(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):
- Just a Little Lovin’ (Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil)
- So Much Love (Gerry Goffin & Carole King)
- Son of a Preacher Man (John Hurley & Ronnie Wilkins)
- I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore (Randy Newman)
- Don’t Forget About Me (Gerry Goffin & Carole King)
- Breakfast in Bed (Eddie Hinton & Donnie Fritts)
- Just One Smile (Randy Newman)
- The Windmills of Your Mind (Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman & Michael Legrand)
- In the Land of Make Believe (Burt Bacharach & Hal David)
- No Easy Way Down (Gerry Goffin & Carole King)
- I Can’t Make It Alone (Gerry Goffin & Carole King)
Here it is in full: