A Brand New Dusty
Dusty Springfield at Atlantic Records
by Donny Jacobs
As discussed in Part One of this series, between the years 1964 and 1967 Dusty Springfield's American album releases differed radically from her British ones. Yet she didn't record albums for specific markets, and all her product was marketed by American and European branches of the same record company, Philips(now known as Universal Music). Why the differences? The answer lies with the way A & R men at American Philips micro-managed her recorded output.
They disliked the British practice of not including hit singles on albums. However, they went further than just loading Dusty's LPs with single sides. They sliced, diced and mutilated her British collections, adding some songs and taking others out. On one occasion, they simply compiled a bunch of tracks from different sources and sold them as the new Dusty Springfield album! Dusty was almost certainly infuriated. She worked incredibly hard on her albums, producing them herself at a time when women producers were unheard-of. She resented having her artistic vision compromised.
By the mid-60s, she was actively shopping for a separate deal that would wrest her American distribution away from Philips USA. Briefly, she considered signing with Motown, but ultimately found Atlantic Records more to her liking. Atlantic Records was founded in 1947 by Ahmet Ertegun and Miriam and Herb Abramson. It quickly became known for its fine Rhythm and Blues pedigree. The label scored national hits with such seminal artists as Big Joe Turner, Chuck Willis, Ruth Brown, The Clovers, The Coasters, La Vern Baker, Clyde McPhatter and the legendary Ray Charles. During the late '50s and early '60s, Atlantic busted a move on the Pop charts, landing on Top Forty radio with memorable singles by Bobby Darin, Nino Tempo and April Stevens, Ben E. King and The Drifters.
The mid-60s saw the label ink a distribution deal with red-hot Stax Records out of Memphis, Tennessee. Its already formidable Soul music profile was raised even higher with releases from Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Carla Thomas and Booker T. and The MGs. Simultaneously, Atlantic became a mecca for new breed Rock'n'Roll bands like The Rascals, Led Zeppelin and Derek and The Dominos. The year before Dusty's contract with American Philips ran out, the label signed Aretha Franklin and molded her into a superstar.
An avid record collector, Dusty adored the sound of Atlantic's product. Ahmet Ertegun, the company's CEO, felt the same way about hers. He was especially enchanted by her 1965 recording of Gerry Goffin and Carole King's poignant change-of-life ballad "Some Of Your Lovin.'" Even though the American single failed to duplicate its chart-topping performance in England, Ertegun would've killed to have had it in his catalog. To anyone who'd listen, he swore that he would sign Dusty if ever he got the chance.
He got his chance in late 1968. Ertegun promised to preserve Dusty's artistic integrity on future album releases. He also promised to let her work with Aretha's producer Jerry Wexler if she came on board. Dusty took the bait, but she soon learned that Ertegun and Wexler weren't interested in her British product at all. Atlantic passed on the chance to release her excellent Dusty . . . Definitely album stateside, and during the tenure of her contract, they'd also veto the American release of numerous singles she recorded in London. All they wanted to do was record her in the United States, particularly the Southern United States. They saw her as a Soul singer who should be working with Soul musicians instead of the classically-trained sessionmen she generally used.
Jerry Wexler was keen on taking her to Muscle Shoals, Alabama for sessions with the same studio crew that played on Aretha Franklin's hits. The venue was eventually changed to Memphis, where Dusty's legendary first Atlantic album was cut. (Legend has it that she came down with laryngitis during the dates . . . you certainly can't tell from listening to the LP.) With some reservations, she agreed to Ertegun and Wexler's plans for her. Anything that limited her options was bound to mean trouble in the future, and Atlantic's stateside bias was no exception. However, for three years, Dusty Springfield and Atlantic Records would make beautiful music together.
Dusty In Memphis
Atlantic Records SD 8214
Produced in Memphis and New York City
by Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin
issued in 1969
A skillful “dusting” of Adult-Contemporary Pop with Country music and the Blues, this album sets a mood more consistently than any other Dusty Springfield LP before or since(with the possible exception of 1982’s White Heat). That mood is relaxed, pensive and dignified, with an undercurrent of steamy eroticism running through it. The musicianship is sure-footed and true to the material, which is excellent. Jerry Wexler coaxes beautiful, intimate performances from his (supposedly) laryngitis-stricken singer, and in Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin, she has arrangers worthy of Ivor Raymonde’s mantle. The vocal support of Sweet Inspirations (including Whitney Houston’s mother, Cissy) is a more than adequate substitute for that of Madeleine Bell, Lesley Duncan and Doris Troy, her UK backing vocal unit. Memphis’s world-famous American Studios worked its magic for Dusty, just as it did for Elvis Presley, BJ Thomas, Brenda Lee, Dionne Warwick, Neil Diamond and a host of other ‘60s pop stars.
