52 Weeks, 52 Years, 52 Pops: A Girl Called Dusty (#2)

Artist:  Dusty Springfield
Year:  1964
Example Song:  Wishin’ and Hopin’

For the second in my new Tuesday series of 52 reviews from 52 consecutive years in 52 weeks, (from now on referred to as “52 Pops”), I was obliged to find an album to review from 1964.  I started the search relatively early, as I still don’t feel all that comfortable with album reviews and I wanted to get a few listens in before today;  I’d definitely listened to this album before, but that must be a couple of years ago now.  I had a few possibilities to pick from in my iTunes, but I chose this over the easy options like the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night and the Kinks’ eponymous debut, since the point of this blog is after all to expand my horizons.

Dusty Springfield, who I didn’t know was from London, had been in a girl group called The Lana Sisters from 1958 to 1960 before performing as The Springfields with her brother from 1960-1963.  After three relatively successful albums, Dusty (real name Mary O’Brien) decided to use the opportunity to launch her solo career beginning with A Girl Called Dusty, allowing her to be much more diverse musically than she had felt able to be before.

A_Girl_Called_Dusty_(Dusty_Springfield_album_-_cover_art)The album opens with “Mama Said”, a cover of a song originally performed by the Shirelles in 1961.  It’s a decent soul-pop tune, signifying immediately Dusty’s new horizons as a singer.  It’s followed by “You Don’t Own Me”, a cover of Lesley Gore from a year previously, which is a good song more immediately recognisable to me as an Eminem sample (Recovery’s “Untitled”).  “Do Re Mi” is little more than generic pop, followed by “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes”, first released by the Supremes. “My Colouring Book” is a much sadder song (first recorded by Barbra Streisand) and “Mockingbird”, written as something of a novelty duet, works nicely as a solo.  “Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa”, a Bacharach/David effort, is melancholy and poignant, and after “Nothing” comes “Anyone Who Had a Heart”, written by the same duo for Dionne Warwick.  “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” is one of Dusty’s best-known early songs, and is definitely catchy (and also a Shirelles original).  “Wishin’ and Hopin’” is the highlight of the album, written by Bacharach and David for Springfield herself, an upbeat call to women to take some action to get a man.  The album is closed by “Don’t You Know”, a Ray Charles-written song that is in truth a bit of an anticlimax following the previous two hits.

Overall the album sends a strong message of female empowerment, urging women to take control of their own lives.  They can get any man they want and won’t be possessed by anyone.  However, there are certainly some more tender songs, dealing with heartbreak and pain, particularly “My Colouring Book”.  I enjoyed the album a lot, and there are undeniably some catchy songs, but it loses some merit with me by being full of covers.  It seems like there were only about 50 songs in the early ‘60s, each popping up on albums by more and more artists.  “Wishin’ and Hopin’”, one of the only original tracks, is unsurprisingly the standout song on the LP, although Dusty deals with the covers more than capably.  It’s a very good debut album, and it’s not surprising that Dusty’s admirably style had the staying power to last another three decades at least.

My Rating:  7.5/10


Film Pop: Marnie

Year: 1964
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Tippi Hedren, Sean Connery, Diane Baker

It seems I don’t have too many movies fresh enough in my mind to choose to review today, but I did recently watch a film starring Sean Connery from 1964. What’s that, I reviewed Goldfinger last week? But no, I managed purely by chance to settle on Marnie, Hitchcock’s thriller from the same year with the same leading man, to watch on Friday. Based on the book of the same name by Winston Graham, the film details the troubles of the titular young woman (Hedren). Marnie is compensating for an apparently troubled childhood by lying her way into jobs and sneaking her way out of them with pockets full of cash from the safe. This routine is abruptly halted by new boss Mark Rutland (Connery), who recognises her from her last job but pushes to hire her so that he can catch her in the act. Rutland has fallen in love with Marnie and quickly marries her despite her abject fear of being touched by a man (as well as of storms and the colour red). He promises to help her overcome her stealing problem, a task in which he is hindered by her total inability to tell the truth in addition to the scheming of Lil (Baker), his first wife’s sister who for some reason lives in the family home and is unsurprisingly madly in love with Mark.  He then agrees to pay back all of the former employers from whom she has stolen, including the aforementioned most recent manager who confronts Marnie having been invited to a party by Lil to cause trouble. I won’t spoil the ending, as it certainly took me by surprise, but it is both intelligent and intense, and is undeniably the crucial scene of the film.

