Dusty Springfield, ‘Dusty in Memphis’ revisited (01/21/99)

These days you might hear Dusty Springfield’s 1964 “I Only Want to Be With You” as the theme song for Arliss, Robert Wuhl’s HBO sports-agent comedy. But in 1969 she plowed a furrow you can still find: As a white English pop singer she went south, and with the A team of Atlantic Records—producers Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd, and Arif Mardin—and a five man Memphis band led by guitarist Reggie Young and bassist Tommy Cogbill, she cut a real soul album. A real drifting, cool, smart, sexually distracted soul album by a singer who got grease all over her hands with one song and primly wiped them off before heading into the next one.

The record still sounds uniquely classy and knowing, but today Springfield’s all but total dependence on the quality of her material—by songwriters ranging from the then little-known Randy New­man (“I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore,” “Just One Smile”) to schlock merchants Alan and Marilyn Bergman (“The Windmills of Your Mind”)—is also evident. Tune by tune, the album rises up, then dies, then comes back to life again. Springfield comes off the evaporating Burt Bacharach-Hal David number “In the Land of Make Believe” as if she’s never heard of Memphis, let alone already made the place over with “Son of a Preacher Man”—and then the first, saddening steps of Gerry Coffin and Carole King’s “No Easy Way Down” are taken and you know this woman is up to the toughest song anyone in town can throw at her. It was the cream puffs that knocked her down.

Rolling Stone, January 21, 1999

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