No matter how you look at it, this three-disc, 77-cut, almost four-hour collection is a lot of Dusty Springfield. If you’re not a fan of either Springfield herself or of sublime female ’60s-’70s pop, this is obviously too much of a pretty good thing. But since it’s the only domestically available compilation of Springfield’s extensive career, you’ve gotta spring for the whole enchilada. And that’s not a bad thing.
In contrast to her very American-sounding stage name (she was born Mary O’Brien) and big ole Southern-style hairdo, Britisher Springfield was much more popular in England than in the States. Sure a few of her early singles like “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me”, “Wishin’ And Hopin”, and “I Only Want to Be With You” cracked the US top ten, but this was just a fraction of the enormous popularity she experienced abroad. Springfield’s husky, sexy voice and often over-the-top lush Phil Spector-ish production (horns, strings, background vocals glopped on top of full orchestration) was an acquired taste and never really clicked with American audiences. It wasn’t until she came to the south and stripped the arrangements down to a gritty core with the classic Dusty In Memphis album and its Top Ten hit “Son of a Preacher Man” from 1968, did she finally latch onto a full-blown US hit and across-the-board stateside popularity.
By the time this collection gets to that masterpiece album in the middle of disc two, after almost an hour and a half of candy-coated pop, the listener is ready for a change. That’s not to say that Springfield’s exquisite vocals aren’t always listenable. It’s just that with all of these tracks, on an anthology obviously made for more than the casual fan, the often-dated, mostly overblown production gets tiresome to the ears.
Still, that’s what the skip button is for on CD’s, and when you hit the gritty groove of the Atlantic-era Dusty sides, it’s a revelation. You wonder why Dusty hadn’t framed her voice this sympathetically before. Clearly the highlight of her three-decade career, the Memphis tunes provide much-needed respite to Dusty’s often overblown production.
Disc three covers a full twenty-year time span and except for her mind-blowing renaissance at the hands of Brit fans the Pet Shop Boys in 1987 with the international smash “What Have I Done to Deserve This,” it’s pretty sluggish going. As you might expect this would’ve made a helluva double disc, but even at a triple, Dusty’s talent is so overwhelming that she’s worth listening to when the material or production isn’t up to her natural vocal talent. The remastering of these cuts is exquisite, the 36-page booklet is filled with groovy color pics, a well-written (but often fawning) essay, and good track annotation including US and UK chart information. The Dusty Springfield Anthology is a long overdue, if slightly overdone, retrospective of one of the undisputed queens of pop music. Even at its most pompous, the collection makes a convincing case for Springfield as one of the finest popular vocalists of her generation.