If it was not for the re-ranking of the acclaimed albums list Dusty in Memphis would count as the second album that I looked at with the ‘Memphis sound’ (the first being From Elvis in Memphis). However, that album has now dropped off of the list making Dusty’s Memphis output all the more special.
Like many of the great albums there are many stories behind the making of Dusty in Memphis. Somewhat unique amongst well known female singers back in the 1960s, Dusty Springfield was also a producer (a fact that was not widespread at the time). Therefore when she stepped into the American Sound Studios in Memphis (in an attempt to undergo an image transformation to keep up with the trends) she suddenly found herself without a lot of the control she was used to. This resulted in many heated arguments, accusations of unrealistic perfectionism and the re-recording of most of the tracks in New York after the initially booked studio time.
When you listen to Dusty Springfield’s earlier work (such as her impressive debut A Girl Called Dusty) you realise how much of an amazing talent she was. In fact, she was one of very few internationally successful white solo female singers. She gained notice with songs like ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’ and ‘Wishin’ and Hopin’ which were, in early-to-mid 60s pop music. The fact is that Dusty never sounded better than she does rich the rich backings found on Dusty in Memphis (although her duet with the Pet Shop Boys comes mighty close).
The jewel in this album is, undoubtedly, ‘Son of a Preacher Man’. Whether you first heard it on the radio or in Pulp Fiction it is arguably the best song ever recorded with the Memphis sound. The fact that this was initially turned down by Aretha Franklin and then, having heard Dusty’s version, found it’s way onto an Aretha Franklin album only a year later speaks to the power of this recording. Whilst there are many other great songs on here such as ‘Breakfast in Bed’, ‘Just A Little Lovin” and ‘No Easy Way Down’ it is ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ that stands tall above them all.
As such Dusty in Memphis remains a landmark in music, not just because of the album itself but because it also marked the signing of Led Zepplin to their first major record deal on the recommendation of Dusty Springfield herself. Music really is a small world.