“Just A Little Lovin’” was the artist’s first recording of a Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil song. It’s not one of Mann’s stronger melodies, but it’s pleasant enough, and Weil’s frisky “early morning love” lyric sets an appropriately sensual tone for the rest of the album. The Drifters cut the best version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “In The Land Of Make-Believe” in 1963, a recording which benefited from a full-throttle Gary Sherman bossa nova arrangement. Dowd and Mardin’s approach is decidedly more subtle, but their sparse, exotic orchestration on this number brings out the same sexy vulnerability in Dusty's singing as that heard on “The Look Of Love.” Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s “Don’t Forget About Me” is also a cover tune; Barbara Lewis bagged it first. Lewis’s version carried an abundance of solemnity and pathos. By contrast, Dusty’s is breezy, rhythmic, and mildly bittersweet. You may have worried about Lewis surviving her lover’s departure, but Miss Beehive’s upbeat stance leaves little doubt that she’ll get along just fine without him!
Gene Pitney scored the hit with Randy Newman’s “Just One Smile,” but it’s such a great song, it lends itself equally as well to Dusty’s light, airy interpretation as it does to Pitney’s heart-wrenching one. Her voice is as fine and frothy as ocean spray on this number. The Goffin/King pedigree appears again on “No Easy Way Down,” a lazy, lovely melody with that certain touch of melancholy that makes it perfect for Dusty. Carole King cut the song herself for her own début album, Writer, issued the following year. Note the descending chord changes on the chorus which subtly complement the title, and Arif Mardin's langorous horn arrangement, shimmering like an aurora. Dusty’s first helping of Randy Newman was so satisfying, she went back for seconds and came away with the marvelous “I Don’t Wanna Hear It Anymore.” She and Sweet Inspirations deserved Academy Awards for the sensitive way they act out Newman’s tale of a wife who learns of her husband’s infidelity via gossip filtering through the thin walls of their apartment.
Of course, “Son-Of-A-Preacher Man” is the album’s centerpiece. Rightly so! A classic as soon as it was written, this scandalous, soulful strut of a song provides an ideal showcase for Dusty’s distinctive Country/Soul stylings. Tommy Cogbill’s bass reverberates through the track like ripples on bayou water. La Springfield returns to Goffin and King’s musical reservoir for “I Can’t Make It Alone,” a Spectorish slab of melodrama that may have been written with The Righteous Brothers in mind. In fact, ex-Righteous Brother Bill Medley did record it; so did Lou Rawls and PJ Proby, and as was the case with “Just One Smile,” the tune weathered multiple recordings quite well. Dusty’s version has the edge, though, because she tries a little harder, reaches a little higher, and has Arif Mardin’s warm, evocative strings to bolster her efforts. And then, there’s that incomparable voice. Daring a lyric as naughty as please don’t eat and run, Eddie Hinton and Donnie Fritts’s “Breakfast In Bed” is Dusty’s first truly dirty song. Chrissie Hynde and UB40’s 1988 cover couldn’t touch her original version of this pillow-talking potboiler. Dusty is totally convincing as a whorehouse madam who’s gotten a little too involved with one of her steady clients; her vocals are so languid and sexy, she could be singing while lounging nude on a couch.
“So Much Love” completes Goffin and King’s dominance of the album. In Dusty’s capable hands, this old Steve Alaimo/Ben E. King honeydripper shows how she could excel just as easily with happy songs as with sad ones. Sweet Inspirations’ contributions to this record are nothing less than a revelation. “The Windmills Of Your Mind” turned into a surprise American hit for her; this theme song from The Thomas Crown Affair is also the album’s most unexpected inclusion, with its cosmopolitan flavor and soft samba accompaniment. There are dozens of horrible versions! The tune seems to work best as an instrumental, and wouldn’t appear to be a good vehicle for singers. It became one by accident when the Memphis producers decided to slow the tempo(“so Dusty could breathe,” according to the late Tom Dowd in an interview). This change gave Dusty time to elaborately stylize her vocal on each verse. The result was that listeners were allowed to fully appreciate the poetry in Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s lyrics, as well as the artist’s special way with them.
