Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Dusty Springfield - Goin' Back (1966/ No. 10/ 10 weeks/ Philips)

Once again, a 1960s ballad of pain and vulnerability exquisitely sung and open to ambiguous readings. This one is by Goffin & King...

There's a real ambiguity at the heart of this love song - if it is a statement of faith in the other, its a remarkably shadowed one, and one which certainly posits the option of a blank retreat into the world of the inner self for good. You do feel, in the quietness of the song, that something has gone terribly wrong in her life.

This seriousness of intent is announced by the dolorous piano that introduces the song;

I think I’m goin’ back
To the things
I learned so well
In my youth

I think I’m returning to
Those days
When I was young enough
To know the truth

This is vulnerable singing without a sense of it being a performance of vulnerability, a sense of searching for a reserve of inner strength. The arrangement - ethereal strings and amorphous woodwind - makes all this past life spectral, woozy, unreal.

In a sense, those days are now gone, though;

Now there are no games
To only pass the time
No more colouring books
No Christmas bells to chime

Now the time has come to put away childish things. A decision is made;

But thinking young
And growing older
Is no sin
And I can play
The game of life to win

I can recall the time
When I wasn’t ashamed
To reach out to a friend
And now I think I’ve got
A lot more than
A skipping rope to lend

She's reaching out to somebody again; This is who I am, I have something to offer. Again? You get the impression that there's some considerable gap of emptiness and or pain between childhood and now.

(If you're into biographical reading, I guess that the other that Dusty would be singing out to in her head as she recorded this would be a woman, hence perhaps an accelerated sense of concealment and risk to the intimacy, but you certainly don't need to give this a queer reading to get all of this)

(Oops - I've spent the last 20 years mishearing "lend" as "mend". I realise. the fact that it hasn't jarred does show the sense of loss and terrible cost that I hear at the heart of this, though);

Now there’s more to do
Than watch my sailboat glide
And everyday can be
My magic carpet ride
And I can play hide and seek with my fears
And live my days instead of counting my years

The sense of vindication and strength in this is then emphasised by the most MASSIVE swelling fanfare of a bridge that suddenly appears. And yet.

And yet and yet... I still sense a potential retreat into blankness and the consolation of memory here, too. The last verse seems quieter after this swell;

Let everyone debate the true reality
I’d rather see the world the way it used to be
A little bit of freedom’s
All we lack
So catch me if you can
I’m goin’ back

What is the true reality that the singer isn't interested in following? Material gain and status? (the hippy reading) Marriage and responsibility? Being grown-up? Compromise and mediocrity?

And what sort of freedom would she find without the other who she's singing this to?

EVERYTHING seems to hang on that "catch me if you can" to me. Either she rediscovers the values of being childlike - openness, curiosity, wonder, play, being secure in being loved. OR if she isn't caught retreats into the solace of memories of childhood.

I've seen that happen to people.

I only present that as an idea. I don't think that its particularly the true reading. But Goffin & King certainly knew how to give a three minute song depth, drama and a sense of internal voice. And the singer to be able to convey all this; vulnerability, polite defiance, inviting but untouchable.

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