Thursday, September 09, 2010

"What Have I Done to Deserve This?" (1987)

70. Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield, "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" (Dec. 26, 1987, #2)

I'm not sure this qualifies as Dusty Springfield's greatest moment, or the Pet Shop Boys' either, for that matter, on or off the charts. But it happened to be the place I turned first when I learned of Springfield's death, and it was remarkably right in the moment. The way she enters into this song, after an intro, verse, and chorus, all of 1:35 in, makes the appearance nothing less than sharply dramatic and, of course, almost perfectly thrilling. Once I had really cottoned to that I couldn't hear it enough, and so, interestingly, the song now has vastly more associations for me with 1999 than 1987. That, of course, is neither here nor there in the scheme of things, but interesting to me in the way it points up how the best artists make work that is resolutely outside of time—has, in fact, no time, existing rather in all time, and for all time. Heralded forth by various synthesized horns it tells a familiar story of love suddenly and bewilderingly lost, overlaid by Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant's carefully ironic gigolo twist on it and various layers of tongue-in-cheek reality checks ("I bought you drinks, I brought you flowers, I read you books and talked for hours," etc.). It's left to Dusty, in this careful if lovely morass of pose and gesture, to bring home the pain of the situation. "Since you went away I've been hanging around," she sings to devastating effect. "I've been wondering why I'm feeling down." In that moment, there is not a single question in anyone's mind as to why she or anyone hearing this song is feeling down. It's all there in the carefully constructed context and, even more, in the grain of her voice.

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