Just as he quietly produced some of most influential artists in history without calling much attention to himself, record producer Arif Mardin died quietly Sunday at age 74. Even if he’d produced only Aretha’s I Never Loved a Man, Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis, the Bee Gees’ Main Course, and Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me, we’d probably want to talk about him–but those four albums barely scratch the surface of his accomplishment.
Almost everybody who recorded for Atlantic Records worked with Mardin at some point–as well as lots of people who recorded for other labels. Just take a look at the list in his obituary of artists he worked with: the Rascals (“Good Lovin’), John Prine, Hall and Oates (“She’s Gone”), Donny Hathaway, Roberta Flack, David Bowie, Carly Simon (“You Belong to Me”), Phil Collins (Face Value and No Jacket Required), Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler (“Wind Beneath My Wings”), Chaka Khan (“I Feel for You”), and Queen Latifah. And there were more: jazz stars Sonny Stitt, Freddie Hubbard, Mose Allison, Eddie Harris, and the Modern Jazz Quartet, Willie Nelson, Average White Band (“Pick Up the Pieces”), Culture Club, Patti Labelle, Jewel, Ringo Starr, the Manhattan Transfer, Melissa Manchester, Judy Collins (“Send in the Clowns”) and Diana Ross.
(And yes, Mardin is the person who convinced Barry Gibb to sing falsetto, thereby establishing the Top 40 template for the late 1970s–but I believe I have indicated before that we’re OK with that around here.)
Atlantic Records, more than any major label you’d care to name (except maybe Motown), was driven by a mere handful of individuals: Mardin, Jerry Wexler, Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, and uber-engineer/producer Tom Dowd. While there are still superstar producers today, it’s unlikely that there will ever again be one with the reach of Arif Mardin. Soul Sides has a fine audio tribute. The Washington Post provides a good retrospective here.
(Edited slightly since first being posted.)