Monday, March 14, 2011

I'd Love to Turn You on #28 - Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis

Dusty is the single greatest female singer to have ever emerged from the UK, and is also the greatest white soul singer to ever walk on this earth, male or female. She made a lot of brilliant singles during her peak, and a few great albums. Clearly however, the one truly great album is her 1969 LP Dusty in Memphis. It's not quite a “white soul” album, although that is part of it. It is a pure pop masterpiece; orchestrated, lush, sensual and perfectly gorgeous.

In mid-60s England, Dusty had been a huge star. She specialized in melodramatic songs with dramatic production, the only thing bigger than her hits was her beehive and mascara. But, as with other artists of the era, there came a time to evolve. As the Beatles and the Stones had shown us, it was change and grow or be left behind. By 1968, in danger of becoming a Cliff Richard-like relic, Dusty understood it was time to become a credible contemporary artist. In Dusty's case, this meant discovering her classic American pop and R&B roots. This quest brought her straight to the source: Atlantic Records in Memphis, Tennessee.

It's well known that Dusty was crippled with anxiety and self doubt during the recording sessions. Feeling as if she were under the shadow of her idol Aretha Franklin, she felt as if nothing was good enough. Listening to this classic now, it's hard to see what the problem was. Dusty could never match Aretha's lung-busting power, but she has a grace and softness that Aretha can't touch. Only early Dionne Warwick has that same quality, and these days, Dusty is the only white singer that can sensibly be named in the same breath as those great soul legends.

Only two songs on the album are local. The famous "Son of a Preacher Man" and the super-sexy "Breakfast in Bed" are from Memphis writers, and are the two tracks that can really be called "soul." "The Windmills of Your Mind" from the recent (then) film Thomas Crown Affair is the only track on the album with a particular exotic quality, and also the single nod to psychedelia on the LP. The rest of the tunes are slices of pure pop heaven penned by famed New York staff writers Mann/Weil, Bacharach/David and Randy Newman, with 4/11ths of the record dedicated to Gerry Goffin/Carole King compositions. And gems they are: "Just a Little Lovin'," "Just one Smile" and "I Can't Make It Alone" are mature, sexually charged songs that simply ache with Dusty's reading. Best of all is Goffin/King's "No Easy Way Down" showing once again that it does not get better than when Dusty sings Carole.

Dusty in Memphis was ranked #9 in Rolling Stone magazine's "50 Coolest Records" and
was included in Mojo magazine's 100 greatest albums ever made list. It's a classic that belongs in every record collection.

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