Dusty In Vegas

Sunday, February 17, 2008

I was glad to see Katy Setterfield win The One And Only on BBC1 last night – vaguely fraudulent feelings at having not watched any of the series before the final but still being won over enough to feel emotionally invested in her performances notwithstanding – as much because it made Em and I get out Dusty In Memphis and then a greatest hits collection and actually listen to the real Dusty. (It has to be said that Katy was very damn good at emulating the real Dusty, much more so than the chap ‘doing’ Robbie Williams.) (I’ll not mention the oddly-named, bright-ginger kid who ‘became’ Lionel Richie.)

So we listened to, of course, “Son Of A Preacher Man”, “I Only Want To Be With You” and “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”; none of which had been performed that night on the show. There’s something in the desperation, the barely contained emotional hysteria, of the kinds of songs given to female singers in the 60s, that Dusty nailed every single time. “I Just Don’t Know…” particularly – maybe it’s Bacharach’s arrangement – the space for the adrenaline-rush drum-roll before the pain starts again. Female singers haven’t… female singers in the mainstream haven’t nailed that for a long time, I don’t think. It was noticeable that, Frank Sinatra’s impersonator aside, all the singers last night bar Dusty were all-smiling, cabaret-singing, happy-to-be-here types while performing; perma-grins and Butlins professionalism. Katy-as-Dusty was the only one who inhabited the songs, who made me feel like she felt it.

We also listened to my favourite Dusty song, the one where she perhaps made me feel like she was feeling it herself the most; a song that was only ever a b-side, and which I only know because it was tacked-on at the end of the edition of Dusty In Memphis that I bought years ago – “What Do You Do When Love Dies”. It was recorded at the …In Memphis sessions but not used until later, a string section added. It goes from nothing to everything, guitar solo, emotional tumult, huge orchestral swell, in less than 2:40. “I run for the 1:10 uptown / show starts at two / I’m surrounded by strangers / but I’m haunted by you”. Awesome. One of the final columns I wrote for Stylus was a top ten of songs I’d cover if I ever could – I feel criminal for having forgotten this gem.

Listening to Dusty lead inexorably to putting on the first two tracks of Hot Buttered Soul, which we followed with “Only In Dreams” and “Say It Ain’t So” from Weezer’s blue debut (Em’s choice – she thinks I hate them; I don’t). Then I had a hankering for “Reckoner” by Radiohead; Em for “Beautiful Boyz” by Coco Rosie (Anthony Hegarty dueting); then I chose “Sheela-Na-Gig” from Dry by PJ Harvey. Em chose a couple of songs from Patrick Wolf’s debut; “A Boy Like Me” and “Bloodbeat”.

Which lead me to “Nocturn” and Aerial by Kate Bush (Dusty, Kate and Polly being probably my three favourite British female singers ever); an album which I realise now was probably the one which most set me off on the compression thing; listening to it this morning next to Radiohead’s In Rainbows, which is far from a BAD sounding album, Aerial is so spacious, detailed, rich, involving... as is the version of Dusty In Memphis I have, a 14-track, 1995 release on Mercury, mastered so quietly by today’s standards that it's useless ripping the songs to an iPod for the commute – turning up “Son Of A Preacher Man” and “What Do You Do When Love Dies” last night, though, and it was… more like having Dusty in the room than Katy Setterfield was. And she was good.

Where is this going? Nowhere really. Em wouldn’t commit to saying that she thought Dusty would win last night, instead pointing out, quite rightly, that you never know who the audience is; Dusty’s classic and we both love her, but how much of the audience would be swayed by songs they knew better? It was the Dusty superfan who was right though; Em and I may have only watched the final, but most other people watching last night have been onboard for up to eight weeks previous – they may not have known much about Dusty Springfield two months ago, but they’ve probably been won over in the meantime by Katy’s performances.


Sunday, February 17, 2008


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Nick Southall was born in southwest England at the tail end of the 70s, and is the youngest of three brothers. He has a degree in popular culture and philosophy and has written about music for Stylus Magazine, The Guardian and Drowned In Sound, amongst others. He likes red wine, expensive headphones, spicy food, and the Hungarian national football team of the 1950s. His favourite record is the last one he listened to. You can contact him by email via sickmouthy @ gmail dot com should you so wish.

All material copyright Nick Southall 2006/2007/2008

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