Singing Sweet And Soulful (Dusty Springfield)

A double whammy here. A win-win combo of two things I will never get tired of, Dusty Springfield, the Queen of British Pop & the emotional Soul ballads written & produced by Bert Berns & Jerry Ragovoy. “It Was Easier to Hurt Her” was originally recorded in New York in March 1965 by Garnett Mimms. The song was picked up as the debut solo single for Wayne Fontana, a British Invasion hitmaker fronting the Mindbenders who never repeated that group’s international success. Later in the same year Dusty’s version was included on her 2nd UK LP “Ev’rything’s Coming Up Dusty” (US releases get a little complicated). This clip, from her BBC TV show in September 1967, matches Soul & elegant inspiration, that thing that Dusty did better than anyone & I love it.

 

 

Image result for dusty springfield 1966Ms Springfield’s transition from the prim, pre-Beatle Pop-Folk of her group the Springfields to Beat Boom aristocrat was seamless. Her continuing relationship with producer Johnny Franz & orchestra director Ivor Raymonde at Phillips records kept the hits coming. Whether it was the pure Pop of  “I Only Want to be With You” & “Stay Awhile”, the sophisticated interpretations of Bacharach & David (“Wishin’ & Hopin'” & “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”) or the big ballads, a little syrupy & overwrought for my taste but very popular, there was a string of UK Top 20 entries beginning in 1963. If this wasn’t enough Dusty was an early adopter & supporter of Soul music. There’s a Holland-Dozier-Holland track on her first LP, another on an early EP (ask your grandma). She was always in our telly in the Sixties & never looked happier than when duetting with Martha Reeves (“Wishin’ & Hopin'”) on the “Ready Steady Go” showcase which introduced Tamla Motown to a prime time TV audience.

 

A hook up with Atlantic Records seemed to be a natural move. Changes in the music scene meant that Dusty was becoming a cabaret act, gigging in working men’s clubs. A re-invigoration was needed & her new heavyweight producers took her to American Sound Studios to make the classic “Dusty In Memphis” LP. “Son of a Preacher Man”, you know it, it’s in “Pulp Fiction”, was an international success but the album was not the sure-fire breakout smash it deserved to be. It is her masterpiece, makes it on to the all-time lists but Dusty continued to make some blue-eyed, blonde-wigged Soul that didn’t get the same exposure.

 

 

 

Related imageThe follow up 1970 LP wasn’t, but could have been, called Dusty In Philadelphia. “A Brand New Me” (US title), “From Dusty With Love” in the UK (this fractured marketing didn’t really help) was recorded at Sigma Sound Studios with producers Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff, a team who were honing their own hit sound which would soon flood the charts on their Philadelphia International label. G&H had a terrific 4 album Pop-Soul streak with “The Ice Man” Jerry Butler. The title track & “Lost” were both taken from that catalogue & Dusty’s record has the same uptown smooth quality. If anything her assured, husky voice is more suited to these songs than to swampy Memphis Soul. “A Brand New Me” was a hit 45 but album sales disappointed both artist & label. It’s a very classy record, a forewarning that Sigma would become a new Hit Factory.

 

 

Image result for dusty springfield magazine coverAnother year another producer for Dusty. This time around she was in New York with Jeff Barry, a stalwart of American Pop through the Sixties. Barry, with his wife Ellie Greenwich & producer Phil Spector pretty much defined the Girl Group sound. “Da Doo Ron Ron”, “Be My Baby”, Baby I Love You”, “Then He Kissed Me”, It’s a list & an impressive one so let’s add “River Deep Mountain High” & hits for the Dixie Cups & the Shangri-Las. Later he produced the Monkees’ “I’m A Believer” then wrote & produced “Sugar Sugar” for the Archies. “Faithful” was recorded in the first half of of 1971. Dusty, never the most confident person, was unhappy in both her private & professional situations. The 2 lead singles from the LP sold poorly & Dusty chose to end her contract with Atlantic. The album was shelved, the tapes were thought to have been destroyed in a fire before Barry he still had the mixes. “Faithful” was finally released in 2015 & that’s a great pity because, don’t you just know it, it’s a damn fine record.

 

“Faithful” does steer Dusty back towards the middle of the road, she was probably just as comfortable there, singing the standards of the day (“You’ve Got A Friend”, “Make It With You”) than she was accentuating the Soul Sensation angle. Of course there are still uptempo tracks like the single “Haunted” but the album has a little more variety, brings back the drama & is beautifully arranged & played. “Faithful” would have completed Dusty’s trilogy of Atlantic LPs, it seems crazy that we never got to hear it at the time.

 

 

In 1968 Bert Berns was dead & Jerry Ragovoy was making big plans to put his royalties towards ownership of the means of production with his own studio. Berns had provided Atlantic with one of their first big Soul hits, “Cry To Me” by Solomon Burke, Ragovoy, a master of emotion & drama, did great work with female vocalists like Erma Franklin & Lorraine Ellison. Imagine if Dusty could have worked with those 2 New York mavericks. There’s a record I would liked to have heard. Ah well, let’s finish with one of the clips from “Dusty In Germany” a TV show shot in 1969 just after the release of “…In Memphis”. Dusty is back to performing her repertoire in a confusing clutter of faux-psychedelic effects. The song is her cover of the Sand Pebbles’ rambunctious “Love Power”. Dusty Springfield looks great, moves better than the gyrating dancers &, as always, delivers the goods. The best of the British girl singers.

