30 January 2006



RCA Victor's Kitten With A Whip
A Stuff 'n' Laura Production
by Donny Jacobs and Laura Pinto
There are certain entertainers who epitomize an era. One such entertainer is Ann-Margret! The image of her gyrating figure, dressed in a turtleneck sweater and black body stocking, with her flaming mane lashing the air brings memories of the 1960s surging back. Her look was borrowed from 1940s sex goddess Rita Hayworth, her singing voice suggested more than a shade of Paul Anka, and her stage persona was probably inspired by Sammy Davis, Jr, the hippest of 1950s hipsters. However, the way she attacked a dance rhythm was all '60s, and all her own! Of all the starlets in Hollywood back then, this ravishing redhead had the twistin'est torso, the bouncin'est breasts, and the wigglin'est Watusi around. She was the personification of the mad, mod "go-go" girl and Sweden's most exciting export . . . a buxom ball of fire.

Born in 1941 in Stockholm, Ann-Margret spent her early years in a rustic Swedish hamlet known as Valsjobyn. When she was five, she and her mother Anna sailed for New York City. Once ashore, they were reunited with her father, Gustav Olsson. After working for five years to save enough money, he was ready to make a home for his family in the United States. Eventually, they settled in Wilmette, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Daddy's little girl was unable to speak English at first, but that situation changed quickly; only a year after her arrival in America, she was winning spelling bees at school.

Even so, Anna Olsson sensed that her daughter was painfully shy. To prevent her withdrawing into a shell, Mrs. Olsson enrolled the child in dance classes. Ann-Margret's quiet reserve vanished the minute she stepped in front of an audience. She excelled at dancing, and as she grew into her teens, aptitudes for singing and acting also emerged. A different side of her personality was released on stage; both a tigress and a pussycat seemed to share living space inside her body!

As that body grew more lithesome and curvaceous, Miss Ann-MEOW learned how to use it to the best advantage. Her sex kitten persona first manifested itself in 1959. With her ripe bosom heaving provocatively, and her creamy thighs peeking out from under a chartreuse sarong, she started a "Heat Wave" at a high school talent show by making her "seat wave!" Her raw sexuality outraged some parents, but most audiences loved it when Ann-Margret played the "bad girl." A few years later, so would movie directors; they'd delight in casting her as oversexed nightclub singers, saucy saloon girls, adulterous wives and the like. After high school, A-M joined a jazz combo, The Suttletones, and performed at various venues in Las Vegas and southern California. However, it was her appearance in George Burns' Christmas stage show of 1960 that paved the way for both a recording contract and a movie deal.

Ann-Margret's bold and booty-licious style of dancing led to her being dubbed "the female Elvis." Indeed, her Swedish snake hips could match Presley's pelvis move-for-move! It was almost inevitable that she and Elvis appear onscreen together(in 1964's Viva Las Vegas), and perhaps, too, that they cut discs for the same record company. In January of 1961, the RCA Victor label tapped A-M to succeed their resident sex kitten chanteuse, Eartha Kitt. Her succession of producers (including Elvis' A & R men Steve Sholes and Chet Atkins) never quite decided what to do with her. Her RCA catalog ricochets between jazzy nightclub fare, Blues ballads, Country popcorn balls, Rock candy nuggets and full-throttle production numbers from her movie musicals.

The Scandinavian Siren's similarities to Elvis didn't include comparable success on vinyl, but increased collector interest over time has swelled the value of her early sides into the hundreds of dollars. Not unlike the oh-so-feline Miss Kitt, Ann-Margret doesn't exactly sing. She purrs, or snarls, with the barest hint of a continental accent. She's often called "the Kitten with a Whip," a reference to one of her '60s starring vehicles. It turns out that her "whip" is a wicked cat-o'nine-tails that consists of treble clefs, notes and bars . . . and when she cracks it, honey, those black dots go flyin' every which way!

RCA's Sunset Boulevard Studios in Hollywood were the venue for most of Ann-Margret's recordings. Her initial session on 9 February 1961 was conducted by HB Barnum who, along with R & B star Johnny Otis, penned her first single. A lesser artist surely couldn't have made the yearning lyrics of "Lost Love" sound so sincere; this sultry Rock ballad showcased the Scandinavian Siren's interpretive skills to perfection. It missed the charts, though, despite being coupled with a frenetic, Ray Charles-type arrangement of "I Ain't Got Nobody." On February 27, Miss Ann-MEOW returned to the mike for the first of three consecutive studio dates with arranger Marty Paich. These sessions gave birth to the singer's début album, And Here She Is, a subdued effort in which her sexy voice rarely rises above a purr. Still, when she begs "Baby, Won't You Please Come Home?" you wonder why the jerk ever went away . . . and when the Vixen from Valsjobyn implores "Teach Me Tonight," it's a bet that volunteers will line up left and right!

And Here She Is

The Swedish sex bomb spent April thru November of 1961 cutting her second album, On The Way Up! Most of these dates took place at RCA's Nashville studios. Chet Atkins was at the production helm and, alternating with The Anita Kerr Singers, the legendary Jordanaires were on hand to provide terrific background vocals. Countrified covers of Elvis' "Heartbreak Hotel," Peggy Lee's "Fever," and Don Gibson's "Oh! Lonesome Me" strike an energetic contrast with the songs from her first album. Otis Blackwell's "Slowly," an ode to sexual foreplay, is a highlight; Ann-Margret pan-fries this R-rated midnight snack over a low flame.

The Bodacious Brunette (she wasn't yet a redhead) applies soulful Patsy Cline stylings to "Could It Be?" and a vocal version of Floyd Cramer's instrumental hit "Last Date." Then she cracks her whip on "What Do You Want From Me?" Her aggressive reading gives this routine if-you-don't-love-me-let-me-go lament a swift kick in the overalls. A-M snarls and spits her way thru "I Just Don't Understand," a tough-talkin' ballad punctuated by Charlie McCoy's wailin' Blues harp riffs; it became her highest-charting Pop item. Her only other chart singles also sprang from these sessions: "It Do Me So Good," a gospelly number from bluesman Willie Dixon that the sensuous Swede damn near has an orgasm singing; and "What Am I Supposed To Do?," a torch song in the mold of Elvis's "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" that finds the Wilmette Minx at her most kittenish.

On The Way Up

Work on Ann-Margret's third RCA album began in April of 1962; titled The Vivacious One, it definitely lives up to its name! Here are the uptempo performances Rock'n'Roll lovers had been waiting to hear, and the Swede doesn't disappoint: she attacks each song like a predator pouncing on prey. The LP's most memorable cut is undoubtedly "Thirteen Men," a swingin' meditation on sex after The Bomb; the Vixen from Valsjobyn sizzles as she sings about a bevy of post-annihilation suitors who compete for a chance with "the only gal in town." Doubles entendres aplenty, combined with A-M's growling vocals, made this song (a version of which appears on the flipside of Bill Haley and The Comets' original "Rock Around The Clock" single) a cult classic from the git-go. Our sex kitten summons "Jim Dandy" with a come-hither stance that might've made LaVern Baker blush, and she invests "Make Love To Me" with so much naked lust, don't be surprised if you break out in a sweat near the climax (the climax of the song, understand?)!!!

On the jazzy, sensuous "Señor Blues," Miss Ann-MEOW and arranger Bob Florence create a sleazy South-of-the-Border nightclub atmosphere that's so convincing, you can almost taste the tequila and lime. Mam'selle Olsson serves up a sparkling vin rosé called "C'Est Si Bon," a tune associated with her predecessor, Eartha Kitt; the Swede's version is lively, lusty and Latin-flavored. A fun-loving kitten comes out to play when A-M is given Jimmy Durante's zany signature tune "Inka Dinka Doo" for a toy; feeding off the silliness of her background singers, she can barely stifle a spontaneous giggle near the song's finale . . . but playtime's over when the Scandinavian Siren starts popping her fingers, tossing her tresses and swiveling her snake hips. Once she declares "There'll Be Some Changes Made," baby, it's all over! With its abundance of style, sass and sex appeal, The Vivacious One is arguably the only RCA Victor LP that captures the essence of Ann-Margret.

The Vivacious One

By now, the Vixen from Valsjobyn had begun singing on movie soundtracks. Her first film was Pocketful of Miracles. She sang "The Riddle Song" in this Bette Davis vehicle, and played Davis' winsome brunette daughter. The Swede's second film appearance was the 1962 remake of Rogers and Hammerstein's State Fair, in a role that permanently transformed her image. Director José Ferrer made her over as a redhead, which she remains to this day; the fiery color seemed to mirror the fire in her soul.

The flames burn high in a sizzling production number called "Isn't It Kinda Fun?" A-M morphs from a gingham-clad farm girl into a wild nymphet wearing a barely-there black miniskirt and stiletto heels! Changing vocally as well as visually, she slides into her trademark cat-in-heat growwwwll for the rest of the song. Ann-Margret's first starring vehicle, Bye Bye Birdie, showcased her vocal mettle like never before. The film's most famous scene is the opener, where she wails the title tune while rushing towards the camera. Reprised in the closing segment, her perfomance of "Birdie" runs the gamut from adoration to sobbing desperation to mocking ridicule(how's that for range?)! The Wilmette Minx celebrates femininity on "How Lovely To Be A Woman" and displays virginal naïveté on "One Boy," a tender duet with Bobby Rydell. Strawberry-blonde hair whipping savagely around her head, the Minx comes totally alive during an off-the-hook ensemble performance of "A Lot Of Livin' To Do."

