The First Lady: Dusty Springfield, Simply… Dusty

First published: Mojo Collections, Winter 2000

• Long-awaited 98-track 4CD anthology from all phases of the pop icon’s career, including a 1952 garage track, and recordings with The Lana Sisters, The Springfields and Pet Shop Boys

• Lavish 64-page booklet with tributes from Annie Lennox, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Bette Midler and Bruce Springsteen

• Greatest hits, rarities and exclusive material spanning over 40 years

• Songwriters include Jimmy Webb, Sting, Alex Harvey, Elvis Costello, Carole King, Randy Newman, Isaac Hayes and Charles Aznavour

All the extraneous talk of tantrums and tears, beehives, booze and bisexuality has, over the years, tended to overshadow the fact that Dusty Springfield was, as Lulu puts it, “the first person to demonstrate Girl Power”. And that power is indelibly stamped on the recordings she bequeathed to the nation. Some of the most beautiful pop music and singing you’re ever likely to hear. In any country. Period.

With bold, brassy horns announcing its arrival, 1963’s I Only Want To Be With You, her first solo single, is where the Springfield story really starts. By combining lavish Spector-like ballads with gritty American R&B, she created her own Anglicised Wall of Sound, best exemplified on Disc 1 by the self-penned Once Upon A Time and the deliciously dramatic You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, her only Number 1; helped by a good covering of the melancholy, treacle-thick strings that became arranger Ivor Raymonde’s trademark.

Disc 2 shows Dusty at her most versatile. Her voice was capable of such remarkable fragility that you could listen to it and weep buckets, while Bacharach & David’s soft and dewy The Look Of Love is so seductively delivered that it wouldn’t be wise to bet against a good percentage of thirty-somethings having been conceived while this was on the hi-fi in ’67. The tour de force, though, is the magnificently impassioned I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten, which still sends a shiver up the spine – even more so once you learn that her manager had wanted Kiki Dee to sing it.

By 1969, the singer was at Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound, five years before Bowie and his Young Americans. The smooth, melodic R&B on tracks like A Brand New Me suited Dusty’s increasingly laid-back, husky vocals, and it was this Gamble & Huff sound that went on to dominate soul music in the ‘70s.

Commonly referred to as her ‘lost’ years, many of the tracks on Disc 3 were inexplicably left in the can, even though they show Springfield at her vocal peak, Dusty die-hards will relish three cuts from 1974’s unreleased Longing LP, while a yearning version of David Gates’ Make It With You makes even Bread appear tasty.

Written off by the ‘80s, it fells to the Pet Shop Boys to tempt her out of the closet. Pop really doesn’t come much classier than What Have I Done To Deserve This? In fact, the moment when those four words, “Since you went away,” reintroduced Dusty Springfield to the world is one of the finest I’m popular music.

The fourth disc ends on a particularly poignant note: the last thing she recorded, for a 1995 TV advert, was Gershwin’s glorious Someone To Watch Over Me. Dusty’s probably watching over us now, amazed at the fuss we make of her in her absence. This box set is ample proof that she more than earned that ‘finest female singer we’ve ever had’ tag. Simply irresistible.

Steve Pafford


TV fave Mr Winton tells Steve Pafford why Dusty was the definitive diva

“I was eight in 1963. ITV would do five-minute features before the News, and this bouffant black-eyed goddess came on. I thought, Ooh, how fabulous!

Seeing that image had a profound effect on me. Until I was 13 the only records I would buy were Dusty’s. There was a vulnerability about her; you were never sure if she’d make it to the end of the song. I think gay men identify with that sense of drama, the showmanship. They love the showbiz side of being a diva. It’s an indefinable quality that’s expressed emotionally through the songs. I can’t explain it more than that.