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

5. The Look of Love (1967) That the UK incarnation of this next album was called Where Am I Going? indicated a conflict between pleasing the kids or the adults. Every "girl singer" from Lesley Gore to Connie Francis went the expected supper-club route once the hit singles stopped coming, but thankfully no Dusty at the Copa album ever appeared.

Her American handlers felt nightclubs were the way to go and programmed all the ballads and swing-band standards on side one while relegating the soulful stuff to the back of the bus, figuratively speaking, on side two. While people screamed sellout when others did it, no one else except maybe Tom Jones approached Dusty's proficiency with so many different styles of music.

But even he never whispered with greater authority than Dusty did on this title track. Springfield once revealed "that breathy stuff, that is a voice tearer-upper of the first magnitude." If Dusty needed further proof that she should have torn up her American Philips recording contract, she could point to their stupidity in having repeated the same unflattering photo of her on two consecutive album covers, this and the Golden Hits album. As Dusty pix go, it's rather brutal. Quite simply, she looks like a raccoon. With white lipstick!

6. Dusty Definitely (1968) In contrast, Dusty never looked lovelier than on this cover, lounging in a spangling beaded gown Sandie Shaw would've scratched her eyes out for. Dusty shortly signed with Atlantic in America, but neither this interim album nor its contents were ever released here. All but two of its cuts appear on Dusty in London, and it's easily her runner-up for best-ever album.

Dusty may have gotten the idea from her last U.S. collection to program all the ballads on one side, but she reverses the priority to give the up-tempo stuff the topside of the album. Like her previous Everything's Coming Up Dusty, she includes songs from her three favorite writing sources: Bacharach-David, Goffin-King and Randy Newman, a formula which the Memphis LP doesn't deviate from, except to add two American Studios creations.

7. Dusty in Memphis (1969) Ironically, she came to the U.S. not expecting to do her "big ballady things," but that seems to be what her new handlers were itching to do. Intimidated to be backed by Aretha's studio musicians, Dusty kept a reverent distance from the coterie of high notes the Queen of Soul is frequently seen with. "Son of a Preacher Man" was actually written for Aretha, but, believing it wouldn't be appropriate because her father was a reverend, she passed on the song, only to fall in love with Dusty's version and record it herself soon after. She'd later do the same with Dusty's late '69 Gamble and Huff single "A Brand New Me."

Springfield's reputation for being difficult to work with largely stems from her being so hard on her own contributions. Most producers have glowing things to say about her voice, but usually opt never to work with her again. Although touted as her "First Recording With the Memphis Sound," neither the musicians nor producers Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin repeated this groundbreaking exercise. Instead, she was shipped to Philadelphia to cut an album with Gamble and Huff.

A Brand New Me, released the following year, failed to build on Memphis' success because the uniformity of the Gamble and Huff compositions makes little use of her strengths. After Memphis, Springfield lost her confidence, and only on her co-produced See All Her Faces does her innate sense of appropriate material shine through.

Discouraged by dwindling record sales here and abroad, she left her fate in the hands of American producers, switching and discarding them like so many losing lottery numbers. The expanded edition of Dusty in Memphis contains an aborted album project with Archies producer Jeff Barry, weighted down with songs that would insult even a cartoon's intelligence. Some tracks don't even list writers credits for the songs, meaning even the people who wrote 'em couldn't be bothered to remember 'em.

8. See All Her Faces (1972) Like Ray Charles, Dusty left Atlantic for ABC Records but didn't record a country album until 1995!

Instead, she did a 1973 album Cameo that Four Tops producers Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter insulated with their self-penned songs, only some of which were good. A second collaboration with the pair was shelved, and Dusty descended into alcohol and drug abuse, which could explain why the only recording she did from 1975-78 was singing background vocals for Canadian snoozebird Anne Murray.

Yet she released this stellar non-U.S. album that shows her at the peak of her powers, co-producing again with longtime collaborator Johnny Franz and picking songs worthy of her tonsils. It certainly doesn't sound like desperation to see what works when she jumps from the soft samba title track to an unlikely, sexy version of Roy Clark's "Yesterday When I Was Young." You have to replay the spoken intro several times to decide whether she's saying the love she knew or the love she needs has always been "the most destructive kind." Where can I get some of that destructive lovin' for me, you answer back. Plus her soul-sister resume is updated from the Supremes and Martha Reeves to the Honey Cone and Laura Lee, gritty R&B numbers like "Crumbs Off the Table" and "Girls It Ain't Easy" that would've sparkled on any post-Memphis set, as the bulk of this material was recorded during her Atlantic years.

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