Viva Las Vegas boasts four fabulous Ann-Margret performances: A catty A-M and a cocksure Elvis do amorous battle singing "The Lady Loves Me" . . . the Kitten wins the fight by pushing the King into a swimming pool! She switches from sassy to sensual for their duet on "You're The Boss," a randy Leiber-Stoller offering (cut from the film, but later restored) that oooooozes libido. Miss Ann-MEOW sharpens her claws on "My Rival" and, flaunting her charms in a slinky leotard, expresses her "Appreciation."

Ann-Margret and Elvis

In 1965, her Sexyness took a sophisticated turn in The Pleasure Seekers, a remake of Three Coins In The Fountain set in Spain. The theme song, purred by A-M in a nightclub scene, is a showstopper from the pens of Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. The Ravishing Redhead alternately caresses and whips the tune as she slithers across the stage in a curve-hugging flamenco dress. ¡Olé! Between films, Ann-Margret found time to guest-star on the primetime TV cartoon series "The Flintstones," portraying a singer named (what else?) Ann-Margrock! Her character coos a gentle lullaby, "The Littlest Lamb," to baby Pebbles in an early scene, and later twists and snarls to a rocker called "I Ain't Gonna Be Your Fool No More."

Back on the big screen, the Scandinavian Siren portrayed an American fashion buyer in the City of Lights for Made In Paris. Inexplicably, Trini López bags the groovy Burt Bacharach theme song, while A-M has to settle for "Paris Lullaby," a snippet of a duet with Louis Jourdan. In 1966, she played her sexiest role yet: The Swinger! When not doffing her clothes at the slightest provocation, the Swingin' Swede manages to deliver three tunes: The sock-it-to-me theme song (performed, naturally, on a swing), the provocative bedroom production number "I Wanna Be Loved," and "That Old Black Magic," sung while she strips down to a scandalously skimpy bikini.

The Swinger

Right after the release of Pocketful Of Miracles, Ann-Margret was invited to appear live at the 1962 Academy Awards and sing the theme from another movie. Several months after that steamy performance of "Bachelor In Paradise," RCA Victor decided to make the Oscar-nominated song the title track and centerpiece of her next album. Bachelor's Paradise was meant to fully exploit A-M's sex kitten persona, and do for her musically what And God Created Woman did for Brigitte Bardot cinematically. Unfortunately, producer Steve Sholes and arranger Hank Levine took a wrong turn at the Garden of Eden and never found their way back! None of the tracks do justice to the Swingin' Swede's spunk and soul; with the possible exception of "Romance In The Dark," the songs suffer from sleep-inducing arrangements that never perk up. This album is a tragic waste of talent.

Bachelor's Paradise

Vinyl was never wasted on Ann-Margret, though it must have seemed that way to RCA executives when her hits dried up so quickly. Still, new singles under her name didn't stop appearing until 1966. Some of these releases (like the pseudo-James Bond theme "Mister Kiss Kiss Bang Bang") were obvious non-starters, but several others had considerable chart potential. Don Robertson's Country standard "I Don't Hurt Anymore," usually played in ballad tempo, turns into a honkin' R & B blaster under Robertson's own baton; seizing the song in her teeth, Miss Ann-MEOW gleefully shakes the stuffin's out of it! "Let's Stop Kiddin' Each Other" sounds like an outtake from the "Hee Haw" television show, but it's a great novelty record; Connie Francis scored hits with similar material. "Man's Favorite Sport" is mmm-marvelous cocktail lounge music, an overlooked gem arranged by a young, unknown David Gates. Presented with leering Johnny Mercer lyrics and a with-it bossa nova beat courtesy of Henry Mancini, Ann-Margret sings as if she were sipping martinis while sprawled naked on a tiger skin rug. Ooh-la-la!

Independent producer Lou Adler made a 1964 studio date with the Swingin' Swede and came up with a bitchy folk/rock rant called "Someday Soon." Written by folksinger and guitarist PF Sloan, it features him abusing his fuzztone knob and soprano Loulie Jean Norman screaming like a banshee in the background! None of which intimidates the Swedish sex kitten, who's at her snarling best on this sullen number. Her Watusi-friendly redux of "You Came A Long Way From Saint-Louis" is another killer. Sadly, all of the aforementioned performances were hidden away on B-sides; radio programmers paid no attention.

In December of 1962, Steve Sholes brought two of RCA's most talented artists together for a little fun and lots of good music. Ace trumpeter Al Hirt, instrumental recording star and Las Vegas lounge staple, joined forces with the Ravishing Redhead, supported by Marty Paich and a roomful of top Jazz players. The resulting LP, Beauty and The Beard (released in 1964) is a joy from start to finish. The Kitten with a Whip and The Bourbon Street Behemoth share affectionate, unscripted banter during every song; you come away feeling as though you've been eavesdropping on something private and special. There's plenty of mutual admiration on display, and not just when the duo romps through a witty version of "Mutual Admiration Society."

There's no shortage of doubles entendres, either: The suggestive wordplay of "Personality;" the up-the-canal shenanigans of "Row, Row, Row;" not to mention the anti-abstinence undertones of "Baby, It's Cold Outside." The duo's at its naughtiest collaborating on Sy Oliver's "T'Ain't What You Do!" In his hippest N'awlins drawl, the big guy advises: T'Ain't whatcha do, it's the place whatcha do it . . . but cool it in case the fuzz is around. Obviously, M'sieur Hirt liked to blow more than just his horn during those hot nights on the bayou! After this Dynamic Duo lazily dip their toes into Ann-Margret's signature tune, "Bill Bailey," he unexpectedly takes the plunge, she follows, and next thing you know, BAM! It's a championship race . . . they cleave the song neatly in half and make a big splash in the process. What else would you expect when Fat Albert tipped the scales at 300 pounds?

The Scandinavian Siren's pet name for Hirt ("Big Daddy") reminds you that this album could easily have been titled Beauty and The Beef! What's really beautiful, though, is the chemistry between the two. She's hot, he's cool. She belts, he blows! She coaxes, and he sings, for the very first time. This act would've made for a kick-ass attraction in the Vegas showrooms; it certainly attracted record buyers! Beauty and The Beard became one of the most popular LPs in Al Hirt's catalogue, going on to be reissued several times. It was Ann-Margret's only charting album.

Beauty And The Beard

A-M's finest RCA Victor recording may be her 1963 cover of "The Best Is Yet To Come." Her treatment of this Cy Coleman song is as brazen as its lyrics; flirting shamelessly with a prospective lover, she does everything but fling her panties at him! Promising an erotic encounter like no other, The Wilmette Minx scoffs: You think you've flown before? Honey, you ain't left the ground! Actually, neither had she.

Forty years ago, the Vixen from Valsjobyn was just beginning her climb up the ladder of success. Her unique combination of American drive and European sexuality powered her rise to the top. On the way up, Miss Ann-MEOW collected numerous Golden Globe awards, Emmy and Grammy nominations, a fistful of top-rated TV specials, a host of sold-out Las Vegas engagements, her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and Oscar nominations for her work in the films Carnal Knowledge(1971) and Tommy(1975). In 1979, producer Paul Sabu took Ann-Margret into Hollywood's Britannia Studios and resuscitated her dormant recording career. She re-emerged as a Rock/Disco diva, adding her own club hits "Love Rush," "Midnight Message" and "Everybody Needs Somebody" to her sizzling stage repertoire.

Today, the sensuous sex kitten of the '60s has matured into a lovely and regal 21st century lioness. The Ravishing Redhead may be past retirement age, but she's as voluptuous as ever and still bursting with talent. She can still send those notes a-flyin' when she cracks her musical whip, too! Never underestimate a Swede who swings . . . it may still be true that the best of Ann-Margret is yet to come.

Ann-Margret Hot

El Vez

El Vez 1

The Fabulous El Vez and His Spicy Sex-Mex Mix
by Donny Jacobs

Perdóneme, señorita . . . but have you heard of The Mexican Elvis? You may have seen him on TV shows like "Oprah," "The Tonight Show," or "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee." You may have read about him in Newsweek, People, Rolling Stone, or The Advocate. You may have caught his cameo appearances in such films as Mi Vida Loca. You may even have heard one of his recent albums: Graciasland, GI(Ay, Ay) Blues, Fun In Español. But believe me, nena, you haven't really seen or heard him until you've done so in person!

If you're not one of the lucky ones who've caught him live during one of his annual tours, then do yourself a favor and get lucky. There's nothing like it! If you think Bruce Springsteen concerts are awesome . . . if Janet Jackson's dancing entrances you . . . if Madonna's stage shows are the most elaborate thing you've ever seen . . . bueno, you probably won't change your mind after seeing El Vez . . . but he'll make your tetas tingle just the same! He puts on a show that's muy provocativo. He gives you sex, art, politics, religion, kitsch, camp, humor and an abundance of Pop culture from both north and south of the border. And instead of a million-dollar budget like Madonna has, he's got a million peso budget! That means you don't have to mortgage your casa in order to buy tickets.

