MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
In the summer of 1968, singer Dusty Springfield was already a pop star in her native United Kingdom when she set her sights on America. She signed a deal with Atlantic Records that resulted in the critically acclaimed album "Dusty In Memphis." But what was meant to be a long-term deal fizzled. She only recorded a few dozen sides for Atlantic. These are now collected in "Dusty Springfield: The Complete Atlantic Singles." Oliver Wang has our review.
(SOUNDBITE OF DUSTY SPRINGFIELD SONG, "SON OF A PREACHER MAN")
OLIVER WANG, BYLINE: When Dusty Springfield flew across the pond in the fall of 1968, Atlantic Records sent her down to American Sound Studios in Memphis, hoping to impart some of that Southern soul magic that had worked so well for Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin. In fact, one of the first songs Springfield recorded there, "Son Of A Preacher Man," had literally been written for Franklin. But when the daughter of a preacher man initially passed on it for being a bit too on the nose, it went to Springfield instead and would become one of the defining songs of her career.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SON OF A PREACHER MAN")
DUSTY SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) Being good isn't always easy, no matter how hard I try. When he started sweet-talking to me, he'd come and tell me everything is all right. He'd kiss and tell me everything is all right. Can I get away again tonight? The only one who could ever reach me was the son of a preacher man. The only boy who could ever teach me was the son of a preacher man.
WANG: The song cemented her reputation as a so-called blue-eyed soul singer, a rather awkward industry euphemism for white artists recording Black music, and never mind that Springfield's eyes were actually brown. Atlantic followed with a more scattershot approach to her recordings. Sure, there were naked attempts at reproducing the same soulful vibe as "Son Of A Preacher Man"...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILLIE AND LAURA MAE JONES")
SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) Willie and Laura Mae Jones were our neighbors a long time back. They lived right down the road from us in a shack just like our shack.
WANG: ...But the label also kept Springfield in the same crossover pop lane she paved in the U.K.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THE LAND OF MAKE BELIEVE")
SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) I've been living in the land of make believe since you've been gone.
WANG: And there were a few funky dance tracks that never quite caught the right groove.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAUNTED")
SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) I can't eat right. I can't sleep nights. Oh, honey, look at what you've done to me.
WANG: To be clear, Springfield had her share of gems with Atlantic as well, especially the bluesy ballad "I Believe In You," one of the last sides she recorded for the label, released as a standalone single in late fall of 1971.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I BELIEVE IN YOU")
SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) It's gone way beyond just loving. And for a long time now, it's been more than just a thrill. Oh, honey, I believe in you.
WANG: Dusty Springfield begged out of her contract soon after, but even if the Atlantic years didn't create the kind of chart-topping success either party wanted, it wasn't a footnote. Not only did it yield her most acclaimed album, "Dusty In Memphis," but Springfield would enjoy a prolific career up until her death in 1999. Along the way, her American sojourn also set a marker that generations of British singers have sought to follow since. And Springfield managed to do all this not by belting her way to the top, but with the coolest of croons.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BREAKFAST IN BED")
SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) You've been crying. Your face is a mess.
KELLY: That's Oliver Wang reviewing "Dusty Springfield: The Complete Atlantic Singles." He's a professor at California State University, Long Beach and co-host of the music interview podcast "Heat Rocks."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BREAKFAST IN BED")
SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) She's hurt you again. I can tell. Oh, I know that look so well.
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