Hailed as “an important cog in the history of pop music” by John J. O’Connor in the New York Times, British singer Dusty Springfield became a major star after first going solo in 1964. In the New York Times Magazine in 1995, Rob Hoerburger called her “the finest pop vocalist Britain has ever produced.” Jim Pierson made note of her versatility in the compact disk liner notes for Dusty Springfield: Stay Awhile —I Only Want to Be with You/Dusty, saying, “Depending on the requirements of the song, she could be pop diva, soul siren or rock n’ roll queen”.
Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis album released in 1969 became somewhat of a legend, and it was ranked number 54 in the New Musical Express ’s list of “Greatest Albums of All Time” in 1993. The singer was a major figure in the British musical invasion of the United States in the mid 1960s, and also helped popularize the music of Motown stars in her native England. “More than any other British female singer of the time she made an impression on the U.S. market,” noted the Harmony Encyclopedia of Rock.
Born Mary Catherine Isobel O’Brien in London, Springfield started her musical career in the 1950s with a female trio called The Lana Sisters. In 1960 she and her brother Dion (better known as Tom) joined Tim Field to form the folk/country group The Springfields, which landed a contract with Philips Records in 1961. The Springfields became immensely popular in the United Kingdom and were named the Top Group of 1961 and 1962 in a New Musical Express poll. They also became the first British group to have a Top 20 hit in the United States, with their 1962 single “Silver Thread and Golden Needles”.
When the Springfields broke up in 1963, Dusty Springfield signed a solo contract with Phillips. Her first appearance as a solo artist was at a concert for British troops at a base in West Germany. In late 1963 she embarked upon her first tour in England, with Freddie and The Dreamers, Brian Poole and The Tremeloes, and Dave Berry. At this point she was shifting her musical focus toward a more soulful sound. According to an article by John J. O’Connor in the New York Times, Springfield became an instant fan of American soul music when she heard some Motown recordings in a New York City record store. “That’s what I want to do,” she said upon hearing the music, as noted in the same article. While recording new songs, Springfield implored musicians to capture the passion of American songs she had heard, and she soon developed a reputation as a perfectionist in the studio. Her soul inclinations resulted in Springfield often performing as the only white singer on all-black bills in the 1960s.
Born Mary Catherine Isobel O’Brien on April 16, 1939, in London, England.
Sang with female trio called The Lana Sisters, 1950s; formed folk/country/pop trio The Springfields, I960; became solo act and signed contract with Philips label, 1963; performed first as solo act, 1963; went on first tour as solo act, with Freddie and the Dreamers, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, and Dave Berry, 1963; had first solo hit,” Only Want to Be with You,” 1964; toured Australia with Gerry and the Pacemakers, 1964; released first album, A Girl Called Dusty, 1964; hosted The Sound of Motown in Britain, a television special showcasing the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, the Miracles, the Temptations, and Stevie Wonder, 1964; was deported from South Africa after performing in front of multiracial audience, 1964; canceled show dates due to health problems and recuperated in Virgin Islands, 1965; premiered on her own BBC television series called Dusty, 1966; appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, 1968; had last Top 20 hit, “Son of a Preacher Man,” 1968; released acclaimed Dusty in Memphis album on Atlantic label, 1969; moved to U.S., 1970s; grappled with alcoholism and drug problems, 1970s–80s; lived in Netherlands, 1970s–80s; sang on hit song by Pet Shop Boys, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?,” 1987; moved back to U.K., 1988; began treatment for breast cancer, 1994; released A Very Fine Love, 1995.
Addresses: Record company —Columbia Records, 51 West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019.
Springfield’s first album, A Girl Called Dusty, was mostly covers of her favorite songs by other performers, among them the Shirelles’ “Mama Said,” the Suprêmes’ “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes,” Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” and Gene Pitney’s “Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa.” Also on the album was her first single as a solo artist, “I Only Want to Be with You,” a song by Mike Hawker and Ivor Raymonde that became a major hit for Springfield both in the United Kingdom and the United States. Hoerburger called it “2 minutes and 32 seconds of boastful ebullience that mistakenly convinced Martha Reeves, the Motown belter, that Springfield must also be a Motown artist.” The song got a major plug by being the first record played on a new BBC-television show called “Top of the Pops” in 1964.
Springfield followed up that success with “Stay Awhile,” another Hawker/Raymonde tune with a Phil Spector “wall of sound” quality that also soared into the Top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean in 1964. She first performed in the United States as a solo star in April of
1964, after finishing a tour of Australia with Gerry and the Pacemakers. Springfield’s rendition of “Wishin’ and Hopin,’” one of a number of Burt Bacharach/Hal David songs that proved lucrative for her, cruised to number six on the U.S. charts in the summer of 1964. That fall she released her second album, Dusty, which featured the Bacharach/David hit ’I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself,” a number three in Britain.
