1939 – Dusty Springfield (Mary O’Brien) is born in London. She has four top 10 singles, including the No. 2 hit “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”
Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien, OBE (16 April 1939 – 2 March 1999), known as Dusty Springfield, was a leading pop singer and entertainer. Of the female British pop artists of the 1960s, she made one of the biggest impressions on the U.S. market. Owing to her distinctive sensual sound, she was one of the most notable white soul artists in the world.
Born to an Irish Roman Catholic family that loved music, Mary O’Brien learned to sing at home. Dusty Springfield began her solo career in 1963 with the upbeat pop hit “I Only Want To Be With You”. Her following singles “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself”, “Wishin’ and Hopin'”, and “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” charted on the both sides of the Atlantic. A fan of American pop music, she campaigned to bring the little-known soul singers to a wider U.K. audience by devising and hosting the first British performances of the top-selling Motown Records artists in 1965. Her song “The Look of Love”, written for Dusty Springfield by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, was featured in the film Casino Royale and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song in 1967.
The sudden changes of pop music in the mid-1960s left girl singers out of fashion. To boost her credibility as a soul artist, Dusty Springfield went to Memphis, Tennessee to record an album of pop and soul music with the Atlantic Records’ main production team. The LP Dusty in Memphis earned Springfield a nomination for a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1970 and received the Grammy Hall of Fame award in 2001. International readers and viewers polls list the record among the one hundred greatest albums of all time. The LP’s standout track “Son of a Preacher Man” was an international Top 10 hit in 1969. Springfield’s low period after the album ended in 1987, when collaborations with the Pet Shop Boys returned her to the Top 20 of the U.K. and U.S. charts with the singles “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”, “Nothing Has Been Proved”, and “In Private”. In 1995, Dusty Springfield was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Dusty Springfield scored 18 singles in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964–1970. She was voted the Top British Female Artist in the New Musical Express reader’s poll in 1964, 1965, and 1968. Interest in her early output was revived in 1994, thanks to the inclusion of “Son of a Preacher Man” on the soundtrack of the Quentin Tarantino movie, Pulp Fiction. She is an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the UK Music Hall of Fame. Dusty Springfield has been named among the 25 female rock artists of all time in several international readers and artists polls.
Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien
First bands (1958–63)
Main articles: The Lana Sisters and The Springfields
After finishing school in 1958, Mary O’Brien responded to the advertisement to join an “established sister act” Lana Sisters. With the vocal group, she developed the art of harmonising, learned microphone technique, recorded, did some television and played live both in the U.K. and at American Air Bases.
In 1960 she left the band and formed a pop-folk trio with her brother Dion O’Brien and Reshad Feild (who was later replaced by Mike Hurst). The new trio changed their names to Dusty, Tom, and Tim Springfield and chose The Springfields as their name during a rehearsal in a field in Somerset in spring. Intending to make an authentic American album, the Springfields travelled to Nashville to record the album Folk Songs from the Hills. The American pop tunes she heard during her stay helped to turn Springfield’s career from the folk and country sounds of the Springfields towards pop music rooted in rhythm and blues. In the spring of 1963, the Springfields recorded their last U.K. Top 5 hit, “Say I Won’t Be There”, before disbanding. They played their last concert in October 1963.
A Girl Called Dusty (1963–64)
Dusty Springfield’s first single, the soul-tinged “I Only Want to Be with You”, was released in November 1963. The song, Springfield’s first flirtation with American soul,
Her debut album A Girl Called Dusty included mostly covers of her favorite songs by other performers.
Springfield’s tour of South Africa was interrupted in December 1964, after she performed before an integrated audience at a theater near Cape Town. Her flouting of government segregation policy resulted in her deportation from the country.
In 1965 Springfield took part in the Italian Song Festival in Sanremo, failing to qualify to the final with two songs. In the competition, she heard the song “Io Che Non Vivo (Senza Te)”. was voted among the All Time Top 100 Songs by the listeners of BBC Radio 2 in 1999.
In 1965, she released three more U.K. Top 40 hits: “Your Hurtin’ Kinda Love”, “In the Middle of Nowhere” and Carole King’s “Some of Your Lovin'”.
The Sound of Motown (1965–66)
Because of her enthusiasm for Motown music, Springfield campaigned to get the little known American soul singers a better audience in the UK.
The Look of Love (1967)
“The Look of Love”
Sample from “The Look of Love”.
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The Bacharach-David composition “The Look of Love” was designed as a centerpiece for the spoof Bond movie Casino Royale. For one of the slowest-tempo hits of the sixties, Bacharach created the sultry by minor-seventh and major-seventh chord changes, while Hal David’s lyrics epitomized longing and lust. the song earned her highest place in the year’s charts, #22.
