On Tuesday evening, I met Tony Hatch at his New York hotel and we went for a stroll in Times Square. I'll tell you why in a moment. First, in today's Wall Street Journal (go here or buy the paper), you'll find my profile of Tony. [Pictured above: A tourist snaps Tony Hatch and me on 48th St. and Broadway this past Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.]
If the name Tony Hatch doesn't quite ring a bell, it shouldn't to most Americans. He spent most of his songwriting, arranging and producing years in the '60s and '70s in London and Australia and is largely unknown in the States. You probably known him best as the writer, arranger and producer of Petula Clark's Downtown and nine of her other hits between 1964 and 1967, including My Love, A Sign of the Times and Don't Sleep in the Subways. He also wrote Call Me, which virtually everyone has recorded. [Pictured above: Petula Clark]
Tony flew into New York from London on Tuesday for his Songwriters Hall of Fame induction tonight along with Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, Foreigner's Mick Jones and Lou Gramm, Holly Knight and J.D. Souther. I wanted to walk with Tony so we could find the exact spot where the music for Downtown came to him. Tony came to a halt on the northwest corner of 48th St. and Broadway. As he looked south into Times Square—with all the flashing LED screens—he said: "This is the spot. It was here, just when the neon signs came on. Even today everyone's excited. You really can't be alone here, can you?" [Pictured above: Tony Hatch]
In October 1964, Tony was staying at the Essex House on Central Park South. A day before returning to London, he went for a walk and wound up on 48th St. and Broadway. As he waited at the corner for the lights to change, he was in awe of the bustling crowd—particularly their animated, excited faces. That's when the melody came to him. "It began with the opening piano solo in my mind and built from there," he told me.
Back at his hotel in '64, he sketched-out the music and, when he was in Paris a few days later, he played the new song for Clark. She loved it and asked for lyrics. Tony wrote them, and the result was the British Invasion's first #1 female hit in January 1965.
I'm probably speaking for many my age when I say that Downtown left a much bigger impression on me than the Beatles in early 1965. I was 7 years old when the Fab Four arrived in New York in February '64, and much of the early fuss was really a blur for me. By January 1965, however, I was 8—and the piano intro to Downtown along with Clark's voice building to near hysteria by the end of the song grabbed my imagination. How wonderful it would be, I thought, to go downtown, where the neon signs are pretty and you could forget all your troubles, whatever those were, since as a kid I had none really.
Years later I learned that the "downtown" in that song was inspired by Times Square. So when I read earlier this year that Tony was being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, I wanted to interview him about the song's origins and where he was standing when the melody struck him. As always with such profiles, I did a ton of listening and reading in advance.
In addition to his work with Petula Clark, Tony produced the Searchers, Jackie Trend, Julie Grant, Kathy Kirby and other British acts whose hits never made the same leap en masse to the U.S. as other Brit bands did. He also produced David Bowie's first singles in '66 for Pye. Eventually he became known in Europe as the British Burt Bacharach. But what intrigued me most as I listened to Tony's lengthy discography were his instrumentals of pop hits featuring the Tony Hatch Orchestra. He's really a sharp arranger.
That's when it hit me: Downtown really marked the beginning of the adult British Invasion. Though the song was sung by a pert blonde who sang with a marmalade accent, she was really fronting an orchestra dressed up to sound like a rock band. As Tony noted: "Pet Clark had two audiences—American teens and adults back home."
Downtown also provided a way for Las Vegas and American TV shows to sell the British Invasion to more mature and resistant audiences. Tom Jones had a big-band rock sound behind him on It's Not Unusual, thanks to songwriter-arranger Les Reed. In fact, so did most of Sir Tom's hits. And if you go onto YouTube and seek out covers of rock songs by older pop artists of the time—either on LP or television—you're likely to hear a large orchestra delivering the Swinging London sound. [Pictured above: Tom Jones, Priscilla Presley and Elvis Presley]
As Tony and I stood on 48th St., I asked a group of three tourists to take my picture with Tony using my cell phone. The three women—a daughter, mom and grandmother—happily obliged. The daughter took the image. Then I asked if they knew the song Downtown. "Oh sure!" they chirped almost in unison—singing the opening words as proof: "When you're alone and life is making you lonely..."
So I introduced them to Tony and they went nuts. In fact, a guy and a woman selling things on the street behind them overheard me and they, too, became excited. "Oh, we love that song, thank you so much. Can we take your picture for my father?," the trio asked.
JazzWax tracks: Ultimate Petula Clark (BMG) is about as
good as it gets for her '60s hits here. The Very Best of The Searchers will give you a good selection of the Hatch-produced material here. Julie Grant's material is very hard to come by, reflected by the price here. There are a bunch of Kathy Kirby collections; here's Make Someone Happy as a sample. Where Are You Now: The Pye Anthology here is a solid Jackie Trent set. And here's David Bowie's Pye singles produced by Tony.
JazzWax video: Here's my favorite Petula Clark video of Downtown...
Here's Clark singing Don't Sleep in the Subway...
Here's Clark singing I Know a Place, which Tony told me he wrote as Downtown Part 2...
And here's A Sign of the Times...
JazzWax clips: Here are a few Tony Hatch tracks so you have a sense of his arranging style...
Here's What the World Needs Now...JazzWax tracks: You'll find several collections of the Tony Hatch Orchestra as downloads here.