Friday, May 22, 2009

The Sound of Two Decades Colliding

. . . and Nobody Getting Hurt!

That’s how the 1987 musical collaboration between sixties pop/soul legend Dusty Springfield and eighties techno-pop duo the Pet Shop Boys has been described.

The result of this collaboration was, of course, the international hit song “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”

Of Dusty’s appearance in the music video for this song, Gavin Edwards writes:

A hunky stagehand pulls away a red curtain and we cut to the legendary Dusty Springfield, 48 years old at the time of this video, and unfortunately, looking a bit too much like a charismatic drag queen.

Oh, well . . . it was a rather difficult time for Dusty – emerging as she was from “wilderness” years in California. But, hey, you’ve gotta love those hand movements!

Thankfully, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” heralded a renaissance for Dusty – both personally and professionally.

And so without further ado I present this week’s Wild Reed “Friday Night Music Spot” - “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” by the Pet Shop Boys and featuring Dusty Springfield. Enjoy!

Here’s how Paul Howes describes the song and its recording in his book, The Complete Dusty Springfield:

In 1987, there came a watershed in Dusty’s life. She reemerged onto the pop scene with what seemed at the time to be the most unlikely collaboration – a duet with the Pet Shop Boys. “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” was written in the early part of 1985 with Allee Willis; Neil Tennent [of the Pet Shop Boys] says he wrote the words on the top of a Number 22 bus and Willis wrote the “Since you went away . . .” segment of the song. It was on the suggestion of someone who worked in their manager’s office that they approach Dusty to sing the female part, although their record company was not keen. Eventually, at their request, she came to London to record what was to be her second biggest hit [after 1966’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me”].

Dusty said in an interview several years later: “They didn’t direct or tell me what to do. They just used their brains. I think perhaps they didn’t know that it takes me to sing myself into something and then sing myself out of it. The first night I just sang it and proceeded to make it very complicated, which is a tendency of mine. And they were very quiet about it. In the end I had to go to them and say, ‘What is it you want?’ and they said, ‘We want the sound of your voice.’ It never occurred to me that that was enough. What they wanted was for me to sing the song. It was that simple, but because it was so simple I couldn’t get it at all. The second night I went back, I just sang the song.” According to Tennant, he and Chris Lowe missed the moment when Dusty “just sang the song,” thanks to a commitment in Newcastle, performing “Paninaro” on Channel 4’s The Tube.

“All three of us,” Dusty continued, “were working with a guy called Stephen Hague, who’s a marvelous producer, and he showed me at the end of the session roughly what he was going to do with it. It’s the first time in my life, well, the second time, I’ve ever been able to walk away from the studio and completely turn it over and not be worrying about what it was going to sound like because I was in good hands.”

Released in August 1987, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” reached #2 in both the UK and US charts. Unfortunately, Dusty didn’t do any promotion for the single in the UK, although she did make a rather unflattering video with the Pet Shop Boys. When the Pet Shop Boys asked her to promote the single in the States, she turned them down owing to “scheduling commitments.” She did, however, appear at the BPI Awards to perform “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” with them in 1988. The record received a silver disc award in December 1987.

NOTE: The Pet Shop Boys would go on to produce Dusty’s 1988 recording of the theme song for the film Scandal (“Nothing Has Been Proved”) and co-produce her acclaimed 1990 album, Reputation.

For more of Dusty at The Wild Reed, see:
Remembering Dusty
Classic Dusty
Classic Dusty II
Classic Dusty III
Remembering a Great Soul Singer
Time and the River
Soul Deep

For other unusual musical collaborations highlighted at The Wild Reed, see:
Loretta Lynn and Jack White
Kate Bush and Larry Adler
Shirley Bassey and Yello


Donna said...

A great song, Michael. Thanks for sharing.

Tell me, though: What are the words that Dusty is singing right at the end of the song? I've never been able to make them out.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Donna,

At the end of the song Dusty sings:

We don't have to fall apart,
we don't have to fight.
We don't need to go to hell and back
every night.
We could make a deal.