Best Of '99: Pop World Mourns Singing 'Great' Dusty Springfield

Once dismissed as a lightweight, she is hailed as Brit invasion's 'only really great female artist.'

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Thursday, March 4.]

The music world bid a sad farewell to one of the most unique and sincere

voices of the era when '60s Brit-pop sensation Dusty Springfield lost her

battle with cancer Tuesday, fellow musicians and critics said.

Springfield, who was 59 when she died at her home outside London, was

"the greatest female singer Britain has ever produced," the Pet Shop Boys

said in a prepared statement Wednesday.

Springfield's last major hit — and her biggest ever in the U.S.

— was "What Have I Done to Deserve This?," a collaboration with the British dance-pop act. But it

was her gift of giving voice to such classic pop hits as "I Only Want To

Be With You," as well as her far-reaching influence on the music world,

which has left the greatest impression on those in the industry and on

her fellow artists.

Burt Bacharach, who, with his partner Hal David, wrote many of Springfield's

legend-making 1960s hits, called her "one of the truly great, distinctive

voices of our time. She will be very, very missed."

Veteran rock critic and historian Dave Marsh, who is an Addicted To

Noise columnist, said he was moved to tears when a radio station

reported the news and played a montage of Springfield's hits. "They got

to 'Wishin' and Hopin' ' (RealAudio

excerpt) and I was gone," Marsh said.

"I love her," he said. "To my mind she was the only really great female

artist to come out of the British invasion."

"Wishin' and Hopin'," which reached #6 on the U.S. pop chart in 1964, was

one of several Bacharach-David songs that helped establish Springfield

as a breed apart from the girl-groups and British pop stars to whom she

was originally compared. Among the other standout hits were the dark

ballad "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself" — also recorded

by Bacharach singer Dionne Warwick, and later covered by new wave pioneer

Elvis Costello — and the sultry "The Look of Love."

Though she was sometimes dismissed as a pop lightweight, her unguarded

performances and ambitious song selection eventually earned her a reputation

as a major artist — and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,

which will induct Springfield on March 15. Her 1969 Memphis soul album

Dusty in Memphis, which featured the hit "Son of a Preacher Man"

(RealAudio

excerpt) and was reissued just two weeks before she died, is

considered a soul-pop classic.

Ahmet Ertegun, the legendary founder of Atlantic Records, which released

Dusty in Memphis, called Springfield "a truly rare talent who

crossed stylistic boundaries with exceptional power and grace."

"She was taken from us much too soon," Ertegun said in a written statement.

Even in her lightest pop songs, Marsh said, "she had that blues sensibility

... she brought to all those things a depth of feeling that comes out of

the gospel and blues tradition."

"It was easy to forget what made [songs like] 'Wishin' and Hopin' ' so

special, [but] she was like nobody else," another renowned critic and

author, Greil Marcus (whose "Days Between Stations" column appears monthly

in Addicted To Noise), said.

Marcus praised her unadorned singing style. "With Dusty," he said, "there's

nothing getting in the way. No techniques, no gestures get in the way of

what she is saying, of what you are hearing."

Springfield was out of the spotlight for much of the 1970s and '80s, but

made a major, if brief, comeback when the Pet Shop Boys asked her to sing

their smash hit "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" (RealAudio

excerpt). The song reached #2 in the U.S. and introduced Springfield

to a new generation of pop fans.

In a statement Wednesday, Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe

described Springfield as "a warm and funny person" and said they were

"proud to have been a small part of her fabulous career."

Vicki Wickham, Springfield's manager and longtime friend, said that

collaboration was "a very pleasurable experience" for Springfield. "She

loved the Pet Shop Boys and she was very proud of the record."

Jon Landau, a one-time rock critic who now co-manages rock icon Bruce

Springteen and country superstar Shania Twain, praised Springfield's

"ability to communicate basic emotions in ... different musical styles."

"All these great artists who we encountered growing up, they're like

long-distance friends," Landau said. Springfield's death, he said, felt

like "the loss of somebody who was a friend."

"I just feel grateful that I knew Dusty and worked with her," Bacharach

said in a statement through his publicist. "I also feel grateful that the

world knew her."

Pop singer Elton John — who was a close friend of the singer and who

is scheduled to induct Springfield into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

— played her upbeat, Motown-influenced 1964 hit "I Only Want to Be

with You" during a concert Tuesday night in Peoria, Ill., the Associated

Press reported.

"Dusty, wherever you are, this one's for you, my love, with all my love,"

John was quoted as saying.