Back in the '60s, the British Invasion was basically a boys' club. All the major acts were male, from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, to the Animals and the Yardbirds, and they wowed American audiences in ways that Britain's girl singers -- Cilla Black, Shirley Bassey, Lulu -- never could.
Except for Dusty Springfield. Where the others seemed mannered or frivolous, Springfield exuded sophistication and soul, sounding so at home with the American-ness of rock and roll that many who heard her sing "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" or "Son of a Preacher Man" never suspected she'd been born and bred in London.
Springfield died Tuesday night, at her home just outside of London. The singer, who is about to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, had been battling breast cancer for the last five years. She was 59.
News of her death came as a shock to musicians and music fans alike. "I had tuned into the information channel, and it just said, `Dusty dies,' " said guitarist Jeff Beck yesterday. "I thought, `Please. Stop. No, not Dusty.' "
Born Mary O'Brien, Springfield had been a fixture on the British pop scene since the early '60s. The product of a musical family, she began harmonizing with her brother, Tom, as a child. After a brief stint recording with a group called the Lana Sisters, she and Tom formed a folk-oriented trio with Tim Field called the Springfields.
Considered the British Peter, Paul & Mary, the Springfields had a number of British hits between 1961 and '63 and even cracked the American Top 40 with a version of "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" in 1962. But Fields left, and the trio disbanded, with Tom going into songwriting, while Dusty struck out on her own as a singer.
Although her first solo hit, "I Only Want To Be With You," was a perky approximation of the Motown acts like the Marvelettes, Springfield ultimately made her name singing more sophisticated fare.
Along with Dionne Warwick, she was a celebrated interpreter of songwriter Burt Bacharach, and her haunting, off-hand version of "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" went to No. 3 on the British charts.
New wave rocker Elvis Costello later covered the song in tribute, calling Springfield's single a seminal influence on his own musical development.
Springfield's biggest hit of the '60s was "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me," a splashy, melodramatic ballad from 1966 that topped the British charts and went to No. 4 in the United States.
Three years later, she teamed up with American producers Jerry Wexler, Arif Mardin and Tom Dowd -- the team responsible for many hits by Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett -- to record the album "Dusty in Memphis." In addition to the worldwide hit "Son of a Preacher Man," the soul-oriented album included "Breakfast in Bed," which was later remade by UB40 with Chrissie Hynde.
Although the album brought Springfield considerable success, the singer grew uncomfortable with life in the limelight. She dropped out of the music business in 1971 and lived a recluse's life in Los Angeles for several years, a time she later described as having been consumed with heavy drinking and depression.
She made a comeback album, "Begins Again," in 1978, but didn't match her original success until 1987, when she joined the Pet Shop Boys for "What Have I Done To Deserve This." The contrast between Springfield's soulful luster and Neil Tennant's tart cynicism was enough to make the single a worldwide smash, going to No. 2 in the United States and Britain.
Springfield's career had been on an upswing before her death, thanks to a well-received box set, "The Dusty Springfield Anthology," and a deluxe reissue last month of "Dusty in Memphis." Later this month, she will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen.
"She was about ready to come back," said Beck, sorrowfully. "It's such a blow. A tremendous blow."
Pub Date: 3/04/99