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Since Dusty Springfield died of breast cancer in 1999, aged 59, there have been several compilations of her hits. For her first seven years or so as a solo performer, after she left folk-pop trio The Springfields, she was consistently successful in the UK and often in the US as well. After 1970 the going was pretty tough in terms of record sales (unless you count her backing vocals on Elton John's 1974 hit 'The Bitch Is Back'), at least until she had a brief late flowering again with the Pet Shop Boys in the late 1980s.
This budget price 2-CD compilation offers excellent value for money, collecting all her singles between 1963 and 1970 (with the exception of an unsuccessful and now highly sought-after 1964 Christmas record, 'O Holy Child') - the A-sides on the first disc and their B-sides on the second.
THE MUSIC: THE A-SIDES
Leaving the Springfields liberated her musically. She had long been a fan of the early American girl groups, as well as soul, jazz and big ballads. Thanks to a team of top-class songwriters and arrangers, who were savvy enough to allow her some input into what she wanted to do, the results made her one of the top female singers in Britain of her time. To this day she is still revered by her contemporaries and also younger generations as one of the first ladies of British music.
She set the bar pretty high with her debut, the glorious 'I Only Want To Be With You' (No. 4, 1964). A bubbly belter of a song that showed off her soulful voice, coupled with a lavish orchestral arrangement that owed something to the sound pioneered by Phil Spector, it remains one of the songs most immediately identified with her. Coincidentally, two later cover versions would also peak at No. 4, from the Bay City Rollers in 1976 and the Tourists, featuring Annie Lennox, in 1979.
Follow-up 'Stay Awhile' (No. 13, 1964), by the same songwriting team, Mike Hawker and her musical director Ivor Raymonde, was still good but kept a little too close to the formula. It failed to have the same impact, and in my view suffered a little from an early fade, clocking in at well short of two minutes. The lesson was learnt, and she came back strongly with a Burt Bacharach and Hal David ballad, 'I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself' (No. 3, 1964), with trumpets and strings creating the perfect backdrop to her soaring voice.
To a certain extent, once she and her arrangers found their style, they tended to stick with it. 'Losing You' (No. 9, 1964), more or less a big ballad in waltz time, continued the run of major hits, but the less noteworthy 'Your Hurtin' Kind Of Love' (No. 37, 1965) proved a flop by comparison.
Back they went to the upbeat pop style. 'In The Middle Of Nowhere' (No. 8, 1965) has always been one of her very best-ever for me. With Alan Price, formerly of The Animals, on piano, a spirited brass section, and Lesley Duncan, Madeleine Bell and Doris Troy providing vocal support, this was British pop-soul of the first order. It was followed by another powerful ballad, the Gerry Goffin and Carole King-composed 'Some Of Your Lovin'' (again No. 8, 1965). Another dynamic orchestral arrangement matches her pleading vocal perfectly.
'Little By Little' (No. 17, 1966) was a return to the fast-paced, Motown-like style. Just when it appeared her chart fortunes were on the slide again, she returned with what would be her highest charting hit ever on both sides of the Atlantic. Originally an Italian song she had heard at a festival abroad, she was keen to record a new version with English lyrics. These were promptly written for her by friends (and finished in the back of a taxi on the way to her flat). 'You Don't Have To Say You Love Me' (No. 1, 1966), found her on top form - as it should, seeing as how she insisted on 47 takes until she was satisfied with her performance. Now that's what I call a perfectionist.
For the next two singles she stuck with slower songs. 'Goin' Back' (No. 10, 1966), with its mellow piano intro, was another Goffin-King song, a wistful yearning to return to the days of childhood innocence. 'All I See Is You' (No. 9, 1966) was a return to the big balladry of 'You Don't Have To...'
With changes in musical fashion, the hits could no longer be guaranteed. The faster 'I'll Try Anything' (No. 13, 1967), another ballad, 'Give Me Time' (No. 24, 1967), and the Northern soul belter 'What's It Gonna Be', which despite the presence on backing vocals of Madeleine Bell, Carole King, and the as yet little-known duo Ashford and Simpson, her first to fall short of the Top 50 altogether, suggested a downward spiral. All were top quality material, but maybe Dusty was seen as a star of a bygone age.
After a gap of several months, she had another moment of glory with the wistful 'I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten' (No. 4, 1968), on which her voice, the grand piano and strings proved an irresistible combination. Another strong ballad, 'I Will Come To You', failed to register.
The came the move to America, Recorded in Memphis with an American production team, including Arif Mardin (the man later largely responsible for kick-starting the Bee Gees' disco renaissance with 'Jive Talkin''), 'Son Of A Preacher Man' (No. 8, 1969), turned down by Aretha Franklin, revealed a new, sultry Dusty. Sadly it proved to be her last major hit for several years. The jazzy 'Am I The Same Girl' (No. 43, 1969), 'Brand New Me' and 'Morning Please Don't Come', written by and recorded jointly with brother Tom, suggested that the writing was on the wall. A more European-flavoured grand production number, 'How Can I Be Sure' (No. 36, 1970), with an accordion added to the string arrangement, was to be something of a farewell for several years. Previously a hit in America for the Young Rascals, two years later it would however be a British No. 1 for David Cassidy at the height of his career.
THE MUSIC: THE B-SIDES
I won't describe them all, but suffice to say, the B-sides were rarely if ever throwaways. As there was something of a bias against women being allowed too much say in what they recorded at the time, it says something for the quality of her work and also her powers of persuasion in that she was allowed to record her own compositions as the first two, namely 'Once Upon A Time' and 'Something Special'. She also had a hand in writing two more later on with Madeleine Bell, namely 'I'm Gonna Leave You' and 'Go Ahead On'.
I'll take some of the very best. 'The Corrupt Ones', with its Chinese-flavoured strings, was the theme tune to a 1967 movie of the same title, and these days that appears to be the sole reason for the picture being remembered at all. 'No Stranger Am I' is an almost folksy ballad that for the first few seconds reminded me of the Rod Stewart classic 'Mandolin Wind', while the Bacharach-David composition 'The Look Of Love' was a major American hit for her although only the B-side of 'Give Me Time' in Britain - where it was later a hit for Gladys Knight. 'I'll Love You For A While', one of the more upbeat Goffin-King compositions, and 'Every Ounce Of Strength', written by Steve Cropper, Isaac Hayes and David Porter, responsible for several of the American Stax label successes, are two numbers showcasing her more punchy soul side. Finally, 'Earthbound Gypsy' is almost within the realms of jazz, with its imaginative trumpet, piano, bass and drums work, while the Latin-American flavoured 'Spooky', reminiscent of early Santana, resurfaced many years later on the soundtrack of Guy Ritchie's 'Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels'.
I can't fault this at all. A 16-page booklet, with the iconic black mascara'd Dusty on the front, includes photos, memorabilia, and a fully researched essay on the recording history by compiler Bob Stanley which is clearly a labour of love, plus a full four-page track listing.
There should be a Dusty Springfield compilation in every comprehensive CD collection. While this stops at 1970, and therefore excludes the songs which comprised her late 1980s renaissance, it's a marvellous collection of the early hits, hits that should have been, and a few gems waiting to be discovered along the way. With two discs and a total playing time of almost two hours, you can't go wrong with it.
[Revised version of a review I originally posted on ciao]