Spotlight on ....
Since Dusty Springfield’s death in 1999 there has been a renewed public awareness and acceptance of how great a singer she was, so much so that her popularity today can only be matched by the success she enjoyed in her sixties heyday.
Dusty was born Mary Isobel Catherine O’Brien of Irish Catholic parents on April 16th 1939 in West Hampstead. Childhood friends gave her the nickname of ‘Dusty’ at an early age because of her tomboy behaviour. After her education at the local convent school in Ealing, she gained experience of public performing at supper clubs and debutante parties, either singing alone or with her brother. Her first professional appearance was at the Savoy Cinema in Clacton as a member of the Lana Sisters, whom Dusty joined in 1958. Her stint with the sister act was brief and in 1960 she teamed up with brother Tom and friend Tim Feild to form the Springfields, a pseudo c&w/folk group. They were signed to Philips Records and in May 1961 released their first recording, “Dear John”. In late 1962, with new member Mike Pickworth replacing Tim Field, “Island Of Dreams” established them as a top vocal group. The record was a Top 5 hit and remained in the charts for 26 weeks. And then, in October 1963, at the height of their success, the Springfields hit the headlines by announcing they were to disband.
The next month, Dusty had her first solo chart hit with “I Only Want To Be With You” (#4). After a less successful second single and a top selling album A Girl Called Dusty, she recorded Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” which took her to #3 in the charts. After an extensive UK tour in the spring, Dusty set her sights on conquering America. She had already enjoyed a modicum of chart success there, both with the Springfields and as a solo artist, and now capitalised on it with another Bacharach/David song “Wishin’ And Hopin’ (#6). At the end of 1964 she was voted top British female singer for the first time in the NME Readers’ Poll, and was simultaneously riding high in the UK charts with “Losing You”. At this time, she embarked on a tour of South Africa which was cut short when she was asked to leave after ignoring two official warnings to stop singing to multi-racial audiences.
After a minor hit with “Your Hurtin’ Kinda Love” at the start of 1965, Dusty bounced back into the charts in June with “In The Middle of Nowhere” followed by Goffin and King’s “Some Of Your Lovin’”, the recording that three years later was to be her passport to Atlantic Records. Following the release of a successful second album Ev’rything’s Coming Up Dusty and an appearance on the Royal Variety Performance, Dusty ended the year voted not only the top British but also the Top World female singer, a first for a British girl in the history of the NME Poll
After a minor hit with “Little By Little” Dusty stormed the charts in April 1966 with her only number one single “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me”, a song she had heard at the San Remo Song Festival in January 1965. The song also provided her with her highest charting solo record in the States (#4). She had two more top ten hits in 1966, “Goin’ Back” and “All I See Is You”, as well as a#2 album Golden Hits. The BBC also gave Dusty her own series which attracted large enough audiences for them to offer her a further series in 1967. She ended the year repeating her achievement of top female singer in both the World and British categories of the NME Readers’ Poll.
Despite her popularity, in 1967 Dusty seemed unable to maintain the level of chart success she had enjoyed the previous year and achieved comparatively minor chart entries with “I’ll Try Anything” and “Give Me Time”. Her third single that year “What’s It Gonna Be?” failed to even chart. In America, however, “The Look Of Love”, from the James Bond spoof-movie Casino Royale, went to #22. Dusty’s overseas engagements were now taking her away from home for long periods and, after completing her second series for the BBC in July 1967, she travelled to Australia, Japan and America. Meanwhile back home Philips released her third album Where Am I Going? It wasn’t until June 1968 that Dusty had a new single and a Top 5 hit, “I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten”, written specifically for her by Clive Westlake. Having completed a series for ATV, she played her second season at London’s Talk of the Town where she broke all previous box office records.
Dusty had now signed with Atlantic Records for the States and was teamed with producers Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin to record her first album for the company in Memphis. The September 1968 sessions produced the album Dusty In Memphis, although ironically Dusty’s vocals were recorded later in New York as her insecurities initially prevented her from singing a note. The album spawned the single “Son-of-a Preacher Man” which returned Dusty to the Top 10, both in Britain and America. The release of Dusty In Memphis in Britain was delayed until the spring of 1969 to make way for her UK produced album Dusty…Definitely. Surprisingly, when the album was eventually released, sales never lived up to expectations. Fortunately, the story of Dusty In Memphis has a happy ending, as in more recent years it has been acclaimed as a masterpiece and appears in several Top 100 album lists.
Even though “Son-of-a Preacher Man” had been a big hit, the modest sales of Memphis indicated that the public’s interest in Dusty was starting to wane. Music tastes were changing and Dusty was becoming unfashionable. In 1969, she recorded a third and less successful BBC TV series. Immediately after the September release of a new single “Am I The Same Girl”, Dusty flew to Philadelphia to record a second Atlantic album with the upcoming production team of Gamble and Huff. The first single to be released from these sessions was “A Brand New Me”, which went Top 30 in the US but flopped in the UK. The Philadelphia album A Brand New Me (retitled From Dusty With Love in the UK) never charted in the US although it just scraped into the UK Top 40.
