Monday, July 16, 2007

A girl named Dusty

Time to salute a lady who has become one of my all-time favorite singers in a relatively short period of time, one Mary Catherine Isabel Bernadette O'Brien, better known to the world as Dusty Springfield.  To some, she is merely an icon of '60s fashion excess, and there's little doubt that Dusty single-handedly kept the folks at Revlon in business via her near-obsessive overuse of eyeliner and mascara (she was pretty enough without all that, IMO), but trust me folks, there's a whole lot more to this girl than just big hair, "Wishin' And Hopin'" and "Son of A Preacher Man".

I've only gotten to know Dusty's body of work—beyond just the big oldies station hits, anyway—within the past five years or so after buying her Rhino Records best-of compilation CD, and I was instantly hooked by her soulful voice and underrated songs.  Much like with Journey, Cheap Trick, The Police, et al, I actually prefer Dusty's "B-stuff" over her "A-stuff", but then again, just about all her stuff is on the A-level anyway.  Dusty Springfield had a very acute ear for superior songs to interpret (or re-interpret), and an innate ability to add her own personal touch to songs that were written for her by others.  She particularly excelled on songs written by Burt Bacharach/Hal David, as well as Carole King/Gerry Goffin, and her 1969 album Dusty In Memphis was critically acclaimed (and for once, the bleedin' critics were right!).

Sadly, Dusty's personal life was very checkered, at best.  Her dysfunctional family upbringing, as well as her sexual confusion/lesbianism, left her with scars that never quite healed, thus leading to a lifetime of self-inflicted torment and abuse (chemical and otherwise), and I don't think she ever fully realized how truly beloved—let alone how truly gifted—she was.  In an even more cruel twist of fate, she succumbed to breast cancer at age 59 in 1999 just days before she was inducted into the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame (where fellow ├╝ber-Dusty fan Sir Elton John did the honors).  There has been talk in recent years of a biopic film on Dusty's life (with Charlize Theron in the lead role and Ang Lee directing), but nothing has materialized as of yet.  Could be very interesting, if given the proper cinematic treatment...

Next up in my alphabetical sojourn thru my CDs is Rick Springfield.  What the fuck's he doing in my collection?!?  Oy vey...

My All-Time Mary Catherine Isabel Bernadette O'Brien Top 10:
10) "Just A Little Lovin'" (1969)  Lead-off track from Dusty In Memphis composed by the legendary Mann-Weil songwriting team.
9) "What Have I Done To Deserve This?" (w/The Pet Shop Boys) (1987)  Song that led to a major resurgence in Dusty's popularity and renewed interest worldwide in her music.
8) "I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten" (1968)  Later covered quite nicely by Blondie and Tracey Ullman in the '80s.
7) "Stay Awhile" (1964)  Convincing enough that Miss Dusty wouldn't have had to twist my arm to hang around after singing this one...
6) "I'll Try Anything" (1967)  Song that never even charted in the US, but should've.  It hit #13 in merry ol' England.
5) "In The Middle Of Nowhere" (1966)  Song chuck-full of sassiness that the likes of Queen Latifah and that talent-less Pink bitch can only dream about...
4) "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" (1966)  Of all her "drama queen" hits, this one may well have been her most drama-queeniest!
3) "I Only Want To Be With You" (1964)  Dusty's first big hit in the States, and it's been covered by a zillion people, including the Bay City Rollers, and my personal favorite, Samantha Fox.  Then again, I think Sam's video might've influenced my opinion...
2) "I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore" (1969)  Dusty's favorite track off Dusty In Memphis, and mine too.  Very atmospheric, and perfect for the time it came out.  Composed by Randy "Short People" Newman, of all songwriters...
1) [Tie] "Goin' Back" (1966)/"Little By Little" (1966)  Why neither of these weren't bigger hits on the U.S. charts is beyond me.  The former is a very touching Goffin-King song about growing older and aging gracefully that was played at Dusty's funeral.  The latter is a sassy piece of attitude that made Aretha Franklin look pretty wimpy by comparison...

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