Petula Clark had already logged seven Top Ten singles in her native Britain by the time she hitched a ride on the British Invasion in late 1964 to achieve stardom in the U.S. with the number one classic "Downtown." By the end of the '60s she had scored six Top Tens in the U.S. and nearly a dozen at home, and her place near the top of the pantheon of British female singers was secured, if short-lived. Essential, then, might be expected to contain all of her major hits, but it falls short. Even if one discounts the American charts -- this is, after all, a British release -- the set is derelict in its omissions of "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love" (number six U.K.) and "My Love" (number four U.K.), both of which were also Top Ten hits in the U.S. And although "I Know a Place" only reached number 17 in the U.K., it was a number three record in the U.S. and certainly more worthy than some of the lesser inclusions here (do we really need to hear her cover of "Games People Play"?). One could also make a case for the chipper "A Sign of the Times," a 1966 single that just missed the Top Ten in America but didn't come close in the U.K. That leaves "Downtown," "Don't Sleep in the Subway" and, most significantly, the Charlie Chaplin-penned "This Is My Song" (number one U.K., number three U.S.), all of which are here. After that, the selection seems something of a crapshoot. Why bother, for example, leading off with Clark's cover of the Little Peggy March doormat anthem "I Will Follow Him," a hit in neither the U.K. nor America, when 1961's "Sailor," not included on the comp, had been Clark's first number one record in England? That isn't to say that Essential isn't a fun collection, only that it's not an accurately titled one. "Call Me" and "You're the One" (hits, respectively, for Chris Montez and the Vogues), both written by Tony Hatch, also responsible for "Downtown," sport classy arrangements and swingin' vocals, and Clark actually does a credible job of interpreting a soul tune, "Every Little Bit Hurts," a hit for Brenda Holloway in the U.S. and the Spencer Davis Group in the U.K. Less successful are her covers of the Beatles "We Can Work It Out," the Everly Brothers "Let It Be Me" and the Turtles "Happy Together," but Clark finds a more fitting groove as the '70s kick in and she takes on lighter material like Bread's "If." ~ Jeff Tamarkin, Rovi
Track samples provided courtesy of iTunes
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