A Tribute to Dusty Springfield

In
her teens, however, Springfield transformed herself
into a glamorous blond singing sensation with the help of
a whole lot of hairspray (“I used so much hair spray
that I feel personally responsible for global warming”
Springfield once quipped), joining the girl group The Lana
Sisters. In 1960, she started belting tunes for her brother
Tom’s band, The Springfields, with pal Tim Field.

It was during the successful folk trio’s tours of
the US that Dusty got turned onto the sound of Motown, a
sound she tried to export back with her across the Atlantic.

Springfield ran into difficulties with the British male
musicians who were backing her on her first solo-efforts:
“Motown hadn’t released any records in Britain…
I wanted to use those influences in a country where they
were still playing stand up bass and the only black music
they knew about was jazz … They knew what I wanted but
the last person they were going to take it from was a bee-hived
bird.”

When asked why these British session men had
trouble adapting the hip American R&B sound, Springfield
explained, “I would say there’s a singular lack
of ‘feel’ for what I can only describe as ‘funk.’
We can produce the most marvelous big, fat sounds, but we
seem incapable of producing the sort of loose, uninhibited
sort of funk.”

But
with her first solo-single “I Only Want To Be With
You,” Springfield made it clear to the world in 1963,
at the age of twenty-four, that the small, free-spirited
young woman not only had an undeniable feel for funk, but
that she had the heart-cracking, lived-in voice to belt
it out. Holding her own with Motown’s Martha Reeves
in a live special for the BBC, Springfield soon won the
respect of Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler, who invited
her back to America to make a record in the same studio
where her all-time heroine Aretha Franklin had recorded.


The
album Springfield released in 1969, Dusty in
Memphis
, unanimously considered her greatest by critics,
is perhaps best described by Hoerburger: “She
rippled over and curled around the songs of carnality, of
love’s psychosis (the hypnotic ‘Windmills of
Your Mind’) and mostly, of love’s memory, love
in exile, love as asymptote. It was some of the most emotionally
literate music ever put to vinyl; while other pop singers
were still wondering who wrote the book of love, Springfield
was teaching a course in comparative literature.”

Springfield’s
best known tune from this album is probably the toe-tapping
"Son of a Preacher Man," reinvigorated in popularity
in 1994 by its inclusion on the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino’s
hit film Pulp Fiction. Fans of The
L Word
will recognize another song on the album
"Just a Little Lovin’" from the show’s season-two soundtrack.

Although
Dusty in Memphis
has since been named one of the Top
10 Coolest Records by Rolling Stone, at the time
it did not do glowingly on the charts, leading Springfield
to spiral into an alcoholic and cocaine-filled depression
in which she stayed throughout most of the seventies. She
tried throughout that decade to make multiple comebacks
with successive albums A Brand New Me (1970),
Cameo
(1973), It Begins Again (1978), and
Living Without Your Love
(1979) to no avail. For years
she traipsed in and out of hospitals, rehab, and rocky relationships.

Living
in Los Angeles, which Springfield called “a sick place,
under the cover of everyone being so healthy and sunbleached,”
Dusty went into recovery from drugs and alcohol in 1983.
In 1986, a comeback finally did stick, in the form of “What
Have I Done to Deserve This?” a song she did with
new wavers The Pet Shop Boys that soon became a worldwide
hit, re-launching her career. Moving back to her native
England, in 1990 she put out the fairly-popular Reputation,
followed by the album A Very Fine Love (1995),
before her death in 1999.

At her funeral, The Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant dubbed Dusty Springfield “fab” — a
sentiment with which, despite her tragic moments, few could
argue.

Immeasurably influential to vocalists to come with her characteristically
vulnerable, gutsy, rawly-emotional voice, Dusty Springfield
will long be remembered for breaking ground for women in
music in the ‘60s. It will be a delight to see Dusty’s
heyday played tribute to in Jessica Sharzer’s upcoming
film about her life, and satisfying, too, to see her lesbian
romantic life depicted, especially if it is done so honestly.

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