Dusty Springfield is one of the greatest vocalists Britain has ever produced, yet she never became quite as popular in Italy as at home, despite releasing material specially for the Italian market.
She was born Mary O’Brien on 16 April 1939 in West Hampstead, London. She was given the nickname Dusty as a child.
In 1958 she joined The Lana Sisters, who released several singles over the next couple of years. She left the group in 1960 to form the folk trio The Springfields with her brother Dion (who renamed himself Tom Springfield) and Tim Feild, and adopted the name Dusty Springfield. The group scored several UK hits, including 1961’s Breakaway and Bambino and 1962’s Island of dreams, and even enjoyed success in the US with Silver threads and golden needles.
On a stopover in New York City, Dusty first heard The Exciters’ Tell him and became captivated by the sound of American soul. A desire to change direction musically led to her decision to quit the group in autumn 1963.
Her first solo release, I only want to be with you, issued in November 1963, stormed up in the UK charts, reaching number four. (In Italy, the song became a big hit for Madagascan six-some Les Surfs as E adesso te ne puoi andar.)
Dusty’s record label, Philips, was keen to promote the singer in the continental European markets. She had released I only want to be with you in Italy in 1963, and in July 1964, she recorded a number of songs in French, German and Italian.
From those recordings, in the autumn of 1964, she released the single Tanto so che poi mi passa, a version of Every day I have to cry, which included Stupido stupido, a version of Bacharach and David’s Wishin’ and hopin’ on the reverse. (The latter was somewhat undermined by poor lyrics.)
A few months later, in January 1965, she took part in the San Remo song festival, appearing alongside fellow Britgirls Petula Clark, Kiki Dee and Anita Harris. Dusty shared a dressing room with Petula, and they found to their annoyance that the paparazzi were trying to photograph them from a window in the roof.
She sang two songs at the contest. The practice at the time was to have two singers – one Italian and one international – perform each entry. Both she and Italy’s Fabrizio Ferretti sang Tu che ne sai, which made it through to the semi-finals before being eliminated. The other was Di fronte all’amore – also performed by Gianni Mascolo – which was knocked out in the first round. (Dusty also recorded an English version of the song, I will always want you.)
However, the experience wasn’t a complete washout for Dusty. While at the contest, she fell in love with a song called Io che no vivo (senza te), which had been performed both by its writer, Pino Donaggio, and by American singer Jody Miller. Dusty took the song back home with her, and a year later her English-language version, You don’t have to say you love me, became her only UK number one single, in April 1966.
It wasn’t the only Italian song that would give the singer a hit – Carmelo Pagano/Luisa Casali’s L’amore se ne va proved more successful for Dusty as Give me time.
Inevitably, too, Dusty’s songs were also recorded by Italian stars, the best known of which are Patty Pravo’s version of I just don’t know what to do with myself, Se mi vuoi bene, Orietta Berti’s take on Stay awhile, Scorderai, and Rita Monico’s recording of All I see is you, Sere vuote.
But Dusty’s biggest Italian hit came as a result of her 1987 collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys, What have I done to deserve this, which reached the Italian top ten.