Springfield, Dusty (originally, O’Brien, Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette)

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Springfield, Dusty (originally, O’Brien, Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette)

Springfield, Dusty (originally, O’Brien, Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette), one of the great white soul singers of all time; b. London, England, April 16, 1939; d. there, March 2, 1999. Revered among her peers, Dusty Springfield’s career was a veritable rollercoaster. She recorded hits that spanned three decades, but also had long periods when her sexy alto went unheard. And just as she was about to garner some long-due respect, she succumbed to cancer.

Born Mary O’Brien in London, she joined her brother Tom and his friend Tim Field in the folk group the Springfields. Joining the band, she took the stage name Dusty Springfield. Sounding like the U.K.’s version of Peter, Paul and Mary, they soon were one of the best-selling groups in England. By 1962 they had a hit in the U.S. with “Silver Threads and Golden Needles,” which hit #20 on the pop charts. With the U.S. success, they went to Nashville to record. When Springfield heard the burgeoning girl-group sound growing out of N.Y.’s Brill Building and Motown records, she abruptly quit the Springfields to pursue a solo career.

Her first single, “I Only Want to Be with You,” with it’s Motown bounce, girl-group harmonies, and horns proved a welcome addition to the girl-group sound in the U.S., hitting #12 in the U.S. during the winter of 1964, while going top five in the U.K. It was the first song played on the British TV show Top of the Pops. Her followup, “Stay Awhile,” only got to #38, but in the summer of 1964, “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” a girl-group pastiche with a vocal worthy of the Exciters, rose to #6, beginning her long association with songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Dusty also established a reputation for political consciousness, getting expelled from South Africa for refusing to play to segregated audiences. While she didn’t chart in the U.S. during 1965, she hosted a TV show that introduced the Motown sound to England.

Dusty made a strong return to the U.S. charts in 1966, with the big, bombastic ballad “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” The song rose to #4 in the U.S. and topped the U.K. charts during the spring of 1966, and has become a radio standard. She followed that in the fall with the similar “All I See Is You,” which went to #20 in the U.S. However, the girl-group sound was beginning to fade. She recorded Bacharach and David’s “The Look of Love,” the love theme to the James Bond spoof Casino Royal, which rose to #22 in 1967.

In need of a change, Springfield signed with Atlantic records, home to one of her musical heroes, Aretha Franklin. Atlantic’s production dream team of Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd, and Arif Mardin took her down to Memphis to make the definitive white soul album. They arguably succeeded with the album, Dusty in Memphis. While the single “Son of a Preacher Man” rose to #10, the album barely cracked the Top 100, going out of print for nearly two decades. It became a critic’s darling and a minor holy grail for record collectors until Rhino reissued it on CD in the mid-1990s.

Later in 1969, Springfield recorded “Windmills of Your Mind,” the theme to the film The Thomas Crown Affair. Although it, too, has become a standard, the single only hit #31 at the time. By now, Springfield was living in the U.S. That year she recorded with the Philly soul team Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. The album, A Brand New Me, spawned the title track, which hit #24, but again the album sales were weak. Before leaving Atlantic, she told Wexler about a band making waves in London that he quickly signed to the label: Led Zeppelin.

Leaving Atlantic, Springfield recorded the album Cameo for ABC in the early 1970s, which was a total sales disaster. About this time, she took the unusual step of admitting that she was bisexual. This did little to help her career, but subsequently turned her into a star of the gay community. After abandoning her next album, Springfield fell off the pop scene for much of the 1970s, returning only to sing backgrounds on an Anne Murray record. She fought battles with alcohol and drugs.

When Dusty returned to the music scene in 1978, despite having producer Roy Thomas Baker in her corner, listeners no longer seemed interested. All she could manage was a minor British hit “Baby Blue.” She moved back to London, and in 1982 got involved with the synthpop explosion that had rekindled Tina Turner’s career. A 1984 duet with Spencer Davis garnered some notice in England, while a similar project with Richard Carpenter had the same effect in the U.S.

In 1987, Dusty was contacted by one of Britain’s hot new groups, the Pet Shop Boys. They invited her into the studio to cut a few songs. One of them, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” became a huge international hit. The urban piece of synth-pop topped out at #2 on both the U.S. and U.K. charts. Another Pet Shop Boys collaboration, “Nothing Has Been Proved,” was featured on the soundtrack to the movie Scandal. The duo produced her 1990 album, Reputation. Although it didn’t produce any significant singles, it was her best selling album since the early 1960s.

Springfield returned to Term, in 1995, recording A Very Fine Love in Nashville. Again, peer fans turned out in droves to work with Springfield, including Mary Chapin Carpenter and KT Osiin. However, soon after, Springfield discovered a cancerous lump in her breast and spent much of the next 18 months undergoing treatment. At the same time, her back catalog began to attract attention: “Son of a Preacher Man” made an appearance on the soundtrack to the film Pulp Fiction. Springfield’s cancer went into remission briefly, only to return in the late 1990s. On March 2, the eve of her sixtieth birthday, her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and being named Dame Dusty Springfield on the Queen’s Order of the British Empire list, she died.


I Only Want to Be with You (1964); Stay Awhile (1964); Dusty (1964); Ooooooweeee!!! (1965); Ev’rything’s Coming Up Dusty (1965); You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me (1966); Where Am I Going (1967); The Look of Love (1967); Dusty Definitely (1968); Dusty in Memphis (live; 1969); A Brand New Me (1970); This Is Dusty Springfield (1971); See All Her Faces (1972); Cameo (1973); Magic Garden (This Is, Vol. 2) (1973); Sings Bacharach & King (1975); It Begins Again (1978); Living without Your Love (1979); White Heat (1982); Reputation (1991); A Very Fine Love (1995); Dusty in Memphis (deluxe ed., 1999); Blue for You (2000).

—Hank Bordowitz

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Springfield, Dusty (originally, O’Brien, Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette)

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