Originally, this was a Italian song composed by Pino Donnagio called “Io Che Non Vivo (Senza Te)”, which translates to “I Do Not Live Without You”.
Donnagio is an Italian musician, singer, and film composer. A classically-trained violinist, Donaggio is known for his collaborations with director Brian De Palma, and for his work in both European and American genre cinema.
Springfield heard Donnagio perform it at the San Remo festival (and despite having no awareness of the lyrics’ meaning the song moved Springfield to tears) and asked her friend Vicki Wickham, who produced the British TV show Ready Steady Go, to write some English lyrics for it. With the help of Yardbirds manager, and later her manager, Simon Napier-Bell, she did. Simon Napier-Bell is quoted as saying:
Vicki and I used to eat together, and she told me that Dusty wanted a lyric for this song. We went back to her flat and started working on it. We wanted to go to a trendy disco so we had about an hour to write it. We wrote the chorus and then we wrote the verse in a taxi to wherever we were going. It was the first pop lyric I’d written, although I’ve always been interested in poetry and good literature. We’d no idea what the English [Italian] lyric said. That seemed to be irrelevant and besides, it is much easier to write a new lyric completely.
Springfield recorded her vocal the next day: unhappy with the acoustics in the recording booth she eventually moved into a stairwell to record. Springfield was not satisfied with her vocal until she had recorded 47 takes.
Simon Napier-Bell further added in another interview:
There, standing on the staircase at Philips studio, singing into the stairwell, Dusty gave her greatest ever performance – perfection from first breath to last, as great as anything by Aretha Franklin or Sinatra or Pavarotti. Great singers can take mundane lyrics and fill them with their own meaning. This can help a listener’s own ill-defined feelings come clearly into focus. Vicki [Wickham] and I had thought our lyric was about avoiding emotional commitment. Dusty stood it on its head and made it a passionate lament of loneliness and love.
Dusty Springfield was born Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien on April 16, 1939, in London, England. Born into a family that enjoyed music, Springfield learned to sing at home. In 1958 she joined her first professional group, The Lana Sisters, and two years later formed a pop-folk vocal trio, The Springfields, with her brother Tom Springfield and Tim Field. Both her and her brother took their stage names from this group name. They became the UK’s top selling act. Her solo career began in 1963 with the upbeat pop hit, “I Only Want to Be with You”. Among the hits that followed were “Wishin’ and Hopin’ ” (1964), “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” (1964), “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” (1966), and “Son of a Preacher Man” (1968).
The pinnacle of her success came in 1968 with her album Dusty in Memphis, on which the singer, who’d long adored singers like Mavis Staples and Aretha Franklin, worked with legendary music producer Jerry Wexler, the man behind albums by Franklin and Ray Charles.
I was deeply influenced by black singers from the early 1960s,” she once said. “I liked everybody at Motown and most of the Stax artists. I really wanted to be Mavis Staples. What they shared in common was a kind of strength I didn’t hear on English radio.
In November during the Memphis sessions Springfield suggested to Jerry Wexler (one of the heads of Atlantic Records) that he should sign the newly formed UK band, Led Zeppelin. She knew their bass guitarist, John Paul Jones, from his session work on her earlier albums. Without ever having seen them and partly on her advice, Wexler signed Led Zeppelin to a $200,000 deal with Atlantic, which, at the time, was the biggest contract for a new band.
With her distinctive sensual mezzo-soprano sound, she was an important singer of blue-eyed soul and at her peak was one of the most successful British female performers, with six top 20 singles on the US Billboard Hot 100 and sixteen on the UK Singles Chart from 1963 to 1989.
Springfield’s career following Dusty in Memphis proved inconsistent. Long fascinated by the United States and a bit of a Civil War geek, she moved to America in 1970. But her life only took on more struggles in her new home. Beset by drug issues and other personal problems, Springfield failed to capture the run of stardom she’d once enjoyed.
In 2004, “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” made the Rolling Stone list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time at #491. The album it appeared on, “Dusty In Memphis”, was also awarded a spot in the Grammy Hall of Fame. She is a member of the US Rock and Roll and UK Music Halls of Fame. In January 1999 Springfield went to Buckingham Palace to receive her award as an OBE, which stands for Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. She has been placed among the top 25 female artists of all time by readers of Mojo magazine (May 1999), and in 2008, Dusty appeared at No. 35 on the Rolling Stone‘s “100 Greatest Singers of All Time”.
Allmusic’s Jason Ankeny described her as:
[T]he finest white soul singer of her era, a performer of remarkable emotional resonance whose body of work spans the decades and their attendant musical transformations with a consistency and purity unmatched by any of her contemporaries; though a camp icon of glamorous excess in her towering beehive hairdo and panda-eye black mascara, the sultry intimacy and heartbreaking urgency of [her] voice transcended image and fashion, embracing everything from lushly orchestrated pop to gritty R&B to disco with unparalleled sophistication and depth.
In January 1994, while recording her penultimate album, “A Very Fine Love”, in Nashville, Tennessee, Springfield felt ill. When she returned to England a few months later, her physicians diagnosed breast cancer. She received months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment and the cancer was in remission. By mid-1996, the cancer had returned and in spite of vigorous treatments, she died in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire on 2 March 1999.