Despite being one of the biggest stars of the 60s, and still regarded as one of the country’s finest vocal talents of all time, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me was Dusty Springfield’s sole chart-topper.
Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien was born on 16 April 1939 in West Hampstead. She was brought up in High Wycome in Buckinghamshire until the early 50s, when the O’Brien’s moved to Ealing.
She earned the nickname ‘Dusty’ from being rather a tomboy and playing football with the boys down her street. Mary and her older brother Dionysius had a comfy, middle-class upbringing, and their parents loved music, in particular their perfectionist father. This passion would be instilled in both siblings, and Mary grew to love singers like Peggy Lee and Jo Stafford (the latter was the first female number 1 artist back in 1953). By the time she left school, Mary and Dion were singing in folk clubs and holiday camps.
In 1958 Mary joined The Lana Sisters, who weren’t sisters. She became known as Shan, stopped wearing glasses and began glamming up for the first time. As a member of the trio she learnt the ropes of pop stardom, even appearing on television and at the Royal Albert Hall. In 1960 she decided to take a different path, forming The Springfields with Dion and Reshad Feild, who had both been in the Kensington Squares. They changed their names to Dusty, Tim and Tom, respectively, and decided on the surname after rehearsing in a field in Somerset that spring. The Springfields successfully melded folk, country, pop and rhythm’n’blues, becoming so big that they were voted Top British Vocal Group in the New Musical Express in 1961 and 1962 (by which point Tom had left to be replaced by Mike Hurst. The Springfields disbanded in October 1963, with Tom becoming top songwriter for The Seekers (number 1 twice in 1965 – I’ll Never Find Another You and The Carnival is Over.)
That November, with Beatlemania rising, Dusty Springfield released her memorable debut, I Only Want to Be With You. With Johnny Franz on production, the song succeeded in capturing the Spector-style girl groups from the US that Springfield admired. It climbed to number four in the UK, and even got her known in the US. Her debut album A Girl Called Dusty was released in April 1964 and also reached the top 10. Springfield’s version of Bacharach and David’s I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself hit the number three spot. With her trademark big, blonde beehive, she was becoming one of the country’s brightest talents, topping the New Musical Express poll for Top Female British Artist for the next four years in a row.
In January 1965 she took part in the Sanremo Festival (the Italian inspiration for the Eurovision Song Contest), where she reached the semi-final. During the competition, she saw Io Che Non Vivo (Senza Te) being performed by co-composer Pino Donaggio and singer Jody Miller, and was moved to tears despite not knowing the meaning of the lyrics. She obtained an acetate but took a year to decide to do anything with it. In March 1966 an instrumental track was recorded, but Springfield still didn’t have any English lyrics to put to it.
One night, Dusty’s friend Vicki Wickham (producer of Ready, Steady, Go!) was dining with Simon Napier-Bell (manager of the Yardbirds), and the song came up in conversation. With no songwriting experience, and no undertanding of the Italian lyrics, they began writing an anti-love song called I Don’t Love You, which then became You Don’t Love Me, then You Don’t Have to Love Me, before settling on its final version, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. Not bad going, for two mates on a night out.
Despite this being Springfield’s only number 1, opinion has become somewhat divided over the years. It only lasted a week at the top, yet has been covered many times, and I have to confess I assumed it was a Bacharach and David track, such is its fame. But to fans of Springfield who are better acquainted with her ouevre, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me isn’t regarded as up there with her best material.
There’s no doubting her singing, which as always is top-notch – it’s the lyrics which have proved problematic in the main. Springfield was such a tough character on the surface, the character in this song is considered to be too weak. I admit I hadn’t really taken notice of the words before, and when you do, they are pretty unpleasant. Springfield is basically telling her ex-lover he can treat her as shit as long as he doesn’t walk out of her life.
Fans also seem divided on Franz’s production. His overblown orchestration worked wonders on The Walker Brothers, but some find it too much for a bitter song like this. Personally I think the music is fine. Some also wonder if the song had special meaning due to Springfield’s sexuality. I can’t see it myself – the lyrics don’t really reflect the subject if you ask me.
Springfield continued to shine throughout the decade with hits such as the sultry The Look of Love for James Bond-spoof Casino Royale (1967). She was instrumental in bringing Motown to a wider audience in the UK, and also had her own series on ITV, called It Must Be Dusty in 1968. That year, with her popularity beginning to decline, she signed with Atlantic Records and recorded the soul-influenced Dusty in Memphis. Its lead single, Son of a Preacher Man is rightly considered among her best and climbed to number 10 in the UK. In 1994 its appearance in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction made it popular all over again.
While in Memphis, she also persuaded Atlantic to sign Led Zeppelin, as John Paul Jones had performed session work for her. She concluded the 60s with her final series for the BBC, Decidedly Dusty.
Springfield’s sales went into decline further as the 70s began, and Dusty’s dependency on drugs and alcohol worsened. Many biographers see there being two sides to her, with the character of Dusty Springfield allowing the shy Mary O’Brien to indulge in the wilder side of her personality and mask her insecurities, including the worry that her sexuality would ruin her career. She was known for indulging in food fights – something she learnt from her eccentric father growing up, but behind the scenes she would self harm, and she was diagnosed as bieng bipolar. By the mid-70s she had become a recluse and was recording backing vocals for Elton John under her pseudonym Gladys Thong.
As the 80s dawned though she was releasing her own material once more. She tried several times to revive her career, without much luck, releasing the new wave-influenced 1982 album White Heat, and appearing on chat show Wogan in 1985.
In 1987, Pet Shop Boys were searching for a vocalist for What Have I Done to Deserve This?, and someone suggested they use Dusty. Singer Neil Tennant was a fan and the move paid off, with Springfield elevating the tune and also appearing in the video. The single made it to number two, and the trio worked together again, with Tennant and Chris Lowe producing Nothing Has Been Proved for the soundtrack to the 1989 movie chronicling the Profumo affair, Scandal. She was back in the album charts in 1990 with Reputation, again, produced by Pet Shop Boys.
In January 1994, Springfield was recording her album A Very Fine Love when she fell ill. A few months later she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Following months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment her cancer was in remission and she was able to promote her album, but sadly the cancer returned and she died on 2 March 1999. Two weeks later her friend Elton John introduced her to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Despite her demons, or maybe in part, because of them, Dusty Springfield remains one of the UK’s highest-regarded soul singers of all time.
Written by: Vicki Wickham & Simon Napier-Bell/Pino Donaggio & Vito Pallavicini (Io che non vivo (senza te))
Producer: Johnny Franz
Weeks at number 1: 1 (28 April-4 May)
Cricketer Phil Tufnell – 29 April
30 April: A regular hovercraft service began over the English Channel. It was ended in 2000 due to competition from the Channel Tunnel.
Also that day, Liverpool won the Football League First Division title for the second time in three seasons.