Dusty Springfield herself regarded Dusty In Memphis as simply a good Pop record rather than as some grand artistic statement. She was probably right, but how can you argue when critics overwhelmingly proclaim it one of the greatest albums of the Rock era? The judgment of history is that she set a towering standard with this recording . . . a standard which, for better or worse, she’d be measured against for the remainder of her career.
From Dusty, With Love
Atlantic Records SD 8249
Produced in Philadelphia by Staff for Gamble and Huff Productions
issued in 1970
While released in January of 1970, From Dusty, With Love (titled A Brand New Me in the United States) was culled from recording dates that took place in the fall of 1969. Therefore, it should be considered Dusty’s last album release of the 1960s. Always having a finger on the pulse of new trends and up-and-coming talent, Dusty decided to follow up her acclaimed Memphis set with an album produced by Philadelphia’s hottest young production team, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. In a sense, she’d already touched bases with Huff; one of her finest American singles, 1964’s “Live It Up,” had come from his pen. The subsequent album was actually supervised by Roland Chambers and Ugene Dozier, two staff producers who worked for Gamble and Huff’s company. The bosses were definitely on hand, though, acting as hands-on executive producers.
Many critics have proclaimed From Dusty, With Love the second best Dusty Springfield LP, right behind Dusty In Memphis. That is certainly not an accurate judgment! Too much of the material on it lacks depth. Also, Gamble and Huff’s decision to have Dusty record only their compositions was a mistake; it robbed the album of the eclecticism that, in the past, had always seemed to bring out strong performances from her. As a result, her singing sometimes sounds perfunctory. Other flaws include thin sound mixes on some tracks; intrusive backing vocals; songs that are, for the most part, too short; and a grand total of only ten selections! Bobby Martin, Roland Chambers and Thom Bell all contributed strong arrangements, but there’s only so much an arranger can do for a mediocre tune.
Not surprisingly, the work of the esteemed Mr. Bell provide most of the disc’s better moments. For example, there’s his chart for the Jerry Butler original “Lost” . . . a meaty rhythm, and a great one-two-three-four combination of guitar, keyboards, drums and brass. This number really starts cookin’ near the end, when Ugene Dozier lets fly with an impromptu down-the-keyboard riff on his piano. Bell’s work on "The Star Of My Show” is just as strong. He places the diva squarely in the spotlight with dramatic horn accents and quiet passages that complement her warm, fluid vocal. For once, backing vocal unit Sweethearts of Sigma don’t try to upstage her, and she gets you absolutely weak in your knees when she oozes baby, baby, baby at the climax.
He creates a soft featherbed of orchestration for the elegant “Joe”(Gamble and Huff’s sound engineer Joe Tarsia, we presume?), atop which Dusty’s vocal rests as she runs all over town, fretting over the whereabouts of her beloved. This lovely tune was totally wasted on the flipside of the detestable “Silly, Silly Fool.” Dusty wraps Bell’s multicolored arrangement for “Never Love Again” around her like a winter cloak as she swears eternal devotion to a departed lover. This is her finest performance on the album; here’s the fragile, intimate Dusty of the Memphis sessions, getting into the spirit of a big, old-fashioned torch ballad that’s worthy of her attention.
Ugene Dozier’s electric piano washes over “A Brand New Me” like brandy over ice. With Dusty skillfully interpreting the alternately joyful and pensive attitudes of its matter-of-fact lyric, this song quickly joins “Son-Of-A-Preacher Man,” “Some Of Your Lovin’” and “Willie And Laura Mae Jones” in her bag of Country/Soul classics. The single credits Bobby Martin with the arrangement, while the album credits Thom Bell; it’s probably a collaboration between the two, and definitely a winning one. (Note: Theresa, not Thom, is the Bell who co-wrote this song with Kenny Gamble and Jerry Butler.) Bobby Martin reworks Bell’s combination punch from “Lost” to suit “Let’s Talk It Over,” adding a surly bass, wicked rhythm guitar and a hot saxophone for good measure. His rhythm section purrs like the engine of a sleek roadster, while strings flash overhead like passing streetlights; a better-than-average tune is made better still.
