American Top 40 PastBlast, 1/30/88: Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”

If it’s a 1988 countdown, the pickings I might want to write up tend to be a mite slim. I will say the landscape here in late January looks better than it will in April: “Hazy Shade of Winter” is a pretty hot track, and I’m fine with “Need You Tonight,””Cherry Bomb,” and “Pump Up the Volume.” There’s also a surprisingly good run between #16 and #12; four of the five are well above average, including “Crazy,” “Don’t Shed a Tear,” and “Tunnel of Love” back-to-back-to-back. Capping this part of the show is one of my faves from this period, sitting at #12, the future #2 hit “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”

It was a big comeback out of almost nowhere for 60s British star Dusty Springfield. Her steady stream of success started with folk trio The Springfields, and blossomed further on both sides of the pond after she went solo at the end of 1963. Nine Top 10 songs in the UK, three here. Fabulous songs like “I Only Want to Be with You,” “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” and “Son of a Preacher Man.” But the hit machine abruptly turned off when the 70s arrived; her final solo U.S. Top 40 appearance, “A Brand New Me,” was off the chart by the end of January 1970.

I know popularity can slip away quickly, and possibly without good reason, but that almost eighteen-year gap until PSB came calling got me wondering: what had happened with Dusty in the interim? It wasn’t a pretty picture, based on the few articles I’ve read. She’d been boxed in for a long time by the cultural norms of the day regarding her sexual orientation. These were years of rampant alcohol and substance abuse, too. While I can’t know whether there was cause and effect in play, the combination of an unhappy childhood and not feeling free to be her true self makes me suspicious. It’d be nice if we could someday learn not to be so awful to people about some things.

Neil Tennant’s invitation to sing on “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” turned to be a bit of a life preserver for Springfield. She wound back on the British charts with a few hits soon after, including a couple that went Top 20. Alas, breast cancer staked its claim in the mid 90s, and she died very shortly before her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

We don’t get to see all that much of Dusty in the video that put her back in mind, but toward the end we do catch a few frames where she gets to bust a move or two. I think I can even see some of the joy and playfulness she had performing “Stay Awhile” on American Bandstand in May 1964:

I’m thinking I may be taking a trip to hear Dusty in Memphis very soon…

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