¡Hay mucho comentario! Everybody's talking about him, nena. New York's CitySearch website advises that patrons of an El Vez concert will be treated to an experience akin to taking a Latin-American studies class taught by Liberace! Chicago's Columbia Chronicle states that it's possibly the most fun one can have with pants on! The Celebrity Café's Dominick Miserandino sums up the appeal of a Mexican Elvis performance: "Costume changes! Dancing! The Lovely El-Vettes! Social commentary/criticism, satire . . . the story of Latino history through the music of Elvis Presley."

His recent Boxing with God tour (in support of his new album of the same title) had a Gospel theme and the feel of an old-fashioned tent revival meeting. That is, a revival meeting crossed with a Bette Midler concert, the Ike and Tina Turner revue, a Latino Pride rally, and a night in a strip club! "(My mission) is just to spread the message of love," he proclaims from Graciasland, his rancho in East Los Angeles. "I think I'm spreading the idea of what God is about!"

He's everywhere, even when you're dancing in a nightclub, or having sex, or by yourself at home. But please don't stay at home, nena! Come and see, and hear the message El Vez has to share with you! It's gonna move you, groove you, and make you feel good about your raza. "When people leave an El Vez show," he often says, "I want them to feel happy to be Mexican . . . even if they're not!" He gets a crowd laughing, and singing along, and partying like a roomful of locas. Its more fun than eating chicharrónes with your Uncle Chencho!

Verdad, El Vez is the hottest thing since jalapeño cornbread, and the most radical case of cross-cultural fertilization America has seen since Malinche got friendly with those Spanish conquistadors. But who is this phenomenon? Conceptually, he's the love child of Elvis Presley and Dolores Huerta of the United Farmworkers Union, adopted and raised by Exene Cervenka and The Cisco Kid in a shared child custody agreement. He's as comfortable in a charro suit as he is in a leather jacket. He hangs out with chicks named Gladysita, Lisa Maria, Priscillita and ¡Qué Linda! Thompson, and travels with a Mariachi band that sounds suspiciously like a group of Punk rockers.

With a five-inch pompadour rising off his head, wicked sideburns, and a microphone in his hand, his aesthetic connection to the King of Rock 'n' Roll is impossible to miss. Yet, his pencil-thin moustache evokes Mexican matinée idols like Luis Aguilar, Antonio Badu and Pedro Infante. One minute, he's belting out a '60s rock classic like "Walk A Mile In My Shoes," and the next, he's putting a modern spin on a century-old Spanish-language folk ballad like "La Negra." He's a cultural contradiction: A singing and dancing melting pot. His Anglo and Latino influences are so thoroughly integrated, you can't tell where one ends and the other begins! And really, nena, he wouldn't have it any other way. "For it to get lost in the translation is, to me, an added bonus," states the man behind the bigote.

In his true identity, the Latino Love God known as El Vez is mild-mannered Robert López, formerly a teenage singer and guitarist with West Coast Punk Rock bands. Born and raised in Chula Vista, California, Rock 'n' Roll was Señor López's passion. "I've been in bands since I was sixteen," he says. "Music has always been a major, major part of my life." But he loved his Latino culture, too, and after spending his young adulthood in groups like Catholic Discipline, Bonehead, and The Zeros, he hung up his Rock n' Roll shoes to become an importer of Mexican folk art. This eventually led to him landing a job as curator for La Luz de Jesús, a Hollywood art gallery devoted to the preservation of Mexican-American history.

So what inspired this art historian and ex-Punk rocker to take the stage as an Elvis clone? Señor López has explained it this way: "(Mexican-Americans) invented the velvet painting of Elvis, and made many busts of him. And when I was a kid in the 60's, I had uncles with continental slacks and slight pompadours in that Elvis style. I thought Elvis looked like my uncles! He looked Latin." But even though he felt an affinity for Elvis Presley, the idea of paying homage to the King didn't occur to him until he saw others doing it.

In 1988, he put together an exhibit of Mexican-American folk/pop art inspired by Elvismania. Anglo Elvis impersonators appeared in conjunction with the exhibit, and after seeing them in action, Señor López felt that he could portray Elvis just as convincingly as they could. Actually, he felt he could do Elvis better! To prove it, he journeyed to Bad Bob's nightclub in Memphis, Tennessee shortly afterward, and entered a contest for Presley impersonators. He was the only Mexican-American in competition, un pocho solitario contra muchísimos good ol' boys. ¡Madre de Dios!

"It was a dare to myself," he later told writer Jim Washburn. "I figured: If I make a fool of myself, it'll be in Memphis, where they won't know who this fool is! That's what made it fun . . . I was taking chances and didn't care." Combing his dark brown hair into an exaggerated version of the hairstyle he remembered his uncles wearing, he took the stage as El Vez for the first time. To the music of familiar Elvis tunes, he sang original song lyrics that drew from the Mexican-American experience. The crowd loved his humorous and uniquely Latino take on the Elvis legend, and an unlikely star was born. The consensus was that he had created a thinking man's Elvis . . . with a south-of-the-border twist.

Subsequently, outfitted with an array of bell-bottomed jumpsuits in dazzling hues of red, white, green and gold(Señor's favorite color), he hit the nightclub circuit. "The first five years," he remembers, "I wasn't always on the road. I still ran an art gallery at the same time, and I would sporadically do El Vez shows." However, the act proved so popular that it soon brought an end to his quiet life as a demure museum proprietor, and returned him full-time to the Rock 'n' Roll lifestyle. Fame, riches, glamour, groupies and income tax problems were his true destiny, claro que sí. Soon, he had a trio of trashy muchachas known as The Lovely El-Vettes accompanying him on stage, and somewhat later, a band that he christened the Memphis Mariachis.

Over time, as the character evolved, it became clear to anyone paying attention that imitating Elvis was no longer what Robert López was doing. "I was just making it up as I went along," he says. "I had these opportunities, and I would just try to get away with as much as I could. Sometimes I still do that, you know: How can I push this envelope, or take it over the top?" While pushing that envelope, he has managed to create a totally unique character: a Mexican Elvis impersonator with an agenda all his own! Nowadays, his stage presence is as likely to evoke Carmen Miranda or the Artist Once Again Known as Prince as it does Elvis Presley. The King probably wouldn't have been caught dead in a see-through jumpsuit made of black fishnet, but El Vez has the huevitos to boldly go where no Elvis impersonator has gone before! "I use the spirit of Elvis," Señor has explained, "the skeleton, the frame, and then I go to Mars, the Revolution, the Church, or wherever I choose. Elvis (is my) frame of reference."

Robert López couldn't pretend to be Elvis and make the cultural and political statements he loves to make in song. It wouldn't work! But as El Vez, he can comment on barrio life, criticize US immigration policy, recount the legend of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl or sing the praises of Mexico's Zapatista rebels, and it all seems perfectly natural! "Some people are just looking at: Oh, here's another great Elvis song, or look what he did to this Elvis song and not even paying attention," he notes. "(But) if they start thinking about César Chavez . . . to me, that's a wonderful thing." Éste hombre López, he is so clever, nena! The audience has so much fun, it never suspects that it's in the process of being educated and indoctrinated. ¡Sí señor!>Robert López is a music as well as an art historian, and that fact comes across loud and clear onstage. He acknowledges that there's a big catalog of musical history in his repertoire. Steeped in four decades of American popular music, his song catalog ranges from Elvis evergreens like "Hound Dog" and "Heartbreak Hotel" to covers of Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Simon and Garfunkel, James Brown and Edwin Hawkins Singers tunes. "All my favorite parts of Rock n' Roll I added up to make the El Vez show," he says. "I used David Bowie, Kiss, The New York Dolls, Iggy Pop . . . Little Richard, Mick Jagger . . . old-school stuff like Eydie Gormé or (Mexican ranchera singer) Vicente Fernández . . . Mexican Rock 'n' Roll bands like Los Teen Tops and Los Locos del Rítmo . . . all those (stars) blend into the music stylings of the show, and the performance stylings, and costumes. It's all influenced by those bands, and many, many more."

The golden oldies just seem to come pouring out of him, but they sound fresh and new. That's because he Mexicanizes them! The Pointer Sisters' "Yes We Can Can" becomes "Mexican Can" after being dipped in salsa verde. James Brown's "Say It Loud!" goes on a trip to East LA and comes back as "I'm Brown and I'm Proud." The Mexican ancestry of Lloyd Price's "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" is revealed in "Señora Lupe." Elvis' "Suspicious Minds" crosses the border and is transformed into "Immigration Time"; wrapped in a corn tortilla, "Viva Las Vegas" tastes like "Viva La Raza"; and those fabled "Blue Suede Shoes" look more like "Huaraches Azúles" when El Vez is wearing them. And, nena, you haven't lived until you've heard his show-stopping rendition of "(You Ain't Nothin' But A) Chihuahua!" ¡Sí Señor! Rock critics have unanimously voiced approval of the way El Vez "takes liberties with the songs (in order to) weave his tales and delight the young ladies."

