Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"I Close My Eyes and Count To Ten" / Dusty Springfield

Here I was, doing my grocery shopping this afternoon, and what should I hear on the usually-obnoxious Food City muzak but this 1968 Dusty Springfield number. I had to stand there in the aisle with my trolley for a moment, marveling. Dusty! -- my favorite girl singer ever.

I got the best of both worlds with Dusty Springfield: she was English with a blond beehive and heavily mascaraed eyes -- absolutely required for me in the 1960s -- but she sang like an R&B goddess; she could hold her own against Aretha or Gladys Knight or Irma Thomas and could whup Diana Ross's skinny little Motown butt.

Actually, the singer I most often equate with Dusty is Patsy Cline -- our two great interpreters of frustrated female desire. Nothing ever turns out right in a Dusty Springfield love affair: the guy doesn't even notice you ("Wishin' and Hopin'"), or it means more to you than to him ("You Don't Have To Say You Love Me", "Stay Awhile"), or he's treating you wrong "(You Don't Own Me"), or he's gone and left you ("I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself," "Everyday I Have To Cry Some", and countless others). Men are shits, but desire triumphs over good judgment every time, and the girl takes it on the chin because she's a weak-kneed fool for love ("Son of a Preacher Man"). I'm sure that Dusty's romantic view of life warped me permanently...but man could she sing.

This track begins with just a pounding, insistent piano, but more and more gets layered in as the song builds -- strings, a horn section, echo-chamber vocals -- sliding in and out of major and minor keys, trading on and off between straightforward pop and something jazzier, almost Brechtian. That incredible voice swoops and dives through all the dense arrangements with a blend of breathy fragility and steely vitality; hoarse when it needs to be, spine-shivering powerful when it really counts.

Maybe no song ever has replicated the torment of insecure love like this one. "We were strangers a moment ago /With a few dreams but nothing to show / The world was a place with a frown on its face / And tomorrow was just, I don't know..." Dusty's timing here is impeccable, the way she lags ever so slightly behind the beat, as if stumbling in doubt; then when she finds her way into the chorus, she hits every beat confidently and you begin to hope this time happiness might actually stick -- "But the way you make me feel / The moment I am close to you / Makes today seem so unreal / Somehow I can't believe it's true..."

Nor can we, and we find ourselves getting tangled up in diminished and seventh chords and nothing seems certain -- "But what is happening to me is only a dream" -- and Earth to Dusty! You just met this guy! Don't count on it...but Dusty is too far gone to hold back now. And isn't that what we love about her?


Anonymous said...

I've never heard anyone else make the comparison between Dusty and Patsy Cline. I love them both, but I love Dusty more.

Holly A Hughes said...

Whaddaya know? I went back to Food City this afternoon to buy some Pop Tarts, and the muzak was playing Dusty again -- this time "The Look of Love", which is way the best version of that song. I've got to start doing ALL my shopping at Food City.