Category Archives: Dusty Springfield

The Essentials: Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

I can say with certainty when I first encountered many LPs and 45s – not because I possess an extraordinary memory, but from my old desk diaries. In mid-1982, not long before I started my senior year of high school, I began charting said purchases – a routine I maintained through much of the next three-and-a-half years. Looking back, though, I wish I’d tracked such things from the get-go, and continued the practice after I stopped – and if I’d been aware that one day I’d be blogging about this stuff, I likely would have.

Anyway, I first met Dusty in Memphis during those pre-1982 years. I have no memory of when or where it happened, though my hunch – because the LP was out-of-print – is the early 1980s at Memory Lane Records, an independent store in Horsham that traded (and still trades) in used vinyl. Why I bought it is yet another question I can’t answer: Did I read about it in a music magazine? In a book? Was it spurred by hearing “Son of a Preacher Man” on the radio?

The story behind the album is easier told: In 1968, Dusty Springfield signed with Atlantic Records and, shortly thereafter, arrived in the hallowed halls of American Studios in Memphis to work with producers Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin, and their crack studio crew. She rejected many of the songs they wanted her to sing, and her nerves caused havoc with her voice – as a result, many (if not all) of the final vocals were actually recorded at a later date in New York City. No matter. The final set is simply exquisite, the epitome of “blue-eyed soul” (though Dusty’s actual eye color was a light aqua green).

The 11 songs are sultry, soulful, gritty and sweet, sometimes all at once, and lay down a blueprint that generations of singers have sought (and usually failed) to replicate. Dusty’s vocals reflect and inject her soul into the lyrics; she may not have written the words, but one senses that she lived them.

The tortured “I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore,” by Randy Newman, is one of the album’s tour de forces:

Another: “Breakfast in Bed.”

And, of course, the now classic “Son of a Preacher Man”:

Yet, despite the presence of a Top 5 hit in “Son of a Preacher Man,” the album didn’t sell well – about 100,000 copies. By year’s end, Dusty moved onto Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, where she worked with TSOP practitioners Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff (who, in 1971, founded the Philadelphia International label) on A Brand New Me.

The failure of Dusty in Memphis to do well just goes to show that sales don’t always equal quality – a fact many music fans know, but others never seem to get. (That’s a tangent for a future rant from me, I think.)

Rolling Stone ranks the LP at No. 89 in its 500 Greatest Albums All Time list, but I’d rank it higher. It shares space with dozens of others in my mythical Top 10. It’s as perfect an album ever released – so perfect that, through the years, I’ve acquired just about every iteration of it released, including the original CD, the reissues with bonus tracks, high-resolution versions in stereo and mono…and, to close the circle, on vinyl yet again. It sounds as fresh to me today as it ever did.

Here’s the track listing (with the songwriters noted in parentheses):

Side 1:

  1. Just a Little Lovin’ (Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil)
  2. So Much Love (Gerry Goffin & Carole King)
  3. Son of a Preacher Man (John Hurley & Ronnie Wilkins)
  4. I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore (Randy Newman)
  5. Don’t Forget About Me (Gerry Goffin & Carole King)
  6. Breakfast in Bed (Eddie Hinton & Donnie Fritts)

Side 2:

  1. Just One Smile (Randy Newman)
  2. The Windmills of Your Mind (Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman & Michael Legrand)
  3. In the Land of Make Believe (Burt Bacharach & Hal David)
  4. No Easy Way Down (Gerry Goffin & Carole King)
  5. I Can’t Make It Alone (Gerry Goffin & Carole King)

Here it is in full:

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Today’s Top 5: July 22, 1967

Fifty years ago today as I write, the Summer of Love was in full bloom. It was, in many ways, a pleasant Delaware Valley Saturday: the temperature topped out at 84 degrees (Fahrenheit) and fell back into the low 70s overnight – far from perfect, but expected. Humidity, always a factor in this neck of the woods, felt like a wet blanket.

On the other side of Pennsylvania, in Allegheny County (home to Pittsburgh and a few other cities), 16-year-old Wendy D. was navigating life’s oft-unexpected highs and lows during what had quickly turned into a personal summer of love. The previous evening, her main beau, Tom, totaled his car. He was shaken up, but not – thankfully – seriously injured. 

I say “main” beau because Wendy was also dating – behind Tom’s back, no less – a college man, Scott, who took her to a stock car race this very night. Vroom, vroom!

Meanwhile, across the country in California, younger Valerie S. had a good day, too: eating watermelon, painting, and making hamburger for dinner.

