Friday, April 16, 2021

Remembering and Celebrating Dusty

Today is the 82nd anniversary of the birth of the late, great British pop/soul vocalist Dusty Springfield (1939-1999).

Dusty’s been in the news lately as a compilation album, Dusty Springfield: The Complete Atlantic Singles 1968-1971, has topped various charts for both reissued material and R&B/soul music, and garnered widespread and positive praise.

My interest in and admiration for Dusty is well documented here at The Wild Reed, most notably in Soul Deep, one of my very first posts.

Other previous posts worth investigating, especially if you’re new to Dusty, are Dusty Springfield: Queer Icon, which features an excerpt from Laurence Cole’s book, Dusty Springfield: In the Middle of Nowhere; Celebrating Dusty (2017), which features an excerpt from Patricia Juliana Smith’s insightful article on Dusty’s “camp masquerades”; Celebrating Dusty (2013), which features excerpts from Annie J. Randall’s book, Dusty!: Queen of the Postmods; Remembering Dusty, my 2009 tribute to Dusty on the tenth anniversary of her death; and Remembering Dusty, 20 Years On, my 2019 tribute on the twentieth anniversary of her death.

And, of course, off-site there’s my website dedicated to Dusty, Woman of Repute (currently only accessible through the Internet archive service, The Way Back Machine).

My website’s name is derived from Dusty’s 1990 album Reputation, and as I explain in Soul Deep, it was this album that introduced me not only to Dusty’s music but also to her life and journey – much of which resonated deeply with me. Indeed, my identification with aspects of Dusty’s journey played an important role in my coming out as a gay man.

Above: Dusty, amidst the flowing streams, standing stones and picturesque Celtic ruins of County Clare and the Galway coast for the making of the music video for “Roll Away,” a track from her last album, 1995’s A Very Fine Love. The liner notes of the 2016 2-disc expanded collector’s edition of A Very Fine Love include my reflections on this beautiful song, reflections which are also shared in the previous Wild Reed post, Time and the River.

In honor of today’s 82nd anniversary of Dusty’s birth, I share “Don’t Forget About Me,”* a track featured on The Complete Atlantic Singles and first released on Dusty’s landmark 1969 album, Dusty in Memphis. It’s followed by NPR’s Oliver Wang’s review of Dusty Springfield: The Complete Atlantic Recordings 1968-1971.


In 1968, Dusty Springfield – then an established pop star in the U.K. – flew across the pond to conquer the U.S. by signing what was meant to be a long-term deal with Atlantic Records. The label sent Springfield down to American Sound Studio in Memphis, Tenn., hoping to impart some of the Southern soul magic that had worked so well for Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin. Those sessions are now collected in the new anthology Dusty Springfield: The Complete Atlantic Singles 1968-1971.

One of the first songs Springfield recorded at American Sound Studio – “Son of a Preacher Man” – had literally been written for Franklin. But when the daughter of a preacher man initially passed on it for being a bit too on the nose, it went to Springfield instead, becoming one of the defining songs of her career. It cemented her reputation as a so-called blue-eyed soul singer, a rather awkward industry euphemism for “white artists recording black music” – never mind that Springfield’s eyes were actually brown.

Atlantic followed with a more scattershot approach to her recordings. Sure, there were naked attempts at reproducing the same soulful vibe as “Son of a Preacher Man,” like the laid-back “Willie and Laura Mae Jones.” But the label also kept Springfield in the same crossover pop lane she’d paved in the U.K., with the familiarity of “In the Land of Make Believe.” There were also a few funky dance tracks, such as “Haunted,” that never quite caught the right groove.

To be clear, Springfield had her share of gems with Atlantic as well. One of the last sides she recorded for the label, the bluesy ballad “I Believe in You,” was released as a stand-alone single late in the fall of 1971.

Springfield begged out of her contract soon after, but even if the Atlantic years didn’t create the kind of chart-topping success either party wanted, it wasn’t a footnote. Not only did it yield her most acclaimed album, Dusty in Memphis, but Springfield would enjoy a prolific career up until her death in 1999. Along the way, her American sojourn also set a marker that generations of British singers have sought to follow since. Springfield managed to do all this with understatement, not by belting her way to the top, but with the coolest of croons.

– Oliver Wang
"Dusty Springfield’s Take on Southern Soul Gets Another Look"
NPR News
January 21, 2021

* About “Don't Forget About Me,” Paul Howes writes the following in his book, The Complete Dusty Springfield:

Although it wasn’t widely known at the time, “Don't Forget About Me” had already been recorded by Dusty in a London studio a year before she cut the track with Jerry Wexler for the Memphis album. The two versions differ considerably, not only in arrangement and production, but also in Dusty’s vocal styling. On the Memphis cut, Dusty’s sweet, husky vocals hover over the notes, swooping down for the harsher refrain surrounded by horns, funky guitars and, of course, the Sweet Inspirations. The arrangements and production is more polished than the British recording and is overall more exciting. The song had previously been recorded by Barbara Lewis and P J Proby but never sounded like this.

Related Off-site Links:
Revisiting the Tender Sounds of Dusty Springfield – Amanda Petrusich (The New Yorker, February 1, 2021).
Dusty Springfield: The Complete Atlantic Singles 1968-1971 – A Review – Alfred Soto (Pitchfork, February 15, 2021).
Dusty Springfield: The Complete Atlantic Singles 1968-1971 – A Review – Terry Staunton (Record Collector, February 25, 2021).

For more of Dusty at The Wild Reed, see:
Soul Deep
Dusty Springfield: Queer Icon
Remembering Dusty, 20 Years On
Remembering and Celebrating Dusty (2020)
Remembering and Celebrating Dusty (2019)
Remembering Dusty (2018)
Celebrating Dusty (2017)
Celebrating Dusty (2013)
Remembering Dusty (2009)
Remembering Dusty – 14 Years On
Remembering Dusty – 11 Years On
The Other “Born This Way”
Time and the River
Remembering a Great Soul Singer
A Song and Challenge for 2012
The Sound of Two Decades Colliding

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