Classic Tracks: Minnie Riperton's "Lovin' You"

Feb 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Gary Eskow


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“But Minnie felt that something was missing, and so went back and listened to the original demo again. Although we hadn't focused on it, a window had been left open while we were recording and the sound of a bird singing had made its way onto the tape. If you needed to add a bird song to a multitrack today, you'd just comb through production library CDs; there were LPs of natural sounds back then, but they weren't readily accessible. So Stevie, Minnie and I headed off to the UCLA botanical gardens with Stevie's Nagra. Minnie could sing like a bird, and she started to engage one. I can still remember Stevie sitting there with his headphones on pretending to be an engineer! Eventually, he captured the sound that we added to the track.

“Then we moved on to the rest of the album, and when it was finished [we] went out on the road to tour behind it. Plans called for me to stay with the kids, not perform, but there were a few problems with the band that I had to straighten out and I ended up in the middle of things playing guitar and a little flute. We found ourselves performing in Portland one night during a huge blizzard. We look around and see that people are putting their arms around each other and having a great time as we're playing ‘Lovin' You.’ We told the label that they had to release it as a single, but they resisted, saying that it would compromise their strategy of marketing her as an R&B singer. But we told them she was a singer, period, and insisted.

“Then we went back into the studio with Gary Starr, a friend of ours who we initially met when we were all living in Chicago and he was an in-demand engineer. Odell Brown, a brilliant musician, also from Chicago, was in our band, and he brought his ARP String Ensemble into Village Recorder one night and Gary tracked him.”

Though Rudolph's memory is that “Lovin' You” was finally mixed at the Record Plant, Robert Margouleff, who mixed it with his partner during that era, Malcolm Cecil, recalls that in fact it was finished “at Tom Hidley's place, which was called Westlake Audio. He had a demo room in the back with an API console in it that had some of the early automation on it, so we went there. Some of the other songs were mixed at the Plant, but not that one,” Margouleff says.

Asked whether he was surprised that “Lovin' You” became such a big hit, Margouleff says, “Not at all. There was a space of about three or four years there when it seemed like Malcolm and I could do no wrong. Everything we touched turned to gold. I can't explain it; it wasn't a conscious thing. We were just at the right place at the right time with the right ideas, I guess.”

As for the division of labor on their mixes for Riperton (and for Wonder, as well — it was Margouleff and Cecil who brought him to the Record Plant initially), “we both liked to do everything,” Margouleff says with a laugh, “but you could say that he tended more toward the mechanical — moving the faders and such — and I focused a little more on EQs and blends. I would often do the basic setup and then Malcolm would do the moves. But we didn't have any set way of working.”

“The mix sounds simple,” Rudolph adds, “but it required some thinking, particularly regarding the way Stevie's Rhodes parts were handled. These parts are harmonically advanced and work perfectly together as a pair, but the Rhodes has pulsing overtones that can overwhelm a mix, particularly when it's as exposed as it was on this record. Eventually, we got things right, and the single was released in short order.”

“Lovin' You” skyrocketed to the top of the pop charts and became a Number One hit across the globe. “We're still licensing the song all over the world,” says Rudolph. In fact, the day we spoke, Rudolph had capped a deal with a Romanian production company to use the song.

Dreams tumble, though, and the Rudolphs' perfect flight hit hard winds in 1976 when Riperton was diagnosed with breast cancer, which claimed her life in 1979 at just 31. Rudolph went on to become a successful producer in L.A., where he still lives, and is currently the chief creative executive of Music Sales West/Rudolph Productions.

Thirty-plus years later, mixer Margouleff says of Riperton's classic, “It's a beautiful record. Steve and Dickie [Rudolph] did such a nice job on it. It's very sensitive, beautifully performed and it deserves to last. And it has. I hear it everywhere. When something sticks to the wall, it's because it's good writing. And that's also why Minnie could embrace it, too.”

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