Dusty In Memphis

I know I talk about Pulp Fiction a lot on this blog, but who can forget the iconic scene when Vincent Vega first walks into Mia Wallace’s living room while “Son of a Preacher Man” is playing on the turntable.  You know the scene…Mia is watching Vincent on camera and she tells him to make himself a drink over the intercom.  The she “powders her nose” and off they go to Jack Rabbit Slims (actually, the deleted scene where she interviews him about Elvis and the Beatles was supposed to be here right before they leave).  Well, this scene was my first and just about my only exposure to Dusty Springfield, and I think that this scene introduced just about my entire generation to “Son of a Preacher Man”.  At least the song has stuck with me ever since.  It’s pretty much the only Dusty Springfield song I had ever heard until stumbled upon this album for $4.99 at the Barnes and Noble in Mentor back around Christmastime (sure, I had heard “I Only Want to Be With You” before, but I had no idea she sang it).

So the story behind this record is that Dusty was an English pop singer who wanted to be taken more seriously as a soul singer, so she signed with Atlantic Records and legendary producer Jerry Wexler took her down to Memphis to work with the musicians who had played with Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett.  Apparently Dusty was too intimidated to sing in front of musicians who had worked with her idol, Aretha, and so all they did was record the backing tracks in Memphis.  Dusty then went to New York and recorded her vocals alone in the studio.  Kinda strange, but it works.  Dusty brings a lot of soul to the poppy Carol King penned tracks, especially “So Much Love”, and “The Windmills of Your Mind” sounds like it could have been a James Bond theme (actually, I guess Dusty did record a James Bond theme for the terrible parody version of Casino Royale).  And “Just a Little Lovin'”, “Son of a Preacher Man”, and “Breakfast in Bed” are surprisingly frank and sensual.  Oh, and on a side note, apparently while they were in Memphis, Dusty convinced Wexler to sign the then unknown band Led Zeppelin to Atlantic Records because she knew John Paul Jones from session work he had done for her.  Wexler went on to give Led Zeppelin a record setting advance contract  and the rest, as they say, is rock and roll history.  Thanks Dusty!

The strange thing about writing about this record right now is that I actually just got back from Memphis two days ago.  The Princess and I spent four beautiful spring days there seeing the sights and eating barbecue (if you ever get the chance, go to Corky’s Ribs & BBQ…it’s damn good).  Well, one of the days we toured the Stax Museum of American Soul Music (located on the site where the Stax Records studio used to be) and they had a copy of Dusty in Memphis on display in one of their cases, billing it as one of their greatest albums ever.  So, considering that Stax had a distribution deal with Atlantic, it makes sense that Wexler used many of the Stax house musicians for the backing tracks on this record.  Memphis definitely has a distinctive sound when it comes to soul music, and Stax Records was a huge part of developing that sound.

Other lists: “Son of a Preacher Man” is #242 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Dusty is #35 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers.

My favourite track: “Son of a Preacher Man”

Honourable mention: “Breakfast in Bed”

Quote: “The view from the cliffs must have been exciting, and up to the peaks you were bound.  Now you’re stranded alone, and the past is unknown, and there is no easy way down.”