Big eyes, big hair and an even bigger voice, Dusty Springfield rocked a blonde wig and a column dress like no other.
Dusty Springfield, the singer widely acknowledged as responsible for introducing rhythm and blues to British pop music, whose distinctive image made her a definitive figure of the Sixties, and whose personal struggles made her an icon to her legions of fans.
Once dubbed ‘the white negress‘ by Cliff Richard, because of her soulful vocal style, Springfield was described by Sir Elton John as ‘the best white British female singer‘ of her time.
Her first success in 1963 with I Only Want to Be With You was followed by a string of hit singles, including Stay Awhile, I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself, and Little by Little. In 1966 she had her first number one, the ballad You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.
Her image was a striking as her music. The heavily mascaraed ‘panda eyes‘ which became her trademark, coupled with her blond beehive hairstyle, earned her the nickname Queen of the Mods.
From Natural to Panda Eyes & Blond Wigs
Her perfectionism earned her a reputation for being difficult in the studio, which was matched by her status as a wild party-goer with a taste for throwing food.
She refused to play to segregated audiences in South Africa in 1964, incurring the ire of some on the British music scene, but her popularity was unaffected, and in the same year she was voted Best Female Vocalist in the prestigious NME Awards, an acknowledgement she was to be awarded again in 1965, 1966 1967 and 1969.
But commercial success confused her, while constant rumours about her sexuality left her craving privacy. Alcohol and tranquilizers abuse followed, and the Seventies saw her depressed and losing focus on her music.
True to her survivor’s reputation, she stormed back into the British charts in 1987 with What Have I Done to Deserve This? a duet recorded with the Eighties pop duo The Pet Shop Boys. The song was a worldwide hit, and was followed by a second collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys, Nothing Has Been Proved, the theme to the film Scandal.
Matt Snow, editor of Mojo, said in bringing rhythm and blues into British pop music, Springfield had proved herself as significant as Lennon and McCartney.
‘She was an unconscious stylistic revolutionary, but a revolutionary none the less. Her emergence symbolised the beginning of a new era, with white singers adopting the emotional range of black artists.
‘Since the Pet Shop Boys rediscovered and re-presented her, she has been established in the pantheon of significant pop stylists and nothing can remove her from that.
‘The unusual thing about her as big star was that she appeased her hunger for stardom quite quickly, and was not desperate to keep plugging away. She went into semi-retirement with barely a backward glance. Her legacy is the style in which every British singer sings.’
Adam Mattera, editor of the gay men’s magazine Attitude, said Springfield’s personal story had a huge resonance with gay men at the time.
‘When the rumours began about her sexuality, and she actually said that she was attracted to men and women, it was very significant. Her lyrics were all about secret loves, but instead of going into the corner and weeping she stood daring.
‘After the lost years, with her Eighties comeback, there was a clever, knowing sense of camp. She was in on the joke, which separated her from traditional gay icons. She understood what made her popular in the gay community and played up to it.’
Springfield bridged the gap between old-school divas like Judy Garland and more modern artists. ‘She paved the way for people like Gloria Gaynor and Donna Summer, through to Debbie Harry and Madonna, who took the defiance further.
‘She broke the mould with her music, her sexuality, by refusing to fit comfortably into the music industry’s expectations. She was subversive.’
Dusty Springfield: Looking Good Isn’t Always Easy – A Celebration of an Icon
Written and complied by Paul Howes, “Looking good isn’t always easy” is the luxurious, coffee table-sized photo book fans have been waiting for.
With more than 600 photographs, covering Dusty’s life from her schoolgirl days to her last TV performance, Paul Howes has retrieved hundreds of photos that have never been published before.
The book is available in hard or soft cover, and in a limited edition only. For enquiries and orders, email Paul Howes at email@example.com