But when the conductor’s baton passes to Roland Chambers, matters take a turn for the worse. Chambers arranges and in some cases co-writes the weakest material on the album. “Silly, Silly Fool” begins promisingly enough, with a cool interplay of woodwinds and strings, but it quickly deteriorates into an annoying singsong melody with grade school lyrics. Dusty trading “sillies” with Sweethearts of Sigma on the fadeout may well be the nadir of her recorded work. This was an extremely poor choice for album inclusion, much less for single release. “Bad Case Of The Blues” . . . and a Blues it definitely is not . . . is also torpedoed by a sugar-coated melody, and just like “Silly, Silly Fool,” it disintegrates into meaningless repetition, as though the lyricist had simply run out of things to say.
The awkwardly titled “Let Me In Your Way” reaches for the exotic subtlety of “In The Land Of Make-Believe” but misses by a longshot. Chambers' painstaking orchestration is wasted on this thumbnail sketch of a song that, indeed, does get in the way and never seems to find its way. The singer can barely disguise her disinterest. Chambers only gets good material to work with when he tackles "Let's Get Together Soon," a tender midtempo ballad with an undercurrent of sexual tension. Still, Dusty's recording of it proved to be little more than a demo for Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, who'd wax the definitive version five years later under a slightly remixed title.
Gamble and Huff Productions would demonstrate what marvels they were truly capable of when they cut Dusty on Thom Bell and Linda Creed's luxurious "I Wanna Be A Free Girl in April of 1970. This was one of several tracks recorded for an aborted second Philadelphia album, and the only one to be released at the time. However, that triumph did little to quell the disappointing aftertaste left by From Dusty, With Love. Dusty was to be commended for not resting on her Memphis laurels, and taking a chance with what was, at the time, a relatively novice production team; it speaks to her integriy and gutsiness. Even so, you can't help but think she'd have been better off staying down South a while longer! Unfortunately, this album was a harbinger of the kinds of unsatisfactory material and flawed production values that would plague her for the rest of the decade.
During 1970, Dusty cut numerous new sides in England, none of which Atlantic executives thought were suitable for American release. Her third and final Atlantic album would be recorded in New York City with one of the era's hottest producers.
Faithful/Dusty In New York
The Lost Atlantic Records Album
The Lost Atlantic Records Album
Produced in New York City by Jeff Barry
recorded in 1971
Dusty's first single of 1971 was a stunning Rock ballad written by Ellie Greenwich and Mike Rashkow. "What Good Is I Love You?" was brought to Dusty's attention by Jerry Wexler; perhaps for that reason, it's the only self-produced Dusty Springfield single Atlantic ever gave the green light to. Miss Beehive cut her vocals in England to match a backing track that Greenwich and Rashkow had pre-recorded at New York's Regent Sound Studios. Had they been tapped to produce Dusty's new album, it would've meant an in-studio reunion for Ellie and Dusty(Miss Ellie had sung background at her 1964 New York sessions). It also would've meant a big boost for Greenwich and Rashkow's Pineywood Production company, which was struggling. When radio turned a cold shoulder to "What Good Is I Love You," prospects for a Greenwich-Springfield reunion turned just as chilly. As fate would have it, Dusty would work next with Ellie Greenwich's most famous collaborator. The last two Dusty Springfield singles released on Atlantic Records were supervised by Jeff Barry.
One of the top producers of the 1960s, he was responsible for monster hits like The Monkees' "I'm A Believer," Neil Diamond's "Cherry, Cherry" and The Archies' "Sugar, Sugar." Few of Dusty's American fans knew that she had cut an entire album with him, although in England, there had at least been some high-profile press reports about it. At the end of the day, this album failed to appear on either side of the Atlantic. Rumors about it have circulated for years: That Dusty never wanted to work with Jeff Barry, that the two of them did battle in the studio, that she hated the album, or that Atlantic Records hated it. It's time to set the record straight, as fully and as accurately as possible.
Jeff Barry asked Jerry Wexler for the chance to produce Dusty. Wexler contacted her in London, and she responded to the idea with enthusiasm. Certainly, she was aware of Barry's track record. He was widely known for his work with Girl Groups and so-called Bubblegum acts. Critics were in the habit of panning Jeff Barry productions, calling them Pop music in its most blatant form. Unlike most of the critics, Dusty would've had more than just a surface familiarity with his product. Barry's most recent album productions had been for The Monkees and Bobby Bloom. Both LPs had a pronounced Blues and Gospel flavor, and it's very likely that Dusty had heard one or both. Whatever the case, she requested that Barry create the same kind of album for her.
