Dusty Rides Again

Being good wasn't always easy, but seven Dusty Springfield reissues prove that "the White Negress" never settled for less than great

In 1972, an eclectic Dusty Springfield album called See All Her Faces was released to every market but the United States. Unfortunately, we colonists always lost a good half of her faces in the transatlantic transfer of her discography.

Despite the American Philips label having issued five Dusty LPs plus a greatest-hits collection, dozens of tracks--including some of her best worldwide hits--never saw a domestic release date. By the early '70s, only her Golden Hits would remain in print stateside. Not even Dusty in Memphis, the critically acclaimed 1969 album with her last big U.S. hit, "Son of a Preacher Man," escaped early deletion, practically vaporizing off store shelves after selling 100,000 copies.

Springfield lost her long battle with breast cancer last month, just 11 days before getting a long-overdue look of love from this country: induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That honor paled when compared to the overwhelming outpouring of tributes she was showered with back in England. Even without the O.B.E. award she was given by the Queen last December, she was always reigning pop royalty there. The New Musical Express voted her Best Female Vocalist in 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1969. "In those days, I actually did sort of sound fairly daring for a white singer," she was once quoted as saying, and no one flinched when pop idol Cliff Richard dubbed her "The White Negress" because her soulful voice could back up any hyperbole made on her behalf.

Being the first British artist to chase The Beatles up the U.S. charts, Dusty used her celebrity to champion the cause of soul music in England, bringing over Motown acts before anyone had heard of them and featuring them on her TV specials. Her affinity with blacks didn't stop with their music. In 1964, she was deported from South Africa after refusing to perform for segregated audiences, long before apartheid was a cause celebre.

"I wasn't making any major statements," she told the British press. "I just thought it was morally the right thing to do." If that isn't textbook soul, it ought to be.

Prior to her death, Rhino reissued an expanded version of Dusty in Memphis with nearly a dozen never-before-heard bonus cuts, and a companion set, Dusty in London, which collects most of See All Her Faces and Dusty Definitely, albums she released to the rest of the world before and after her Atlantic tenure. This month they're joined by the rerelease of those five Philips albums, sprinkled with some never-before-released bonus cuts.

While the music on each is unquestionably excellent, it is criminal that Mercury/PolyGram didn't take the same care as Rhino in filling in the blanks. The packaging is cheap, with blurry cover reproductions, scant release date information and no latter-day commentary. Only the original liner notes are replicated, and if they're to be believed, Dusty was 23 years old in 1964 and in 1967! In Mercury's haste to get these CDs out by March 23, they left in sloppy sonic mistakes, like clipping off the first trumpet note of "I Wish I Never Loved You" midblow, which makes Dusty's heart-wrenching plea not to be "tortured, tormented, cheated and mistreated" that much sadder.

The American configurations of her albums were somewhat ludicrous to begin with, but are still religiously adhered to. Her third album, which Philips gave the thought-provoking title of Ooooooweeee!!!, repeated two songs already available on her debut Stay Awhile, a mistake still not rectified now that so many tracks were available to substitute.

Since UK Mercury already did the legwork on their rereleases (each had extensive liner notes, eight bonus cuts instead of three and better packaging), why didn't they just issue those here? Was this down to sheer laziness or do they just expect to sell scores of these novelties to her rabid European following as each CD has one never-before-released bonus cut?

Perhaps we should just be happy they're available again since they refute the common belief that Dusty had never made convincing blue-eyed soul music before going to Memphis to record with Aretha's band and producer; that they single-handedly masterminded her greatest recording achievement. Stanley Booth's original liner notes brag that "the Memphis sessions revealed something new in Dusty's singing--a softness, a vulnerability that is moving and attractive." Hello? Ever heard of "The Look of Love," Stan?

Unlike Aretha, who floundered commercially for five years on Columbia before being given the Atlantic kiss of life, Dusty's career was in no need of rescue. Enormously successful, Dusty exercised complete control over what songs she released and recorded in England. The Philips albums and especially the "lost British recordings" on Dusty in London reveal that all the ingredients for that breakthrough Memphis album were already in place.

Rather than adding something new to Dusty's repertoire, Atlantic producers simply went after a uniformity of mood, subtracting all the distracting elements of Dusty's versatility. Gone were her attempts at hard R&B belters, gone were the splashy show tunes and the booming BBC orchestrations plucked from her variety show. In a sense, before Memphis she'd made variety albums and, depending on your personal tastes, Dusty Definitely might come in one or two cuts away from achieving Memphis' sublime perfection.

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