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Dusty Springfield – Occupy Your Mind

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Come 1990, Dusty Springfield was in the curious position of being popular again. She had basically ruled much of the 1960s, leading a female invasion of the charts that sometimes gets overlooked by the one led by The Beatles. But the girl christened Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien was every bit as influential, tearing the hinges off the doors of that particular boys’ club and becoming the most recognisable face (and hairdo) in an era that was awash with brilliant women, all bringing something different to pop’s table – among them Petula Clark, Cilla Black and Sandie Shaw. Dusty can even lay claim to having introduced Britain to Motown via her own TV special.

But Dusty’s top 40 career ended abruptly in 1970 – see again how the turn of a decade sweeps away what’s gone before – and it was to be seventeen years before she returned to it, coaxed out of early retirement (exile may be the better word) by Pet Shop Boys to deliver one of the decade’s best singles, What Have I Done to Deserve This? It turned out to be a global wake up call, and suddenly a lot of young men like me were wondering what sort of things being a Dusty Springfield fan might entail.

Following a successful hits compilation, The Silver Collection, and two further Pet Shop Boys written and produced top 20 singles – Nothing Has Been Proved and In Private – the next obvious step was a proper full length album. By this point Dusty was signed to Parlophone and it’s fairly safe to assume that everyone – Dusty included – expected label mates Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe to oversee the entire project. There was just one problem: Neil and Chris didn’t want to.

You can totally see why: having only just finished Liza Minnelli‘s Results album they were understandably keen to get on with their own – 1990’s masterpiece Behaviour – and perhaps a little wary of getting a reputation as the go-to guys for every elusive chanteuse from days gone by. But in the finish up they were persuaded to contribute three further tracks to the project in addition to the earlier pair of singles. One of these was a sweet, poppy run through of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme‘s I Want to Stay Here (written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and no.3 in 1963, exiting the top 50 the very week Dusty made her solo debut with I Only Want to Be With You), but the other two pushed the limits of what Dusty Springfield could do to their furthest possible reaches.

The first of these was Daydreaming, which is fairly unique in the Dusty canon in that it’s a rap record. A stately one, but a rap nonetheless. Quite unexpectedly, Dusty proves to be rather effective at it – her mid-Atlantic drawl sounds slightly mannered but when she says “Time is short/Waiting is long/My patience is exhausted/I’m just not that strong” she sounds utterly exasperated, not to mention exhausted. For a woman so famously meticulous about her vocals – legend has it she would sometimes record syllable by syllable – it’s possibly the most liberated she’s ever been on record. But if that wasn’t strange enough, Occupy Your Mind, the album’s closing track, took Dusty Springfield even further out of her comfort zone and placed her in a field somewhere outside the M25, at dawn.

Readers of Chris Heath‘s exceptional book about Pet Shop Boys‘ 1989 live shows, Literally, will recall that Occupy Your Mind is based upon an “Acid House snippet” that Chris Lowe played after Domino Dancing and before King’s Cross. Neil and Chris had initially approached the people behind the legendary Sunrise raves with a view to making a full record from it, but when this didn’t come to fruition an alternative idea surfaced. I like to imagine there was a moment when they looked at each other, grinning, and both said “Dusty” at the same time.

Squelchy, hypnotic, thunderously electronic and highly likely to induce paranoia depending on your mental state, there is every reason why Occupy Your Mind shouldn’t work, but it just does – Dusty sounds perfectly at home in her new setting – authoritative, mysterious and fragile at the same time. It’s the perfect comedown record, and shows once again Tennant and Lowe’s understanding that 100% sincerity is the best way to cut through any preconceptions of camp.

I have a feeling that Neil and Chris stipulated that none of their new contributions were to be released as singles – so instead we got the pleasant but rather pedestrian Reputation and Arrested by You, neither of which performed particularly well. But Dusty was most definitely back, and while she would never record anything quite so contemporary sounding again, pretty soon she was off to Nashville to record what was to be her final album, A Very Fine Love.

 

Entered chart: was not released

Who could sing this today and have a hit? It’s not that far off of Halcyon-era Ellie Goulding.

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