Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Dusty Springfield

The 60’s was a great era for female singers in the UK with the likes of Shirley Bassey, Petula Clark, Sandie Shaw, Helen Shapiro and Cilla Black all making a big impact.

However perhaps the most fondly remembered of all is Dusty Springfield.

I remember well her earlier incarnation as the girl singer in the Springfields. It was a very competent folk trio that was like the British equivalent of Peter, Paul and Mary.

Indeed they had a top 20 twenty hit in the States with “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” before the Beatles which was completely unheralded then for a British group.  Though strangely this missed out completely in Britain, they soon established themselves there with "Island of Dreams” (written by Dusty’s brother - now called Tom Springfield).

They had become extremely popular, regularly appearing on radio and TV, when they suddenly broke up. There was no doubting that Dusty was the undisputed star of the group and having discovered the music of Tamla Motown wanted to expand her horizon beyond the folk scene. However it is still interesting to recall that she was very good indeed in the folk genre and surely would have gone on to greater success with the Springfields if she had remained.

Dusty was indeed a superb talent who very much like Eva Cassidy later could turn her hand to almost any kind of song. In fact she experimented widely with a great number of different styles. However after initially enjoying great success to the end of the 60’s, she subsequently lost direction in an alarming fashion.

Clearly personal factors had a great deal to do with this, for underneath her confident stage persona lay a frightfully insecure individual whose problems and gender identity issues had only been compounded through her initial success.

So she was not able to sustain the discipline necessary to sustain a successful career and it has to be said that during her “lost years” her musical output was less than memorable.

She had become largely forgotten when the Pet Shop Boys were to briefly revive her fortunes with a cameo performance in one of their big international hits “What Have I Done to Deserve This”.

Thus, there was an irony here. Having left a group to enjoy individual success, she was to find it again through again joining a group.

Due to her great admiration for the black R & B artists Dusty played a big role in helping to popularise this soul music in Britain.

However I would be of the opinion that to an extent she over-identified and in a sense spent too much time trying to copy these artists rather than emphasising her own inimitable talents.

Some of her hits therefore seem somewhat derivative. For example I was listening again yesterday to “Stay Awhile” which was her second solo release and thought that it sounded remarkably like the Ronettes.

However the Ronettes had the advantage of the superb production skills of Phil Spector. So Dusty was hardly like to beat them at their own game.

Therefore though Dusty was very competent at performing the newly emerging R & B music from the States, for me she would have been better off as I have said concentrating on market niches (based on her unique gifts as a singer).

I think she was probably at her best with Bacharach and David material.

Though she did cover several of their songs, in a way I am surprised that she did not have an even closer collaboration with them e.g. recording an album with material especially written for her in mind.  

However it may well be that the personality difficulties that seemed to grow with her fame, acted as a major barrier to such a development.

Best Recording:

Though not one of her biggest hits I would say “The Look of Love”. This is a Bacharach and David song and no other singer could possibly match Dusty’s restrained but oh so sultry version of this song.

If you want to know how good she really was just listen to this recording!
See also Dusty performing with Burt "A House is not a Home" Why on earth did Dusty not record this song which suited her so perfectly?

Favourite  Recording:

I must say that I love “All I See is You”. Though Dusty never participated in the Eurovision Song Context, this always seemed to me like the archetypal Eurovision ballad which would have simply brought the house down if she had sung it in the competition.

So “douze points” everyone for Dusty!  

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