As controversial statements go, this isn’t going to blow a hole in anybody’s credibility; when it comes to the acme of the British chanteuse aesthetic, Dusty Springfield is pretty much the default option. To fashion an argument to the contrary feels like quite hard work indeed; it’s in the voice, the image, the poise. It’s A Girl Called Dusty and Dusty in Memphis, that halo of vulnerability she couldn’t but help but exude whenever she hit the stage or the recording studio.
And yet, when it comes to English female singers of this era, my heart is elsewhere. With the artist formerly known as Sandra Ann Goodrich, to be precise. Not that there’s a simple explanation; a quick Twitter straw poll last night – Dusty or Sandie? – and whilst there was a degree of love for the latter, preferences unanimously gravitated toward the Springfield camp. Maybe for the reasons alluded to in the first paragraph. Or that – if we’re limiting ourselves to the 1960’s – Dusty had (arguably) the stronger material to go with that vocal allure.
So why am I appearing to be wilfully contrary? Call it panache; or presence, perhaps – there’s something enchanting about the whole Sandie Shaw thing. It’s not necessarily tangible, or amenable to a quick and snappy phrase; rather, there’s a seductive quality at play. A subtle implication of something going on in peripheral vision. A knowing glint in Sandie’s eye, or tendrils of sultriness so fine it’s as if I’ve imagined them.
Or to put it another way: a very suburban exotica. Yeah – that’s the description I’ll stick with.
The Morrissey angle helps, of course – it invariably does. It was at his instigation that she recorded ‘Hand In Glove’. There’s a wonderfully playful accent to this; goofier than the original yet less flamboyant, so that the lyrical cadences chime far closer with Johnny Marr’s guitar. Watching Sandie and the Smiths performing this on Top Of the Pops was a revelation – a blast of refined adrenalin in an era of white noise; some artists get the Pet Shop Boys to trigger a wave of career reinvigoration – Sandie’s introduction to a new generation came courtesy of Morrissey, and then Lloyd Cole – her version of ‘Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken’ is neither a radical diversion nor a weighty improvement upon the original, yet it has a place in my heart, all the same, implicitly complimenting her vocal register.
Flitting back to the ’60’s, and it’s fair to admit that the material she recorded at the peak of her fame – both covers and originals – carried the haze of career opportunism. She’s not alone in management pointing her toward the TV shows, Eurovision, and tracks unrepresentative of the woman performing them – although it is one of the reasons why she became disillusioned to the point of semi-retirement with the whole music industry thing. And yet every single song has that Sandie sheen to it – even ‘Puppet On A String’ (which both LGM and the lady herself have filed under “bleugh”). In other words – I grow excited whenever I hear a Sandie Shaw track. There are sexy undertones that never fails to appeal.
It’s less the case now, what with the discovery of irony sometime in the 1990’s, but winning Eurovision (1967) would have been a shot in the arm for pan-continental credibility, back then. Or if credibility is not the correct noun, then at least the opportunity to shift more product in the record bars of Milan, Montpelier or Madrid. The references in this piece to the British chanteuse aesthetic are deliberate – when it comes to girl singers of 65-70, France and Germany are the territories to mine for strikingly original poses; I’m no polymath – mon français, und mein Deutsch are functional, not expansive – yet I’m a sucker for a female voice and a European tongue. So you can imagine my delight upon discovering that cynical promotion of the Sandie Shaw vibe resulted in a mass of material sung in French. And Italian. And Spanish. And German.
Especially the latter. No idea of reasons behind the appeal – sing to me auf Deutsch, and I’ll have a little tremble. Below the words, “Heute’, from the album Wiedehopf Im Mai – Sandie Shaw Singt Auf Deutsch. A Dagenham accent transplanted to Prussia – yes please.