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Random Notes (September 2017)

OK, despite the efforts of two world leaders, men who both seem to be inadequately qualified for their jobs, Earth has made it to the end of September 2017. It’s been a month when my football team have remained undefeated, winning their last 3 games in fine style. At a time when, after 5 miserable seasons, we finally have a coach who has some idea of what he is doing & a team who at least appear to care what happens when Saturday comes. It would be just Aston Villa’s luck to have our mini-revival  abruptly ended by a bloody nuclear holocaust. Here’s some other good stuff from the past 4 weeks.

 

 

Image result for neil young 1976In July 1976 Neil Young sent a telegram to his co-star in the Stills-Young Band notifying Stephen that he would not be completing their tour in support of the “Long May You Run” LP. A 1974 stadium tour by their group, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, an avalanche of hype, drugs & ego had strained relationships to breaking point & now he was walking away from a musical partnership that had lasted a decade. Neil had shown the same cussed restlessness when solo LPs “After the Goldrush” & “Harvest” had been very successful in the singer-songwriter/Soft Rock troubadour boom of the early 1970s. His subsequent recordings, some of the most imaginative & challenging of his long & varied career, failed to reach that audience which hoped for more songs like “Heart of Gold” (you know that one). Always prolific, Neil could still do that stuff as well as anyone. On one night in August 1976 he took his acoustic guitar into a Malibu studio & recorded 10 new songs. It is only now that we finally get to hear the results of that night.

 

Listening to “Hitchhiker” is a delight. 8 of the 10 songs made it on to his records but this doesn’t sound like a bunch of demos & it’s not the nostalgia of hearing old songs. The lack of other instrumentation matched to Neil’s individual shaky delivery, high & human, sounds like an LP that was ready to go. I’m by no means a Neil Young obsessive & I know what I like. Albums like “Hawks & Doves” & “Greendale” still get a regular airing round here while others remain at the back of the stack. The high quality of some of his archival releases, the monumental Crazy Horse set at the Fillmore East in 1970 & this stoned snapshot of his mid-Seventies creativity are essential documents of one of US Rock’s great artists.

 

 

Image result for courtney barnett kurt vileWell, this will not wait. There’s a new Kurt & Courtney in town when on October 13th Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile release their LP “Lotta Sea Lice”. The 2 pre-release tracks, the shimmering “Over Everything” & the sweet “Continental Breakfast” confirm that the album will be one to listen out for. Aussie Courtney stormed it with her debut LP “Sometimes I Sit & Think & Sometimes I Just Sit”refreshingly honest & sharply amusing lyrics backed by punchy Indie Guitar Rock. “Sometimes…” deservedly found an audience & Courtney ended up with a nomination for Best New Artist at the 2016 Grammys. As much a shock to us that the best music should be acknowledged as I’m sure it was to her.

 

I don’t know much about Kurt Vile’s solo work or with his band The War On Drugs. If he’s good enough for Courtney, these 2 tracks display a natural compatibility, then he’s good enough for further investigation. So much music so little time. September can’t be done & dusted without marking the loss of  Walter Becker & Grant Hart, both so essential to the outstanding music made by their respective groups Steely Dan & Husker Du.

 

Image result for wolf mother movieObviously the movie of the month was “Wolf Mother”, writer/director Erik Peter Carlson’s first film since his ambitious 2014 indie epic “The Toy Soldiers” & another confident piece of film-making. The film is not at all helped by its trailer, Carlson has got it going on & capably pushes the limits of taste further than say Linklater or P T Anderson who have covered similar ground with bigger budgets. Look, I have recommended violent, twisted, amoral tales of low-life losers before & some people have not been too impressed with my choice. So “Wolf Mother”, you didn’t hear about it from me right !

 

 

Related imagePlaying over the opening credits of David Simon’s new TV series “The Deuce” is Curtis Mayfield’s incendiary “If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going To Go”. Set on the mean streets around New York’s Times Square in the early 1970s these wise guys, superfly sporting men & their ladies will need more than a great Funk soundtrack to rival all those classic movies with a similar urban setting. Simon has hit the spot before, “The Wire” & “Generation Kill” remain particular favourites. His collaborator George Pelecanos is responsible for some of the best recent US crime fiction. I’ve only seen the pilot, James Franco (not a big favourite, too many Judd Apatow films) plays 2 brothers & the very lovely Maggie Gyllenhaal is er…very lovely. I saw enough of interest to ensure that I will be hanging around for the rest of the series (series 2 is already confirmed) & trusting that the 2 creators will introduce a wider social context for the excellent cast to hang their rather fetching street threads & “everything is everything” patter on.