Bearing in mind that Dusty Springfield notched up 13 UK Top Twenty Hits in under five years plus two Top Ten Albums and four Top Ten EP’s (extended play records – usually 4 tracks) the one that landed that elusive number one spot in 1966 was the power ballad ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’ with its signature heartbeat of hesitation between the Wagnerian introduction and the singers plaintive ‘when I said I needed you…’
It’s still the one hit best remembered today and beloved of Dusty Drag Queens the world over. It has horns, it has heartbreak it has sequins sewn all over it and above all it comes with those famous Dusty Springfield arm movements punctuating the lyrics. It’s the one that comes on the radio or the compilation CD and makes us all just STOP!
But it isn’t fun.
Since 1964’s ‘I Just Don’t Know What to do with Myself’, with the exception of ‘Middle of Nowhere, ‘ and ‘Little By Little’, the rollicking early Dusty of ‘Mockingbird’ and ‘Can I Get A Witness’ was in little evidence. Bouffant or bee-hived it seemed that the record buying public liked her suffering and not in a soul sister way either.
People will say that music had changed but had it? A quick look at the UK charts from 1963 to 1966 shows that only five female solo acts scored the top slot amassing a disappointing 16 weeks of combined chart topping out of a possible 208, seven of which belonged to Cilla Black. Sandie Shaw matches her with two number ones leaving Jackie Trent, Dusty and Nancy Sinatra on one a –piece. No amount of ‘Best Girl Vocalist’ three years running could disguise the fact that there were at least two musical Dusty’s at work here. The one that sang and the one that recorded.
Of course you can’t say they were bad songs because they weren’t. Each one is meticulously arranged and beat-perfect. But you can see how a singer with the musical range of Dusty Springfield found herself shoe-horned in on misery. Was that R ‘n B / soul thing falling so flat that the only way you could sell a record if you were a woman was to have a broken heart? Or did we never really want a soul queen topping the charts, much preferring a nice bit of Home Counties hanky clutching and a stiff upper lip?
I’m not saying that Dusty set out to be a feminist icon any more than she set out to be a gay or lesbian one but perhaps the best leaders are those that have ‘ been there done that,’ rather than the ones with the biggest mouths who got megaphones from Santa.
Perhaps it was having to take that deep breath one more time in the half beat following the brass section that finally propelled her west to Atlantic Records and the land of Aretha. And maybe that was why, having got to Memphis the subsequent album was a nightmare experience.
I’m not going to relive Dusty’s American twilight. That’s not part of our relationship and besides if you want the best book read Penny Valentine and Vicki Wickham's ‘Dancing with Demons’, written with love, honesty and not one shred of judgement. But I am going to wonder out loud why ‘Dusty In Memphis’ is such a big deal and why I just don’t get it…