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.

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.

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.

Some later Atlantic singles are included here, including the Son of "Son of a Preacher Man," "Willie and Laura Mae Jones." Dusty in London also digs up breathtaking tracks like "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life" that shouldn't have languished in a vault for 29 years.

While Dusty always made being alone sound like the cruelest injustice, her post-Pet Shop Boys recordings would never scale the heights of desperation that even "What Did I Do to Deserve This" hinted at. Most of the tracks on her last few albums are self-affirming songs of survival written by 12-steppers for more famous 12-steppers to sing.

In the end, her brother Tom Springfield could console her fans with the news that Dusty told him last Christmas that she's had a ball, had absolutely no regrets and that the greatest love of her life was her cat.

In the world of pop, it matters little whether that perfect love is ever secured or held onto for longer than two minutes and 45 seconds. It's the sound of the search and the glow of the torch we remember more. Rest in peace, Dusty, and pray for those of us down here to find that love we lost. And we'll pray that Elton John doesn't feel compelled to rewrite a "Candle in the Wind 1999" for you.

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