At the end of 1969 Dusty announced that, fed up with the drudgery in Britain and in need of a challenge, she was quitting the country to live and work in the States. At this point, she did not give up on her UK career entirely. After “Morning Please Don’t Come”, a duet with brother Tom, failed to make the chart, she released a cover of a (Young) Rascals 1967 hit “How Can I Be Sure” in September 1970. Despite its strong melody, it only reached #36 yet David Cassidy topped the charts with the very same song exactly two years later.
Dusty’s next UK album was See All Her Faces in late 1972. Six months later her first album for ABC-Dunhill, her new record company in the States, was released but Dusty failed to promote either and they sank without trace. Her career was now in steady decline. Her records weren’t selling and her management was taking her in a direction she didn’t want to go - the US cabaret circuit. In December 1972, she made a long-awaited return to London’s Talk of the Town but, through illness, was sacked after the first night for non-fulfilment of her contract. Eight weeks later, however, she returned for two sell-out concerts at the London Palladium. And that was virtually the last anyone heard of Dusty Springfield in Britain for the next five years. Even in the States, TV appearances were thin on the ground and a second album for ABC-Dunhill was aborted midway. The rumour mill was abuzz with stories of Dusty’s personal life: her sexuality, her drink and drug abuse, her self-harming and suicide attempts, all of which have been well documented since her death.
In 1978 a refreshed and more mature Dusty bounced back with a new recording contract (United Artists in the USA, Mercury in the UK), a new album It Begins Again and a new iconic status. She returned to a fanfare of publicity but the euphoria was short-lived. Almost as quickly as she had arrived, she disappeared. One year later, with a new album Living Without Your Love to promote, she came back for some live concerts, only to find that all the Provincial shows had to be cancelled because of poor ticket sales. Dusty had been away too long and during this time there had been a radical change in music tastes. There was some comfort to be drawn however from the fact that her three London concerts were hugely successful. Dusty once more returned to the States, where her career was going - and would continue to go - nowhere. At the end of 1979, after a minor UK hit with the disco-flavoured “Baby Blue”, she came back for what would be her last British concert, a triumphant charity gig at the Royal Albert Hall. Apart from a 1982 US-only album release White Heat, very little was heard of Dusty until a record deal with night club owner Peter Stringfellow brought her to the UK in 1985. After one single “Sometimes Like Butterflies” and an acrimonious relationship with Stringfellow, Dusty fled back to America.
In late-1986 came an announcement of a most unlikely collaboration: Dusty was to record with Pet Shop Boys. The following year “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” was released and went to #2 on both sides of the Atlantic. In the wake of her success, Phonogram issued The Silver Collection in 1988 to commemorate her 25th anniversary as a solo artist and it gave Dusty her first Top 20 album in 22 years.
Eighteen months after the Pet Shop Boys hit, Dusty re-emerged with a new single: “Nothing Has Been Proved”, written and co-produced by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe for the movie Scandal. The single brought Dusty back into the top 20, and a further single “In Private”, released towards the end of the year and again written and co-produced by Pet Shop Boys, gave her another Top 20 hit, her last before she died. In mid-1990, her new album Reputation reached #18 within weeks of its release. However, when everything seemed to be going so well, Dusty decided to leave EMI with no alternative record contract in sight and disappeared yet again from the public eye.
Three years went by before her next record deal - with Sony/Columbia Records. However while recording an album for the label in Nashville in early 1994 Dusty became ill and, when she returned home, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After intensive treatment, she was back in May 1995 to promote her album A Very Fine Love. The album sold only moderately well. In 1996 the cancer returned and sadly on 2nd March 1999 Dusty lost her battle with the disease. Only days earlier she had received an OBE, and two weeks later she was inducted into the US Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Her funeral took place on March 12th in the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire.
In the last eight years Dusty has been the subject of numerous documentaries, musical tributes and books and as recently as last November she was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. More importantly, her recordings are to be heard constantly on radio and TV. Dusty may have gone but she has left behind a timeless legacy of recordings that will live on for many generations to come.
Dusty Springfield Bulletin
The Dusty Springfield Bulletin is a member’s only magazine. Beautifully printed three times a year this recently printed issue (March 2007) has 30 pages packed with fabulous articles of the lady herself. This issue also features Matt Monro in the centre spread.
This magazine is a must for anyone interested in the life, music and friends of this exceptional entertainer. For full details send all correspondence to:
DSB, PO Box 203, Cobham, Surrey, KT11 2UG, England
Or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sammy Davis Jr.