8. Dusty Springfield – No stranger am I

/ I close my eyes and count to ten, Philips, 1968

Saint Etienne’s Stanley and Wiggs are another pair of musicians acting as curators, having been given the keeping of Universal’s archives, alongside their many other multidisciplinary activities.  The first bodies to be exhumed for their Eclipse label have been the Peddlers, Chris Montez, and none other than Dusty Springfield, so carrying on a tradition of rescuing unfashionable performers from the past that they initiated in their fanzine Caff twenty years ago.  Bob and Pete might however have given the Dusty compilation a less literal and more illustrative name than Complete A and B sides 1963-1970.  Why not have borrowed from the song which anticipated Dusty in Memphis as early as 1966 and called it Every ounce of strength?  In that phrase you have the vocal delicacy and muscular control, and in the song itself, the point when Dusty moved beyond a tendency towards balladry.  But the title is a small matter when the music is so consistently uplifting in its celebration of the misery love can bring.  Disc two’s B sides offer as much substance as the more familiar sounds of disc one’s hits and misses.  On both you can hear the ever-increasing sophistication in Dusty’s singing, its sombre tints and gentle sunlit exactitude.  Dusty possessed both the intimacy of Bobbie Gentry and the soaring dynamics of Scott Walker; neither of those singers quite had the opposing quality, but Dusty was able to sing one song for your ear alone and deliver another with that far-off Engel look in her eyes.  The accompaniment always strives to match the calibre of the singer – the overlapping staccato strings and drum roll which opens Dusty’s own song ‘I’m gonna leave you’ sound incredible.  Who could value a broken heart above the realisation of such a goodbye note?

The Memphis set isn’t the bolt from the blue that it might seem to be on first glance, nor is it exceptional in terms of the quality of Dusty’s output.  The lightness of touch and the sensuality developed throughout her recordings.  At the time Memphis must have been a concept which struck the world as novel – the ostensibly English rose recording in a place synonymous with Presley and soul – and that initial reaction has perhaps been handed down the listening generations.  But having first recorded in New York as early as 1964, America and its songwriters were already an established part of the Dusty make-up, and no songs better demonstrate the delicacy of her delivery than two by her American lover of the time, Norma Tanega.  ‘The colour of your eyes’ pinpoints the moment in a rocky relationship when you are parted and in a panic struggle to remember the beauty of a face you were only just beginning to know.  The swaying orchestration catches this plaintive uncertainty just so as Dusty sings ‘I can see, now that you’re leaving me, all the shades of autumn in the colour of your eyes’.

‘No stranger am I’ presents a perfect circle of absorption in love, being written by one lover and sung back at her by the other.  The aforementioned acoustic guitar and some low then rising gentle strings are all the backing Dusty needs to unfurl a vocal like a long slow stretching of limbs first thing in the morning or last thing before bed.  The solipsistic twosome are undisturbed by the world or its troubles, but in some magically unaffected way allow us this glimpse of what they have found together.

Presumably alluding to Dusty’s resurrection at the hands of the Pet Shop Boys, Maxϊmo Park’s Paul Smith tells us that ‘Mary O’Brien’ ‘came back – influence rubs off whether appropriate or not’.  With mere B sides the quality of ‘No stranger am I’, you can understand why she continues to pull in listeners born long after the decade when she was in her prime.  Long may Dusty keep coming back.


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