Friday, July 19, 2013

89. Dusty in Memphis (1969) Dusty Springfield


  1. Just a Little Lovin'
  2. So Much Love
  3. Son of a Preacher Man
  4. I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore
  5. Don't Forget About Me
  6. Breakfast in Bed
  7. Just One Smile
  8. The Windmills of Your Mind
  9. In the Land of Make Believe
  10. No Easy Way Down
  11. I Can't Make It Alone

I don't think there's ever been as much pressure on an individual artist to deliver the goods as Dusty Springfield must have felt recording Dusty in Memphis. For most of the previous decade she'd been a big pop star having enjoyed a huge amount of success with "I only want to be with you" her debut single as a solo artist. It was a hit for her home in Britain and even did well in the US before the Beatles made UK artists charting in America less of a novelty. Springfield was the pop queen of the UK and had a series of hits written by the great pop writers of the day.

But by the late sixties the musical landscape had changed and Dusty hadn't changed with it. Psychedelia, Hard Rock, The Beatles and Motown's wider acceptance among white record buyers had permanently altered the industry Springfield made her name in.  Her popularity was waning, the hits and dried up and she stopped doing the big rooms and started doing the small clubs to smaller audiences.

Personally Dusty was descending into drug use, alcoholism and self harm which later reached levels that required hospitalization. Her substance abuse and depressed episodes were caused in part by her crippling stage fright and lack of self confidence and also a fear that she would be outed and ostracised for her sexuality. Springfield was gay in an era when being gay killed careers as badly as being openly homophobic does today. The press were asking difficult questions wanting to know why she had close female friends and had never had a romantic relationship with a male.

Dusty decided to deal with this pressure by giving herself her greatest career challenge. Rather than buy some pop hits from established songwriters, or record an album of Beatles covers, she decided to sign with Atlantic records and go to Memphis to record Soul music with the most established producers of the day. At a time when she might be expected to retreat inwards she stepped out of her comfort zone and challenged herself to match the Soul greats, all the while knowing that the public were ignoring her and the press saw her career as nothing more than preparation for her life as a sensationalist headline.

Dusty didn't just rise to the challenge she recorded Son of a Preacher Man. I have to come clean and admit that as the male offspring of an ordained clergyman I have a special affinity with this particular track. I warm to it in the way that the the chronically flatulent must enjoy Blowin in the Wind or exhibitionist high jumpers named Jack must enjoy Jumpin Jack Flash. But even if you didn't have a Dad who worked Sunday mornings you still have to admit it's a fantastic song. That slinky baseline that head swaying rhythm and those punchy horns and the answering guitar. It's just gold in every possible way. Best of all are Dusty's vocals which start low and seductive but build to a dramatic climax showing off the full range of her talents.

Preacherman is all Dusty in Memphis needs to make it a classic album but there's a lot more to enjoy. There's literally not a weak track on the album and Dusty gives every song her all. She sings as if her life and not just her career depended on it. She sings like a white English lesbian trying to prove herself in a world dominated by black heterosexuals Americans.  The production behind her is perfect and the song choices suit her style at times but stretch her at others which makes it even more interesting. Is definitely an achievement to say you've recorded the definitive version of something. Dusty's version of Windmills of Your Mind is definitely definitive and despite the fact that it had been recorded several times before and countless times since her version is the best one. The rest of the tracklisting isn't as well known but I can't imagine anyone topping her renditions. It's an album of definitive versions.

If you haven't heard Dust in Memphis then I recommend you check it out. A fragile woman went into a studio with a point to prove and left having established her legacy.


-That's the full review. Big on capitals, light on ideas.

So do you listen to this often or is it growing dusty on your shelves. Let me know below.

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