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Dusty Springfield

Ostensibly the most iconic female singers to come out of the swinging 60s, British beauty DUSTY SPRINGFIELD channelled timeless blue-eyed soul, gospel, R&B and pop into every heart-rendering song she interpreted. Loved and respected by her peers, from composers BACHARACH, ELTON and the PET SHOP BOYS, to singers ARETHA and ADELE, Dusty’s girl-next-door charm was inscribed on several unforgettable global hits, including `I Only Want To Be With You’, `I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’, `In The Middle Of Nowhere’, `You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’, `Goin’ Back’, `Son-Of-A Preacher Man’ and her 80s PSB collaboration `What Have I Done To Deserve This?’.
Born Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien, 16 April 1939, West Hampstead, London, “Dusty” took her early inspiration from the likes of Peggy Lee and Jo Stafford. An ex-convent girl, her initial music industry experience came as a member of The Lana Sisters, an all-female trio who released a handful of singles for Fontana Records, including 1960’s Irish-only hit `You’ve Got What It Takes’.
Much more fruitful were The SPRINGFIELDS, a WEAVERS-styled traditional trio which comprised Dusty, her brother Tom, and friend Tim Feild. A couple of hits (`Breakaway’ and `Bambino’) established them as one of the most popular British folk acts of the era and, in 1962, the group even cracked the US Top 20 with `Silver Threads And Golden Needles’. Subsequent home-grown hits (`Island Of Dreams’ and `Say I Won’t Be There’ both reaching the Top 10), they featured newbie Mike Hurst, who’d replaced Field, late in ‘62. A subsequent trip to the States introduced Dusty to the burgeoning girl-group craze and, heavily influenced by both Motown and the “teen symphonies” of PHIL SPECTOR, she embarked on a solo career in 1963, leaving the remaining members to fold forthwith.
Arranger Ivor Raymonde helped realise her ambitions and, later that year, DUSTY SPRINGFIELD hit the Top 5 (US #12) courtesy of `I Only Want To Be With You’, a dizzying pop-soul classic in the trademark SPECTOR mould. A series of transatlantic hits ensued, including `Stay Awhile’, `I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’ (later covered by The WHITE STRIPES), `Losing You’ and `Wishin’ And Hopin’’; the latter one of her most successful Stateside singles. With an earthier, huskier style than most of the girl groups, SPRINGFIELD was equally adept at carrying off rockier material, and the “British Invasion” led by The BEATLES only served to increase her popularity in the States; STAY WHILE / I ONLY WANT TO BE WITH YOU (1964) {*7} followed on from her Top 10, UK-only debut LP, A GIRL CALLED DUSTY (1964) {*7}.
Spearheading her US-only DUSTY (1964) {*6} and OOOOOOWEEEE!!! (1965) {*6} LPs, `All Cried Out’ and `Losing You’ didn’t quite repeat her winning formula, although on home-soil, `In The Middle Of Nowhere’ and `Some Of Your Lovin’’ – unlisted on her 1965 Top 10 showing, EV’RYTHING’S COMING UP DUSTY (1965) {*7} – proved that her status was still reasonably high.
While bringing her trademark emotional punch to material by the cream of US writers such as BACHARACH & DAVID, GOFFIN & KING, et al, SPRINGFIELD topped the chart (US Top 5) in spring ‘66 with the epic `You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’. That year, the hits had kept a-rolling off the conveyor-belt by way of `Little By Little’, `Goin’ Back’ and `All I See Is You’, whilst the exclusive Stateside set, YOU DON’T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME {*6}, furnished her with another Top 100 entry. Subsequent singles, `I’ll Try Anything’ and `Give Me Time’ (the latter twinned with BACHARACH & DAVID’s Casino Royale filmic ditty `The Look Of Love’), reaped modest rewards but healthy respect once again, although album-wise WHERE AM I GOING? (1967) {*6} and its US-only rival THE LOOK OF LOVE {*6} were drowned out by the flowering psychedelic movement.
The times were indeed a-changing again, and with only one major Top 5 hit in the UK with `I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten’ (a total flop across the Big Pond), she was left in no doubt that she needed a drastic music make-over. Newly signed to the mighty Atlantic Records (Philips retained her UK licence), ensconced in a Deep South studio with country-soul guru, Jerry Wexler (alongside Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin), SPRINGFIELD came up with her last major (US/UK Top 10) solo hit in the classic `Son-Of-A Preacher Man’ (later Dusty’d down for a new generation courtesy of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction flick).
