Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Dusty Springfield

  • Dusty in Memphis [Atlantic, 1969]
  • A Brand New Me [Atlantic, 1970] B-
  • Cameo [ABC, 1973] B
  • It Begins Again [United Artists, 1978] B
  • Living Without Your Love [United Artists, 1978] B+
  • Dusty Springfield's Greatest Hits [Mercury, 1984] B+
  • Dusty in Memphis . . . Plus [Philips, 1985]
  • A Very Fine Love [Columbia, 1995] Neither
  • The Very Best of Dusty Springfield [Mercury, 1998] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Dusty in Memphis [Atlantic, 1969]
[CG70s: A Basic Record Library; CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]

A Brand New Me [Atlantic, 1970]
Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff have bestowed upon Dusty--who as a singer of contemporary pop has only one peer, Dionne Warwick--the same cool-soul formula that's worked so successfully for Jerry Butler, but here it's wearing thin. The songs (every one written in part by Gamble) echo each other melodically and rhythmically, the instrumentation never varies, and neither does the vocal mood. If only Dusty could bring all her moods together--starting with her harder-driving stuff and working through the title cut here--she'd make a greater album than Dusty in Memphis. But that's a lot to ask. B-

Cameo [ABC, 1973]
Offensive as I find the notion of a "girl singer" in this year of our enlightenment, something about this thirty-four-year-old woman demands the term, because her genius is to make me believe, down beneath my rational self, that she needs me. Simultaneously gushy and ladylike, she sings like the beautiful maidservant of men's vainest and most shameful fantasies--always the supplicant, always in love. Yet at the same time she manages to elicit sisterly sympathy from other women. Lambert and Potter have mixed the orchestra way too high on this record, but for these guys, who usually write banal melodies that stick so stubbornly you hate them for it, the tunes are complex and likable. Maybe that's because L&P adjusted them for a tough human being who convinced them mid-session that she wasn't just some backup chick doing a solo spot. Recommended: "Of All the Things," "The Other Side of Life." B

It Begins Again [United Artists, 1978]
Roy Thomas Baker has encouraged Dusty's breathiness and then had the good manners not to suffocate it in the orchestral mix, and I'm grateful; I could listen to her sing tracking charts when she exhales that way. But the sad truth is that Baker has given her only a couple of strong ballads, the fluky treasures from Chi Coltrane and Barry Manilow that open each side, and so the fast numbers, never her forte, sound like filler. Next time, Baker should look beyond the pop pros for material like, say, "Small Town Talk," "Makin' Love Don't Always Make Love Grow," "I Can't Stand the Rain." And he should make sure there's a next time. B

Living Without Your Love [United Artists, 1978]
Fledgling producer David Wolfert doesn't get her voice as subtly as Roy Thomas Baker (or Jerry Wexler) did, but he gives her more good songs than she's had in a decade. Also more good sides: one, featuring a "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" that vies with Smokey's, and "Closet Man," which is about what it sounds like and nice indeed. B+

Dusty Springfield's Greatest Hits [Mercury, 1984]
I find it hard to be objective about the woman who in 1969 joined Jerry Wexler to make one of my favorite--hell, one of the greatest albums of all time: Dusty in Memphis, pop with strings on top, good old boys below, and the most exquisite material of a class act's career in between. Springfield's only rival was and is Dionne Warwick, but Warwick has Bacharach-David in her karass while Dust was stuck with Ivor Raymonde. This mid-60's hits compilation could be a lot better: it predates the definitive "The Look of Love" and bypasses inspired filler like "Mama Said" and "Do Re Mi" for the hideously orchestrated schlock she spent her biggest years transcending. Yet though she never belted like she crooned, she put so much heart, soul, and mind into her big ballads that most of the time you can ignore the kettle drums. I only wish I could hear what Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin--and Dusty--would have made of "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me." B+

Dusty in Memphis . . . Plus [Philips, 1985]
[CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]

A Very Fine Love [Columbia, 1995] Neither

The Very Best of Dusty Springfield [Mercury, 1998]
A self-conscious woman in a girl's world, she found the musical place she deserved only once, when she locked horns with Jerry Wexler for a pop miracle. So Dusty in Memphis is her very best. Her twenties were a little of this and a little of that--'50s pop-folk gone first girl-group, then pop-soul under the clueless tutelage of Englishmen spared self-knowledge by her soaring empathy and breathy grit, which young Brits couldn't resist. Good for them. A-

See Also