DUSTY SPRINGFIELD Complete A And B Sides 1963-1970 (Eclipse)

This elegant compilation, assembled by Saint Etienne (who know two or three things about perfect pop music themselves) for their Eclipse imprint, for which they’ve been given the run of the Universal vaults, does exactly what it says on the tin. All her run of singles bracketed by the titular dates – the 1970 cut-off point presumably selected because it represented her last hit for almost a decade – are presented chronologically, A-sides on one disc, the flips on another, in Dansette-tastic mono. “A collector’s delight”, boasts the cover sticker, and, but for the lack of catalogue number information and the need to trawl through Bob and Pete’s informative booklet essay to determine the couplings, I’d agree.

“I Only Want To Be With You” is the sonic equivalent of being battered to death by a tinsel-tousled glitterball, and “Stay Awhile” cranks up the Spectoresque overload still further, perhaps in an attempt to scythe through the day’s lo-fi means of delivery. A cover of Bacharach and David’s “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”, a song resurrected by its use in the, erm, Phil Collins vehicle “Buster” and The White Stripes’ more recent bluesy bludgeoning, makes deft use of dynamics, the calm making the storm even louder. The dramatic Italianate balladry of “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” will be familiar to most listeners, but her softening of Goffin and King’s “Goin’ Back” - well, softened compared to the later Byrds version, at least – may not be. It’s mightily tempting to reread lines such as “I can recall the time when I wasn’t ashamed to reach out to a friend/And now I think I’ve got a lot more than a skipping rope to lend” in the light of her ambiguous sexuality. “I’ll Try Anything (To Get You)” and “What’s It Gonna Be” sound like Northern soul stompers, the latter astonishingly failing to tickle the top 50 in a tin-eared, “Sgt. Pepper”-saturated Britain. Chart order was restored by the magnificent “I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten”, a side of sweeping drama that perhaps owed something to the ante-upping likes of “River Deep – Mountain High”. “Son Of A Preacher Man” is arguably the most celebrated of these songs in the modern era, thanks to its inclusion on the “Pulp Fiction” soundtrack and the belated recognition of the genius of its parent album, “Dusty In Memphis”. Slinky and impossibly soulful, it just about scraped into the top ten whilst Britain bought singles by Hugo Montenegro and Scaffold instead. If anything, its follow-up “Am I The Same Girl” is slinkier still – one of this collection’s real finds.

The B-sides disc charts a similar course, from slightly blousy yet coy ballads, arrangements stacked as high as Dusty’s hair, through blossoming experimental maturity to the all too brief soul and jazz explorations at the tail end of the survey period. These songs seem to have a slightly sadder overall tenor, as if she, or her management, were scared that real heartbreak wasn’t going to sell records. (Having said that, though, she did release the singles “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”, “Losing You”, “Your Hurtin’ Kind Of Love” and “In The Middle Of Nowhere” in succession, so maybe that theory doesn’t withstand close investigation.) Certainly, there’s a wistful, bittersweet ache to the best of the flipsides, for example “I’m Gonna Leave You” and “No Stranger Am I”. “The Corrupt Ones” is perhaps this set’s most delicious discovery, a brassy, noirish film theme; downbeat and doomed, it sounds more entertaining than the film does. Her luscious reading of “The Look Of Love”, found in a different version on the “Casino Royale” soundtrack, is here too; it’s already sashayed into Springfield legend, despite never being a hit in her homeland. “Dusty In Memphis” opener “Just A Little Lovin’” still sounds delish, and though the quirkily arranged jazz number “Earthbound Gypsy” isn’t quite a velvet-gloved fit with her talents it’s fun nevertheless. A cover of The Classics IV’s hit “Spooky” positively prowls: it was later used in “Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels” and, it says here, on a Carlsberg ad. It’s notable that these B-sides – very few of which were drawn from her albums, incidentally – seem to have had as much care and attention lavished upon them as their famous flips; no ‘three minutes of the roadies vomiting’ here!

I haven’t heard Dusty’s “Classics And Collectibles” two disc compilation, but if it’s as misconceived as the Scott Walker volume in that series “Complete A And B Sides 1963-1970” should immediately render it obsolete. It has classics, it has collectibles, it has a transparent selection procedure that’s cast-iron inarguable. If Messrs Stanley and Wiggs can produce more releases of this quality they might have a homegrown rival to the likes of Rhino and Legacy on their hands. But the overarching take home from this excellent collection is a feeling of sadness that, it being the sixties, Dusty had to sing about her boy, when perhaps she might have preferred to be singing about her girl.

DUSTY SPRINGFIELD Dusty In Memphis (4 Men With Beards) 

Dusty Springfield’s fifth is an album that has only grown in stature with time, although given its ignominious start on life – its production was wracked with the singer’s insecurities about her abilities and the material, and it failed totally to register on the UK charts – that wouldn’t be difficult. But really, there are no weak moments here, just gradations of excellence. In his sleevenotes Stanley Booth compares “Dusty In Memphis” with Aretha Franklin’s contemporaneous Atlantic work, but I’ve yet to hear an Aretha album that betters this.

From the first, the album establishes a swooping, soulful, supple sound that supports the singer without overpowering her. She doesn’t have to shout to make herself heard, something that wasn’t always the case on the brassy pop confections she’d previously been associated with, and as a result the delicacy of her singing shines through: listen to “Breakfast In Bed”, for example, and behind its almost feline drowsiness it seems practically soaked in longing. The inevitable highlight is the fabulous “Son Of A Preacher Man”, but close behind is the wistful and heartfelt “No Easy Way Down”. However, with songs by Mann & Weill, Goffin & King, Randy Newman and Bacharach & David and arrangements by Arif Mardin, there’s not a throwaway moment on this album, a soul landmark irrespective of eye colour.

4 Men With Beard’s vinyl reissue, though, sounds practically icy. As with their version of Richard & Linda Thompson’s “Shoot Out The Lights”, there’s not a glimmer of analogue warmth to be found here, leaving this wonderful music sounding cryogenically frozen.