Before we get going with this next number one single, I have to go on record and state that only allowing Dusty Springfield, the greatest British female singer ever, one measly week at the top of the singles charts, is one of the British people’s greatest embarrassments. Hang your heads in shame, British record-buying public!
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, by Dusty Springfield (her 1st and only #1)
1 week, from 28th April – 5th May 1966
Now that’s off my chest… To the song. And what a song. I’d like to follow my earlier statement with the caveat that, if you were going to give Dusty Springfield, the greatest British female singer ever, only one #1 single, then you could do a lot worse than allowing that single to be ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’.
The intro sets a scene. It’s a throwback of an intro, straight from the melodramatic pre-rock days. It’s a Shirley Bassey intro. An intro you’d make up as a piss-take of a Bond theme. Horns blast, cymbals crash, and a choir welcomes the coming apocalypse… And then… Dusty. Whose voice, after all that, sounds kind of small.
But what a voice. I’ll have to remind myself that this is a post on ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’, the two hundred and thirteenth UK #1 single, not a post on the life and times of Dusty Springfield. But she did have a voice on her. When I said, I needed you… You said, You would always stay… It wasn’t me who changed, But you… And now you’ve gone… Away… It’s default Dusty – heartbroken, but defiant. Nobody does defiant heartbreak like her. And then comes the chorus, with it’s very rational approach to a broken relationship: You don’t have to say you love me, Just be close at hand… (For years, I though it was ‘just because you can’, which, to be fair, would also work.) You don’t have to stay forever, I will understand…
I love the dramatic way the second verse comes in… Left alone!… and the violin flourish that accompanies it. And then the two Believe me’s that prelude the final, sweeping chorus. And the key change. Because a song like this simply couldn’t finish without a key change. God, it’s a good record. I want to name it as one of the best yet. Except, my next recap is ages off. Damn. I’ve always felt that it’s a frustratingly short record, even though it comes in at not much under three minutes. They could have stuck another verse in. But no. They didn’t need to. It’s perfect as it is. It’s a complete side-step from the predominant sounds of the mid-sixties, a record that could have been a hit at any time. If Adele released a cover of it tomorrow, it would still work.
And that’s it. One song. One week. Dusty Springfield as chart-topping artist. It’s nowhere near enough, but at least she got it. And, of course, her career is not defined by this one hit. It’s just one of her sixteen UK Top 20 singles. There’s ‘I Only Want to Be With You’, her 1963 debut, ‘Stay Awhile’, ‘In the Middle of Nowhere’, ‘I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself’ (brilliantly covered by The White Stripes)… And then there’s her Memphis records, ‘Son of a Preacher Man’, and ‘Breakfast in Bed’, her cover of ‘The Look of Love’, one of the most sensual recordings ever made. And then there’s her late-career revival, courtesy of The Pet Shop Boys, culminating in the superb ‘What Have I Done to Deserve This’ (she loved a good long song title, did our Dusty.)
But my favourite Dusty is the one that belted out ballads like ‘Losing You’, ‘All I See Is You’, ‘I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten’, and, of course, this. ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’ was, apparently, based on an Italian pop hit from the year before, which had reduced Dusty to tears upon hearing it. Her song-writing team put together English lyrics for the melody, and she allegedly took forty-seven takes before she was happy with her vocals. The diva!
I better end this post before I go overboard on the links… One final thing, though. Dusty’s career was famously damaged by a 1970 interview in which she announced she was gay (‘bent’, in her own words.) For much of seventies and eighties she battled with alcoholism and self-harm. And listening back to the lyrics of ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’, you notice there are no pronouns used other than ‘you’ and ‘me’. And then you listen to the refrain: Believe me, Believe me, I can’t help but love you… And you realise that you are perhaps listening to a gay love song, which hit #1 in a time when it was socially unacceptable, if not illegal, to be that way. A powerful subtext, to an already very powerful record. Ladies and gentlemen: Dusty Springfield.
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