Amen, Ms. Hoffs.
Dusty may not have invented “blue-eyed soul”, a term coined by a Philadelphia DJ to describe the Righteous Brothers, but with Dusty in Memphis, an album that invariably lands itself on critics’ Best of All Time lists, she sure as hell perfected it. After a career singing straightforward pop tunes, including such hits as Bacharach/David’s catchy (but in hindsight rather chauvanist) Wishin’ & Hopin’, Dusty landed herself a contract with Atlantic Records, then one of America’s leading R&B labels, and found herself in a recording studio in Tennessee, surrounded by some of the best session players and most highly sought-after back-up vocalists in the business, including a female vocal quartet out of New York, the Sweet Inspirations, founded by Cissy Houston, Whitney’s mother. Magic ensued. The resulting album didn’t do all that well, actually (shades of Pet Sounds), but Son of a Preacher Man cracked the Top 10, before vanishing for a while from the public consciousness. I remember liking it a lot when I was a kid, back in 1969, but had forgotten all about it until it was used by Quentin Tarentino in Pulp Fiction, as the soundtrack to the quirky scene in which Travolta’s character first encounters Uma Thurman as a disembodied voice speaking at him over the intercom, before the hysterical events of their highly eventful night out kick off. Everybody’s reaction upon viewing that scene was pretty much the same: oh, yeah, Son of a Preacher Man, cool, I remember that one…damn, it’s good, isn’t it? The Pulp Fiction soundtrack sold several million copies, and Dusty had a lot to do with that.
Lots of people have recorded covers of the tune, including the great Aretha Franklin (herself the daughter of a preacher), for whom it was originally composed by songwriters John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins, but who turned it down as “disrespectful”, likely having intuited what it was, exactly, that only the preacher’s boy was able to do for the narrator (you get right down to it, this song is, well, kind of filthy – sly about it, but delightfully, joyously, downright dirty by the standards of the day). Not even Aretha, though, can outshine Dusty, not on this one. Don’t take my word for it. Ask Susanna.