30 January 2006

Dusty Springfield, Part One

Dusty

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

Dusty
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.

Ooooweee!

Ooooooweeee!!!
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