Delight them he does, too, with an act that depends as much on showmanship as politically-charged lyrics. A revolving Disco ball glitters overhead! The Lovely El-Vettes toss their Gloria Estefan hair extensions, and shake their micro-miniskirted Jennifer López nalgas! El Vez dons an ancient Aztec headdress replete with lavender ostrich plumes! Extra-terrestrial Mayan Saucers soar through the air! A vision of the Holy Virgin of Guadalupe magically appears! And there's (nearly) as much bare skin on display as you can find in an episode of "NYPD Blue."

You've heard of Tex-Mex? El Vez has invented something new: Sex-Mex! His show is, in a word, nalga-licious! Ask him why he brings such in-your-face sexuality to the stage, and Señor López shrugs, "Rock 'n' roll is sexy. (It's) the idea of dancing, and music, and sex. The idea with The El-Vettes is, we want to have everyone's tongues hanging out! One or two people in the past have said, 'Oh, isn't it sexist to have girls in skimpy outfits?' But I'm wearing less clothing than they are, and I'm being just as sexual as they are with my dancing. I think that makes it equal-opportunity!"

But does he worry that the heavy titillation factor of his show might distract from his socio-political message? Never, nena. "I'm pretty explanatory with what I'm singing about, (but) everyone's gonna take it on different levels," he believes. "If it turns into something else, about sex, or the dancing aspect of it, that's great! I think you can mix that joyfulness of Rock n' Roll, of dancing and sex, with those other issues at the same time. (So) you'll take what you want and disregard the rest, or you'll come back later and say: Oh! I didn't think about that. That's what you get when you mix it up. It will be interpreted in different ways, and I like that."

Although the character of El Vez is based on the Elvis Presley of later years, and Señor López is himself a middle-aged man, he's kind enough not to subject his female fans to hog jowls, love handles, a beer belly and sagging cachetes. El Vez is buff! Bounding on stage recently in Kansas City, Missouri, dude threw off his boxer's robe to reveal a trim, five-foot-nine, 150-pound bundle of muscular manhood . . . and nena, when he stripped down to a pair of oh-so-tight gold lamé shorts, the only bulges in sight were the kind a woman wants to see! "I'm 41 years old," Señor states matter-of-factly, "and Rock 'n' Roll is usually a young man's game. If you wanna stay in the game, you gotta stay healthy! The stage show is a cardio workout for me, and I lift weights . . . and I think I avoid the peanut-butter-and-banana indulgences of Elvis!"

In his opinion, being a man in his 40's is more of an asset than a liability. "I couldn't do what I do now when I was 21, because it comes with experience," he stresses. "It comes with watching other performers . . . seeing them live, and seeing them on TV. I think all those little bits (of experience) have added up to what I do now as El Vez. It's a culmination of all those 41 years, and it comes out like this."

It comes out like this, nena, and it goes all around the world! El Vez has appeared before adoring crowds all over North America, Europe and Australia. There seems to be no national, generational, class or racial limit to his appeal. Robert López reports that El Vez draws "a mixed crowd, from Latinos, to club kids, to Elvis fans, to yuppie types. I think we have a big mix of ages, too. I've had 21-year-old girls come up to me and say: Oh, I love you . . . but so does my Mom! So we mix it up very well, and I'm glad to do it that way."

While the character is approaching its fifteenth anniversary, his creator shows no sign of wanting to retire him. "I have two other bands," he says, "a Country and Western band, and a Punk Rock band. I do El Vez about half the year, and the other part of the year I work on my other projects. (That) keeps me fresh, and by the time I get done with those other things, it's time to get back with my El Vez work. I have many different shows, and they all kind of deal with different issues."

What's more, Señor feels that El Vez provides him with a unique opportunity for creative, not to mention political, expression. "If I have an idea, I get to execute it on stage. If I say: I'd like to sing a song about this or even something as silly as:  I would like to wear this kind of outfit, I'm lucky enough to be able to materialize those ideas. Most artists arent able to do that." That constant stream of fresh ideas keeps his show in the must-see category for the thousands of fans who keep coming out for his tours every year.

There's fun in-between tours, too! Every December, El Vez goes home to Graciasland and stages his big Christmas Spectacular. That's when he gets to sing "(I'm Dreaming of A) Brown Christmas" and spread holiday cheer to all the little cabrónes in his neighborhood! Of all things Elvis in the world, Señor Robert López's cilantro-and-lime-flavored creation is perhaps the most maravillosa. To paraphrase Rock critic Jon Laundau's famous statement of three decades ago: I have seen the future of Rock 'n' Roll . . . ¡y se llama El Vez!

El Vez 4

DCH: For those who don't speak Spanish, please explain what the name "El Vez" means.

EV: In a real loose translation, El Vez could mean "the time" . . . it could be romantically taken, too, as "this time (making love)," but it really means nothing! It just sounds like Elvis!

DCH: Do you consider yourself a performance artist?

EV: I don't mind that title. I think "entertainer" works better for me, but it can be taken as performance art, I think.

DCH: How has the (Latino) community responded to El Vez?

EV: They like it a lot! I think it goes over biggest in the Southwest, the California-Arizona-New Mexico-Texas area, because that's where heavy Latino populations are. But it works wherever we go. Lots of times, Latino kids will say: Oh, you're singing about us! But here all these White people are singing say it loud, I'm brown and I'm proud . . . they wanna be like us. It's a nice thing. It's a pride thing!

DCH: Have you performed in México?

EV: I would like to. I've VJ'd some (Mexican) television shows, and did (other) television stuff, but I haven't done real live performance there yet. We have an eleven-person crew, and we couldn't do just one show. There aren't that many places between Los Angeles and México City to play. There might be small nightclubs, but no one that could afford to pay for eleven people's transportation, hotel rooms, and food, and equipment, and all that stuff. So not yet, but hopefully . . .

DCH: How does your background in Punk Rock bands influence what you do onstage as El Vez?

EV: I guess it's the do-it-yourself attitude. The whole idea of El Vez is kind of: You, too, can be king! Which is a Punk idea, you know, that you, too, can be a Rock n' Roll star (even though) you don't have all the tools . . . that kind of idea. Growing up with Punk Rock aesthetics, I think it stays with you. We do some really Punky songs, also, using Patti Smith (songs), the Ramones-meet-José Feliciano version of "Felíz Navidad" . . . stuff like that.

DCH: Is there one show that really stands out in your mind?

EV: We opened for David Bowie once in Denmark. We were playing in front of 30,000 people. It was a great stage, a really good show, one of those times when everything clicked very well. I guess my other (favorite show) was my first time in Europe. We did a show at the Rothskilde Festival, this big summer festival they have right outside of Copenhagen. We played in front of 15,000, and it was the very first time I had my own full band. Really great lighting, great sound, and the audience went crazy! I thought they (weren't) gonna understand all the southern California rhetoric, but it went over really well.

DCH: What's the wildest thing thats ever happened at an El Vez show?

EV: I've had underwear thrown onstage. I've had people come after me with scissors, trying to clip my hair! I've had people (in the audience) take off their clothes. But none of that seems wild to me, it seems pretty normal after a while!

DCH: Has anyone ever tried to take your clothes off while you were onstage?
EV: I do it myself, so I guess they feel they don't have to!

El Vez 2

DCH: The El-Vettes are great singers! Have they been with you from the start?

EV: The very first shows, back in '88, did not have El-Vettes. Then, soon after that, we had auditions. We've had many different El-Vettes, just because they all have different schedules or different projects they're working on. So we're always auditioning new girls, and always changing the line-up. I think they add a lot to the show. They make it a bigger presentation, and yeah, they sing really well! (Blogmaster's note: The current El-Vettes are Chris Guerrero, Lisa Hockley and Tyler Greentree.)

DCH: There was a male El-Vette on stage when you played Kansas City!

EV: That's Esteban Bravo. He usually is the stage manager, (and) he catches the clothes! You know, Morris Day (of the R & B group The Time) had a guy named Jerome, and Elvis had a guy named Charlie Hodge to hand him towels and be there to catch him when he fell. We added him to this show cause he can sing, too, so that gave us four-part harmony. It made a fuller "choir" sound for that Gospel effect. He's been with us a couple of years, but this was his first time onstage as an El-Vette!

DCH: Who are the Memphis Mariachis, and where did you find them?

EV: Jon Conway is on keyboards. I found him via a mutual friend who was a bass player and suggested him. Garrett Ray is the drummer. He was suggested by a former El-Vette, Lisa Flores. Victor Peñalosa is the brother of the bass player of The Zeros. I've known him since I was a kid. All three of those (guys), this was their first time to be on tour with us. Pierre Smith is the guitarist, and he's been with me for a while . . . at least six years, I think. Again, people's schedules kind of dictate the band sometimes, so I'm always moving that around, too.

DCH: Who designs your costumes?