Controversy was stirred up during Springfield’s tour of South Africa in December of 1964 after she performed in front of an integrated audience at a theater near Cape Town. Her flaunting of government segregation policy resulted in her deportation from the country. Capping her incredible year of success was the Top Female British Artist award in the New Musical Express poll, an award she received again the following year. Relentless touring and recording took their toll on Springfield in 1965, when she became ill and was forced to cancel a summer show. After a rest in the Virgin Islands, she began making television appearances again, and in 1966 she landed her own television variety series on BBC called Dusty. Her show featured everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Woody Allen, and Springfield used the venue to showcase artists such as the Supremes and Martha Reeves. That year she had her highest charting single with “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” which reached number four in the United States. Her impressive number of hits allowed her to release a compilation called Golden Hits in 1966 as well.
Many consider Springfield’s peak as an artist to have occurred during her brief association with producer Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records, which began in 1968. Their partnership yielded Dusty in Memphis, a critically acclaimed collection that included the Top 10 single “Son of a Preacher Man” and a number of songs written by Carole King and Randy Newman. The Harmony Encyclopedia of Rock called the album “one of the best blue-eyed soul efforts of this era.” “Honestly, to this day I have no idea why this album is so well regarded,” Springfield told the New York Times in 1995. “I guess it’s the quality of the songs. It’s hard to get material that strong these days.” Despite favorable reviews, Dusty in Memphis was not a big seller, and it was the first and last collaboration between Wexler and Springfield. “It’s not that she was contrary or obstreperous,” Wexler commented to the New York Times regarding the well-established difficulty of working with Springfield. “She just had a gigantic inferiority complex”.
By 1971 Springfield was no longer on the Atlantic label, and at this time she was living in the United States to escape relentless scrutiny by British tabloids. Her career began to spiral downward as she went through a series of managers who failed to get her contracts with major labels. Albums released during this period were often measured against Dusty in Memphis by critics, resulting in negative publicity and poor sales. Sometimes internal strife at her record companies stalled her career. “I would make a record, go down and meet all the promotion people, then the label would be bought and the next day they’d be gone,” Springfield told the New York Times.
Drinking and drug problems haunted Springfield throughout the 1970s as she tried to live off the earnings of her success in the 1960s. She became somewhat of a recluse, surfacing occasionally in the studio to sing back-up for other singers. She later moved to the Netherlands, maintaining her low profile and releasing albums sporadically. After the release of White Heat on the Casablanca label in 1982, a commercial failure, Springfield stopped drinking and tried to get her life back together. She made a sudden return to the public eye in the late 1980s when she was a guest vocalist on the Pet Shop Boys’ “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”, which became a number-two hit in the United States. In 1988 she moved back to England, and that same year recorded a duet with B. J. Thomas that was used as the theme to the ABC television sitcom Growing Pains.
Proving her enduring popularity, a compilation of Springfield’s hits released in 1994 made it into the Top Five in Britain. That same year, the singer was diagnosed with breast cancer, just as she was wrapping up the recording of A Very Fine Love on Columbia. The release featured contributions from Daryl Hall, K.T. Oslin, and Mary Chapin Carpenter.
Springfield’s fame endures today some 30 years after her heyday thanks to the power of her six Top 20 singles in the United States and her distinctive Dusty in Memphis album released in 1969. She has also had an impact on a variety of singers who rose to fame after her. According to Pierson, Springfield “has been cited as an influence by such acclaimed vocalists as Karen Carpenter, Linda Ronstadt, and Annie Lennox.” Springfield retains a special place in her heart for the soul sound she fell in love with during the 1960s. As she told the New York Times in 1995, “I always wanted to be Aretha.”
“I Only Want to Be with You,” 1964.
“Wishin’ and Hopin,” 1964.
“You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” 1966.
“Son of a Preacher Man,” 1968.
A Girl Called Dusty, Philips, 1964.
Stay Awhile—I Only Want to Be with You, Philips, 1964.
Golden Hits, Philips, 1966.
Dusty in Memphis, Atlantic/Philips, 1969.
White Heat, Casablanca, 1982.
Ev’rything’s Coming up Dusty, Beat Goes On 1993.
A Very Fine Love, Columbia, 1995.
McAleer, The Fab British Rock ‘N’ Roll Invasion of 1964, St. Martin’s Press, 1994, pp. 90, 95, 96.
Clifford, Mike, consultant, The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, Sixth Edition, Harmony Books, 1988, p. 162.
Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Encyclopedia of Rock Stars, Dorling-Kindersley, 1996, pp. 810–812.
New Musical Express, October 2, 1993, p. 29.
New York Times, January 13, 1997, p. C16.
New York Times Magazine, October 29, 1995, p. 34.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from the CD liner notes for Dusty Springfield: Stay Awhile—I Only Want to Be with You, Taragon Records, and the All-Music Guide website on the Internet.
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