Monday, September 26, 2011


Here she comes -- again.

At least once a year, without fail, for a week or two, sometimes three, Dusty Springfield re-enters heavy rotation on my iPod. And as of this morning, she's back on repeat.

Despite my annual Dusty revival, my Dusty devotion is nowhere near as over-the-top as it was when I lived in New York City and my friend Declan and I would spend hours in East Village bars singing her greatest hits as boy-on-boy duets. He thought it was a shame that she never got around to covering "The Tracks of My Tears," and at some point during our Dusty sessions, he'd always break into Dusty doing Smokey Robinson, nailing her nailing him.

I interviewed Dusty once in 1995 for People magazine just as she was about to release her final album, A Very Fine Love. (Read my review and interview here. She talked about how she had been diagnosed with breast cancer after discovering a lump following the recording of the album in Nashville. ("I don't have any boobs, so it wasn't hard to find," she said with a laugh.) She was in good spirits because the cancer was in remission, and she was looking forward to beating more odds by making a big musical comeback.

Sadly, the disease would demand a rematch, and in 1999, she succumbed to it at the age of 59. She didn't live to see herself inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Elton John (Dusty had died 12 days earlier), and she never really reaped the commercial rewards that should have been hers. Her U.S. hit list is relatively puny -- 11 Top 40s, including four Top 10s -- and most music fans under 45, like myself, probably weren't fully aware of her musical genius until the Pet Shop Boys helped revive her career by inviting her along for one final ride into the Top 10 on their 1987 hit "What Have I Done to Deserve This?"

Though it spawned her signature single, "Son of a Preacher Man" (the song that was initially offered to Aretha Franklin, who turned it down but reconsidered after hearing Dusty rock it), the landmark 1969 album Dusty in Memphis only made it to No. 99 on Billboard's Top 200 album chart. A disappointment for sure, but where would Annie Lennox, Alison Moyet and Adele be without it?

Mostly an interpretative singer, Dusty had excellent taste in material and in collaborators. Her most impressive performing quality was that she always managed to make such a strong emotional point without resorting to shouting, oversinging or shameless coloratura. "The Look of Love," the Oscar-nominated song from the 1967 film Casino Royale, is one of the most beautiful haunting ballads ever, and she barely raises her voice above a whisper. Alas, her version only reached No. 22 on the Hot 100, and after Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66 performed it on the Academy Awards telecast, they won a No. 4 hit for their efforts.

It's Dusty's version that we think of when we think of the song today, but that doesn't mean she always hit her mark. Her late '70s albums were marred by the middle-of-the-road blandness that sank so much adult contemporary at the time, and not all of her interpretations were definitive (her "This Girl's in Love with You" lacks the quiet desperation of Dionne Warwick's 1969 Top 10 version, and while she sounds appropriately blue on "My Colouring Book," Brenda Lee makes you fear for her life), but as an editor of mine once told me, you can't hit a home run every time.

If music were baseball, though, Dusty's batting average still would have made her a legend in her time.

Seven Great Dusty Springfield Songs You've Probably Never Heard Of

"I Had a Talk with My Man" (from Everything's Coming Up Dusty, 1965)

"Morning (Bom Dia)" (from Dusty... Definitely, 1968)

"I Start Counting" (from See All Her Faces, 1972)

"Breaking Up a Happy Home" (from Cameo, 1973)

"The Other Side of Life" (from Cameo, 1973)

"Where Is a Woman to Go?" (from A Very Fine Love, 1995)

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