EV: That's me! I have a woman named Barbara Kaminsky who sews them, but I design them, (choose) what kind of fabrics to use, and come up with ideas. I decide what will break away or turn into what, (like my) Aztec costume, which is like striptease in reverse!

DCH: You've put out albums (a dozen, at last count) on several indie labels. Do you have any desire to go "big time" with a major label like Sony/BMG?

EV: I wouldn't mind it, but I haven't actually pursued that. Usually, when you work with those kinds of big companies, you have to work under different conditions. Everything I do now is my choice. My production, my direction, and my decision. I like the control I have over it, I suppose.

DCH: Elvis Presley was a big movie star. Do you have any plans to conquer the silver screen?

EV: No direct plans to do movies, (but) I just did a film with HBO last year (Americanos) that got a really good response . . . and a woman made a documentary on El Vez last year, also, that we've been selling at the shows. And I did a film with (director) Alison Anders called Mi Vida Loca, I'm in that a little bit . . . I guess I'm just always busy on the road, but if I was looking to do movie stuff, I would. With time, I guess!

DCH: What about nude scenes? Would you show your nalgas if the role called for it?

EV: I probably would, if the part was good enough! (Blogmaster's note: Nena, you heard it here!)

DCH: Everybody knows what Elvis Presley's favorite foods were(peanut butter and banana sandwiches, etcetera). What does El Vez crave?

EV: El Vez craves chips and salsa! That's his favorite. And there's a spicier version of Elvis's peanut butter and banana sandwich, using the chunky peanut butter and jalapeño bits! It mixes up with the peanut butter and the banana, and almost tastes like a Thai food kind of thing.

DCH: What's next for El Vez? What exciting new concept are you preparing to spring on your public?

DCH: I'm always changing my musical direction and the media that I'm working with. I just did a one-man show in July, and we might take it around to colleges. Kind of monologues and music as the character of El Vez. A woman has been talking to us about bringing it off-Broadway, so it might end up like a Hedwig and The Angry Inch kind of thing, but as more of a monologue. I'm always trying new things . . . there's always some new idea I can steal and paint a moustache on!

El Vez 3

Artículo y entrevista hecho par Don Charles.
Muchísimas gracias a Robert López y Dana Countryman.

Dusty Springfield, Part One


Your Hurtin' Kind of Love
The American Albums of Dusty Springfield
reviewed by Don Charles Hampton
There’s never been a pop singer to compare with Dusty Springfield. People on both sides of the Atlantic know that, when it came to interpreting material by the greatest songwriters of the latter 20th century, Dusty had few, if any equals. Stylistically, she was in a class by herself. Yet, during her heyday in the 1960s, those who bought her albums in Europe got a different perception of her talents than those who bought her albums in North America.

Talk about continental divides! From 1964 to 1970, there were eight Dusty Springfield studio albums issued in both Europe and the United States. Yet all of the American Philips albums differed from their British counterparts in title, content and cover art. The UK albums are generally thought to be superior to the American ones, but the latter shouldn’t be ignored by collectors. They provide an alternative look at Dusty Springfield’s recorded legacy from a perspective that is distinctly American. It’s a commercially-oriented perspective that downplays the more artistic considerations emphasized by Philips Records in the UK.

Which approach was better? It’s a purely subjective judgment that individual Dusty Springfield fans must make for themselves. What follows are critical reviews of Dusty’s America-only album releases.

Stay Awhile

Stay Awhile/I Only Want To Be With You
Produced in London by Dusty Springfield and Johnny Franz
Issued June, 1964
We find Dusty at rough diamond stage on her debut album, testing the waters of Pop and Soul. This American version is comprised of eight selections from her British debut A Girl Called Dusty, three single sides and a track taken from the British EP I Only Want To Be With You. Because of the single and EP inclusions, the stateside version may have the edge over the British original. Both are dominated by covers of Burt Bacharach/Hal David songs.

The album kicks off with the bold and brassy “I Only Want To Be With You.” Behind Dusty’s strident vocalizing, the rhythm section chugs along like a locomotive engine. Everything works: The tune, the lead and backing vocals, the orchestral arrangements; it’s a perfect Pop record from start to finish. Dusty’s take on the Gene Pitney bestseller “Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa” was, according to her, sung from the viewpoint of a traveling prostitute; her voice has the tired melancholy in it that will soon become her trademark. The booming “Be My Baby” drum pattern does much to heighten the song’s sense of drama(which will be another Springfield trademark). The Breakaways’ backing vocals are unpleasantly shrill on “Mama Said,” whose lyrics are a bit too juvenile for the then 24-year-old singer. Still, it’s a catchy melody with a fun lyric. Ivor Raymonde’s arrangement has a lightly swingin’ New Orleans flavor to it.

“You Don’t Own Me” and “Anyone Who Had A Heart” are echo-drenched interpretations of the Lesley Gore and Dionne Warwick classics, respectively. On the former, Dusty’s mature voice lends the song an added dimension. On the latter, she achieves her first great ballad performance, her plaintive pleas wafting up through eerie, other-worldly orchestration. “Something Special” is one of Dusty’s own rare compositions. The interplay of the lyrics with a sprightly piano and percussion backing make this tune so bright and chirpy, it could’ve easily been a Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich original. Dusty sings it somewhat tongue-in-cheek; there’s a smile in her voice.

Her version of Bacharach and David’s “Wishin’ And Hopin’” has more body than Dionne Warwick’s original, which is thin-sounding in comparison. Dusty’s delivery is more forthright(the sexist lyrics are said to have angered her)! That, combined with beefy drums and a decidedly forlorn trumpet refrain turns it into a classic. “Stay Awhile” attempts to emulate the Phil Spector sound, complete with glockenspiel percussion, and considering the inexperience of its producer, it’s certainly a respectable Spector copy. At the time of its release, this single was criticized for being derivative of its predecessor, “I Only Want To Be With You.” Heard in retrospect, ti’s quite different both lyrically and musically; it has a more bittersweet feel. On her foot-tapping interpretation of Arthur Alexander’s country/blues classic “Every Day I Have To Cry,” Dusty saddles up and rides the rhythm with ease and confidence. Crying never made you feel so good! Highlights of this number are the tradeoff lead and backing vocals at the fadeout and Ivor Raymonde’s muscular string arrangement on the instrumental break. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” marks the beginning of Dusty’s long love affair with Gerry Goffin/Carole King tunes. Her up tempo British translation, with its agitated violins, rivals The Shirelles’ original for sheer beauty.

Get ready for Dusty, the Soul Shouter, on “Mockingbird” and “When The Love Light Starts Shining Through His Eyes,” the album’s two most exciting cuts. The first one has her singing the parts of both Inez and Charlie Foxx, and wailing up a double-tracked storm to percolating piano, bass and percussion. Then, she and backing vocal group The Breakaways cut loose for real on the old Diana Ross and The Supremes hit, keeping pace with Ivor Raymonde’s ballistic rhythm section. The buzzing horns, hot Latin piano licks and breakneck drums lay this Holland-Dozier-Holland composition wide open.

Compared to the sophisticated stylings Dusty would delve into later on, some of her performances on this album sound ragged and even amateurish. Even so, it’s a solid early ‘60s Pop collection, thanks to the calibre of the material, the enthusiasm of the artist, and the genius of Ivor Raymonde’s musical direction.

America's Newest

Produced by London by Dusty Springfield and Johnny Franz
and in New York City by Shelby Singleton, Jr
Issued in October 1964

This album is best described as A Girl Called Dusty, Volume Two. It contains the remaining four tracks from that British LP, plus three tracks taken from the British EP Dusty, three-British-only single sides, and both sides of a North American single, recorded in New York City in August of 1964. Much more of a compilation album than its predecessor, it suffers from a lack of cohesiveness. The selections themselves are a mixed bag of lofty triumphs and well-intentioned disappointments.

The American hit single “All Cried Out” (not to be confused with more recent hits by Mariah Carey and Alison Moyet) is hampered by its meandering, repetitive melody, but is redeemed somewhat by catchy, hesitating drum patterns and Dusty’s impassioned singing. “Nothing” is her first stab at recreating the sound and fury of African-American Gospel music. It’s not a bad tune, and the production is energetic, but the overall feel is a bit pompous. Much of the blame lies with the backing chorus. In the end, this record leaves something to be desired in terms of authenticity.

There’s no such problem with “My Coloring Book.” This has got to be the definitive version of the Fred Ebb/John Kander ballad. For the first time, the public hears Dusty bring her lump-in-the-throat, tearjerker style fully to bear on a piece of popular music. Her voice is little more than an extended sob throughout the song, and by the climax, she’s literally choking back tears amidst Ivor Raymonde’s achingly sweet instrumentation. Corny? Over the top? Definitely, but effective for those very reasons. An essential recording.

Hand clappers and background singers form a "Soul Train" line on either side while Dusty gets down with the Leon Huff-penned house rocker “Live It Up.” Ray Stevens’ vamping, Memphis-flavored horn arrangement makes this record ideal for dancing the Jerk! Dusty recycles Lee Dorsey’s 1962 hit “Do-Re-Mi” with old-fashioned, rolling piano chords and a gossipy horn section. Her singing is wonderfully spicy on this finger-popper of a number. At a later point in her career, she’d have taken a more delicate approach to “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself.” For now, she’s content to cry out like a wounded lamb in pain and confusion over lost love. Meanwhile, Ivor Raymonde’s mighty orchestra thunders behind her. This was Dusty’s first big ballad hit in the United Kingdom, and wouldn’t you know, it just had to be with a Bacharach/David tune!

