There are often unlikely collaborations, involving artists and bands from different generations, backgrounds or genres. These collaborations can range from brilliant to bad, to downright bizarre. One of the best that I can think of, is the entirety of the 2007 album Raising Sand which featured the unusual pairing of Robert Plant (of Led Zeppelin) and bluegrass icon Allison Kraus. On paper this shouldn’t work, but the chemistry between the two artists shone through on the songs, greatly complemented by the lush music production by T Bone Burnett and the album skyrocketed to #2 in the UK and US, and earned a Grammy Award in 2009. The worst, no doubt, is the misguided coupling of Metallica and Lou Reed on the album Lulu, which was incomprehensible, directionless and did nothing at the time to propel the group or even re-introduce Lou Reed (who died the following year) to a new generation of music listeners. The less said about it the better.
This particular collaboration however, is from 30 years ago and produced not only one of the most enduring songs of the 1980s, but further boosted the careers of artists who were two decades apart. It is impossible however, to talk about the particular song: What Have I Done To Deserve This? without delving into one of the most famous singers of the 1960s, Dusty Springfield. Dusty (born Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien) built up a career as a singer throughout the late 1950s, singing with the short-lived pop group The Lana Sisters and her group The Springfields. Around the time of Beatlemania in the sixties, she was gaining success as a solo artist through her collaborations with Burt Bacharach, Hal David, Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Pino Donaggio and Vito Pallavicini. Her most notable songs were The Look of Love, Wishin’ and Hopin’, Goin’ Back, I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself and You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.
Her big US breakthrough arrived in 1968 with the album Dusty in Memphis, where she worked with producer Jerry Wexler who had worked with some of the big names in R&B and Soul such as Ray Charles, The Allman Brothers and Aretha Franklin. The lead single from the album, Son Of A Preacher Man became a huge trans-atlantic radio hit. Despite being a native of West Hampstead, Springfield’s singing voice felt rooted in the traditions of American soul. She admitted that she was: “a great admirer of artists from Motown, particularly Mavis Staples and what they shared in common was a kind of strength I didn’t hear on English radio.” Following up from the success of Dusty in Memphis proved inconsistent, unfortunately her life was onset by personal struggles stemming from her difficult childhood and drug issues. While she still continued to record, her moments of success became isolated and she failed to re-capture the stardom that she had once enjoyed. The early to mid 1980s seemed bleak for Dusty’s career prospects until a chance meeting with Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe paved the way for new career heights.
The Pet Shop Boys had a major hit with the 1985 song, West End Girls and were recording their second album Actually upon being connected to Springfield. Tennant had wanted to collaborate with Springfield from the get-go, but her management only became interested after the success of their debut album Please. The resulting song “What Have I Done To Deserve This?”, co-written with Allee Willis (who also wrote songs with The Rembrandts, Earth, Wind and Fire and The Pointer Sisters), gave Dusty a new generation of fans and charted at #2 in both the UK and US. The song lyrically entails a tempestuous love affair between a man and a woman. Willis spoke of the relationship in the song as: “a dysfunctional one and the couple don’t have the strength to get out, ” as evidenced in the famous closing lyrics:
We don’t have to fall apart, we don’t have to fight
We don’t need to go to hell and back every night
The contrasting vocal stylings of Tennant and Springfield complement the song and the production by Stephen Hague, which bridged the gaps between their two distinct musical eras. The song’s success ensured a new lease of life for Springfield’s career, and three years later she released her first album in eight years Reputation, which received songwriting and production input from Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe on songs such as “In Private” and “Nothing Has Been Proved”. “Son of A Preacher Man” in 1994, also had revived interest upon being featured on the soundtrack for Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Sadly the resurgence wasn’t to last, in 1995 after recording what would be her final album, Dusty Springfield was diagnosed with breast cancer and tragically four years later, passed away on 2nd March 1999 at the age of only 59.
Years after her death, Dusty Springfield is still widely recognized as a key figure in British soul music. Beginning eight years after her death, a second short-lived revival in the UK would follow, producing the likes of Amy Winehouse, Estelle, Duffy, Paloma Faith and, for better or worse, Adele. In 2009, the Pet Shop Boys performed the song live at the 02 Arena with Dusty Springfield projected on the screens of the stage, giving confirmation that some musical collaborations can stand the test of time and still have an impact with listeners.
The Pet Shop Boys are courtesy of EMI and Parlophone
Dusty Springfield is courtesy of Atlantic and Parlophone
1.”Dusty Springfield.” Biography.com. A&E Networks Television, 28 Apr. 2017. Web. 04 Aug. 2017.
2. Holden, Stephen. “Dusty Springfield, 59, Pop Star of the 60’s, Dies.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 03 Mar. 1999. Web. 04 Aug. 2017.
3. “What Have I Done To Deserve This? by The Pet Shop Boys With Dusty Springfield.” Song Meanings at Songfacts. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Aug. 2017.
4. “Dusty Springfield – New Songs, Playlists & Latest News – BBC Music.” BBC News. BBC, 27 June 2017. Web. 04 Aug. 2017.