The rise of the “serious” rock artist meant it wasn’t enough to simply churn out superior interpretations of other people’s songs as in the hit-less and disconnected DEFINITELY… DUSTY (1968) {*6}. Nevertheless, she gave it her best – many say greatest – shot with 1969’s DUSTY IN MEMPHIS {*9} album. For this meisterwork, the singer reeled off a thrilling set of sultry, smoky soul-pop that invested in the work of the aforementioned GOFFIN-KING (four including `Don’t Forget About Me’), BACHARACH-DAVID (`In The Land Of Make Believe’), along with RANDY NEWMAN’s `I Don’t Want To Hear It Anymore’ and `Just One Smile’, Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil (`Just A Little Lovin’’) with a rare emotional resonance. While Eddie Hinton & Donnie Fritts’ `Breakfast In Bed’ (a hit later for UB40 featuring CHRISSIE HYNDE) struggled to find love among the post-psychedelic bubblegum, Dusty’s beautiful interpretation of MICHEL LEGRAND’s cinematic classic, `The Windmills Of Your Mind’ (sung by NOEL HARRISON in the film The Thomas Crown Affair), lifted her back near the US Top 30. Sadly, under the reverence of rock critics at the time, the album itself was a commercial failure destined for cult acclaim.
Subsequently teaming up with the soon-to-be famous Philly writers, Gamble & Huff, Dusty delivered another respectable set of blue-eyed soul in 1970’s A BRAND NEW ME {*7}, from which a US Top 30 title track appeared; note that the LP emerged as FROM DUSTY… WITH LOVE in Britain. Apart from a pre-DAVID CASSIDY version of `How Can I Be Sure’ (b/w `Spooky’) reaching the Top 40 on home-soil, her hits had dried up; 1972’s SEE ALL HER FACES {*6} – actually recordings from 1969-71 – fulfilled contractual obligations rather than lifting her back into the limelight.
No other major hits were forthcoming however; SPRINGFIELD relocated to L.A. where she recorded one further album, CAMEO (1973) {*6}, before withdrawing from view as she tackled her spiralling drug dependency and secret bi-sexuality. Save for some backing vocals on soulstress ANNE MURRAY’s `Together’ album, Dusty was out of the picture until the late 70s, when she made a failed comeback attempt for Mercury Records with both IT BEGINS AGAIN (1978) {*5} and LIVING WITHOUT YOUR LOVE (1979) {*4}.
Although she did secure a minor hit with one-off single, `Baby Blue’, a US-only comeback album, WHITE HEAT (1982) {*4}, fell flat. Single after single release had little effect on the buying public, or for that matter her fanbase, who’d lost touch with her since her move abroad. Film themes here and there, and a cover collaboration (`Private Number’) with another name from the past, SPENCER DAVIS, did little to propel her flagging career.
It would take the patronage of the PET SHOP BOYS to finally see Dusty back in the spotlight, the camp synth-pop duo employing her services on their summer 1987 international smash, `What Have I Done To Deserve This?’. Early in ‘89, she had her first Top 20 hit in her own right since the late 60s with `Nothing Has Been Proved’, a raspy-hued cut taken from the controversial political movie, Scandal. The accumulated exposure helped ensure high-to-modest chart places for `In Private’ and the bpm title track from her long-awaited REPUTATION (1990) {*6} comeback album, upon which Messrs Tennant and Lowe produced a side (two) of tracks.
Going way back to her roots, and after further minor hit collaborations with CILLA BLACK (on `Heart And Soul’ in ‘93) and DARYL HALL (on `Wherever Would I Be’) – the latter from her return to Nashville nostalgia a la A VERY FINE LOVE (1995) {*5} – there were bright things again predicted for Dusty. Tragedy struck, however, as she was diagnosed with breast cancer during the album’s recording. Strong and resolute, she was still able to raise a few smiles and cheer with comedy duo French & Saunders, who interviewed her – in their own tongue-in-cheek manner – on a promotional TV documentary entitled Full Circle.
Sadly, after years of battling, she succumbed to the disease on 2 March 1999, aged 59. One of the UK’s most gifted and charismatic female vocalists, Dusty was both loved and revered by fans, musicians and critics across the pop/rock/soul spectrum. It came as little surprise then, when she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame shortly after her death.
© MC Strong/MCS 2000-2008/GRD-LCS // rev-up MCS Aug2016

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