The Complete BBC Sessions
eading the CD inlay for Dusty Springfield’s Complete BBC Sessions makes you cuss the wastefulness of 1960’s BBC staff, who’re seemingly responsible for this not, in fact, being a complete record of her BBC recordings at all. Sessions which featured “I Only Wanna Be With You” and “Baby I Need Your Loving,” for just two examples, are lost forever. Nowadays, of course, even small-time local bands can have their demos saved onto a thousand hard-disk drives, without ever being subject to a physical spring cleaning—y’know, just in case they make the big time. So, in a time when we can hoard music immaterially—without physical presence or negative consequence—it’s incredible to think that the master recordings of a star might simply have been chucked in a bin.
Regrettably, what this means is that The Complete BBC Sessions is by no means the comprehensive collection of her best work that it could have been. Even the casual soul fan will notice the absence of some of her best pieces: “I Only Wanna Be With You,” “The Look of Love” with its bossa nova rhythms and Dusty’s breathy, erotic drawl, her version of Jimmy Radcliffe’s perennial set-closing ballad “Long After Tonight Is All Over.” Furthermore, it’s hard to detect much from the songs that do appear that differs from their album counterparts—spontaneity or improvisation, for example, that might make these recordings worth hearing as special ‘live’ performances. You may expect the double inclusion of “I Can’t Hear You (No More)” to display such creativeness, but there’s no real need for both versions except to hold to that already-shaky concept of the complete-ness of the compilation: it only varies only in key and fidelity.
But it’s tough to remain hard-hearted to a record like this because of what it lacks—rather, the incredible voice of the late Mary O’Brien, and the wonderful songs she chooses to deploy it on, makes this (like any Dusty Springfield collection) a moving and worthwhile listen. It begins with three rare takes where she is the lead singer of “The Springfields,” each charming in their early-60’s naivety, if a little lightweight. The Springfields had bigger hits than these, but they were all in this throwaway-pop vein whereas Dusty was clearly capable of more. Emerging as a solo artist, she effortlessly glides through the faster beat pop songs—a straight cover of Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher” and a take of Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight” blur any real distinction between Motown and “blue-eyed soul.”
Then there are the mid-paced soul-pop numbers: “Son of a Preacher Man” is such a totemic anthem that it frequently overshadows her other work, but that’s understandable when it drips with such sass and clandestine intrigue. Another highlight is “Little By Little,” which laments a love lost to a piano-led, finger-clicked groove and a sumptuous all-girl choral hook. It’s the big, brassy ballads that allow her to really stretch out and provide the most memorable moments, however. Bacharach and David’s “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” builds into an emotional storm almost too powerful for the 1964 studio equipment, but is beautifully controlled by the singer. By ’66 the equipment had improved to contain the full weight of horns and backing chorus for “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me,” but Dusty remains the lead attraction by impeccably holding the vocals to just the right side of schmaltz.
With a wealth of material released and compiled for your pleasure, it’s hard to think exactly which hole The Complete BBC Sessions might plug. For the curious beginner, there are better one and two disc anthologies; for the dedicated fan, it adds little to the core of Dusty Springfield’s best work; and for the fanatical completists—well, it’s never been available before, but it’s also not even complete itself. The final sentence in the booklet fittingly acknowledges this defect: if you have any of the missing sessions, please do get in touch.
Reviewed by: Ally Brown
Reviewed on: 2007-07-30