Dusty Springfield was a bit unnerved when she set about recording “Son of a Preacher Man” and the other tracks for Dusty in Memphis; she was not sure that she could measure up to the other R&B artists that had recorded in Atlantic’s Memphis studios. Producer Jerry Wexler quickly concluded that her voice not only measured up; it could stand alone against lean backing tracks.
“Son of a Preacher Man” reflects this approach to the Memphis recording session. The introduction is instrumentally lean, a simple beat and bass line and a single guitar. Springfield’s voice is forced to go it alone without much instrumental support for the first several bars. Even when more is added—horns and back-up vocals—they are restrained. The musical styles that flowed in and out of soul music are evident in the song, including a restrained dose of gospel in the back-up vocals.
The song had been initially offered to Aretha Franklin. She turned it down, but after hearing Springfield’s recording, she recorded a version of her own. In Franklin’s cover, the vocals are surrounded by more elaborate instrumentation and back-up vocals. The piano and organ and the stylizing of the vocals lend her version a much stronger gospel feel.