Time for an appreciation of Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien, or should I say Dusty Springfield (1939–99).
Part of a 60s’ generation of great British female singers like Lulu, Sandie Shaw, Cilla Black, and Petula Clark, Dusty was inspired by the Motown sound at a time when we keep hearing about all the British men who popularised blues and soul.
You can choose from many YouTube playlists of Dusty songs—here’s a succinct one:
You don’t own me (1964) features in this list of feminist songs; and here’s a fantastic live version of You don’t have to say you love me, which she first recorded in 1966:
I only want to be with you (1964):
Her passion for soul culminated in Dusty in Memphis (1969):
—even including her version of Michel Legrand’s gorgeous The windmills of your mind.
The success of Pulp fiction (1994), with its scene featuring her song Son of a preacher man from that album, came wa-ay too late for her:
By then Dusty had belatedly became a gay icon; this doesn’t always involve being gay, but she really was—as she boldly hinted in 1970 before her career went on a downward spiral:
A lot of people say that I’m bent, and I’ve heard it so many times that I’ve almost learned to accept it. I know I’m perfectly 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.
According to the mores of the day, as her biographer Karen Bartlett commented, “being gay was either a pitiable affliction or an actual mental illness”. Nor did men have a monopoly on self-destruction: Dusty handled all this with pills, coke, and vodka, leading to a sojourn in Bellevue, following illustrious alumni like Leadbelly, Bird and Mingus.
As a former partner observed, Dusty
wanted to be straight and she wanted to be a good Catholic and she wanted to be black.
I had no idea about any of this at the time! Gimme a break, I was getting into Sibelius, Shostakovitch, and Zen—weirdo.