Monday, 28 January 2008

Dusty at the Beeb

In the 1960s, in an effort to ride on the coat-tails of the burgeoning new-fangled pop music wave, television companies snapped up the more presentable performers (i.e. not Mick Jagger) and gave them their own TV shows. Tom Jones had a go as did a few other males but it was mainly the women that got the prime time Saturday night slot. Cilla Black, Lulu, Petula Clark (in the US) and of course, Dusty Springfield all fronted their own shows with varying degrees of success.

It became apparent that Dusty was head and shoulders the best singer, but perhaps not the best host, so her show played to her strength and comprised little more than a succession of songs sung against a cheap backdrop, with a guest spot or two to break it up. The BBC has just issued a DVD of several surviving archive tapes of these programmes and they are sensational.

These are programmes from an era when material was recorded ‘Live’ and then broadcast (and then wiped!) so what the viewer is seeing is effectively a live concert of 6 or so songs. No miming, no edits. What strikes you when watching these shows is not how primitive they look, but what a stunningly good singer, Dusty was. She takes on every style and musical genre with consummate ease without the need for dance troupes or tele-visual effects. The songs include showtunes, standard ballads, gospel, folk, blues, and most important of all, R&B. Nothing seems to be beyond her canon and it is captivating. How many singers do you know today who could sing live on television and cross all these boundaries in 30 minutes?

Most interesting of all is the undercurrent of subversion. Here was a white, seemingly middleclass woman appearing on the bastion of middle England; the BBC, but singing a great wodge of black American music and one wonders how this went down with the establishment of the day? Dusty always adored the material emanating from American record labels such as Motown, Atlantic and their ilk. There are some versions of songs by Holland, Dozier & Holland and Smokey Robinson that put her up on a pedestal with the original artists and where she seems immediately at home. It’s not surprising that she fled to the States to produce ‘Dusty in Memphis’ and to further her career there when the UK public was beginning to tire of her.

These early tapes show her at her best, just singing and entertaining us as she did so. The slow descent into relative obscurity and eventual death through cancer seems so far away at this point it makes you want to cry. RIP Dusty.


Jennifer K said...

Shelby Lynne is coming out with a CD of Dusty covers today in the US. I can't wait to pick it up and get a listen.

musicobsessive said...

I've just listened to the 30 second samples and it sounds very good indeed. Pity she didn't have a go at 'I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten', my favourite!
I look forward to the full review on your blog!

Jennifer K said...

Thanks, I won't be able to get the CD until this Thursday or Friday, but I'm really looking forward to listening to it.

This may sound like a weird question, but how do I get the title of my blog to the top of the page?

Jennifer K said...

Hi there. I posted my review of Shelby Lynne's "Just a Little Lovin'." I'd love your thoughts.

musicobsessive said...

Hi JK. I'll have a look when I've got a minute - it looks interesting.