Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” / Dusty Springfield


A month of love songs and nothing from Dusty Springfield? I don’t think so. If it’s thwarted passion and extravagant emotion you want, Dusty’s your go-to gal. I won’t say that her damaged take on love is the last word on it, but let’s get real here, ladies – we all know what it feels like to be a victim, and Dusty fearlessly plumbs the very depths of that for us.

Released in early 1966, this single was Dusty’s biggest hit ever – her only UK #1, and a smashing #4 success in the US. Throughout the rest of her career, this was her big concert showstopper, though its vocal demands made her dread singing it -- just when you think she can't go any higher, the key shifts upward yet again for that last verse -- ouch! While Dusty started her career with gutsy interpretations of American soul numbers, this song taps another vein, once that's not so familiar to me: diva-like Italian pop. An English translation of an Italian number called "Io che non vivo (senza te)" (or "I, who can't live without you"), it’s so operatic, it should carry a warning label.

Dig that melodramatic scribble of strings that underlines her vocal entrance: “When I said I needed you /You said you would always stay.” We know what’s coming – let’s just wait for that other shoe to drop. “It wasn’t me who changed, but you / And now you’ve gone away.” What we have here is a Grievance, girls. And so it follows, as the night the day, she’s going to have to abase herself for love, traipse right after him and track him down, “and beg you / To come home.” (The way Dusty throws her voice into that “beg” is heart-wrenching.)

Pride? That’s for those who don’t really love. Stripping away every last vestige of dignity, Dusty reins in her voice to supplicate, “You don’t have to say you love me / Just be close at hand.” The chord shifts upward, raising the stakes (and the volume): “You don’t have to stay forever / I will understand.” Another shift, and she clenches down, all her passion bursting through: “Believe me, / Believe me, / I can’t help but love you” (her vocal shiver on “can’t” is simply heart-breaking) “But believe me / I’ll never tie you down.” That “tie you down” sounds so frail and tentative, it simply kills me.

There’s a shivering breakdown after that chorus, returning to the second verse: “Left alone with just a memory,” Dusty describes herself, dropping behind the beat as if she’s crippled. “Life seems dead and so unreal,” and her nauseated curl on “dead” cuts to the bone. “All that’s left is loneliness / There’s nothing left to feel.” But somehow we know that there’s a lot more to feel, and Dusty is just about to lay it on us.

“You don’t have to stay forever,” Dusty assures him in the second half of the chorus. Jesus, what are you doing, girl? How can you say that? You’re laying yourself on the road in front of his car for just a few more nights? This is the absolute limit, the furthest love can go without being masochism. (Or maybe it IS masochism.)

You thought you were in love? Hell, no, Dusty is going to show you what love is, even if her vocal cords rupture. It isn’t pretty, but goddamit it’s extraordinary. I’m humbled by her no-holds-barred passion, every time I listen to this track. All you modern soul singers, the Amy Winehouses and Lily Allens and even the Adeles and Duffys of this world – behold the master at the top of her game, and know how far you still have to go.

You Don't Have To Say You Love Me video

You Don't Have To Say You Love Me sample


Anonymous said...

Lily Allen - soul singer? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Holly A Hughes said...

Of course she isn't. But never pass up a chance to put down Lily Allen, I always say.

wwolfe said...

My favorite female singer - and I almost forgot to add the qualifying adjective. This a hard one to enjoy, precisely because Dusty gets to the heart of the lyric in exactly the ways you describe. I always have to follow this right away with either "Breakfast in Bed" (sexiest record ever made - especially when she says, "Come on over here, boy;" that must have melted the tubes in the mixing board) and "Some of Your Lovin'" (she had the rare gift of actually letting me hear her smile while singing the lyrics to a happy song).

FYI, there's a book out about her called "Dusty: Queen of the Post-Mods." Based on the first chapter, it looks to focus a little more on cultural theory than I'd like, but the author understands the historical context, and the music itself, well enough to balance out the dryer passages.

Holly A Hughes said...

Yeah, I read that book recently -- you're right, the author does go off on signifyin(g) and queer politics too much. But she has a few passages where she absolutely gets the description of Dusty's singing down right. "Breakfast in Bed" -- the way Dusty pulls out that word "bed" is so damn lascivious, and yearning, and seductive. But there's pain in that song too -- you just know that guy will go home to his other woman and leave Dusty alone, in her negligee...sigh...