‘I Only Want To Be
With You’

When you’ve grown up with somebody’s music it’s hard to
separate fact from fiction and your own memories from the sound track of your
childhood. It’s also hard to divine what might be only nostalgia and what could
be real, so I’m not going to try that here. This is about Dusty and me, real or
imagined, and a relationship that has spanned half a century, from scratchy
much loved 45’s,through the CD revolution and onward through the ever expanding
frontiers of the digital age.

In retrospect you only have to listen now to the voice soaring
above the melody of the refrain on ‘Island of Dreams’ to know that at some
point in the not too distant future Fate, Talent, Ambition or a destructive
combination of all three would see ‘Mary O’Brien’ abandoning the towering
beehive hair-do and become that unassailable musical icon, Dusty Springfield,
in her own right. No brother, no ‘Wimoweh’ and certainly no maracas.

It’s also easy to forget that by 1963 when she stepped out
of those folksy dirndls of her ‘Springfield’ trio persona and into the
trademark pencil skirt and blouse of a ‘Mod Princess’ Dusty had already notched
up seven years of live performance, perfecting the harmonies and phrasing that would
let her take a song from nowhere and copyright it with a style that could never
be imitated. This was no ‘made for TV star’ rising to fame on the back of
capricious downloads. This was the real deal. And if we needed proof, there it
was before our very eyes on the television set under the doily in the corner of
the front room.

In November 1963 I was five, Johnny Franz produced what is
arguably one of the best, if not the first, examples of the British ‘wall of
sound’ and Dusty Springfield’s voice powered ‘I Only Want To Be With You’ out of
our TV and up to number 4 in the British Hit Parade, scoring 10 weeks in the
Billboard Top 100, where it peaked at number 12 long before The Beatles landed
and took America by storm. Let’s not overlook the small fact that she also sold
one million copies along the way.

So who was this new woman who looked like everybody’s
sister? Where was the faux Nashville twang of ‘Tell Them I’ll Be There’? ‘Dear
God’, said my mother who had quite liked ‘Silver Threads and Golden Needles’. Was
Dusty just jumping ship and grabbing hold of the coat tails of a new musical
generation, taking a chance on the slippery slope that was already seeing off
the likes of Alma Cogan and the Big Sellers of the Fifties?

No I don’t think so.

What we didn’t know then was that under the peroxide and
mascara Dusty had a rich and varied musical heritage thanks to her father that
spanned the classics to jazz. She also had an ear to match. There is the often
told story how her father would tap out tunes on the back of her hand and how
the young Mary would know exactly what he was tapping just from the beat. What
I didn’t know then was that during her tours of the US that same heritage had
drawn her to a sound rarely heard in the sound proofed booths of British record
shops. Dusty had discovered soul music and with the strains of the ‘Exciters’
big hit ‘Tell Him’ nagging away in her head she was going to take British pop music
in a new direction.

Tomorrow, if you’re still with me, I’ll be looking at what
is still one of my favourite albums, ‘A Girl Called Dusty’. If not take a look
at this link. It might just change your mind. ‘I only want to be with you’