Here’s the day’s headline in the Chicago Tribune:

On the surface, life was good: unemployment ticked down .1 percent to 3.8 percent; inflation crept up .3 percent to 2.8 percent for the year; and America, as a whole, was intrigued by the Summer of Love headquartered in San Francisco. At the same time, however, large swaths of the nation were peering into the abyss of hopelessness; thus, race riots spread like wildfires that summer through many cities. During early-morning hours of the 23rd, a police raid on an unlicensed bar in Detroit sparked a five-day riot that resulted in 43 deaths, more than 1189 injured and $40-45 million worth of property damage.

On the entertainment front, one of history’s oddest pairings came to an end earlier in the week when the Monkees lost their opening act, Jimi Hendrix.

The No. 1 album in the land was an LP sans a hit single on the charts: the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was in its fourth week in the top spot, and would remain there through October 7th.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: July 22, 1967, based on the charts at Weekly Top 40.

1) The Association – “Windy.” Enjoying its fourth week at No. 1 is this breezy song.

2) Frankie Valli – “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” A years-long effort by Valli, Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe to launch a successful solo career culminated with this classic, which hit No. 2 in the pop charts this week.

3) The Doors – “Light My Fire.” Rising to No. 3 (from 8) is the debut single by Jim Morrison & Co. This performance is from the Jonathan Winters Show.

4) The 5th Dimension – “Up, Up and Away.” Holding steady at No. 7 is this Jimmy Webb-penned tune, which was the first Top 10 hit by Marilyn McCoo, Billy Davis Jr. & friends.

5) Janis Ian – “Society’s Child.” Also this week, Janis Ian’s debut single – written when she was 13 and released when she was 15 – celebrated its second week at No. 14. This spot, on a Leonard Bernstein TV special, was its introduction to a wide audience.

And a few bonus tracks…

6) The Hollies – “Carrie Anne.” This infectious single from the Manchester-born pop group, which was on its way to the Top 10, rises to No. 23 (from 28).

7) The Bee Gees – “To Love Somebody.” One of the week’s power plays is this now-classic song, which jumped from No. 79 to 42.

8) and 9) The Monkees – “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “Words.” The Prefab Four click on all cylinders with Goffin-King’s “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” which enters the charts at No. 51. The flip side, the Boyce-Hart ode “Words,” notched its own spot at No. 78.

10) Dusty Springfield – “The Look of Love.” And, finally – entering the charts at No. 98 is this Dusty Springfield gem, which was penned by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

The Essentials: Dusty Springfield – Complete A and B Sides 1963-1970

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once. Also, although the primary focus is on unique albums, from time to time must-have collections – such as the one below – will be spotlighted.)

By my count, some 34 Dusty Springfield compilations have been released through the years, with about a half dozen still being in print. Most, obviously, collect her hits; others, such as the box sets or double-disc collections, mix in pertinent album tracks and/or rarities; and yet others hone in on specific years or recording sessions, such as the delightful Come for a Dream: The U.K. Sessions 1970-71.

The Complete A and B Sides, which was released in 2006, takes a different tack. Compiled by Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley, it features Dusty’s original British singles on Disc 1 and the original B-sides on Disc 2 – and most feature the original mono mixes.

Mono, of course, uses one channel so that what one hears out of each speaker is exactly the same. Stereo, on the other hand, expands the soundscape to two channels – a right and a left. A guitar may be heard coming from the right speaker and not from the left, for example. One isn’t intrinsically better than the other, though – these days – stereo is the norm.

The further back in time one travels, however – like, say, to the 1960s – the more likely it is that the original release was mono; and that stereo versions of the same recordings, if available, were afterthoughts. The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is probably the greatest example: John Lennon and Paul McCartney were hands-on for the mono mix, spending about three weeks to get everything exactly right. The stereo mix, however, was created without their input over the course of two days.

While Dusty’s productions never matched that of Sgt. Pepper, one can argue that her emotional acumen did, in fact, rival theirs. And the original mono mixes of her material are – as the back cover says – “punchy.” They just sound more alive. (That’s not always the case, however; though some tracks sound as good as their stereo counterparts, as a whole the mono Dusty in Memphis sounds flatter and duller.)

Anyway, that’s really getting beside the point of this essential pick: Each disc is a great set unto itself. Yes, the A-side half lacks a few of her stateside hits, such as “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” because they weren’t released as singles in Britain; but the B-side half more than makes up for it with such overlooked wonders as “Summer Is Over”…

…“Don’t Say It Baby”…

…and “I’m Gonna Leave You,” the flip side to one of her greatest singles…

…the Goffin-King classic “Goin’ Back.”

(That’s the stereo version above, I should mention; YouTube doesn’t have the mono. For shame, YouTube. For shame!)

Here’s another oft-overlooked A-side:

Here’s the track listing in full: