The Infinite Jukebox: Dusty Springfield’s ‘I Only Want To Be With You’

Considering that the last song ever released in the Sixties is now over fifty years old, I still find it amazing that so much of the sounds from that time nevertheless sound so fresh, and bright, it’s innate energy in no way dissipated by time and familiarity. The Beatles are the obvious example, but then again so are The Rolling Stones, and The Who, The Kinks, The Small Faces: over 90% of them, all filled with the enthusiasm, the rush of creation.
But it’s not just the bands, from whom it might be expected. The same irrepressible energy, the same burning eagerness to be up there, out there, in front of it all rings through artists you wouldn’t expect it from. Girl singers, Cilla Black, had their own style, but they weren’t expected to be so forthright, to be forward at all. Dusty Springfield’s acknowledged masterpiece is the slow, dramatic, sophisticated, heavily-orchestrated ‘You don’t have to say you love me’ and, let’s face it, she had one of the world’s greatest blue-eyed soul singing voices.
But listen to ‘I only wanna be with you’, her first solo single, her first hit in 1963. Up till then she’d been a third of The Springfields, including her brother Tom, singing light, gentle pop-folk. Dusty felt limited, and ‘I only wanna be with you’, from the moment of it’s bluesy horns introduction, is the sound of a girl casting off her limitations, and casting off her inhibitions.
It’s a glorious, shameless, excited declaration of love, a whirl of feelings, sung with confidence and joy by Dusty. Her head and her heart have come together over this guy she’s met, she confesses she doesn’t know why she loves him so, they’re the first words she comes out with. The only thing she knows is that she never wants to let him go.
And it’s a whirlwind, she can’t stop, the words, the delirium of love gush out unstoppably. Cause you started something, oh can’t you see? That ever since we met you’ve had a hold on me. It’s crazy but it’s true, I only wanna be with you.
And once she’s started, she can’t stop, the words pour out, the girl’s giddy, telling him in so many ways of her complete dedication to him, no matter where he goes she wants to be by his side, the sheer disbelief that she can feel this way, the release of joy and glory, and how improbable it all was. A request for a dance, falling into his arms, not standing a chance, you started something with just one kiss, I never knew that I could be in love like this. Even when Dusty takes a break, to revolve and dance, the strings maintain the flow, the energy.
Who is this wonder man, what has he got that turns her head so? And is it, really, real? The brilliance of it all is that it doesn’t matter. Sure, we in the Twenty-First Century wince a little over the line about his having a hold on Dusty, but we who have been in love also remember the times when we would do anything for them, no matter what. He might be someone ultra special but he could just as easily be someone as ordinary as us. He needn’t even be a man, since we now know that Mary O’Brien loved otherwise. The point is that he is her love, and her love overwhelms her, as love overwhelms all of us. Dusty’s inside that feeling, and it lights up everything, and the song throws itself into our faces with recognition and a glow of, yes, that word again, energy, that hasn’t dimmed by a fraction in nearly sixty years.
Dusty wouldn’t always be like that, she was too good, too versatile, to stick to any one style. She was at her most successful when she performed at her most conventional, big ballads, ‘You don’t have to say you love me’ and ‘I just don’t know what to do with myself’, and she could be impossibly, lovingly wistful on the nostalgia of ‘Going Back’. And then there was Dusty in Memphis.
But she hit the ground running, literally running, with this song, and it has an indelible place in the long long list of songs in the Sixties that took up the optimism, the hope, the confidence and the energy of those years, that decade, that grabbed what was happening with both hands, and Dusty took love and delight and wrapped them up in two minute and thirty-five seconds of bloody perfection.

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