Elvis Costello, that adept and masterful wordsmith, best summed up the wonder of Dusty in his sleevenotes to the reissue, of what is widely regarded as her finest album, in fact one of the finest albums by anyone, Dusty in Memphis, when asked what words best describe the quality of her voice and singing; “I’m damned if I know” was his verdict.
Seemingly from the gods, her breathy, vapour-like voice and singing were a gift to us, and today (March 2nd) marks the tenth anniversary that it fell silent, a month before her 60th birthday. Yes, Dusty Springfield’s been gone for a full decade. I remember stepping into Oxford St tube and seeing the Evening Standard placard proclaiming that ‘Pop Legend Dies’ and wondering who they could mean. That it was Dusty was a true shock to me, being that she was (and still is) my favourite female singer. That she’d been ill was by the by; to me she was immortal and, thanks to the wonderful invention of recorded music, she is.
Elton John said that “I think she is the greatest white singer that there ever has been”. He, unlike I, didn’t specify gender. So, better than Elvis, Tom Jones and Scott Walker. You can argue with that but, you must admit, he’s not far wide of the mark. Whether delicate, aching ballads of love or heartbreak, a gentle bossa nova or belting out soul-drenched orchestral pop, she handled all perfectly.
“Ten years!” my friend Lynn has just exclaimed “where does time go?” Indeed. None of us are gonna be around forever. Tomorrow is my grandad’s funeral. He was wonderful, all that a grandad should be. He liked Italian opera, Paul Robeson and Jerry Lee Lewis, from where my love of music and a wide ranging, yet discerning, palate stems. The memories he has left me will never fade.
My Dusty favourites (Just a Little Lovin, I Don’t Want to Hear it Anymore, How Can I be Sure, The Colour of Your Eyes, The Look of Love and a couple of dozen others) work well as a reminder to know who you love and cherish them while you can. She loved cats too. Bless you, Dusty, and thanks.
Youtube is awash with clips from tv specials and her own show. Here’s a few to get you started. This Goffin/King break-up song turns into an Atlantic soul stomper and is one of the highlights of Dusty in Memphis, recorded with the legendary Jerry Wexler at the controls. Audio only.
If you don’t find this the most achingly wonderful accordion and string-powered performance in the history of pop then you need boiling in vinegar. Apols that the sound quality of this clip is not from the top drawer, but Dusty’s voice is. The voice and arrangement perfectly capture the yearning and poignancy of this one-sided love song.
Two of my favourites put together with a montage of smashing pics. All Cried Out (n.b. not written by Alison Moyet as wikipedia would have you believe!) is one of her earliest singles and Ain’t No Sun Since You’ve Been Gone, is the exhilarating opener for 1968’s Dusty…Definitely, my favourite Dusty album. This track is arranged by a 22-year-old John Paul Jones, less than a year from joining Jimmy Page’s new group Led Zep.
One of the greatest musical crimes must be the cabaret circuit medley. Dating, I guess, from the days when theatre owners would turn over a couple of houses a night and put on a showcase of five acts, with a fifteen or twenty minute slot each, the format was a favourite of variety show tv producers. This clip from an Andy Williams show forces six songs (including some of her very best) into four minutes. The exquisite and sublime Barry Mann/Cynthia Weill song Just a Little Loving is butchered down to 26 seconds. I am not a vengeful man, but I hope that whoever was responsible suffered some sort of suitable misfortune.
Not all tv producers are idiots, however, another favourite trick back in the day was to pair two big stars for a duet, like Cilla and Marc Bolan or Dusty with Tom Jones or Englebert Humperdinck…
…or Dusty and Jimi Hendrix! Wow!!!