113. ‘Sailor’, by Petula Clark

Ladies and Gentlemen, something strange is about to occur atop the British Singles Chart. For the first time since 20th March 1959 – that’s twenty-three months and thirty-two #1s ago – the following chart-topper will be sung by – dun dun dun – a woman!

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Sailor, by Petula Clark (her 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 23rd February – 2nd March 1961

The gap between this song and Shirley Bassey’s ‘As I Love You’ is, I’m going to assume, some kind of record for the longest gap between female-led number ones. Though, quickly glancing down my list o’ chart-toppers, it is genuinely surprising how male-dominated the sixties will be. Certain consistent stars aside – Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw, Nancy Sinatra and the like – there will be huge swathes of #1 territory taken up by blokes with guitars. I wonder that more hasn’t been made of it, to be honest. But, I suppose, that’s all a story for another day. We have a new number one – let’s take a look at it…

It starts with a harmonica, an instrument under-represented so far in this countdown… Sailor, Stop your roamin’, Sailor, Leave the sea… Sailor, When the tide turns, Come home, Safe to me… It’s cute, and lilting, like the waves upon the ocean. Then comes the chorus, and it’s a proper sing-along one: As you sail across the sea all my love is there beside you…

It’s kind of old-fashioned. Kind of cheesy. Above all I’d describe it as ‘sentimental;  what the Germans call a ‘schlager’ song. It’s a hard one to place –  a song that might have been a hit any time between 1940 and 1975 – and one that reminds me of certain #1s from years already gone by. It’s a ‘Come Home to Me, My Love’ kind of song, the sailor in the title presumably being in the navy and separated from his amour against his will, as in Anne Shelton’s 1956 hit ‘Lay Down Your Arms’. But I’m more reminded of Jo Stafford’s ‘You Belong to Me’ – the second ever UK #1 – when Clark lists all the countries to which her man is sailing: In Capri or Amsterdam, Honolulu or Siam… (not sure which war he’s fighting in to take him on that erratic route, but anyway).

And then the pub-at-closing time feel of the chorus puts me in mind of The Stargazer’s 1954 smash ‘I See The Moon’, albeit with the crazy dialled back several shades. It’s a light little song that just about stays on the right side of cheesy, aside from the line about his final destination being ‘the harbour of her heart’…

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To be honest this song is perhaps best used as an excuse to draw people’s attention to the Life and Times of Petula Clark. In my post on the last female chart topper, I referred to Shirley Bassey as the First Lady of British pop. But that title might just as equally go to Ms. Clark. She went from being a childhood star, to a WWII Forces’ Sweetheart, to a global, multi-lingual superstar – equally as popular in France (‘Sailor’ was released there, in French  as ‘Marin’, reaching #2) and the USA as she was in Britain. Her first chart hit – ‘The Little Shoemaker’ – came in 1954, although she had been releasing singles since the dusty pre-chart days of 1949. And then, while all the big female pre-rock stars fell by the wayside – Vera Lynn, Kitty Kallen, Kay Starr, Rosemary Clooney et al – Clark kept going. Rock ‘n’ roll didn’t hurt her. In fact, she grew in popularity. Not even the Merseybeat revolution will be able to see her off!

We’ll meet Petula again in six years or so for her second #1, which is officially A Good Thing. Between then and now she will release her signature hit, ‘Downtown’, and my personal favourite – possibly the most uplifting song ever – ‘I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love’, which featured on a cassette of sixties hits that stayed on heavy rotation in our family car back when I was eight or nine. The songs on it were strictly 2nd-tier hits in chart terms – no Beatles, Elvis or Stones for obvious licensing reasons but plenty of Tremeloes, Emile Ford, Kenny Ball and T. Rex (sixties T. Rex, before they were particularly famous) – but I’d give anything to find out what the hell that tape was called. My love for all this glorious fifties and sixties pop stems directly from that compilation – in fact this very blog probably stems from what that tape awakened in me. As a small child I listened to very little music recorded post-1969. Until I turned ten and The Spice Girls came along, that is… But that’s yet another story for yet another day.

3 thoughts on “113. ‘Sailor’, by Petula Clark

  1. Pingback: Recap: #91 – #120 – The UK Number 1s Blog

  2. Pingback: 195. ‘Where Are You Now (My Love)’, by Jackie Trent – The UK Number Ones Blog

  3. Pingback: 229. ‘This Is My Song’, by Petula Clark – The UK Number Ones Blog

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