Galactic Fantastic: Minnie Riperton's Lovin' You

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I think it began with the birds but before that was a count down. But most importantly the birds, because I believe that my toddler brain could not decipher if the birds were indeed in the living room of our Air Force base housing unit or in the music. I was playing with my red fire truck when the song began. There was a count down and then the beautiful sound of birds singing. And then, the placid tones of the Fender Rhodes came in with a mellow arpeggiation in union with acoustic guitar, it sounded like water, and the strings like a cooling breeze.

Minnie Riperton’s Lovin’ You is the first pop song I can remember hearing and it is perpetually tied to my very first memory, as described above. I know how old I was at the time because of several facts and other cool indicators. Lovin’ You was released as a single off Riperton’s  on January 13, 1975. I wasn’t quite 2 years old at this point, but I am certain that I was 2 when the above memory happened. There are some memories from the early years about which I am uncertain because I have been told some stories some many times that I figure I have created those memories from those stories, those oral histories. Like the one about my grandmother retrieving me from Youngstown, OH to bring me back to DC. For another day. This memory, I own it. It’s all mine. I rarely talk about it; it’s been that precious to me. But as I think about what has influenced my love of music and what music has influenced the sound that I am exploring currently, as unconventional as some of it sounds, it has all been inspired by some amazing pop songs along the way. Lovin’ You is so essentially 70’s to me that it frames my soundtrack and internal soundscape for my early years and pretty much the entire 70’s in a way that disco never could. In a future blog I will talk about disco’s impact. And I know that this reflects my age at the time but that azure gold and vibrant green gradient that is MY 70’s, well, Lovin’ You sounds like what that looks like to me.

 

No one else can make me feel the colors that you bring.

Stay with me while we grow old

And we will live each day in spring time!

 

Lovin’ You was written by Minnie and her husband Richard Rudolph. They often partnered as a songwriting duo, but Lovin’ You is by far there most successful collaboration. This song is still one of my top 5 favorite ballads of all time and certainly one of, if not my favorite love songs. There’s a simplicity and earnestness to it that is also a little playful, a little like love can be.

Under Minnie’s beautiful soulful asymmetric melody, is the wonderfully sublime yet dynamic arrangement of Rudolph and Stevie Wonder. Lovin’ You, went to Number 1 on the US Hot 100 chart and has the unique distinction of being one of only a few to get there without a percussion instrument. The Rhodes piano is technically a percussion instrument. There is an alternate band version which in my opinion upped the cheese factor on the song and gets rid of the birds. What is great about the lack of percussion in this song is that it firmly places you, the listener soaring through the air, it becomes that type of love making that is less about rhythm and more about dissolving into two-become-oneness.

What makes this song for me is how beautifully they make this descending chord pattern I7-vii7-vi-V feel like the song is constantly rising. And at the end of the refrain, there is the I-V/V and there you are perhaps about to suffer an Icarus-type fate but then relief, you keep soaring with those birds that are still there in the track as the strings swell like a wind you’ve caught to ascend higher.

This song takes me back to that brief moment, one memory of one place, this Air Force Base housing, the only home I have ever lived in with one of those sliding patio doors. There I am playing with my red fire truck in the azure, gold and vivid green gradient that was the 70s for me.

 

La la la la la

La la la la la

La la la la la Luh la la la

Do do do do dee do

Ah ah ah ah ah

 

The song, it’s composition and production taught me to love and appreciate simple beauty. A simple asymmetric melody is sublime. A simple chord progression can have beautiful movement. Sometimes you don’t need words and sometimes the wordless vocalizations become the most memorable part of the song. All sounds are musical.

 

Those birds are still singing. I keep them in my head for when times get tough.

Our History. Our story.

Our History. Our story.

I grew up in our nation's capital, Washington, D.C.. Back then, D.C. was Black, it was Chocolate City. My elementary school was Black. My neighbors were Black. My church was Black (not surprising, even today Sunday mornings continue to be the most segregated time of the week in America). As a Black boy, growing up in Black D.C. I was surrounded by Blackness surrounded by Whiteness. Don't get me wrong, I was not stranger to Whiteness even in Washington, D.C.. The important buildings in our nation's capital were/are for the most part white; the White House is, well, white. The Capitol Building, white. The Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson Memorials are all white. And one only had to look to ones television to have seen that this Deep cozy Blackness that I had been blessed to be immersed in was an anomaly in Reagan's America. The nation was a lot whiter than my world. 

When you grow up in Blackness, you view the world as a Black world. My public elementary school teachers did not wait until February to break out the pictures of black achievers, we learned our history and culture throughout the school year. I had Howard and UDC HBCUs a short walk or transit ride away. 

A. Phillip Randolph, Frederick Douglass, Vernon Jordan all attended my Black church, Metropolitan AMEC, a church built by freed slaves. Yes, in the 70s and early 80's, we still had white Jesus as a focal point in the sanctuary. But my favorite part of Sunday mornings was the music. Because Metropolitan, AMEC was considered the "National Cathedral of African Methodism" we had an extensive music program. Multiple choirs, talented musical directors. We had choirs for children, choirs for elders, choirs for men, choirs for women. We had a gospel choir, the Metro Aires, and a classical choir, the Cathedral Choir.  Both choirs were instrumental in my musical development but the latter would set me on the path I currently find myself on. Now, I had no reason to think that one music was singing music primarily composed/written by Black people and the other by Whites. The Cathedral choir presented Handel's Messiah every first Sunday in Advent and I had no reason to think that George Frederick Handle was anything other than Black. Our Black choir in our Black church was performing Handel's Messiah conducted by a Black conductor with mostly black musicians (in front of a mural of White Jesus but you know...). Why wouldn't Handel be Black? I wanted to be G.F. Handel. I wanted to write music that big and make people react the way I saw them react to his arias to my arias.