Where Am I Going? (1967–68)
By the end of 1967, Dusty was becoming disillusioned with the show-business carousel on which she found herself trapped. including a duet with Jimi Hendrix on the song “Mockingbird”. In the same year, Roger Moore presented her third Top British Female Artist award, voted by the readers of New Musical Express.
Memphis sessions (1968–69)
Main article: Dusty in Memphis
Main article: Son of a Preacher Man
In 1968, Carole King, one of Springfield’s songwriters, embarked on a singing career of her own, while the chart-busting Bacharach-David partnership was foundering. Springfield’s status in the music industry was further complicated by the progressive music revolution and the uncomfortable split between what was underground and fashionable, and what was pop and unfashionable.
“Son of a Preacher Man”
Sample from “Son of a Preacher Man”.
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The LP Dusty in Memphis received a positive review from Greil Marcus of Rolling Stone magazine saying:”…most of the songs…have a great deal of depth while presenting extremely direct and simple statements about love….Dusty sings around her material, creating music that’s evocative rather than overwhelming… Dusty is not searching—she just shows up, and she, and we, are better for it.”
In September and October 1969, Dusty Springfield hosted eight episodes of the BBC TV show Decidedly Dusty. In 1970, Springfield released her second album for Atlantic Records, A Brand New Me, featuring songs written and produced by Gamble and Huff. The album yielded a Billboard Top 25 single, “A Brand New Me”. In 2007, its British counterpart, From Dusty With Love was listed among the 1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die by the Guardian newspaper. A third album for the Atlantic label, titled Faithful and produced by Jeff Barry, was abandoned because of poor sales of singles slated for the LP. Most of the material recorded for the aborted album was released on the 1999 reissue of Dusty in Memphis on Rhino Records. Her next album, See All Her Faces, was released only in Britain, having none of the cohesion of her previous two albums. In 1972, Springfield signed a contract with ABC Dunhill Records, and the resulting album, Cameo, was released in 1973 with little publicity.
In 1974, Springfield recorded the theme song for the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man. Her second ABC Dunhill album was given the working title Elements and scheduled for release as Longing. The sessions were soon abandoned. A part of the material, including tentative and incomplete vocals, was released on the 2001 compilation Beautiful Soul. She put her career on hold in 1974, living reclusively in the United States to avoid scrutiny by British tabloids. She tried to revive her career again in 1985 by returning to the United Kingdom and signing to Peter Stringfellow’s Hippodrome Records label. This resulted in the single “Sometimes Like Butterflies” and an appearance on Stringfellow’s live television show. None of Dusty Springfield’s recordings from 1971 to 1986 charted on the U.K. or U.S. Top 40.
In 1987, she accepted an invitation from the Pet Shop Boys to sing with the duo’s Neil Tennant on their single “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” and appear on the promotional video. The record rose to #2 on both the U.K. and U.S. charts. The song subsequently appeared on the Pet Shop Boys’ album Actually, and both of their greatest hits collections. Springfield sang lead vocals on the Richard Carpenter track “Something in Your Eyes”, recorded for Carpenter’s album Time. Released as a single, it became a #12 Adult Contemporary hit in the United States. Springfield recorded a duet with B.J. Thomas, “As Long as We Got Each Other”, which was used as the theme song for the U.S. sitcom Growing Pains.
A new compilation of Springfield’s greatest hits, The Silver Collection, was issued in 1988. Springfield returned to the studio with the Pet Shop Boys, who produced her recording of their song “Nothing Has Been Proved”, commissioned for the soundtrack of the film Scandal. Released as a single in early 1989, the song gave Springfield a U.K. Top 20 hit. So did its follow-up, the upbeat “In Private”, written and produced by the Pet Shop Boys. She capitalised on this by recording the 1990 album Reputation, another U.K. Top 20 success. The writing and production credits for half the album, which included the two recent hit singles, went to the Pet Shop Boys, while the album’s other producers included Dan Hartman. Before recording the Reputation album, Springfield decided to leave California for good, and by 1988, she had returned to Britain. In 1993, she was invited to record a duet with her former 1960s professional rival and friend, Cilla Black. The song, “Heart and Soul”, appeared on Black’s Through the Years album. In 1994, Springfield started recording the album A Very Fine Love for Sony Records. Some of the songs were written by well-known Nashville songwriters and produced with a typical country feel.
Illness and death (1994–99)
While recording her final album, A Very Fine Love, in January 1994 in Nashville, Springfield felt unwell. Upon returning to England a few months later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She received months of radiation treatment and, for a time, the cancer was in remission.
“ I think she is the greatest white singer that there ever has been. ”
The singer’s funeral service was attended by hundreds of fans and people from the music business, including Elvis Costello, Lulu, and the Pet Shop Boys. It took place in Oxfordshire, at the ancient parish church of St Mary the Virgin, in Henley-on-Thames, where Springfield had lived during her last years. A marker dedicated to her memory was placed in the church graveyard. Some of Springfield’s ashes were buried at Henley, while the rest were scattered by her brother, Tom Springfield, at the Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland. In what was considered a very rare departure from royal protocol, Queen Elizabeth said she was ‘saddened’ to learn of Springfield’s death.
