Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Dusty Springfield: Dusty In Memphis

If there's something to be gained from the recent death of Dusty Springfield, it's that it brought attention to an artist whose contributions to the music world have sometimes been overlooked. In the early '60s, she helped reshape American pop music, from Motown to the work of the Brill Building songwriters, for a British audience. Aside from the far-reaching impact of that, there's the music itself. Springfield's remarkable voice and, by all reports, uncredited production expertise, helped prove the universal power of pop music, be it Bacharach, Anglicized R&B, or her Elvis-like reworking of Italian folk songs into something new ("You Don't Have To Say You Love Me"). Then there's the recently reissued Dusty In Memphis, which plays out like a love affair: It begins with a rapturously sensuous come-on ("Just a little lovin' early in the morning / beats a cup of coffee for starting off the day") and ends in tears ("I Can't Make It Alone"). In between the two extremes is one great album recorded by a superb singer at the height of her powers. Out of fashion in the late '60s, Springfield went down to Memphis, and Atlantic Records, to recharge her career by working with the production team of Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd, and Arif Mardin, as well as a sharp team of soul musicians. Together they created a sophisticated, unique pop and R&B hybrid that anticipated the string-intensive Philadelphia sound of the next decade. A commercial flop aside from the single "Son Of A Preacher Man," the album has stood the test of time. Anyone who's only familiar with that song thanks to its inclusion on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack should know that nearly every track, excepting only the too-schlocky "The Windmills Of Your Mind," is just as good. "So Much Love," "No Easy Way Down," and "I Can't Make It Alone" find Springfield moving her uncanny ability to interpret the music of Goffin and King away from the early-'60s pop for which they were intended into the future. She also does right by Bacharach and David on "In The Land Of Make Believe" and a young Randy Newman on "Just One Smile" and "I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore." Listening closely to the latter is enough to break any beating human heart. For this reissue, Rhino has included an impressive 14 bonus tracks, one from the same sessions, two with the same production team, a couple with the still-experimenting Philadelphia soul team of Gamble and Huff, and a bunch of unreleased songs meant for a scrapped album. If most don't quite measure up to the original Memphis, that's only to be expected, and they're still worth hearing. Also worth a listen is the new compilation Dusty In London, composed largely of songs never before released in the U.S. It's less consistent than Memphis, but if Memphis whets your appetite for sophisticated soul-pop sung by a prim English lady with a voice as delicate as lace and gritty as, well, grits, it's not a bad place to turn next. Just don't expect to find anything like it anywhere else, or ever again.


Share This Story

Get our newsletter