With that request in mind, he assembled the writers who had contributed to those earlier albums: Neil Brian Goldberg, Gil Slavin, Ned Albright and brothers Mike and Steve Soles. Then he commissioned material from them like Motown's Berry Gordy would have, encouraging competition by dangling the prospect of a hit Dusty Springfield recording before their noses. Barry would take part in the competition, too, writing alone and with Bobby Bloom. Hardly one to be left out of plans for her own album, Dusty fielded several song suggestions of her own.
By January of 1971, the material had been settled on, and Barry took his regular session crew (guitarists Hugh McCracken, Trade Martin and Al Gorgoni, keyboard-player Ron Frangipane, drummer Gary Chester and others) into Manhattan's Century Sound Studios, which he co-owned. The tracks were completed over a period of six months. A variety of music arrangers contributed charts, but none of their contributions were used in the end. Joe Renzetti, one of the arrangers who was hired, has confirmed this fact. Barry didn't want to bury the songs in heavy orchestration, so he sketched out the bare bones arrangements himself. He knew that Dusty's voice needed to be the album's centerpiece. Vocal tracks were cut during the final sessions in May and June, with just Dusty, Barry and engineer Joe Venneri in the studio.
Yet, as Barry began work on the final mixdowns, Dusty's contract with Atlantic Records came up for renewal. Atlantic executives were unable to come to terms with her, and she returned to England without an American distribution contract. Perhaps as retaliation, the company pulled her new album from the release schedule and all work on it ceased. No master tapes were ever made, aside from the singles, which Atlantic no doubt issued in an attempt to recoup costs. A quarter century later, the American label Rhino Records finally issued these all-but-forgotten sides as "bonus tracks" on their deluxe re-release of Dusty In Memphis. The only reason they were able to do so is because Jeff Barry had saved his album mixes; the actual session tapes had perished years earlier in a vault fire.
Although the salvaged tracks had to weather an initial period of critical savaging(mainly because they sounded so different from Dusty's Memphis sides), most of them have gone on to be hailed as masterpieces by Dusty's fans. Neil Brian Goldberg, one of the main songwriters on Dusty's aborted album, believes the appeal of the "lost" tracks lies with the fact that they weren't over-produced. "Jeff Barry honored Dusty's true voice and spirit," he told me, and her fans have tended to agree. To date, however, neither Rhino nor any other label in the world has seen fit to re-construct the album, mix it properly and issue it in the way it was intended to be heard. Consequently, another rumor has arisen: That the tracks don't hang together well as an album.
For the purpose of refuting that rumor in particular, let's pretend that Dusty's unreleased Atlantic set is indeed available as a stand-alone collection, with the full songwriter credits Rhino's producers neglected to provide, and an appropriate title. Biographer David Bret says that the album title was going to be Faithful. I prefer to call it Dusty In New York, after one of her early British extended play discs.
For what was probably intended as the first track on Side One, Jeff Barry wrote for Dusty a raunchy, Otis Redding-styled Blues ballad with scat lyrics . . . think "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Sad Song." He obviously felt that a song like this would be a good showcase for her Blues singing, and he was right. For those who believed Dusty had African-American inflections in her voice, her performance of "I Believe In You" definitely would've qualified as one of her "Blackest." With Barry himself singing harmony vocals behind her, Dusty gets herself quite worked-up here, but compared to the changes she'll be put through by some of the album's other material, it's just a warm-up . . . strenuous enough to make her breathe a little faster, but no more than that.
"I'll Be Faithful" is a wonderful, laid-back, Sunday-afternoon promenade of a ballad, the kind of number Brook Benton would've felt right at home with. In fact, it's easier to imagine a man singing this Ned Albright/Mike and Steve Soles tune, because it's a wedding proposal set to music. You can clearly picture a male suitor on bended knee, the hands of his intended pressed between his own, as he declares I have promised love forever/There will be no end. Is it right for Dusty to be playing this kind of role? Is it believable? Yes it is, and yes, she is. As she demonstrated back in 1963 by cutting records like "Can I Get A Witness?" and "Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa," Dusty didn't hesitate to challenge gender roles if she wanted to do a song badly enough.
She does justice to "Faithful," the only album track for which an actual session tape still exists. "All The King's Horses" was Dusty's first recording of a bonafide Bubblegum Rock tune since "Now That You're My Baby" in 1964. More accurately, this Neil Brian Goldberg-Joe Renzetti composition is a "Bubblegum Blues" tune, a hybrid that Jeff Barry specialized in. The bouncing ball tempo swings ever so lively while poor Dusty dissolves in tears. All the king's horses and all the king's men/Are never gonna make me smile again, she laments. The juxtaposition of sad lyrics and a sprightly melody isn't unheard of in popular music, but for some reason, the two elements don't quite gel here. In a final mixdown, Barry probably would've made the rhythm a little punchier; a hint of Holland-Dozier-Holland sensibility is somewhere in there, but the beat just isn't aggressive enough to evoke Motown.
Jeff Barry's staff writers weren't responsible for "Someone Who Cares." This Alexander Harvey composition was most likely recorded at Dusty's behest. It's an obscure love theme from a 1970 Jason Robards film that's long since been forgotten. The song is forgettable, too, though Barry does his best to make something special out of it. He begins and closes it in glacier-slow ballad tempo, but imposes a swinging march-time rhythm at its midsection. An interesting concept, but ultimately a failed one; the track comes across as neither fish nor fowl. Even if Dusty had cut it in England with Peter Knight or another of her regular session arrangers, it's doubtful that "Someone" would have amounted to much.
Conversely, her exquisite reading of "Make It With You" could easily have been an outtake from her Memphis sessions. Dusty's sublimely relaxed approach to this David Gates classic only partially conceals a smouldering lust that lies just beneath the surface. When she sings oooooh baby, let's make it, I wanna make it with you, there can be no doubt that she's really feeling hot-to-trot! This is a page from the "Breakfast In Bed" manual of pop singing.
Mixing Gospel with Rock'n'Roll was another of Jeff Barry's specialties. Dusty was the ideal vocalist with which to indulge that kind of musical experimentation, and "Love, Shine Down On Me" was the ideal song. In just a precious few lines, writers Neil Brian Goldberg and Gil Slavin sketch the demise of a love affair and the acute anguish it causes the woman involved. Raising a tearstained face to the Heavens, Dusty falls on her knees and pleads for salvation. Love, shine down me, she cries, light a way back into his heart. Hearing her become progressively more distraught with each repetition of the chorus is sweet agony for the listener. Her emotional display sounds heartwrenchingly real, especially with the session singer equivalent of a Wailing Wall going at full force behind her(Cissy Houston and Sweet Inspirations, in all likelihood). If ever Atlantic Records overlooked a potential hit, this was the one.
Jeff Barry and Bobby Bloom's "Haunted" provided Dusty with one of her strongest bids for R & B radio and chart action (which, according to Billboard, she got surprisingly little of). Streetwise-sounding and ghetto-fabulous, it would've fit right into the soundtrack of a blaxploitation film like Truck Turner or Sweet Sweetback's Badassssssssss Song. Then again, Blacula might've made a better fit! The song bristles with foreboding as it drives home the metaphor of a past lover's ghostly presence haunting Dusty relentlessly. The strings shiver and moan like a funky phantom, and a footsteps-in-the-attic horn section evokes the spooks and spirits of Old Dark House movies. As a single, "Haunted" shook up Boston pretty good, but the rest of the country evidently wasn't in the mood for a thriller. Issued in August of 1971, it probably would've done better as a Halloween release.
(The flipside of "Haunted", recorded specifically as a B-side, was another Barry/Bloom song. "Nothing Is Forever" is something you could easily imagine Bloom himself singing; it would've fit right in with the rest of the material on his début album. While not an unreasonable choice for La Springfield to sing, her voice sounds awfully ragged on this maudlin ballad. She probably insisted that Barry keep it off the LP.)
Dusty's fans might've been surprised to learn that she had an appreciation for bone-crunching Rock of the Creem and Led Zeppelin variety; unlikely as it seems, she actually recommended Zeppelin to Jerry Wexler, and the band was signed to Atlantic Records as a result. Finding examples of hard Rock in her own catalogue is another matter. She wouldn't really embrace that kind of sound until her 1981 White Heat album sessions. Had Goldberg and Slavin's "Natchez Trace" hit the streets in 1971, it would've given Dusty a whole new image; Rock critics who complained that her music was too soft and wimpy surely would've been impressed. As guitars screech and squeal like motorcycle tires hitting a curve, she spins her harrowing tale of life as a biker girl, during the course of which she is impregnated and then abandoned by her man. Her vocal is so incredibly raw, and ends so abruptly, it sounds like it might've come from a rehearsal tape. By Dusty's standards, the track sounds unfinished, but even if it is, she definitely gave it all she had.
Gil Slavin and Mike Soles' Country-flavored "(You Ask Me To) Live Here With You" presents another sad lyric etched against a light, almost carefree-sounding musical backdrop; the basic, unadorned track calls to mind a young girl sitting alone and practicing her afternoon piano lesson. This time the contrasting moods work, perhaps because the song ends on a hopeful note. Afraid of the commitment a live-in relationship would mean, Dusty mounts a protest that ultimately proves to have been half-hearted. Love will surely win out, and soon there'll be a U-Haul van parked at the front door of her boyfriend's flat! Her subdued vocal is a most attractive blend of sandpaper and silk. "Live Here With You" is an example of the kind of tune Jeff Barry has said he favors: The freeze frame of a love affair captured at a specific point in time.
"Have A Good Life, Baby" is Barry's take on the bossa nova ballad style Dusty had become famous for. It's arguably more delicate and nuanced than any she's cut before or since. Her European fans have fallen quite hard for this Goldberg-and-Renzetti-penned side, and in the last few years, it's been included on more Dusty Springfield compilations than any of her other "lost album" recordings except "Haunted." The song's mood tenses, relaxes, and tenses again like a muscle in spasm. Meanwhile, Dusty's voice tiptoes across the surface of the melody as if it were made of the most fragile glass . . . even more fragile than the marriage she sings of that now lies shattered at her feet.
Carole King's version of "You've Got A Friend" had a strong Gospel foundation, but Dusty pulls even more raw Gospel feeling out of it. She takes her own sweet time with this Rock standard, allowing the intensity of her delivery to build and then recede much the same way a good Pentecostal preacher would. Play this recording, and whatever day it is becomes Sunday morning, whatever place you're in becomes church, and whatever belief system you ascribe to is beside the point! Suddenly, you and Dusty Springfield are practicing the same religion. What makes your conversion profound is hearing her overdubbed voices vamp the song coda over and over until it's seared permanently on your brain.
Gil Slavin and Mike Soles' supremely righteous "I Have Found My Way Through The Darkness" had to be the album's final track. Here Dusty fronts a Gospel choir, her arms lifted in praise as she bares her heart and soul through testimony. In my life, I have known many sorrows/In my time, trouble has shadowed my way. But then, her salvation came. You fill my life with sunshine/You always bring me gladness/Nobody but you could have brought me out. She can't hold her feeling in. She's got to shout it out! Amen, sister. Is it God she's exhalting, or is it an earthly lover? That isn't really clear, but it hardly matters. When she emerges from the darkness of her despair and embraces the light, it's a light strong and pure enough for everyone to see . . . and hear. What a sin, to lock a magnificent track like this in a tape archive! Many a producer has spent fruitless years in recording sessions with dozens of artists, hoping and praying to capture just such a performance. Jeff Barry had the good fortune to nail this one, but then, he hedged his bet by producing the right artist!
Sequenced properly, Dusty In New York does hang together well as an album; there's absolutely no doubt about it. As for fighting with Dusty in the studio, Jeff Barry says it didn't happen; and if Dusty hated the album, why did she rave about it in a British press release? "I most certainly think it's as strong as (my) English LP," she wrote in the summer of '71. "In fact, it's a lot stonger, and I'm pretty sure you're going to like it." Not every track is outstanding, but more than enough excellent musicianship is on display for the collection to be seen as a minor masterwork. Had the album seen the light of day, it would've been a feather in the cap for both Jeff Barry and Dusty Springfield.
So ended her Atlantic Records tenure. Perfectionists can argue about whether Dusty's Atlantic sessions ever really approached the majesty of her British recordings, but one thing is clear: Working with remarkable producers like Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd, Arif Mardin, Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry not only reinforced her legend, it also enhanced her reputation around the world.
Special thanks to Jeff Barry,
Neil Brian Goldberg, Gil Slavin, Susan Morse
and Joe Renzetti.
Neil Brian Goldberg, Gil Slavin, Susan Morse
and Joe Renzetti.