“Guess Who?” should’ve been a hit single; it’s a dark, moody record whose rhythm section moans and shivers in wraithlike fashion. Peek-a-boo backing vocals consolidate the Halloween atmosphere, as Dusty voices musical regret at not giving in to a womanizer who’s stolen her heart. Atmospheric it may be, but “Guess Who?” was no match for “Live It Up,” which lay in ambush on its flipside. The resulting split airplay doomed both of these New York tracks on the Pop charts. Miss Beehive gets sassy on “Don’t You Know?” It’s a sloppy, sprawling Blues workout from the Ray Charles songbook, with drunken horns spilling over the top. Her remake is marred by some incredibly stiff background vocals, but her limber lead more than makes up for this deficiency. She has a ball whooping and hollering during the instrumental break. Ellie Greenwich figures prominently as a backing vocalist on the Chip Taylor composition “Don’t Say It, Baby,” the great flipside of a great British single, “Your Hurtin’ Kind Of Love.” Cooing the lyric in a sultry, come-hither voice, Dusty shines as an independent woman who won’t be tied down by marriage. Shelby Singleton’s production features an echoey, shuffling rhythm sweetened by strings, brass, and Greenwich’s trademark harmonies.

“I Wish I’d Never Loved You” is one of the greatest Dusty Springfield ballads of all. Undeservedly obscure, it’s an early example of a genre of song she’d come to specialize in: The Angry Lost Love Song, the earliest example of which had been “Anyone Who Had A Heart.” To the accompaniment of a solitary trumpet that mimics a gigolo’s cruel laughter, Dusty repeats with a mixture of bitterness and sorrow I wish I’d never loved you/I wish you’d never burned me with your kiss. She may be crying, but by the fadeout, she’s shaking an angry fist, too, cursing her own foolishness. A marvelous performance. Then there’s “Can I Get A Witness?” Raucous, urgent, and almost as danceable as Marvin Gaye’s original, yet somehow it lacks the same kind of aural excitement that sparked Dusty’s cover of “When The Love Light Starts Shining Through His Eyes.” Finally, we have “Summer Is Over,” a depressing ballad that uses the changing of seasons as a metaphor for the change of life. Sure, it’s a cliche, but it works wonderfully. Dusty’s haunting vocal is augmented by that same solitary trumpet from “I Wish I’d Never Loved You,” this time sounding like a 19th century foghorn, forlorn and distant. Written by her brother Tom in collaboration with Clive Westlake, this song is poetic, sadly beautiful and deeply unsettling.

Dusty isn’t a great album, but it contains enough material of substance to make it required listening for serious Springfield fans.


Produced in London by Dusty Springfield and Johnny Franz
and in New York City by Shelby Singleton, Jr
Issued in March 1965

This album is totally unique to the United States; there’s no British equivalent. It was cobbled together from several different sources: The British EPs Dusty In New York and I Only Want To Be With You; four single sides, two of which were never issued as singles in North America; previously unissued New York session material; and, as if nothing else were available, the Girl Called Dusty album, from which two cuts have been recycled! In other words, this is a tacky cut-and-paste job that doesn’t even begin to gel as an album. So why does it sound so good? The answer must be in the consistent high quality of the individual selections.

Taken at a solemn waltz tempo, the dramatic “Losing You” is sung with equal parts passion and pathos by Dusty and by The Breakaways, who wail in the background like professional mourners. This was the only hit Tom Springfield would write for his sister, but she’d return to co-writer Clive Westlake for two more British best-sellers before the ‘60s were out. One of only three Dusty Springfield compositions released in America during her lifetime, “Once Upon A Time” is easily the best of the trio: Brash, rhythmic, bristling with melodrama and much too short, it sounds like an outtake from a James Bond 007 movie soundtrack. If Dusty was capable of excellent material like this, she definitely should’ve written songs more often! The Chiffons would cut the definitive version of Toni Wine and Artie Kornfeld’s “Now That You’re My Baby” for their super rare 1970 album My Secret Love, but Dusty’s version is quite respectable. Her spirited Country-flavored treatment wastes no time setting your toes a-tapping.

Goffin and King’s “I’ll Love You For A While” was recorded around the same time by Jill Jackson(“Paula” of Paul and Paula fame). Dusty probably learned it from a demo sung by Carole King, because her reading sounds much like what you’d expect from the songwriter. This is definitely one of the quirkier numbers in her repertoire, being an amalgam of down-home country and exotic Eastern musical influences played off against ironic lyrics. “If Wishes Could Be Kisses” comes from the pen of future Partridge Family producer Wes Farrell. A sly reworking of the melody from Chuck Berry’s “Memphis,” it’s interpreted by the artist as a slow boogie woogie and sung with a lazy, inebriated vocal. Even if it were a bad record(which it isn’t), it’d be worth hearing just for the way Dusty screams come on, baby at the end. Kenny Lynch’s “He’s Got Something” is another big beat 007 soundtrack outtake, and another example of why Ivor Raymonde was such an asset to Dusty’s recording sessions. He had a knack for making Pop music sound elegant (strings, reeds) and funky (guitars, maracas, “stumbling” kettledrums) at the same time. Here, his intricate, layered arrangements envelop the artist in a twisting, whirling tornado of sound. The sweet, sexy “I Wanna Make You Happy” features some maudlin background vocals that simply must be heard to be believed . . . for this number, Dusty plays the shy wallflower at a college mixer who’s unexpectedly swept off her feet by a tuxedoed dreamboat. Her voice fairly radiates dewy-eyed sentiment and stirrings of first love.

“Here She Comes” supplies a female perspective on the rival love theme of Roy Orbison’s “Running Scared.” However, unlike Orbison, Dusty isn’t fretting. She’s just livid at the rich b*tch who’s got designs on her man! Look at her/No shame/How she carries on!/Look at him now/Just think of it/He’ll soon be gone. Like Orbison, though, it turns out that she’s built a mountain from a molehill. There she goes, Dusty croons in catty triumph, as the march-time beat fades into the distance. He’s running after me!/There she goes. That’ll teach the hussy! Bob Halley and Carl Spencer’s “I Want Your Love Tonight” may be the best track to come out of the 1964 New York dates. Dusty sings the daylights out of this hip-swayin’, shoulder-shakin’ sex bomb of an R & B tune. Still, nothing from the New York sessions could ever hope to rival Ivor Raymonde’s superlative arrangement of “Your Hurtin’ Kind Of Love.” This angriest of Angry Lost Love Songs was issued as a single in England, but despite its haunting melody and take-no-prisoners vocal, it was a relative failure on the charts. That may explain why Dusty once said she hated it. Significantly, it was the last Mike Hawker/Ivor Raymonde composition she’d ever sing. Even so, “Hurtin’” is the quintessential Dusty Springfield waxing of the ‘60s. It’s soulful, anguished, dramatic, stylish and powerful, everything that made up the Springfield vocal persona circa 1965. When she shouts out the lines I’m so glad to see you go/You will bring me no more pain/I will never cry again, it’s a delicious moment of personal empowerment and self-affirmation . . . one of the finest such moments ever achieved by a female vocalist in the rock era.

Even taking into account the uncalled-for duplication of “You Don’t Own Me” and “When The Love Light Starts Shining Through His Eyes” in the track lineup (inexplicably repeated when the album was reissued on CD in 1999), Ooooooweeee!!! is a superb showcase for the talents of Miss Beehive. Small wonder, then, that British fans crave original copies of this LP.

You Don't Have To Say

You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me
Produced in London by Dusty Springfield and Johnny Franz
Issued in July 1966

Dusty’s 1965 sophomore LP in Britain (titled Ev’rything’s Coming Up Dusty) was released as her fourth album in the United States. It survived the trans-Atlantic journey relatively intact, with only three songs missing. That they were replaced by two excellent single sides didn’t satisfy completists(or Dusty, for that matter), but they got their satisfaction in April 1969, when the success of “Son-Of-A-Preacher Man” prompted Philips Records to issue the original 13-track British album stateside. A strange move, to be sure, but no less strange than most of the company’s other decisions about what Dusty Springfield product would see release in America.

