A Tribute to Dusty Springfield



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


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.”


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.


album Springfield released in 1969, Dusty in

, 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.”


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.


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),

(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.


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


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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