How to deal with a great voice? It’s a pleasant problem for an arranger, but a problem all the same. Nowadays the answer is often tied up in a wider question – how do you market a voice as great? For every imaginative answer there’s a boutique of off-the-peg settings to choose from – the ‘Nelson Riddle’, the ‘Muscle Shoals’ – which can reinforce the claims of a new voice as inheritor of past genius.
But that was now, and this is 1966, and a voice like Dusty Springfield’s finds itself not in the care of a pop heritage industry, but in the hands of Scott Walker’s hitmaking arrangers, who know just what it takes to get a ballad to the top. Strings, volume, and then more strings, and greater volume. And it worked. But does it work?
When I sat down to write this I thought that maybe vulnerability was a speciality of Dusty Springfield’s. (And I’m no expert, by the way – a hits album, Dusty in Memphis, a handful of lovely MP3s, those Pet Shop collaborations…I’m not on first name terms.) “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” is a vulnerable song, alright – in fact, it’s abject. Treat me however you like, it says, my love for you is unconditional. But I don’t like the song. I appreciate it, I could fumble towards an analysis of Dusty Springfield’s impeccable performance, and yes, she sells the song. But it lacks…. what, exactly?
The song brings to mind another Dusty Springfield song I know, “Breakfast In Bed”, where she sings “Breakfast in bed, and a kiss or three / You don’t have to say you love me”. Same words, different weight: despite being a cheater’s song, it’s healthier, more joyful, more intimate. And it makes me realise that it’s intimacy, not vulnerability, that I prize in Dusty Springfield songs. Moments of contemplation, stillness, the solitude of one or two. “Windmills of Your Mind”, of course, but also the still-life “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today” and her marvellous interruption in “What Have I Done To Deserve This?”
There’s no intimacy in “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me”. There can’t be: intimacy is the very concession the singer is having to make, the thing she is offering to give up for the sake of simple presence. But there’s also no room for intimacy – the production, all effect and bluster, makes sure of that. It’s a curious decision – in a song about powerlessness, demand power from your singer. Dusty Springfield could do powerful, of course, but it’s a shame she had to this time.