Oh Dusty, Dusty, Dusty.
When I think of the 60s (and no, I wasn’t there) nothing evokes the era more to me than Dusty Springfield. Yes, I know: I could choose from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones – I could go on, but really – the 60s to me is Dusty. She has a voice unlike any other songstress before or after her, there’s just something so powerful and impassioned about it (ok, Adele comes a close second, but that’s for another day). There’s no duff song in her catalogue, and we all know at least one song by her. Some more famous than others, but they’re all in our conscious’. Her voice just begs you to turn the stereo up loud and get transported right back to the heady days of the 1960s.
Which is why I find her album: Dusty in Memphis surprising. Released in 1969 it was an absolute flop, not a commercial success and was pretty much deleted soon after its release. Yet it contains one of her most memorable songs – Son of a Preacher Man. Billy Ray was a Preacher’s son.. See, you can already hum and sing along in your head (apologies if this turns into an earworm). In fact, the copy I have is a US import – it’s almost dropped off the face of the UK and not available on vinyl. Yet it is now consistently ranked amongst one of the best albums of all time. Indeed it has a spot in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Why did it all go so wrong back in ’69? Dusty was an already established pop and soul singer, her hits included Look of Love, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me and Wishin’ and Hopin’, Her perfection made her an unstoppable singing powerhouse, and often responsible for introducing and championing new musicians and bands. However, the tumult of the late 60s music scene was taking its toll – what was fashionable wasn’t in the blink of an eye. Dusty was going in and out of fashion like a fiddler’s elbow. So she decided in the late 60s to head over to Tennessee and join the Atlantic Label (the same label as Aretha Franklin etc).
Perhaps it was a gamble, but I really think it paid off. It’s a really simple album about love. It doesn’t profess to be anything else. What makes it special is that her voice gives soulful depth to the songs. What could be perceived as quite superficial when sung by others, she makes lasting – Son of a Preacher Man is a fine example (let’s face it, Pulp Fiction just wouldn’t be the same without it). It’s evocative rather than overwhelming, stripped back almost – something that was going against the grain for the time. When I listen to the album it always feels that she just rocked up and is doing nothing more than signing the songs. She’s not looking for anything else, there’s no hidden agenda. This is Dusty Springfield at her most honest. She was made for this album.
When I hear people talk about R&B today, I’m like: Whaa?? No, Dusty in Memphis is R&B, utterly R&B, possibly one of the finest examples of R&B. And perhaps this was why it didn’t succeed on its release. She was after all known for Pop. To me, this album is like eating a bar of chocolate after a hard day – totally satisfying and guilt free.
From the first bars of Just a Little Lovin’ to the closing of I Can’t Make it Alone you’re in for a smokey treat, Dusty positively purrs and this album is well worth a listen and gets better every time.
Oh, and if we didn’t have Dusty – we wouldn’t have had Led Zeppelin. She persuaded Atlantic to sign them.
Think on that.
Stand Out Songs:
- Windmills of the Mind
- Son of a Preacher Man
- Just a Little Lovin’
The Knitty Gritty:
So this album is available on iTunes, Spotify, Deezer.. and Tidal (but by all accounts this is already going down the pan).
Other albums to listen to:
What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You – Aretha Franklin
Blue – Joni Mitchell