Dusty Springfield had exceptional taste. Her song choices were always consistently high in quality, and she wasn’t afraid to look to long-forgotten B-sides, demos and album tracks for material. Given her reputation for perfection, it’s no surprise there were so few duds in her catalogue. That so much of it was culled from American soul and R&B artists may be news to many. As Malcolm Baumgart writes in the booklet, “Dusty’s expertise as an interpretive singer prevented her from being viewed as a cover artist,” and it’s hard to believe songs such as ‘Am I the Same Girl?’ and ‘Now That You’re My Baby’ were not written exclusively for the British icon. Britain had a history of pulling from America’s R&B, soul and pop stashes, but whereas groups such as the Beatles, Herman’s Hermits and the Moody Blues gave their American covers a very British slant, Dusty’s interpretations sounded neither overtly British nor American. It all just sounded like Dusty. It’s hard to think of another singer able to so effortlessly and convincingly claim so many top-notch covers as their own.
“Dusty Heard Them Here First” compiles 24 US songs that Dusty covered during her long career. A quick peek at the tracklist reveals her unabashed affection for soul. She wore her love of Motown loud and proud, taking on heavy-hitters such as the Velvelettes’ ‘Needle In A Haystack’, the Miracles’ ‘You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me’ and Marvin Gaye’s ‘Can I Get A Witness’. She also idolised Baby Washington, covering four songs from her repertoire, including ‘Doodlin’’ featured here. Compiler Mick Patrick also notes Dusty’s fondness for songwriters Carole King and Gerry Goffin, writing, “Dusty cut enough numbers from [their] catalogue to fill an entire LP”. The Honey Bees’ original of Goffin and King’s ‘Some Of Your Lovin’’ is a tough one to beat, but Dusty came very, very close. Her decision to cover Norma Tanega’s ‘No Stranger Am I’ was likely due to more than just her interest in the song. Norma and Dusty were dating at the time she recorded this for the B-side of ‘I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten’ in 1968. By the 70s she was tapping Evie Sands and Lesley Gore for material. It’s easy to hear why she selected Lesley’s ‘Love Me By Name’, so powerful and full of feeling. But then again, the same can be said for ‘Turn Me Around’ (Chi Coltrane), ‘Packin’ Up’ (Margie Hendrix), ‘Every Ounce Of Strength’ (Carla Thomas) and practically every single song on “Dusty Heard Them Here First”. This is one of those rare instances when it’s just too tough to choose between original and cover; both are wonderful, you be the judge.
By Sheila Burgel