Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be 50 Essential Albums by LGBTQ Artists, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Considering that the qualifier “LGBTQ” can often be open to various interpretations, for the purposes of this particular list, we have defined an artist as LGBTQ if he, she or they have ever publicly identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer. Moreover, albums by groups have been included in the list if any of their members fit the aforementioned criteria, even if some members do not.
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DUSTY SPRINGFIELD | Dusty In Memphis
Selected by Terry Nelson
There are rare occasions when an album’s greatness is not fully realized by the general public until many years or even decades later after its release. Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis definitely falls into that category. It was the fifth studio album for Springfield and her first for Atlantic Records. Dusty in Memphis came along at a time when Springfield’s career was viewed as being on the decline, with 1966’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” being her last hit single at that point.
In 1968, Springfield signed with Atlantic Records with the hope of re-energizing her career. Producers Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd, and Arif Mardin thought it was a no-brainer to record Springfield’s first album with Atlantic in Memphis, where many of the label’s hits had been recorded. Despite the fact that Springfield had never cut and album outside of the U.K., she, along with her manager Vicki Wickham thought it was the right career move to make.
Dusty in Memphis was recorded at Chips Moman’s American Sound Studios with session players known as the Memphis Boys, featuring bassist Tommy Cogbill and guitarist Reggie Young. The Sweet Inspirations provided the backing vocals and Gene Orloff conducted the orchestra. One would think that this was the perfect set of circumstances lined up for Springfield, but her quest for perfection made the sessions a little difficult. Recording outside of the U.K. for the first time proved to be tough for her. Springfield was used to having complete control over her recording sessions, even though she was never given credit as a producer on her previous four albums. American Sound Studios was not her turf and eventually her final vocals wound up being recorded in New York.
“Son of a Preacher Man” was released November 8, 1968, four months ahead of the release of Dusty in Memphis. It was an international hit reaching the top 10 in the United States and the U.K. At this point all signs pointed towards Dusty in Memphis being a major hit, but, unfortunately, this was not the case. The album hit #99 on the US album charts and it did not even chart on the British top 40. It was a commercial failure.
There are some who would say Dusty in Memphis was a great album that came along at the wrong time. I would contend that great is great no matter what. Excellent songwriting and Springfield’s gift of interpreting the works of great songwriters like Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Randy Newman and Burt Bacharach & Hal David makes everything work to near perfection.
This masterpiece’s legend has only grown over the last 50 years. “Son of a Preacher Man” has entertained generations of music lovers, but the rest of this albums tracks should not be ignored. Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s “Just a Little Lovin’" is the perfect opening track because it signals Springfield’s musical shift in gears. The orchestration is classic Atlantic Records and permeates throughout the entire album. It doesn’t explain why Dusty in Memphis didn’t get the love it deserved when it was released, but luckily we still have it here to listen to.
As each year passes, I love it even more than I did before. Greatness doesn’t necessarily have to happen in the moment. It could slowly reveal itself over time, letting you know it’s always there for you. That is what Dusty in Memphis is all about.