Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien, 16 April 1939, Hampstead, London; d 2 March 1999) UK pop singer, still reckoned one of the best of her generation. Sang with the Lana Sisters, then in the early '60s joined her brother Tom '60 in folk trio the Springfields. Her solo career began well with 'I Only Want To Be With You' (no. 4 UK, 12 USA '63; later a hit for the pre-Eurythmics Tourists '79); 'Wishin' And Hopin' ' was a US no. 6 '64; her biggest was 'You Don't Have To Say You Love Me' '66 (no. 1 UK, 4 USA); 'Son Of A Preacher Man' was top ten in both countries '68; her original version of Goffin and King's 'Goin' Back' was top ten UK '66, the song later covered by the Byrds, Nils Lofgren, Bruce Springsteen. She was a keen advocate of Motown and one of the few white singers who could sound convincingly black; she exercised immaculate choice of material while UK competitors Cilla Black and Sandie Shaw were content with production-line pop songs. Albums A Girl Called Dusty, Everything Is Coming Up Dusty '64-5 were representative; she switched from Philips to Atlantic for Dusty In Memphis '69, perhaps her best, produced by Jerry Wexler including 'Preacher Man'. She was regarded as difficult because she was serious about her work, yet she lacked confidence; when Wexler said to her in the studio, 'That's where Aretha Franklin stood, right there', he did not mean to make a comparison, but it caused her stress: she herself was never satisfied with her voice. A Brand New Me '70 on Atlantic was named after her hit with a Jerry Butler song, her last album to chart in the USA. Cameo '73 included a strong cover of Van Morrison's 'Tupelo Honey'; Longings '74 was an unreleased album; Dusty Sings Burt Bacharach And Carole King was released '75; by this time she had got suspicious of the record industry, but a new deal resulted in It Begins Again '78, which was probably overproduced.

She remained in the USA and was active on behalf of animal welfare; Whiteheat '82 on Casablanca was disco-flavoured and did not get wide distribution; an '86 comeback backed by London nightclub boss Peter Stringfellow was also unsuccessful (single 'Sometimes Like Butterflies' appeared on his label). Elton John and Elvis Costello were among many to sing her praises; her cult status was enhanced when '60s Ready Steady Go TV shows were released on video; fans still hoped she would find a sympathetic producer and the right songs. She sang as well as ever on 'What Have I Done To Deserve This' '87, a duet with Neil Tennant on Pet Shop Boys, Actually, the second hit LP by that UK act; and she also recorded a duet with Richard Carpenter, 'Something In Your Eyes'. Reputation '90 had four tracks written by the Pet Shop Boys, and charted in the UK. Having lived the life of a nun as a teenager (her description), she later drank more than was good for her, but quit in the early '80s; she won a lawsuit '91 against a UK TV comedian who portrayed her performing while drunk. A UK TV tribute '94 was a disaster, laced with sniggering role-playing by so-called fans. By '95 she was fighting breast cancer and had moved back to England; best-of CD Goin' Back on Philips was followed by new album A Very Fine Love on Columbia, made in Nashville.