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

1. Stay Awhile--I Only Want to Be With You (1964)
2. Dusty (1964) With the addition of singles, EP tracks and B-sides, crafty Americans managed to squeeze two LPs out of her European debut A Girl Called Dusty. Both U.S. album covers feature Dusty in a dungaree shirt with rolled-up sleeves, looking like Samantha on Bewitched about to nose-twitch and skip out of housework. But make no mistake, Dusty works hard for the money. Showing more in common with male vocalists than most "girl singers" of the day, Dusty identified the peak and valleys of her vocal range and sang against those boundaries, allowing breaks and cracks to show through.

It's hard to imagine any single white female shouting herself hoarse attempting to do a Ray Charles tune, and Dusty invests "Don't You Know" with Little Richard yowls and wolf calls that will disappear in her later work. She practically hyperventilates on "Can I Get a Witness," where most singers who've covered this Marvin Gaye tune just sleepwalked through and let its done-to-death piano riff carry the day.

Early on, Springfield got a reputation of being difficult because of the demands she placed on session players and engineers to go beyond their sleepy England comfort zone and capture American sounds. When you consider how sterile and shoeboxy most British studios were in the early '60s, her painstaking replica of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound on "Stay Awhile" seems even more remarkable.

All three of her 1964 U.S. hits are tacked on Stay Awhile, along with her notorious cover of Gene Pitney's "Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa," reputedly the first time a female pop singer covered a man's tune without radically altering the lyrics. Although Dusty guarded her private life, she admitted in 1973 her sexual Dutch door could swing either way. Yet it was probably her aggressive stance on "Tulsa," picking up a strange guy at a hotel and sending her fiance a cruel Dear John letter, that endeared her to gay men more than any other track. Or maybe it was her admission on Dusty's liner notes that she hates "desperately masculine men."

Springfield was always brutally tough on herself, and her extreme self-consciousness kept her from insisting on co-producing credits until 1972, even though she was known to sit at the mixing board and move her own faders. Even lesser known are attempts at songwriting which snuck out on her B-sides. One of Dusty's bonus tracks, the astonishing "I'm Gonna Leave You," captures the look and sound of the Memphis set three years before the fact with neither a Jerry Wexler nor American Studios sideman in sight! Like many of Dusty's best tracks, it's hard to imagine it being more perfect, as if it fell from heaven fully formed.

3. Ooooooweeee!!! (1965) It's this album cover that first showcased Dusty's famous "panda look." As to why she applied mascara to her eyelids, Dusty attributed it to her near-sightedness. Thousands of girls followed in Ms. Magoo-like fashion, and Swinging London was born.

The demanding U.S. release schedule meant Philips raiding the cupboard even when there weren't enough provisions. They padded this one with two songs from her first album, but they also unearthed songs that were never released anywhere else, making this record a widely sought-after import overseas. It also contained the bulk of her Dusty in New York EP, recorded in the Big Apple with Ray "The Streak" Stevens doing her arrangements. One wonders why she didn't return to the States to record her next album, unless it was a personal crusade to see if she could get the Philips studios to sound half as good.

4. You Don't Have to Say You Love Me (1966) In October of 1965, British fans were treated to a 13-song long player titled Everything's Coming Up Dusty, parceled in a gatefold sleeve with a lavish 16-page booklet that devoted an entire page to Dusty's hands, all reproduced on the import CD. Americans had to wait another six months for a domestic, no-frills version. Although not a concept album, that it opens up with the Ray Charlesish "Won't Be Long"--which has her waiting for her lover man's train to pull in--and ends with the gospel raver "Packin' Up"--which puts her right on that train singing "I'm not chained, I'm no longer bound"--is one fortunate piece of programming. Naturally, every U.S. Dusty album had to open with whatever was her hit single at the time, so You Don't Have to Say You Love Me omits "Packin' Up" and two other cuts which this reissue restores, but dangles the excised tracks you should've had in the first place as bonus cuts.

Dusty's schizophrenic recording approach was to sing whatever she liked, meaning she might jump from the authentic Latin sound of "La Bamba" (with some incongruous James Bond orchestral stabs at the end) to show tunes like "Who Can I Turn To" and undiscovered gems like Randy Newman's paranoid "I've Been Wrong Before," which Elvis Costello covered many years later. That the Italian-translated "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" became such a huge worldwide hit gave credence to the belief that Dusty was being groomed to suit a more adult audience. Parents chilled the Dubonet and waited to stake their claim.

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