Dusty Springfield achieved the impossible in 1963; from being the lead vocalist in The Springfields (essentially light easy listening and loved equally by mums & dads), she transformed herself overnight into the "Queen of the Mods", the voice of her generation, an eternal beacon in British popular music. She got away with it because she was finally singing her truth; what had gone before had been fine, but essentially an act. She expressed tenderness and vulnerability ("My Colouring Book"), raunchiness ("Don't You Know", "Nothing"), and took with ease to the newly blossoming Motown licks ("When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes"). Add to this the debut perfect pop single ("I Only Want To Be With You") and it seems in hindsight that she almost single handedly dragged British Female singers screaming into the 60's.
That first album, "A Girl Called Dusty"(1964) sounds raw today. The production techniques in the UK hadn't quite caught up with Dusty yet. But her singing is filled with rare passion ("You Don't Own Me") and it was clear that something very special had begun.She paid homage to the girl groups who had preceded her on two Shirelles classics - "Mama Said" & "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?".
1965's follow-up, "Ev'rything's Coming Up Dusty" has recently been described by Q Magazine as an album in it's own genre as perfect as The Beach Boys "Pet Sounds". Praise indeed. Here Dusty takes on the U.S. Soul material that she loved so much, and gives one of the greatest performances of her career. For me, "Ev'rything's Coming Up" is a masterpiece of singing. Perhaps today the inclusion of her live-act staple "La Bamba" seems a little lame, but at the time it was fitting.
Throughout this period Dusty slayed us with a succession of great pop singles: "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself", "Losing You", and the grossly underrated "Your Hurting Kinda Love". At this time in the U.K. it was not usual for an artist to include their hit singles on albums. Dusty's albums were therefor re-packaged for the U.S. and those versions never seem quite right to my ears. The singles kept coming - "In The Middle Of Nowhere", "Some Of Your Loving", her only UK No.1 "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me", "Going Back", "All I See Is You". These were heady days, and Dusty could do no wrong.
The influence of the supper clubs started to be heard on "Where Am I Going?"(1967), as Dusty's career veered in that direction, with the inclusion of Broadway showstoppers "Come Back To Me" & the title track. However, there were more departures from the norm on this album. For the first time arrangers other than Ivor Raymonde were brought in, and a new subtelty was heard, allowing Dusty's singing to grow. Without losing her soul roots ("Take Me For A Little While"), ("Chained To A Memory") Dusty also showed us a tenderness & heartache rarely heard from a pop singer ("If You Go Away"), ("Welcome Home").
Exactly a year later "Dusty....Definitely"(1968) was released. Using the same format as the previous album, one side was filled with the soul material ("...Piece Of My Heart"/"Love Power"), while the other showed the sensitivity of the maturing Dusty ("Who"/ "I Think It's Going To Rain Today"). It's a faultless collection, showing that Dusty had finally outgrown mere "pop" status. Bacharach was still there, and Dusty returned to Motown covers for the first time since "When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes"(A Girl Called Dusty) and "Can I Get A Witness"("Dusty" E.P. 1964).The great irony was, that this UK produced album was released in the same month as her new single - "Son Of A Preacher Man".
We had to wait until April the following year for the album "Dusty In Memphis"(1969). The expectancy in the air was almost tangible as we wondered how "our Dusty" would sound with the soul masters who had previously backed Aretha & the likes. The album was a surprise. Restraint was the keynote; Dusty singing for the most part in her tender "reed-like" voice, making the moments of soaring soul ("Don't Forget About Me") all the more thrilling. The songs were from the catalogues of all the great Americal writers Dusty had always loved - Goffin/King, Bacharach/David, Randy Newman. Producer Jerry Wexler clearly had not forgotten the first time he heard Dusty, singing "Some Of Your Lovin'(single, Sept 1965), as he gave 4 of the tracks to it's writers, Goffin/King. Dusty was always at her most comfortable singing the well-written soul tinged ballad, as on "Ev'rything's Coming Up Dusty"(1965), the previous recording highspot.The moment on "I Can't Make It Alone" when Dusty pleads "...Help me....... you know I need you..." is the single most heart rending thing I have ever heard on a record. She was masterful on "Memphis". The album should be required listening for every fledgling vocalist. Note:The commonly held belief that "Memphis" didn't chart in the U.K. is wrong. The reason that the album fails to appear in the Guinness Book of British Hit Albums is that from Feb 12 1969 - June 11 1969 The record Mirror chart was reduced to a Top 15, having previously listed the Top 40. In that period "Memphis" charted for 2 weeks in the New Musical Express chart, peaking at No.14. (Thanks to Patrick Kent for providing information from Helmut Mummenbrauer.).
More than a year passed before the release of "A Brand New Me"(1970), or "From Dusty With Love", as it was know in the U.K. Dusty was once again in the midst of U.S. soul musicians, this time in Philadelphia with Gamble & Huff. The difference from the previous album was that in "Memphis" Dusty was with soul cats at their peak, while in Philly they were in the early days of what was later to become a 70's soul dynasty. Although there are great moments ("Lost", "Brand New Me"), there is no material of the kind of depth that Dusty was used to. Despite this, Dusty's performance gives the songs an authority that would have been impossible with a lesser artiste. There is a poignant delicacy to "Never Love Again" & "Let Me Get In Your Way" that echoes Bacharach.
