Recently, as I have been exploring the world of jazz, I have come across a number of great artists that I can recall my parents listening to hosting cocktail parties in the 60's. One of those was Ms. Dusty Springfield. Give this a read and perhaps stream a recording or two of hers and give it a listen !
Hailed by many critics and fans as perhaps the best pop and soul singer Britain has ever produced, Dusty Springfield charted several 1960’s hits in the US and the UK. Unfortunately, her soulful work is often overshadowed today by that of her contemporaries like Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick while her pop style is often confused with fellow female singers Petula Clark and Jackie DeShannon among others.
Springfield was born Mary O’Brien in 1939 on the outskirts of London. Her love of music came early, and by the time she was a teenager she had developed the husky, bluesy voice and style that would eventually dub her as the “Queen of Blue-Eyed Soul.” Dusty took her stage name after joining a folksy trio known as “The Springfields” which achieved some success on the British charts in 1962-63 as well as some rare success (for a pre-Beatles British act) in the US with their song “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” reaching the Top 20 here. In late ‘63, the trio disbanded allowing Dusty to pursue a very successful solo career. Over the next five years, she became a staple on the charts with a string of classic hits such as “I Only Want to Be With You”, “Wishin’ And Hopin’ “, and “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” to name just a few. She made regular television appearances on both sides of the Atlantic and came to somewhat personify the “Swingin’ 60’s.” It was a role and stereotype that she did not relish.
Despite her run of success, Dusty was not incredibly pleased with her body of work. Long an admirer of Motown and the Memphis soul sounds epitomized by Stax Records, she came to the US in search of new music and recording techniques that would capture her soulful side. Her search for her “true sound” reached its’ pinnacle in 1968-69 with the recording and release of her classic album, still often overlooked, titled simply “Dusty in Memphis.” The album, anchored by the sultry classic “The Look of Love” and the seminal and soulful “Son of A Preacher Man” did not find commercial success initially, but eventually gained wide acclaim as one of the great recordings of the 2Oth century. In 2020, the album was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant---and for being one of the most important recordings produced by a woman in the rock era.”
Springfield’s career after “Dusty in Memphis” proved to be inconsistent. She moved to America in 1970 and was beset by drug addiction and other personal issues which included persistent questions about her sexuality. She continued to record and had a career renaissance of sorts when she provided vocals on the Pet Shop Boys 1987 hit “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” which reached #2 on the charts in both the US and Europe. More notice came as her songs were used in movie soundtracks and discovered by new fans. This included the use of “Son of a Preacher Man” in Quentin Tarantino’s film “Pulp Fiction” in 1994. Dusty passed away in 1999 following a long battle with breast cancer. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two weeks later by her friend, Elton John. A biopic of Dusty Springfield depicting her career and her fight for sexual equality is currently in the early stages of production.
Originally published in 406 Woman magazine - Off Key Notes January/February 2024