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How Pet Shop Boys Saved Dusty Springfield’s Life and Career

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Neil Tennant, Dusty Springfield and Chris Lowe, via YouTube

In the 1960s, Dusty Springfield became an expert in all aspects of music recording. The male dominated industry resented having a young woman who seemed to know it all. She had a sharp ear for quality and a perfectionist approach to making records. During her era, women were simply not allowed to use the mixing equipment or to commandeer the production booth. She gained a reputation for being difficult and eccentric. Her headstrong personality and working knowledge of the technical aspects of recording did not endear Springfield to the professional music community, but she certainly enchanted her fans.

In 1964, while on tour in South Africa, and with no prior interest in politics, Springfield found it abhorrent that it was illegal to perform a concert to a mixed audience. But, there was a loophole in the law that allowed live performances for mixed-race audiences if they were in a movie theatre. Springfield booked the biggest film house she could find and played to a large black, brown and white audience. When she arrived back at her hotel, Springfield and her entourage were placed under arrest and deported. Back in England the public loved her for it. She was hailed as an anti-apartheid hero.

Springfield was at her apex in the mid-1960s. She had hit albums and her own television show. She is credited as the woman who brought Motown to the UK. But in the early 1970s, just when I was digging her the most, the kids who bought records pushed against Springfield’s style, preferring songs with a strong political message. Her love songs and throaty, jazzy vocals began to lose popularity.

At a loss, Springfield was sucked into a spiral of drink, drugs and all-night parties. She abused a variety of substances daily. The pressure of a closeted life manifested itself in depression and a desire to avoid the spotlight. An album she had started to record for Atlantic Records was shelved due to her ”poor mental health.”

Ashamed by the abandoned album, Springfield moved to Los Angeles and dropped deeper into drugs and booze. She spent most of the 1970s living late nights of partying. She sometimes woke up in a hospital.

Late in the 1970s, Springfield began to speak openly about being bisexual, although she was never known to have had a boyfriend. The bad publicity devastated Springfield. She came out of the closet to her parents, but far from being outraged; they did not take her seriously. This hurt her even more deeply.

In the early 1980s, she had a sort of marriage with wild, lanky, and vivacious actor Teda Bracci, who she had met at Alcoholics Anonymous. Bracci was a popular fixture on the L.A. Sunset Strip rock music scene in the 1970’s, often headlining at famous clubs like The Troubadour and the Whisky-A-Go-Go. But, the relationship only lasted two years and at the end of the decade she moved first to Amsterdam and then back to Britain.

By then, Springfield’s drug abuse was at an all-time high. She continued to have a string of short-lived love affairs with women. Her recordings had low sales. She was often between stays in rehab and hospitals.

Salvation came in 1987 when her longtime fans, Pet Shop Boys, asked her to collaborate on a project. The resulting record was What Have I Done To Deserve This?. It was a world-wide smash hit and one of my favorite singles of all time. Suddenly, the fading Springfield was among the smart set once more. Pet Shop Boys produced an entire album for her. At 48-years-old, her life started to get better. She gave up drugs and partying. More hit singles followed.

In 1994, just as Springfield’s career was back on track and a new generation was embracing her sound, she was diagnosed with that damn cancer. She received treatment, but remission was short lived. She spent her final years fighting cancer. Springfield moved in with her lifelong friend, back-up singer Simon Bell, who took care of her.

On New Year’s Day 1999, Springfield was awarded an Order of the British Empire for her contribution to music. Too sick to attend the ceremony, her longtime manager, with permission from Queen Elizabeth II, picked up the award on her behalf. It was carried directly to Springfield in hospice and given to her in front of a small gathering of friends, plus her Oncologist. On the very day when Springfield would have officially received the award, she lost her battle with cancer.

Her memorial was attended by thousands of mourners including Elvis Costello, Lulu, Elton John, and Pet Shop Boys. 10 days after her death, her friend Sir Elton inducted Springfield into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame, stating:

”She was the greatest white singer of all time.”

If she had made it, Springfield would have celebrated her 85th birthday today.


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