It Was Five Years Ago Today: Dusty Springfield’s Faithful found in the nick of time

When Dusty Springfield ditched her American contract with Phillips and signed to Atlantic Records in 1968, the bouffant diva was making a decisive change in her career. At the time, Atlantic was the most important label in R&B, rivalled only by Motown. It was the home of Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke, and, most importantly to Springfield, Aretha Franklin. 

Atlantic artists recorded at such gritty soul hubs as Stax and American Sound Studios in Memphis and FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with house bands that each developed their own instantly recognisable, unrepeatable sounds. By joining the Atlantic family, the British singer was announcing her intention to concentrate her flirtations with R&B into something deeper and more soulful.

Springfield’s first album for her new label, 1969’s sublime Dusty In Memphis, featured Atlantic’s crème de la crème: production duties by label head Jerry Wexler, vice president Arif Mardin, and all-star engineer Tom Dowd; songs by Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Randy Newman, and Burt Bacharach & Hal David among others; and backing by American Sound Studios’ house band, the Memphis Boys. Dusty In Memphis produced the legendary Son Of A Preacher Man and is frequently cited as one of the all-time greatest albums ever made, but at the time, it was seen as a commercial disappointment, barely cracking the Top 100 in the US and missing the UK charts entirely. 

Atlantic then switched gears, sending Springfield north to work with up-and-coming songwriters/producers Kenneth Gamble & Leon Huff and arranger Thom Bell, who shortly thereafter would found Philadelphia International Records and establish themselves as the architects of the Philly soul sound that David Bowie wanted in on four years later for Young Americans. The resulting album, 1970’s A Brand New Me, is almost the equal of Dusty In Memphis, but fared no better commercially.

For her next album, Springfield teamed up with Jeff Barry, just coming off being named by Billboard magazine as the second-most successful American producer of 1970 (after Motown’s Norman Whitfield). Most pop fans who recognise Barry’s name, however, remember him for the songwriting partnership with one time wife Ellie Greenwich, which resulted in some of the most beloved hits of the 1960s: Be My Baby, Leader Of The Pack, and River Deep – Mountain High, to name a scant few. 

Springfield’s album with Barry, provisionally titled Faithful, should have been the final instalment in her trifecta of American soul LPs at Atlantic. Instead, the two lead singles unjustly flopped, Springfield switched labels to the unproven ABC/Dunhill, and Atlantic was left with a DOA album by an artist it no longer had a stake in promoting. The label scrapped Faithful’s planned 1971 release, and the masters were destroyed in a warehouse fire a few years down the line. Cue one of those almost mythological lost albums they write books about.

Faithful’s inner gatefold

Two whole decades later, Barry revealed that he’d kept stereo mixes of the finished tracks from the Century Sound Studios sessions in New York City after all. The recordings finally saw release as additional tracks on Rhino Records’ deluxe editions of Dusty In Memphis and A Brand New Me in the ’90s. On 7 April 2015, Real Gone Music at last gave Faithful its debut standalone release, accompanied by liner notes by The Second Disc’s Joe Marchese and photos from Paul Howes’ illustrated biography Dusty Springfield: Looking Good Isn’t Always Easy. 

While hardcore Dusty fans may already be familiar with much of this material, this is the first time the tracks are being presented as the album they were intended to yield. They benefit greatly from being recontextualised in their proper surroundings, revealing Faithful as one of the singer’s very best post-Sixties records. The 13 tracks (12 intended for Faithful, plus a B-side) combine originals by Barry and his writing team (Bobby Bloom, Michael & Steven Soles, Gilbert Slavin, Neil Goldberg, and Ned Albright) with a handful of covers of soft rock hits, interpreted thoughtfully yet passionately by Springfield.

Unlike Dusty In Memphis and A Brand New Me, Faithful was neither recorded in a major hotbed of soul music, nor produced by a crew with serious soul bona fides. (Barry was just coming off a stint writing for cartoon froth merchants the Archies, while songwriter Bloom had scored a hit of his own in 1970 with the calypso-flavoured bubblegum Montego Bay.) Nevertheless, the songs and instrumentation on the album are simpatico with Springfield’s loose yet controlled style, and are varied enough to show all her faces.  On the one hand are the great belters, like angsty dancefloor filler Haunted and tough-as-nails Natchez Trace, which proves Dusty could turn on hard rock vocals as naturally as Janis Joplin or Tina Turner.

The harder, uptempo songs are complemented by peeks into Dusty’s gentler side, singing in a shy near-whisper on Live Here With You or fighting the flutter of sadness in the back of her throat in Have a Good Life. In the middle lie the most pop-friendly numbers, including the Supremes-ish All The King’s Horses and album opener I’ll Be Faithful, the track whose style most vividly recalls Dusty In Memphis. Bonus track Nothing Is Forever, issued as the B-side to the Haunted single in August 1971, drops the soul style almost entirely, sounding more like her theatrical pop ballads like You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me or The Look Of Love.

Probably the best song on the album, however, is the blue-burning groove of I Believe In You. Springfield starts the song with seemingly off-hand phrasing, backed with a few stray piano, bass, and organ notes. The arrangement gradually begins to ground itself and swell in size, throwing in backing vocals, drums, and rumbling horns, but never loses its fragile grandeur. Album closer I Found My Way Through The Darkness shares a similar quality, its superficial looseness and busyness enrobing a deceptively tight construction. Together, the pair of tracks recalls the low-key epics and dirt-floor mysticism of Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey or the Band’s Music From Big Pink, transcending the mere fabulousness of the rest of the album to become something almost holy.

Faithful’s track listing is fleshed out with three covers of contemporary pop hits. Someone Who Cares, originally performed by Kenny Rogers & the First Edition, allows Springfield to oscillate wildly between restrained balladry in the verses and powerful belting in the chorus. Her solid if unremarkable rendition of Carole King’s You’ve Got A Friend, however, doesn’t live up to her previous interpretations of King classics like Goin’ Back and Don’t Forget About Me. Surprisingly, the most interesting cover comes courtesy of mellow-rocker David Gates. Springfield’s lightly funky, easy-like-Sunday-morning approach lends Make It With You a good-humoured sense of romance that’s a darn sight tastier than Bread’s original insistent sensitivity.

The Dusty discography is likely filled with more attempted, aborted, and shelved albums than ones actually released (1974’s Longing, anyone?), victims of her notorious insecurity/perfectionism, demanding nature, and frequent clashes with producers and labels. Most of those would-be albums never resulted in more than a couple of completed tracks. Faithful, the major exception, has at last been rescued from the vaults and from bonus track status. Now that is has finally received the proper, respectful release that it deserves, Faithful can be discovered as one of the hidden highlights of Springfield’s long and varied career, and a should-be classic that rivals her magnificent magnum opus.

Steve Pafford

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