Saturday, January 23, 2010

Never ending nor beginning - the soul of Dusty Springfield

Even now, forty years later, I can remember how spooked I was as a child by Dusty Springfield singing 'Windmills of your mind'. There was just something about the way its melody, its tonality, its flow, captured the endless, aimless spin of the words. Whenever I heard it, it always left me unsettled; but I could never, ever, flick the switch of my little transistor radio to turn it off.

And listening today to that song, which I have hardly heard at all in the last four decades, I am taken back, as music always seems to do, to that time and place when it first made such an impression upon me and, noticing little things that had skipped my attention before, I can see why it did, and why it still does. Its exotic, unconventional instrumentation, with strings and zither, and how at the line "the world is like an apple whirling silently in space" the violins turn into a psychedelic fuzz, haunted, mysterious, other worldly.

But 'Windmills of your mind' is only one song on what many people believe to be Dusty Springfield's greatest album, Dusty in Memphis. It's an album that is bursting at the seams with classics that still seem to define that blue-eyed soul, which, although growing from roots laid in America, never blossomed more beautifully or more elegantly than in the voice of the English Dusty. Whether it's in the swinging bounce of 'Son of a preacher man', or the sad and bluesy soul of 'No easy way down', or the gentle attempt to comfort you in 'Breakfast in bed', or the wistful 'Just one smile', Dusty's cool voice, hovering somewhere between pleading and tears, but never veering from the note, always touches something deep and enduring within you.

Mostly, these songs are pretty short but always Dusty Springfield turns them into little vignettes, little sketches of humanity that are full of a longing that you know will never really find rest. And yet in spite of its restlessness, or maybe even because of it, you just keep coming back to it.

Dusty in Memphis is one of those classics that will always be great, always special, always significant. It is music that endures because its soul, and its singer's soul, endure - taking you by the hand to places that always seem somehow hauntingly familiar, as if they have always been a part of you, and always will: "never ending, nor beginning ... as the images unwind, like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind".

It's always such a joy to rediscover old favourites as treasured and as wonderful as this.


  1. What a marvelous appreciation of Dusty's art.
    I hate to be picky but the "zither" is a sitar, quite fashionable at the time.

    Simon Bell

  2. Thanks Simon ... and thanks for the correction about the sitar. I got the zither from the CD liner notes, which mentioned a "Hungarian zither played with mallets", but maybe sitar is the more accurate term. In any event, thanks for the post - always great to see new names appearing on the blog!

  3. can you imagine how very cool it is to tattoo while the music of dusty springfield fills the studio?!
    one of my favourites at work :-)

  4. And somehow, Seemore, I reckon I'd prefer to be tattooed to Dusty Springfield than to Nick Cave ... I'll keep that in mind at my next appointment!!