Throwback Thursday: Minnie Riperton – “Memory Lane”
Today, when we think about the whistle note, Mariah Carey comes to mind. However, years before the world came to know Mimi, it was a signature move for another singer: Minnie Riperton.
Minnie began her career in music as a background singer for a number of artists signed to Chess Records, including Etta James and Chuck Berry. She landed that opportunity after working as a receptionist at the label. In 1966, Marshall Chess — son on Chess Records founder Leonard Chess — formed a psychedelic soul band called Rotary Connection and tapped Minnie to join as one of its lead vocalists. In 1970, she would embark on a solo career, and in ’75, she would release what would become her biggest hit by far: “Lovin’ You.”
In January of 1976, just one year after the release of “Lovin’ You,” Minnie Riperton was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time of the diagnosis, the cancer had spread to her lymphatic system and she was expected to die in about six months. Despite that devastating news, she would continue recording and releasing music — she would also beat the odds. She released her fourth studio album, Stay in Love, in 1977, and her fifth, Minnie, in 1979.
The lead single for Minnie was a song called “Memory Lane.” Released in April of ’79, it is a lookback at Minnie Riperton’s life as it nears its end. At this point, she has basically lived on borrowed time for three years. In the song, she reminisces with the help of a photograph, and in the third verse, she sings, “I don’t want to go.” At just 31 years old, Minnie is running out of time and would soon leave her husband, Richard Rudolph, and two children, Marc and Maya, behind.
“Memory Lane” climaxes towards the end, with Minnie singing repeatedly, “Save me.” It is, quite simply, haunting. The music video for “Memory Lane” would be her very last. It was shot on May 25, 1979, and by mid-June, she was bedridden. On July 12, just under seven weeks after the video was shot, Minnie passed away.
If anyone asks you what the saddest song ever is, tell them it’s this one.