her career around in the UK and in the US.
She continued to cut records in French and remained a huge star in France. These days, you won’t find her music filed alongside that of, say, Sandie Shaw in ‘International artists’. Instead, she’s under ‘French artists’. That’s quite some accolade.