If you treat yourself to a copy of this brand-new Ace Records compilation – and you should – you will have in your possession an indispensable mixtape, compiled by Ace face Tony Rounce, from the larger playlist that was Dusty Springfield‘s early solo career. “I want to sing the songs I like and make other people like them too,” Dusty proclaims on a vintage sleevenote, and the music she loved the most is in full array here: contemporary R’n’B. Soul music.
Dusty wasn’t the only notable female singer to break through in the 60s British Invasion, or the most commercially successful, or even the only one of her contemporaries with an affinity for RnB, but she has nonetheless always been regarded by musicians and songwriters as the greatest female vocalist on the scene, and even now, nearly sixty years since her first solo record, as one of the best singers the UK has ever produced.
In some ways, it’s possible to see Dusty Springfield as a very modern icon; the ups – and more specifically the downs – of the creative life are not news; but recent years have seen a huge artistic outpouring of previously-repressed discourse on marginalised sexuality and mental health, either of which might help situate Dusty’s career for a current audience. For fans of 60s pop and soul, however, Dusty is already iconic for more traditional reasons: international Top 10 hits, sessions with some of the best musicians of the period, and household-name TV fame. Moreover, she helped break Motown in the UK, was kicked off a tour in apartheid South Africa for her stance against segregation, and was one of the first pop stars to come out as bisexual. Even her hair and make-up were famous. If somehow you’ve never been introduced to Dusty before, at this point what else do you need to know? Oh yes – the music; well, you’re in luck there too.
‘Dusty Sings Soul’ cherry-picks 24 tracks from her Philips label releases of 1964-69, that originally appeared on vinyl singles, EPs and LPs on both sides of the Atlantic. The sheer breadth and depth of her talent is in full effect on this compilation, with highlights ranging from the emotive, epic ‘Welcome Home’ and the wistful ‘That’s How Heartaches Are Made’ to footstomping bangers like ‘Ain’t No Sun Since You’ve Been Gone’, ‘Love Power’, and the transcendent northern soul classic ‘What’s It Gonna Be’. Some of the tracks on this collection might be regarded today as ‘standards’ (‘Piece Of My Heart’, ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’) whereas other songs, whether leaning towards pop, RnB, northern or deep soul, are considerably more obscure and demonstrate that Dusty was paying close attention to the latest sounds from the States.
Lest there be any concern for the incongruity of one Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien, as was, reinventing herself to perform black music, it’s worth pointing out the sheer smorgasbord of styles (jazz, chanson, country, folk) that Dusty sang throughout this period and beyond, while the genre under focus – soul/RnB – is enriched here by a wealth of songs written by Caucasian songwriters (many of Eastern-European Jewish heritage, via New York), intended for interpretation by multiple vocalists and musicians.
In this collection, Dusty takes on songs made first or made famous by legends including Cissy Houston, Baby Washington, Mitty Collier, Carla Thomas, Maxine Brown, Barbara Acklin, Erma and Aretha Franklin, and in turn, within a few years, Aretha herself had interpreted songs, written by white songwriters, made first and famous by Dusty Springfield. Blue-eyed (technically green-eyed) soul Dusty may have been, but the full story speaks to far more of a musical-cultural symbiosis than the phrase ‘cover version’ could ever imply. The answer to such questions is the obvious: simply listen, to the dexterity, versatility and emotional heft she brings to these recordings. Dusty is the real deal.
A perfect primer to Dusty Springfield’s early recording period and a brilliant gateway or compliment to her classic Atlantic albums ‘Dusty in Memphis’ and ‘A Brand New Me,’ ‘Dusty Sings Soul’ is out now from Ace Records.