Of course, “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” is the best-known and best-received of Dusty’s three signature hits(in the United States, the other two are “Wishin’ And Hopin” and “Son-Of-A-Preacher Man”). Sadly, it’s also Ivor Raymonde’s final collaboration with her on a single. She doesn’t shy away from overt sentimentality on this number, which is basically soap opera in song form. Its blaring, Wagnerian climax is one of the all-time classic moments in ‘60s Pop music. Lest we forget, this is what a torch ballad ought to sound like! The music is Italian, discovered by the artist while attending the 1965 San Remo Song Festival, and the lyrics are British, commissioned from future talent managers Vicki Wickham and Simon Napier-Bell. Ironically, Dusty hated these lyrics, but even she couldn’t argue with how overwhelmingly they were received. On the up tempo side, we have Buddy Kaye’s “Little By Little,” which was a hit single only in England. With its anxious lyric and nervous, floor-pacing rhythm, it’s possibly Dusty’s most credible stab at Rhythm and Blues with an original song. Yet she has the nerve to cover Aretha Franklin’s first charting Pop record, “Won’t Be Long!” It loses none of its Gospel fervor in her hands. Listen to that sanctified tambourine-shaking, and the fevered call-and-response vocals she trades off with background singers Madeline Bell and Doris Troy . . . say amen, somebody!

By contrast, “Long After Tonight Is All Over” is champagne-and-caviar sophistication, except for Dusty’s Gospel-tinged delivery. The contrast is most appealing on this little-known Bacharach/David tune, originally cut by Jimmy Radcliffe(whose version squeaked into the British Top Forty). Maxine Brown’s 1965 smash “Oh, No! Not My Baby” takes Dusty back to the Brill Building for another session with Goffin and King. It’s one of those easy-rocking Soul ballads that she often said she loved to sing. It shows. She indulges her taste for Latin-American music with a spirited interpretation of Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba.” This recording of the old Mexican folk melody ends in a blast of big band horns; think of it as a trip to Cancún by way of Las Vegas! For the album’s second Gospel-based cover, Dusty chooses “I Had A Talk With My Man,” first a hit for forgotten R & B chanteuse Mitty Collier. A good choice it is, too, for she turns in a virtuoso performance. Her aching, passionate reading puts you right there at the scene when her beau softly kisses her weeping eyes and slips an engagement ring on her finger. But then, what are we to make of a song like “I’ve Been Wrong Before?” A stark piano backing with unassuming string accompaniment frames Randy Newman’s ironic lyric on this wisp of a track. It certainly stands out from the other selections, and you can imagine the artist singing this with a mischievous raised eyebrow, as if to say “Hmmm . . . I wonder what they’ll think of this one?” Her American fans thought it was fascinating, albeit a bit odd. Her British fans were at least familiar with Cilla Black’s hit single version from the previous year.

Jerry Ragovoy’s “It Was Easier To Hurt Him” was the first song Dusty borrowed from Soul shouter Garnet Mimms(her incendiary version of Mimms’s “Welcome Home” would come a bit later). She wails this Leiber and Stoller-styled Soul ditty with a tremble in her voice, as if the self-chastising lyric held a personal meaning for her. Lulu’s recording of Goffin and King’s great Angry Lost Love Song “I Can’t Hear You No More” has a slight edge over Dusty’s, but that doesn’t mean the tune isn’t a terrific up tempo showcase for her blueswoman stylings. Rave on, Dusty, rave on! Speaking of raves, you can’t ask for a better one than “If It Don’t Work Out,” written especially for Dusty by future arena rock purveyor Rod Argent. A jangling piano, wild tambourines, handclappings and gritty Blues shouting makes this record the very essence of British Soul. It would’ve made a fabulous single; as it is, it’s one hell of a good album teaser. Dusty’s powerhouse rendition of Anthony Newley’s schmaltz classic “Who Can I Turn To?” would’ve been great on 45, too, had Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dionne Warwick not beaten her to the punch. There’ve been so many recordings of this showtune, it’s impossible to name a definitive one. Yet, this effort must surely rank among the best. As it opens, trumpets bleat inquisitively while a hushed shuffle beat plays in the foreground. Then comes the diva, her three-handkerchief vocal rendered larger than life via the generous use of studio reverb. Ivor Raymonde’s great, grandiose finish puts the last dab of icing on this very satisfying slice of cake.

There’s nary a bad cut on this album. “Old Panda Eyes” (as some fans took to calling her) masterminded a flawless Pop production her second (fourth?) time out, a perfectly balanced mix of class and sass. Clearly, You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me pointed the way to her acclaimed Memphis sessions. In fact, it’s her finest American collection prior to her Atlantic label releases.

Golden Hits

Dusty Springfield’s Golden Hits
Produced in London by Dusty Springfield and Johnny Franz
Issued in November 1966

Although strictly a hits compilation in America, Golden Hits was a stand-alone album release in England; only one of its twelve selections had ever appeared there before on an LP. This is the most complete version of a British Dusty Springfield album released by American Philips prior to 1969, although only half the tunes on it were stateside hits. The only substitution is “Stay Awhile,” which replaces “Some Of Your Lovin’”(believe it or not, a US flop upon its release). Even so, Philips Records seemed hell-bent on not doing right by the singer! Not long after its initial release, the original 12-track album was deleted and replaced on the market by an abridged 10-track version sans “My Coloring Book” and “Goin’ Back.” The latter song remained unavailable on any other domestic release for thirty years! If that wasn’t bad enough, UK buyers were treated to true stereo mixes on half the selections, but American fans had to settle for fake rechanneled stereo on all cuts.

Nestled among British chart busters like “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself,” “Little By Little” and “Losing You” are the ballads “All I See Is You” and the aforementioned “Goin’ Back,” and the floor-shaking dance number “In The Middle Of Nowhere.” This last tune is an excellent Ivor Raymonde track, issued as a single prior to “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.” The arrangement features rumbling piano chords and an insolent brass section. These horns just won’t behave themselves, mugging and signifying behind Dusty as she, Madeline Bell, Lesley Duncan and Doris Troy wag fingers of warning at a noncommittal lover: Baby, you know I love you/But I can’t wait forever! While “Nowhere” isn’t exactly an Angry Lost Love Song, it’s well on its way to becoming one. “All I See Is You” was the latest from the pen of Clive Westlake, co-authored this time by American lyricist Ben Weisman. The song is pure, lip-biting soap opera, caught up in arranger Wally Stott’s splendid whirl of strings, brass, cymbals and kettledrums. It’s trademark Springfield melodrama, and it quickly became a showstopper for her in concert. Still, “All I See Is You” doesn’t really distinguish itself from most of the other heartbreak ballads in her repertoire, especially not when compared to Goffin and King’s majestic “Goin’ Back.” Peter Knight’s piano-based arrangement swells to tidal wave proportions as Dusty wearily muses on her past and future from the perspective of a woman at the crossroads of life. Her voice, while never girlish, sounds more mature here than ever before.

Golden Hits was truly a milestone for the artist. It shows how much she’d grown stylistically in the three years since cutting her impulsive, raggedly beautiful first solo album and singles. Dusty’s triumphs as a vocalist are matched by her achievements as a producer. With sufficient guidance from her studio mentor, Johnny Franz, and a willingness on the part of record executives to acknowledge her work behind the console(they wouldn’t at the time and still won’t), she may well have become England’s answer to Quincy Jones, Jeff Barry or Norman Whitfield. From “Wishin’ And Hopin’” to “All Cried Out” to “All I See Is You,” it’s almost too much great ‘60s music for one album to hold! As fabulous as these recordings are, some of her best moments on wax are yet to come.

Look of Love

The Look Of Love
Produced in London by Dusty Springfield and Johnny Franz
and in New York City by Jerry Ragovoy
Issued in December 1967

Dusty’s fourth British LP Where Am I Going was mercilessly truncated for American release. Five of the original tracks were deleted in favor of four single sides, and as was the case with You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, one track was simply not replaced. This butchering of one of her finest albums by American Philips was undoubtedly a factor in the singer’s decision to transfer her stateside distribution to Atlantic Records in 1968. Just because an album has been butchered doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been rendered unlistenable, though, particularly not when it’s an album by Dusty Springfield.

Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote “The Look Of Love” specifically for Dusty to sing on the soundtrack of the 1967 film Casino Royale. Despite many subsequent covers(the most successful of which was by Sergio Mendes and Brasil ‘66), her version still towers over all others. Reg Guest’s reworking of Bacharach’s original arrangement is understated and atmospheric, suggesting a laid-back, after-hours jam session in a smoky Jazz club. Our siren’s dormant Jazz instincts spring to life in a sensual, low-key performance that proves less is definitely more. This is some of the best heavy petting music you’ll ever hear. Where “Look Of Love” slows down the pace, Dusty’s covers of “Sunny” and “Come Back To Me” speed it up again. These peppy, Las Vegas-styled Jazz cuts reveal her in the cabaret singer’s role she’d begun cultivating in recent appearances at such New York venues as Basin Street East and the Copacabana. Jazz makes way for sparkling Brill Building Pop as she switches gears to tackle “Small Town Girl,” a brisk midtempo ballad from the pens of music publisher Aaron Schroeder and arranger Arnold Goland. Originally cut in 1965 by Barbara English, this tune is wistful, melodic, and unexpectedly powerful in its climax.

