‘I Only Want To Be With You’
When you’ve grown up with somebody’s music it’s hard to separate fact from fiction and your own memories from the sound track of your childhood. It’s also hard to divine what might be only nostalgia and what could be real, so I’m not going to try that here. This is about Dusty and me, real or imagined, and a relationship that has spanned half a century, from scratchy much loved 45’s,through the CD revolution and onward through the ever expanding frontiers of the digital age.
In retrospect you only have to listen now to the voice soaring above the melody of the refrain on ‘Island of Dreams’ to know that at some point in the not too distant future Fate, Talent, Ambition or a destructive combination of all three would see ‘Mary O’Brien’ abandoning the towering beehive hair-do and become that unassailable musical icon, Dusty Springfield, in her own right. No brother, no ‘Wimoweh’ and certainly no maracas.
It’s also easy to forget that by 1963 when she stepped out of those folksy dirndls of her ‘Springfield’ trio persona and into the trademark pencil skirt and blouse of a ‘Mod Princess’ Dusty had already notched up seven years of live performance, perfecting the harmonies and phrasing that would let her take a song from nowhere and copyright it with a style that could never be imitated. This was no ‘made for TV star’ rising to fame on the back of capricious downloads. This was the real deal. And if we needed proof, there it was before our very eyes on the television set under the doily in the corner of the front room.
In November 1963 I was five, Johnny Franz produced what is arguably one of the best, if not the first, examples of the British ‘wall of sound’ and Dusty Springfield’s voice powered ‘I Only Want To Be With You’ out of our TV and up to number 4 in the British Hit Parade, scoring 10 weeks in the Billboard Top 100, where it peaked at number 12 long before The Beatles landed and took America by storm. Let’s not overlook the small fact that she also sold one million copies along the way.
So who was this new woman who looked like everybody’s sister? Where was the faux Nashville twang of ‘Tell Them I’ll Be There’? ‘Dear God’, said my mother who had quite liked ‘Silver Threads and Golden Needles’. Was Dusty just jumping ship and grabbing hold of the coat tails of a new musical generation, taking a chance on the slippery slope that was already seeing off the likes of Alma Cogan and the Big Sellers of the Fifties?
No I don’t think so.
What we didn’t know then was that under the peroxide and mascara Dusty had a rich and varied musical heritage thanks to her father that spanned the classics to jazz. She also had an ear to match. There is the often told story how her father would tap out tunes on the back of her hand and how the young Mary would know exactly what he was tapping just from the beat. What I didn’t know then was that during her tours of the US that same heritage had drawn her to a sound rarely heard in the sound proofed booths of British record shops. Dusty had discovered soul music and with the strains of the ‘Exciters’ big hit ‘Tell Him’ nagging away in her head she was going to take British pop music in a new direction.
Tomorrow, if you’re still with me, I’ll be looking at what is still one of my favourite albums, ‘A Girl Called Dusty’. If not take a look at this link. It might just change your mind. 'I only want to be with you'