1972's "See All Her Faces" contained contributions from 4 different production teams. Almost a compilation of unreleased but unrelated tracks rather than an album, it's to Dusty's credit that the listener is kept riveted through the widely varying work. Dusty is at her best on the Latin American rythyms of "Come For A Dream" & "See All Her Faces", her restrained vocals captivating. The album also contains "Yesterday When I Was Young", the last great Dusty ballad of the Philips era.
On "Cameo"(1973) Dusty teamed up with the hot team of Steve Barri & songwriters Dennis Lambert & Brian Potter, who were at that time churning out hits for Tavares(Don't Take Away The Music/Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel) and The Four Tops(Keeper of The Castle/Aint No Woman Like The One I've Got).They presented Dusty with a beautiful set of 6 of their own songs, plus covers from the Motown catalogue(I Just Wanna Be There) & David Gates(The Other side of Life) bringing her solidly into the 70's. They were rythmic, soulful songs, but with a depth & sophistication that required a singer of Dusty's calibre, and she delivered. She sings with authority, and soars over the tracks in top form. Of All The Things, Who Could Be Loving You Other Than Me and Van Morrison's Tupelo Honey are three highlights from an album that hasn't a dud. The only downside was the cover. Even the gatefold sleeve in the States couldn't disguise the dull design.
"Cameo" was followed by a fallow period in Dusty's recording career. She did another album - "Longing" - for Dunhill, but it was never released, although tracks from it are to appear on the forthcoming boxed set, "Simply Dusty".
Then came "It Begins Again"(1978).Produced by Roy Thomas Baker, this saw Dusty in a completely different setting, with West Coast musicians and arrangers weaving her a more relaxed, MOR background to showcase her vocals. And she excelled. On "I'd Rather Leave While I'm In Love" and "Sandra" Dusty expressed an adult understanding of the material that other interpreters would have fallen far short of. She wasn't afraid to tackle a song about a prostitute's need to be loved for herself - "Love Me By Name", and there was still the nod to Motown, with a re-reading of Martha & The Vandellas' "A Love Like Yours(Don't Come Knocking Every Day). Dusty was rewarded with her first chart album in the U.K. for eight years.
"Living Without Your Love"(1979) followed 15 months later with a similar formula, albeit slightly less successful.The ubiquitous Motown cover (The Miracles' "You've Really Got A Hold On Me"), opened an album that oozed sensuality. Highlights include the soft funk of "Be Somebody", the beautiful "I Just Fall In Love Again", and "I'm Coming Home Again" which was destined to stop the show at the Drury Lane concerts that followed.
In this period 2 U.K. produced singles were released. "Your Love Still Brings Me To My Knees", and "Baby Blue" both charted in the lower reaches of the Top 100 and were recorded in England for Phonogram before her contract expired.
There was a 2 year gap before the U.S. only release of "White Heat"(1982), a radical album, even by Dusty's standards. It was unlike anything she had done before, with the exception possibly of the track "Time And Time Again" which was pretty much a classic Dusty ballad. The remainder of the album is an experiment with electro sounds & rythyms with Dusty's voice electronically processed much of the time. I, for one, loved it. It was clear that Dusty would never be content to rely on her reputation, and was forever an innovator. The highlights are "Soft Core" and "I Don't Think We Could Ever Be Friends".
In 1985 Dusty recorded one single, "Sometimes Like Butterflies" for Hippodrome Records in the U.K.
5 years later, the Pet Shop Boys had asked Dusty to guest on their single "What Have I Done To Deserve This?", and the album "Reputation"(1990) was released with input from them and other producers including Dan Hartman. The material is for the most part strong, and diverse, with Dusty most at ease on "Arrested By You" and the Hartman produced "Time Waits For No One". The best song in the collection was not released until 1997 - "Any Other Fool". However, Dusty scored her biggest album hit for 24 years.
Dusty's final album was recorded in Nashville and London. "A Very Fine Love"(1995) was delayed while Dusty fought the cancer that was to finally beat her. Produced by Tom Shapiro, with input from Mary Chapin Carpenter & K.T. Oslin, AVFL contains some of the most heart rending singing that Dusty ever gave us. "Go Easy On Me" reveals a pain that is almost tangible, and still makes very difficult listening even now. But there are moments of uplifting power - "Roll Away", the final single, and "Lovin' Proof", the spoof Soul track that had Dusty feeling like she was "one of The Spinners!". The final cut - "Where Is A Woman To Go" wouldn't have been out of place on "Memphis".
Is it only in hindsight that we can detect in the voice that something is "amiss"? I don't know, but I do know that Dusty Springfield left behind her the greatest body of work of any British singer of popular song. No one will ever match the achievements of these classic albums, or the great hit singles. If you are new to her work, seek them out; and remember - she made it sound so easy, but it took dedication to her craft, courage and self-belief to fight for the sounds that we hear today on these tracks.
©2000 Simon Bell.
Details of these albums appear on The Archive pages.