By now, Ivor Raymonde was off arranging and producing for acts like the Spanish rock band Los Bravos, but he’s represented on this album by three previously unissued tracks: The aforementioned “Small Town Girl,” “Take Me For A Little While” and the Bacharach/David standard “(They Long To Be) Close To You.” The Evie Sands cult favorite is redone here with a more aggressive feel, courtesy of a pounding piano and a bold, unabashed Springfield vocal. When Evie sang take me for a little while/so I can hold you, baby/so I can make you love me to her object of desire, it was a plea for pity. When Dusty sings it, it’s not a plea, but a command! The oft-recorded, soon-to-be smash for The Carpenters benefits from a faster tempo than it’s usually heard in, as well as from maestro Raymonde’s vivid orchestration. Dusty’s reading of “Close To You” is breathy, aroused, and dead-on-target. The song fits her like a glove. Also on-target is her sensitive, nuanced interpretation of the Jacques Brel/Rod McKuen tearjerker “If You Go Away,” which features an anguished spoken-word passage and lyrics sung partially in the original French. Very high-class, this is another essential Dusty Springfield recording. By the time she entreats her lover not to leave for the last time, both the song and the listener are hers for the keeping.

Ballads are undeniably Dusty’s forte, but we have records like “What’s It Gonna Be?” to remind us of her expertise with up tempo Soul stompers. An outstanding number written and produced by Jerry Ragovoy, it became a respectable hit single in the United States, but was ignored by the British until the early ‘70s. For shame! At that time, it was revived and it subsequently achieved cult status on England’s Northern Soul dance club circuit. Despite an engaging Wally Stott arrangement and Dusty’s earnest vocal reading, “Chained To A Memory” is the weakest link on the album. The song is crippled by a lackluster, run-of-the-mill melody. Fortunately, there are two superb Reg Guest tracks to make up for this momentary lapse in consistency. “Give Me Time” was a topside single in the UK, but became a flipside in the States; it charted in both countries. This sudsy translation of an Italian waltz boasts plenty of atmosphere, and has no shortage of melodrama for the artist to sink her teeth into. A strategically-pounded tambourine complements her vocal very nicely. Then there’s “Welcome Home,” by far the brightest pearl in this oyster of a collection. Guest’s stately symphonic accompaniment is exquisite, and Dusty delivers a torrid, iceberg-melting performance that even the most respected American Soul singers would’ve been hard-pressed to match. Her recording of this Chip Taylor-penned gem easily surpasses the other versions by Walter Jackson and Garnet Mimms.

Even in this radically reshuffled form, Where Am I Going/The Look Of Love is still Dusty’s second best pre-Atlantic Records long-player. Her transformation from “White Soul singer” to sophisticated Pop diva is almost complete, judging by the evidence of these selections. Memphis beckoned, and unprecedented critical acclaim was near at hand. Unfortunately, the price she paid for it was a loss of creative control. American fans would wait over a decade before hearing another self-produced Dusty Springfield album.

White Heat

White Heat
Produced in Hollywood by Dusty Springfield, Howard Steele and André Fischer
Issued in December 1982

Fast forward fifteen years. Think of the late, great James Cagney in a classic gangster role: Knees locked, body crouched in a tiger’s stance, steely eyes blazing, fists clenched around automatic pistols . . . ready and willing to blow away anyone who dares venture too close! That’s the kind of attitude Dusty Springfield assumed on an album that took its name from Cagney’s 1949 film noir masterpiece. It wasn’t released in the UK until after her death. On this collection of ten songs that all deal, to varying degrees, with frustrated love and flawed relationships, she sounds royally p*ssed off! She had a right to be, too, having spent the balance of the 1970s adrift in a sea of undistinguished Adult-Contemporary ballads. By November 1981, when recording began for this album, her star was considerably tarnished. She desperately needed to redefine herself. With help from electronic keyboard wizard Jean-Alain Roussel and members of the Canadian rock band Rough Trade, she did so on White Heat, a flawed yet brilliant album. Judging from sales figures, not many people were listening. It would take the production assistance of The Pet Shop Boys nearly ten years later for Dusty to successfully bring her new musical persona to the public’s attention . . . but it all started here.

The first thing you notice is the extreme nasality of Dusty’s overdubbed vocal parts, mixed to sound like she’s singing into a tin can. The distortion was deliberate. Technology revolutionized the sound of popular music in the ‘80s, and Dusty was reportedly fascinated by it. She electronically distorts her vocals on all but two of the album’s selections. White Heat was called a Disco album, a perception strengthened by the fact that it came out on Casablanca Records, former label of Donna Summer and The Village People. Not every selection is danceable, but an overall up tempo mood is set by two Eurodisco tracks, “Donnez-Moi” and “I Don’t Think We Could Ever Be Friends.” Despite a strong melody, the former tune is fairly ordinary and forgettable. It merely serves as a warmup for the latter, a funky floor-shaker from the pen of Sting, rising star of rock/reggae band The Police. Dusty’s juxtaposition of a counter melody at the climax of the song is particularly effective. Even though “Don’t Think We Could Ever” was released with “Donnez-Moi” as a promotional 12-inch dance single, this infectiously percussive track somehow failed to have any club impact.

The angriest songs in this collection are the best ones. Two years earlier, ‘60s starlet Marianne Faithfull had stunned the music world with her Broken English album, a profanity-laced Hard Rock confessional. Dusty’s evil disposition on “Blind Sheep” was obviously influenced by that record’s sneering, in-your-face style. Improvising on the lyric, she turns the song into a fuzz guitar-laden aural smackdown. Then she nails it to the wall with a nasty vocal that’s downright ghetto fabulous! Longtime fans were no doubt shocked to hear Dusty chew out a lover who provides nothing but half-assed satisfaction. Can this be the same woman who sang “I Only Want To Be With You?” Unbelievable. Jean-Alain Roussel’s “Gotta Get Used To You” would’ve fit just as easily on a Pat Benatar album; it evokes images of a reckless midnight drive on a dark highway with its urgent guitar and synthesizer interplay, and fitful drumming. An enraged Dusty balls up her vocal and flings it directly in our faces . . . she never sounded more surly than she does here. Motown influence rears its head on “I Am Curious,” a song that borrows its title from a series of notoriously pornographic art films from the early 1970s. Dusty uses this Stevie Wonder-styled funk workout as her excuse to indulge an admitted addiction to “lethal sexuality!” Listen in disbelief as the diva transforms herself into a libido-driven, Punk Rock harlot, prowling after-hours sex clubs for fresh meat.

By the next cut, Dusty has found her prey for the evening and is in the act of closing him in her lustful clutches. The boyfriend tries to resist her advances, but with a swagger in her voice, she assures him that resistance is futile. He’ll be giving it up “Sooner Or Later!” This song and “Don’t Call It Love,” with its irresistible, rubber band-like guitar-and-keyboard riff, are the album’s most Pop-oriented selections. In retrospect, either would’ve made a better single than “Donnez-Moi.” Having interpreted a Sting composition, Dusty positions herself even more forcefully among Rock’s New Wave by singing Elvis Costello’s “Losing You (Is Just A Memory).” Ironically, this rambling ballad with a repetitive hook sounds not unlike something she would’ve sung in the ‘60s. Songwriters Robbie Buchanan and Jay Gruska definitely wrote “Time And Time Again” in the style of Dusty’s grandiose ‘60s ballads. Their song evokes the work of Clive Westlake in particular. Thankfully, she eschews aural distortion on this track and resurrects her gossamer-light Dusty In Memphis voice, gently washing it over the melody like an early morning tide. Though lacking a big orchestra and Ivor Raymonde’s magic touch, she makes something special out of a number that would’ve sounded unbearably saccharine in anyone else’s hands. For better or worse, Dusty’s fans chose this throwback ballad as their favorite song off of White Heat, all but ignoring her gutsier work on standout tracks like “Blind Sheep” and “I Am Curious.”

Ending this album with “Soft Core” had the effect of switching on a naked light bulb in an empty room. Title notwithstanding, the sparse piano and cymbal backing create a harsh backdrop for Dusty’s edgy, German cabaret-style vocal. Nothing like it exists anywhere else in her catalog, and in terms of redefining her image, she couldn’t have chosen a more effective song. Here she portrays a woman trapped in a destructive love affair, being hurt and hurting back in return. Vengeful yet painfully vulnerable at the same time, she half-sobs and half-spits Carole Pope’s razor-sharp lyrics: I’m not the vindictive kind/You bring that out in me/I’ve been inflicted with a lot of pain/You see. Her performance is all the more amazing when you learn that it comes directly off of a rehearsal tape. There are no subsequent takes, and no vocal overdubs. It’s doubtful that Dusty could’ve made a record like “Soft Core” back in the ‘60s. This is raw emotion and icy sophistication blended together as only a mature and seasoned artist could blend them.

So there you have it . . . Dusty Springfield, as American record-buyers were allowed to hear her. The perception of Dusty’s early career that these albums convey lasted in the United States right up until her death. Of course, her most avid stateside fans had long since tracked down the original British LPs. National borders couldn’t contain talent like Dusty’s, and misguided New York A & R men couldn’t obscure what she left in the grooves. Maybe someday, their equally misguided successors willl see fit to issue her ‘60s albums in their original configurations. Until then, we’ll just have to live with their decison to market her releases along a continental divide. Where Dusty Springfield records are concerned, a hurtin’ kind of love may be a bad thing . . . but it’s still true love at the end of the day.

Dusty Springfield Mirror