It's really difficult to define who is a "great" singer and who isn't. A lot of what we like is very much a personal choice that reflects either our perception of the artist or the vocal styling that they use that serves as a delivery mechanism for the song they sing. For example I love Tom Waits' voice. Would it potentially cause a small child to have nightmares? You bet. I often have nightmares after listening to Mr W.
Bob Dylan is another conundrum. Is he a "great" singer? Hell yes. There's several dozen songs you could point towards and lay claim to that sobriquet. The counter argument is Dylan technically a great singer? Don't know and do I care? Not really. What would a technically "great" singer sound like singing "Highway 61"? Well, he wouldn't sound like Dylan that's for sure. So for definition of my favourite singers I'm going to point towards a few folks who would be considered technically great, but also bring heart and soul to what they sings. Hey, maybe THAT'S the sign of a great singer
Dusty Springfield - if I was to go back in time and meet my teen self (Bowie mad, Talking Heads, Lou Reed always looking and veering towards the arty sonically challenging sounds) and I told me that in 30 odd years time you'll be eulogising Dusty Springfield I'd have wept over my imported Kraftwerk albums. I wouldn't have believed the bit about the internet being invented either.
However. Here I am with the benefit of adult appreciation. It doesn't make my earlier musical passions any less important to me. When you're a kid anything that you don't find and claim as your own is largely irrelevant and certainly not cool. My Mum loved Elvis. We had that Elvis 40 Greatest playing non stop when we were kids. I banished Elvis from my life after I turned 14. For whatever illogical reasoning I used, I would have been mortified to own up to liking Elvis. Three weeks ago I bought the 4 CD special edition of the '69 Comeback Special by the same man. That was probably the 10th or 12th Elvis album I've acquired over time. He wasn't called The King for nothing you know.
Dusty Springfield was up there in that type of musical category. She was square. Uncool. She had BIG hair. She wore pantsuits. She twirled her hands when she sang. In those days I wouldn't have been able to distinguish Dusty from Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw, Clodagh Rodgers, Petula Clark, Anita Harris etc etc.
I was in Seattle about 8 years ago and one evening I went into a record shop up near the Microsoft campus. They had a marvellous selection of all types of music and a huge second hand section. I spotted the CD "Dusty In Memphis" and somewhere in my subconscious I remembered Elvis Costello (who was always cool) mentioned it somewhere in album notes he'd written. I decided he'd written something positive and as it was only $7 2nd hand I bought it. It was the only music I had in my hired car for that week and I fell completely in love with Dusty Springfield.
As it turns out the CD I bought was an extended version of the original album and had 14 extra tracks not just the 11 released on the original. I finally remembered that Costello had actually written new liner notes for the albums re-release a couple years earlier. There was pedigree here. This record was a class act.
Now, I know poor Dusty had passed away back in the '90's and I could remember her recordings with the Pet Shop Boys et cetera. I distinctly remember her presenting a music award to ELO for "Grope Of The Year" (sic) which raised a laugh on the night. But at that time I didn't "get" why she had been invited back into the bosom of the music industry. Guys my age and slightly older had discovered the wealth of musical legacy that she had created and coolness bedamned, wanted to acknowledge her contribution. I dread to think this may have never happened and she would have been lost to another generation. Neil Tennant I salute you. Seriously.
I didn't know either that Dusty had a tumultuous private life before she succumbed to breast cancer. Her Sapphic leanings weren't that well know at the time, and this seems to have caused her significant worry, concern et c. It's sad that folks who were "different", certainly back in the '60s and 70's, led such closeted lives regarding their natural tendencies and went to such lengths to portray a public persona often so at odds with the truth. I'm glad that these days no one really gives a sh*te about that side of a persons nature and there's more acceptance and understanding of difference on our crazy planet. Fair play where it's due, the gay community had long taken Ms Springfield to their hearts and deserve much credit for keeping her memory alive. They recognized a real diva when they saw one.
Back to Dusty. She is a singer without comparison. EVERY record collection should have at least a greatest hits collection if not the aforementioned "Dusty In Memphis" in it. It remains one of my Top Ten Albums of all time. Go check her out. Yes, the music may sound dated sometimes, but the voice remains an incredibly valuable piece of our musical heritage. No one should have been able to sing so well.