|Long before Adele triumphed at the Grammys and even long before Sarah McLachlan and Fiona Apple charted their own successes, there was Dusty Springfield and the original blue-eyed soul.|
Son of a Preacher Man did them all one better by being sultry enough to make Bonnie Raitt a fan yet bombastic enough to send young listeners digging through mom and dad's crates for Motown records and anything backed by a wall of sound. All the charts had to do was wait for the emulators to take the mic. Fiona Apple dropped her debut album Tidal two years later in 1996 and needed only one torchy piano-laden single -- Shadowboxer -- to give the world a peek at what was coming down the pike and just one string of lines to foreshadow the success of an artist such as Adele:The single went Top 40 and earned Apple a Grammy, and Tidal went on to sell more than 3 million copies. Unfortunately, Apple was still too much of a downer for much of the American listening public that bristled at her "This world is bull****" declaration at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards and outwardly sighed at the eight-line title of her album follow-up, holding sales of it to a third of what they were for Tidal. Apple's slide was just beginning, but When The Pawn ... single Fast As You Can cracked the Top 40 in the U.S. and U.K. There was still a market for blue-eyed soul if those blue eyes had a happier outlook That's where Joss Stone and Mark Ronson come in. Growing up in Dover, England, young Jocelyn Stoker spent her days spinning Dusty Springfield and Aretha Franklin CDs and singing Jackie Wilson covers. During her earliest auditions in 2001 and 2002, she displayed her deep vocal chops by grinding out versions of (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman, (Sittin' On) The Dock of The Bay and Midnight Train To Georgia. When it came time to record her first album, Soul Sessions, she sat in with Miami soul veterans including Betty Wright and Benny Lattimore and Philly neo-soul pioneers Angie Stone and The Roots. The result was an album that sold 5 million copies worldwide, turned the White Stripes' Fell In Love With A Girl on its head and turned Sugar Billy's 1974 Super Duper Love (Are You Diggin' On Me)" into an international hit.
"Once my lover, now my friend/what a cruel thing to pretend/what a cunning way to condescend/once my lover ... now my friend."Another couple that could have had it all. Another wounded heart bleeding into a lyric sheet. Another soul laid bare. Apple made it clear that her brand of blue-eyed soul emphasized the blue and the spurned lover of the album's opening track Sleep To Dream ("I tell you how I feel but you don't care/I say tell me the truth but you don't dare") punched that point home. It wasn't until Apple appeared in her underwear in a drunken-afterparty-themed video for the lamenting single Criminal that she and her sound went mainstream.
The same year of Back To Black's release, Christina Aguilera enlisted Ronson's services for her album Back To Basics. Though Aguilera's vocal chops were never in question and her soulful edge was on full display in her contribution to the 2001 cover of LaBelle's Lady Marmalade and 2002's Beautiful, her throwback work on Ronson's Slow Down Baby and the rambunctious Ain't No Other Man evoked another era. The album ended up selling more than 5 million copies.
That's all it took to keep the register bells ringing. By the time Welsh singer Duffy released her bass-heavy anthem to sexual freedom Mercy in 2007, the public was so enamored of blue-eyed soul that the single sold 1 million copies in the U.S. alone and more than 5 million copies worldwide. Her 2008 debut album Rockferry, meanwhile, sold more than 6.5 million copies around the globe.Ronson, meanwhile, found another kindred spirit in a 19-year-old from Tottenham who looked up to Destiny's Child and Mary J. Blige, but started singing because of the Spice Girls. Adele Adkins got some help from Ronson on her debut album 19 when he produced her song Cold Shoulder. The single was never big in the U.S., but Adele's pure delivery and the album's soul-imbued tone eventually made it a success here. What would Springfield make of this little family tree? We're guessing not much. Springfield recorded Dusty In Memphis with Atlantic Records because it was Aretha Franklin's label. She used Cissy Houston's Sweet Inspirations as backup singers because they also backed up Aretha, Wilson Pickett and Solomon Burke. She used the Memphis Cats as her band because they were Pickett and King Curtis' band. Much like many of the blue-eyed soul artists that followed her, Dusty Springfield didn't take a whole lot of her cues from the blue-eyed. While Springfield may rate as an influence for many of the artists mentioned above, she's not the common thread running through the whole lot. Like Duffy's love of Al Green and Burt Bacharach and Stone's affection for Springfield and Franklin, the common denominator among all of these artists is a connection with soul music that spans from Goffin and King to Gamble and Huff. Blue eyes aren't a prerequisite to that love, even if those artists' album sales and a Billboard album chart that puts Adele and Lana Del Rey at 1 and 2, respectively, indicate otherwise.-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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