I’ll confess I wanted more biography – Dusty’s tormented sexual history, her struggles with a male-dominated music industry, her raging insecurities, her sad death at age 59 from breast cancer in 1999, all would make great copy. But that story’s already been written (though Randall tut-tuts about the sensationalism of Springfield’s authorized biography Dancing With Demons). And after all, this is Oxford University Press - I should have known I wouldn’t get salacious details. Still, it would have served her readers well if Randall had at least sketched in relevant details of the life story. The result is an odd disjointed book at times.
When Randall’s analyzing a Springfield recording in detail, she’s spot on. (Her section on the great 1968 album Dusty in Memphis is particularly illuminating.) Then, annoyingly, Randall gets mired in semiotic jargon, talking about Dusty’s performances in terms of discourse, camp aesthetic, and signifyin(g) – the book gets unreadable for pages at a time. Randall’s intent on proving some academic point, but she definitely loses me, and I can just imagine Dusty rolling her mascaraed eyes at this hamfisted reduction of her on-stage magic.
Randall claims to be a Dusty fan herself, but at points I have to wonder – her enthusiasm rarely comes across, certainly not the way Thompson communicates his love of the music he writes about. If you’re already a Dusty Springfield fan, of course, this is an essential book. Thompson’s book, however, has a much broader appeal. He gets to the heart of pop music’s collaborative nature, something that’s just as true today as it was during the British beat revolution. For all of us boomers who still harbor dreams of becoming rock stars ('fess up, now), Please Please Me is just the ticket.