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Soul Serenade: Claudine Clark – “Party Lights”

Christmas has passed, and I hope it was a wonderful one for you and your family, but there is still one party to go this year. That party will be taking place on New Year’s Eve, which is just a few days away. Unfortunately, Claudine Clark was not allowed to go to the party and she was left having to just watch the party lights while her friends were having fun. Her misfortune however was our good luck, because it resulted in a classic single.

Clark was born in Macon, GA in 1941, but grew up in Philadelphia where she studied music at Coombs College. Her recording career began when she was 17 years-old. She signed with Herald Records, and moved to New York City. Her debut single for Herald, “Angel of Happiness,” and didn’t get any love and a brief stint with Gotham Records followed. Success continued to elude Clark however.

Claudine Clark

It was when she moved on the Chancellor Records that her one and only magic moment happened. Her first single for the label was “Disappointed,” and at first it seemed like it was going to be another flop for the young singer. But as it has happened many times in pop music history, DJs turned the single over and began to play the flip side. That was where a song written by Clark called “Party Lights” lived, and that record took her almost all the way to the top. The single went top five on the R&B chart and the Billboard Hot 100 in 1962.

The future seemed as bright as those party lights until Chancellor decided to follow up Clark’s success with something called “Walkin’ Through a Cemetery.” The single was upbeat and fun, but it did nothing to capitalize on the success of “Party Lights.” Any momentum that Clark’s career had ground to a halt. Her next single, “Walk Me Home From the Party,” was the natural follow up to “Party Lights,” but by then the magic had vanished. Sometimes small decisions have big consequences. If Chancellor had chosen the right follow up to “Party Lights,” and a second consecutive hit had resulted, who knows where Clark’s career could have gone. A subsequent single called “Telephone Game” also failed to gain any traction.

Clark later attempted to write a rock operetta, and did some recording for Swan Records under the name Joy Dawn, but hers would be a one-hit wonder career. In the end Clark was back on the outside, looking wistfully at the party lights, and thinking about what could have been.

Happy New Year. I hope the lights of 2014 are bright for you.