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“Why are you listening to Dusty Springfield?”

December 6, 2010

Why wouldn't I?

My girlfriend asked me this as she entered my apartment the other day.  It’s probably a fair question, to be honest.  I’m a white American male born in the 80s who grew up on punk rock.  Of course, as a music collector, it makes perfect sense–she had an incredible impact on pop music throughout the 60s and 70s–but based on demographics, shouldn’t I just stick to The Decline and leave Dusty to R&B and Soul fans?

But of course all of that is superficial nonsense that has no place in a real discussion of music.  Dusty Springfield and I go way back.  Although I didn’t know who she was, I actually grew up listening to her.  My parents–in-between bouts of NPR and Phantom sing-a-longs–would often leave the radio on the local oldies station in NKY (“WGRR, Oldies 103.5”).  Generally speaking, Dusty’s era was the tail-end of what was considered “oldies” at that time, but she definitely had some notables that would be mainstays on any similar station:

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this period had a pretty big impact on me, musically.  However it wasn’t until I started watching Tarantino films in high school that Dusty came back to grab me.  Of course, anybody who’s seen Pulp Fiction (and if you haven’t by now–shame on you) will recognize what I’m talking about.  The movie has an outstanding soundtrack that features one of Dusty’s most famous songs:

Now, as I’ve gotten older and I’ve become less concerned with genres, scenes, and images, it’s become easier for me to understand a bit more objectively why that song stuck with me so much:  Actually, it’s the same reason I give for why We Three Kings of Orient Are is my favorite Christmas song: I have a strong affinity for music with transitions.  I don’t only mean transitions in the sense of different movements, but also in building from something simple into something very dramatic.  Dusty has an amazing voice not only because she can sing loud, soulful belts that you can feel throughout your body, but also because she’s dynamic; she can just as easily evoke shivers with her soft, husky tones.  This range is displayed prominently throughout this song as it builds from a quiet, throaty narration to a raucous, soul-laden chorus.

Let’s not forget that Dusty Springfield also had an amazing support team behind her (sometimes including notables such as Burt Bacharach) who wrote very compelling musical transitions into the songs.  Here is one my favorite Dusty Springfield songs that showcases exactly what I’m talking about:

The transition from verse to chorus–from sadness to exaltation–is so fantastically moving that it’s hard to concentrate on anything else.  This is one of those songs that’s a procrastinator’s demise because it has that momentum that consistently forces itself into your head throughout the day.  Even in songs that were not originally written for her, she does a remarkable job merging her dynamic voice with the build of the song:

So, of course, the real response to the original question is: “Why wouldn’t I?”  Despite the surface inconsistencies, there’s a real connection that I have with the movements, builds, and transitions I find in her music.  I don’t think I’m unique in that respect.  Even if she’s not a household name anymore, she’s an artist that can easily strike a chord that reverberates across generations.

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