Hello paaarty people!
Today’s Turntable Tuesday is brought to you by the letter D… for DUSTY.
Dusty Springfield was born Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien in West Hampstead, North London on April 16th, 1939. Springfield was raised in a music-loving family and found inspiration in Peggy Lee, Jo Stafford and other vocalists of the American Jazz movement.
In the early 60’s, Dusty started the pop-folk trio The Springfields with her brother Tom. In 1963 she released her first solo single, “I Only Want to Be with You,” inspired by soul acts she admired: The Exciters, The Shirelles and her idol, Aretha Franklin.
Dusty released her debut album, “A Girl Called Dusty,” in 1964. The album was mostly covers of her favourite songs — including Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and several Motown hits. Throughout the next few years Springfield toured with her group The Echoes and stirred up some controversy with a contract that strictly prohibited segregated performances.
Fun fact: Dusty helped to facilitate the the first UK television appearance for The Temptations, The Supremes, The Miracles & Stevie Wonder called “The Sound of Motown.”
By the late 60’s, Springfield found herself caught between what was considered “progressive, underground and cool” and what was quickly becoming “outdated, boring pop fodder.” Hoping to boost her career and popularity, she signed with Atlantic Records and began work on her seminal album “Dusty in Memphis” with producer Jerry Wexler.
Fun fact #2: During this time, Springfield suggested to Wexler that he take a chance on a newly formed little band from the UK called Led Zeppelin (she knew John Paul Jones from his session work on her earlier albums) Wexler took Springfield’s advice and signed Led Zeppelin to a $200,000 deal with Atlantic. THANK YOU, DUSTY.
Grail Marcus of Rolling Stone Magazine wrote this of “Dusty in Memphis”:
“Most of the songs have a great deal of depth, while presenting extremely direct and simple statements about love… Dusty sings around her material, creating music that’s evocative rather than overwhelming… she is not searching – she just shows up, and she, and we, are better for it.”
There was a complicated, insecure person hiding beneath the peroxide blond bouffant, campy flair and knockout voice. Springfield suffered from a giant inferiority complex and was an obsessive perfectionist. At times she struggled with her mental health and had great difficulty finding balance in her life; finding a place in the industry and in her personal life where she “fit.” I think we can all relate to that in some way.
Against those odds, Springfield was a trailblazer and under her artificial exterior, she was unapologetically authentic and honest with an unwavering moral compass. Her convictions were not always in sync with popular opinion, and I really do believe her career suffered because of that.
All of those qualities transferred to her music, and you can hear the truth in Springfield’s voice, even when the lyrics seem incredibly simple (or even a little antifeminist by today’s standards). That Rolling Stones quote about “Dusty in Memphis” really does sum it up. I have a lot of respect for Dusty Springfield, and it’s not just because she’s on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.
Enjoy Dusty’s music here:
And this video of Dusty in the 80’s with Pet Shop Boys:
Thanks for tuning in!