Get In Touch,
Publishing Inquiries

45 at 33: Dusty Springfield’s In Private

It’s what they call a postmodern concept — a melding of the diva queen of the 1960s with the premier pop duo of the 1980s, the emotional Celt and the reserved Northerners. Happily, the whole Pet Shop Boys presents Dusty Springfield project appealed to the British sense of camp and to be honest, still sounds a bit bloody marvellous over three decades on 

Pet Shop Boys knew exactly how to treat their charges – with the utmost sincerity. Neil Tennant once addressed the “camp” issue by pointing out that pure camp is actually totally sincere, and he was spot on. Something like Bronski Beat’s Cha Cha Heels featuring Earth Kitt represents a crass low-rent idea of what camp is, whereas In Private, which he and Chris Lowe wrote and produced for Dusty Springfield is absolutely sincere, and incredibly effective as a result. 

In Private was the third “comeback” single in a row to be a top 20 hit for the legendary chanteuse, after an uncomfortable absence of nearly two decades from the charts. Both ‘IP’ and Springfield’s previous single, Nothing Has Been Proved were written produced by the seminal synth duo, who returned Springfield to pop prominence with one of their most memorable singles, the 1987 duet What Have I Done to Deserve This?.

The Boys returned the favour by producing half of her 1990 album Reputation, of which its first pair of singles were two of Tennant & Lowe’s greatest giveaways.

Mixed by Julian Mendelsohn, In Private marries that vibrant Pets sound with Dusty’s still-stunning vocals, and took her to number 14 in the UK in December 1989, her biggest ‘solo’ hit since 1968’s classic Son Of A Preacher Man, ands “the best thing we’ve written,” Neil Tennant told Number One magazine, with warranted pride.

As if that second collaboration wasn’t already star-studded enough, its predecessor from a few months earlier, Nothing Has Been Proved was, in the words of Dusty herself “classy but not unhip”. A quality addition to the box marked ‘genre-hopping’ the 45 boasted a sax solo by new jazz icon Courtney Pine, and, in his (quoting PSB this week) “uniquely eerie orchestral style”, a sublime arrangement by David Lynch’s music man Angelo Badalamenti, whose death has just been announced at the age of 85.

Featuring a lyric largely penned by Neil Tennant before he was even a Pet Shop Boy, the singer dug the wordy, float-paced vignette out the archives and polished it up for Stephen Woolley’s 1989 cinematic retelling of the Profumo affair, Scandal.

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect era-smashing collision of style but the triumvirate equalled if not bettered it with In Private, which was also intended for Scandal but deemed too contemporary sounding for the 1960s-set movie.

Musically, the song’s in a stomping great major key, atypically for PSB compositions, and strident accusation about hypocritical love, laid out over a Motownish mid-groove. There‘s also a belter of a performance from La Springfield, and whispered, gossipy backing vocals a throwback to one of the standouts from the peerless Dusty In Memphis single, I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore.

If there’s one slight niggle, it’s that the first four seconds before the synthesised strings kick in sounds half-hearted, more like a non-intro that only scrapped through because they couldn’t decide how to open the song. Still, Dame Edna looks like she‘s having fun.

The percussion track on the verses is also slightly too high in the mix, which gives it a shrill, jarring effect that sounds like a cross between a scattergun and a bare bottom being smacked. 

Nevertheless, it’s a scorching powerhouse of a song, and a rare occasion where I’ve loved it from the moment I first heard it. 

At one point in the early 1990s (ie before Neil Tennant officially came out as gay), I remember saying to a pop pal, Dean Balaam, only half seriously, that I’d love to hear Pet Shop Boys performing their own version, to which he tittered and countered

“I don’t think Neil singing ‘when you run back to your wife’ is going to be allowed out in public, somehow.”

He had a point. 

As per the myriad lust triangles that dominated the Profumo episode, the lyrics are sung from the point of view of a mistress berating a politician for his deceit and challenging his plans to continue their recently exposed affair.

Which, alas, makes the fact that PSB did re-record the song as an unholy mess of a duet with the most famous gay man on the planet, Elton John, even more of an oddity. Apparently all Elt’s idea — lack of quality control and all – it was tracked in 2003, around the time of ver Boys’ PopArt hits compilation, though it was held back until a special edition of their Fundamental album in 2006. 

The production is throwaway cheesy trance-pop, undoubtedly done in five to ten minutes, with the vocals particularly horrific, sounding like they were knocked off in one take after a long night down at G-A-Y.

Frankly, it sounds like is one of those bachelor party karaoke recordings that you give away to friends (and foes) at your wedding — a bit like what Neil and Chris did with the more recent Wedding In Berlin, though at least that one didn’t have much of a tune to fuck up in the first place.

If anything, it just shows how one great pop duo can conjure up one of their greatest records and and one of their worst records with the same song.

Mercifully, the Boys performed the song live just the once, sans Reg but with the same arrangement, at an invitation-only club gig at the tiny Barfly in London’s Camden Town. And following, that’s even one of my shockingly shaky photos during In Private itself. 

I guess it’s just the story of my life.

Steve Pafford

© SD Pafford

Liked it? Take a second to support Steve Pafford on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

We use cookies to give you the best experience. Cookie Policy