Selected quotes from the British obituaries:
“….the carefully shaded emotions she brought to the music of her prime……. she was the only white woman singer worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the great divas of 1960’s soul music” Richard Williams, The Guardian
“The Queen of Pop is dead” The Daily Express
“…..few would deny that Dusty Springfield was the finest female pop singer that Britain has ever produced” Mick Brown, The Daily Telegraph
“The finest female voice we ever had” The Independent
“….as much a part of 1960’s Britain as the mini skirt….” The Times
“Dusty ended life as the Queen of Britpop” The Daily Mirror
“…the voice that haunted a generation” The Daily Mail
“The day the music died” The Guardian
Dusty Springfield’s will provided care for her cat, Nicholas, including a marriage to the five-year-old female cat of a friend in a private ceremony later that spring.
The conflict between Dusty Springfield’s Roman Catholic faith and her life affected her deeply.
In her early career, much of her odd behaviour was carried out more or less in fun and treated as such— like her famous food fights and hurling a box of crockery down the stairs.
Dusty Springfield had great love for animals, particularly cats. She was an advocate for several animal protection groups.
The fact that Dusty Springfield was never in a publicly known relationship meant that the issue of her being bisexual continued to be raised throughout her life.
“ A lot of people say I’m bent, and I’ve heard it so many times that I’ve almost learned to accept it….I know I’m perfectly as capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy. More and more people feel that way and I don’t see why I shouldn’t. ”
In the standards of year 1970, that was a very bold statement.
“ I mean, people say that I’m gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay. I’m not anything. I’m just … People are people…. I basically want to be straight…. The catchphrase is: I can’t love a man. Now, that’s my hang-up. To love, to go to bed, fantastic; but to love a man is my prime ambition…. They frighten me. ”
An occasional comment in the presence of her fans and Princess Margaret at the performance at the Royal Albert Hall in 1979:
“ I am glad to see that royalty isn’t confined to the box. ”
In 1970’s and early 1980’s, Dusty had a number of romantic relationships with women in U.S. and Canada. She briefly dated Rough Trade’s Carole Pope.
Influenced by American pop music,
Studio and stage performance
Springfield implored her white British backup musicians to capture the spirit and copy the instrumental playing styles of the black American musicians.
Dusty Springfield was one of the best-selling British singers in the 1960s. In 2008, Dusty appeared on the Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Singers of All Time”.
For more details on this topic, see Dusty Springfield discography.
Original studio albums and maximum positions on U.K. albums chart:
* 1964: A Girl Called Dusty #6
* 1965: Ev’rything’s Coming Up Dusty #6
* 1967: Where Am I Going? #40
* 1968: Dusty… Definitely #30
* 1969: Dusty in Memphis
* 1970: A Brand New Me #35
* 1971: Faithful (Unreleased)
* 1972: See All Her Faces
* 1973: Cameo
* 1974: Longing (Unreleased)
* 1978: It Begins Again #41
* 1979: Living Without Your Love
* 1982: White Heat
* 1990: Reputation #18
* 1995: A Very Fine Love #43
Greatest Hits albums:
* 1966: Golden Hits #2
* 1979: Greatest Hits
* 1988: Dusty – The Silver Collection #14
* 1994: Goin’ Back – The Very Best Of Dusty Springfield #5
* 1998: The Best Of Dusty Springfield #19
* 2004: The Look Of Love #25
* 2006: At Her Very Best #31
The singles listed below reached the Top 25 of the Billboard Hot 100:
* 1963: “I Only Want To Be With You” #12
* 1964: “Wishin’ and Hopin'” #6
* 1966: “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” #4
* 1966: “All I See is You” #20
* 1967: “The Look of Love” #22
* 1969: “Son of a Preacher Man” #10
* 1970: “Brand New Me” #24
* 1987: “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” #2 with the Pet Shop Boys
The following singles reached the Top 20 of the U.K. Singles Chart:
* 1963: “I Only Want To Be With You” #4
* 1964: “Stay Awhile” #13
* 1964: “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” #3
* 1965: “Losing You” #9
* 1965: “In The Middle of Nowhere” #8
* 1965: “Some Of Your Lovin'” #8
* 1966: “Little By Little” #17
* 1966: “Goin’ Back” #10
* 1966: “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” #1
* 1967: “I’ll Try Anything” #13
* 1968: “I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten” #4
* 1969: “Son Of A Preacher Man” #9
* 1987: “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” #2 (duet with Pet Shop Boys)
* 1989: “Nothing Has Been Proved” #16
* 1989: “In Private” #14