Marnie is a good watch, perhaps middle-of-the-road by Hitchcock standards but that’s no little praise. Tippi Hedren produces a commendable performance off the back of The Birds a year earlier, really coming into her own in the denouement, although perhaps she ended up a little typecast as a Hitchcock heroine as she has few noteworthy credits to her name in the fifty years since. Connery, in the midst of his turn as 007, at least plays his character of “man who gets what he wants” believably; I’m not sure how much that’s a compliment on his acting and how much it’s a criticism on his character. It’s definitely the ending that saves the movie from the mediocrity that I felt it was in danger of drifting into and places it far above the likes of Family Plot in my Hitchcock standings.

I haven’t read the book, and so again I can’t attest to its faithfulness, but it seems to fit perfectly as an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. If you’re a Hitchcock fan you’ll certainly enjoy Marnie, and even if you’ve never seen one of his films this is a good one to see what he’s all about without jumping straight to the blockbusters with a Rear Window or a Psycho. I personally feel he can be very hit-and-miss, but Marnie is definitely a hit as far as I’m concerned.

My Rating: 7.5/10

Film Pop: Goldfinger

Year: 1964
Director: Guy Hamilton
Stars: Sean Connery,  Gert Fröbe, Honor Blackman

Perhaps similarly to my Doctor Who experiences, my Bond history is firmly centred around recent times.  I’ve watched all the Craigs, most of the Brosnans, and nothing before that.  I now own all but about five or six of the back catalogue, and having returned from a brief Christmas shopping trip with Goldfinger and Moonraker I felt that the time was right to immediately change this fact.  I settled on the former, as my girlfriend assured me that her home state of Kentucky would be central.

After the iconic Bond opening with the timeless Shirley Bassey number played over the top, the film settled in to show Secret Agent James Bond (Connery), in his third official film outing, tasked by MI6 to follow the machinations of the ominously-named Auric Goldfinger (Fröbe), a gold-exporting Englishman with a suspicious foreign accent.  Goldfinger is smuggling his gold out of the country, Bond discovers, by coating his car in the precious metal and driving it to Switzerland before taking the opportunity to speak indiscreetly yet inconclusively about his grand scheme, “Operation Grand Slam”.  Bond is captured but bluffs his way out of death before being flown with the rest of Goldfinger’s entourage to Fort Knox (in Kentucky), where Grand Slam will take place.  It transpires that Goldfinger’s aim is not to rob the largest gold reserve in the world of its shiny bricks but to detonate a nuclear device, making them radioactive for several decades and thus driving up the price of gold (of which he owns quite a lot) tenfold.  Of course in the end Bond prevails either thanks to or despite the input of Pussy Galore (Blackman), Goldfinger’s exotic plane-flying henchwoman who never seems to decide her allegiance, and certainly no thanks to Oddjob, a mute man-mountain with a killer hat.

One thing I found very noticeable about Goldfinger was the soundtrack, and I don’t usually notice a soundtrack.  As I’ve mentioned, I was of course already well-acquainted with the main theme but I was highly impressed with the way variations on the same melody kept popping up throughout the story, always sounding just right whatever the scene required.  Other than that nothing was particularly remarkable other than the inherent excitement of James Bond, but the charm of the enduring legacy is more than enough to keep my interest when a stand-alone film might have lost it.

Overall it’s definitely fair to say I enjoyed the film.  Of course the acting wasn’t the best (Connery’s accent), and the plot was a little weak in places, but it’s always fun to watch one of those iconic films that are known across countries and generations and quoted all the time (“No Mr. Bond.  I expect you to die” a personal highlight).  I’m certainly inspired to delve deeper into the Bond experience, although I do worry that I’ve set the bar a little too high.  I’d like to close with a pun about being shaken or stirred, but I like to think I’m better than that.

My Rating:  24 carat gold.

My sincerest apologies.  7.5/10.