Downtown” was written by Tony Hatch, who produced Clark’s 1964 recording. The pair have been working together since Hatch helped producer Alan A. Freeman on Clark’s 1961 No. 1 hit “Sailor.” Hatch became Clark’s regular producer in 1963, but their first five collaborations didn’t do well on the charts. That changed when he saw the neon signs illuminating Broadway on his first trip to New York in the fall of 1964.
Hatch wrote the core of the song when he reached 48th Street in downtown Manhattan, the tune came on while he waited for the traffic lights to change. According to some sources, he originally envisioned “Downtown” as a doo wop R&B song, and planned to pitch it to the Drifters, whose song “Sweets for My Sweet” inspired Hatch to write “Sugar and Spice,” that became a hit with the searchers. According to that story, it never occurred to Hatch that a white woman could even sing it.
The more accepted story is that Hatch Clark pitched four songs he got from New York music publishers for a recording session in London on October 16, 1964 at Pye Studios. None of the songs excite Clark, and she asked what he’d written. He played her the unfinished “Downtown,” scathing the vocal melody because the lyrics were just a few lines and the title word. Clark told him to finish it; she didn’t care if it was a hit or not. He finalized the text about half an hour before the session.
Hatch scored his arrangement to make the massive orchestra accompanying Clark sound like a rock band, and the accompaniment was done live rather than tracked. The musicians were bassist Brian Brocklehurst and a pianist; drummers Ronnie Verrell and Bobby Graham keep time with other percussionists; a string section consisting of eight violinists, two violists and two cellists; a horn section of four trumpet players and four trombonists; and a woodwind quintet on flutes and oboes. Vocal group the Breakaways sang backup.
And then there was the guitar section. The session players were veteran finger benders Vic Flick, Big Jim Sullivan and Jimmy Page, who would turn The New Yardbirds into Led Zeppelin.