For over 40 years, Arthur Baker has been at the forefront of the New York music scene and, throughout the eighties, built his reputation as the go-to remixer for the biggest names in music.
This month, he’s stepping back in time with a compilation release celebrating a selection of his most-popular and personal favourite tracks from across his career, featuring artists ranging from New Order and Fleetwood Mac, to Jermaine Stewart and Neneh Cherry.
But the Boston-born musician had been working in the industry for years before his work became in demand. “I think the first one I did where they really sought me out after I’d done a lot of things on my own was [Cyndi Lauper’s] Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” he recalls in RETROPOP’s August issue. “Then, because it was on Epic, which was in the same building as CBS, where Bruce Springsteen was, he heard that and thought it was fun so they gave me Dancing In The Dark – and through that I got Bob Dylan.
“So, remix-wise, that’s how it went and then after that I started getting the major ones, like Living in a Box and Fine Young Cannibals, around ‘88, because that’s when the whole house thing was happening in London.”
Having worked his way up through the industry over the course of a decade, the opportunity to work with artists he admires are highlights from his illustrious career – however fleeting they may have been. “When I started working with people who I had been fans of since I was kid, like Dylan and Jagger – Dylan was cool, Jagger was a little more difficult – and Springsteen, who was very cool and never questioned what I did, that was the craziest shit. From working in a record shop and selling their records to, five years later, producing them – that was pretty crazy,” he beams.
“But the thing is, when you’re doing these kinds of things, you might work with someone for a day or two and then you never see them. Even with Springsteen – I probably haven’t seen him in 30 years. I mean, it’s pretty crazy that you connect for a little while to do something and then that’s it…”
The line-up of talent he’s worked with is impressive: Sun City, released under Artists United Against Apartheid as a protest against apartheid in South Africa, features Dylan, Pat Benatar, Herbie Hancock, Ringo Starr, Lou Reed, Run–D.M.C., Peter Gabriel, Bob Geldof, Darlene Love, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Bonnie Raitt, Hall & Oates, and several other big-name performers.
At this time in his career, Baker has checked most of his dream collaborations off the list, including writing a song for Tina Turner (Whatever You Want, co-written with Taylor Dayne), which he fought to get released. “We got it over to [Tina’s manager] Roger Davies, who I knew, but they had just done a record and they said, ‘We love it, but the timing’s bad’,” he recalls. “I don’t know why Taylor didn’t want to do it, but somehow I got hooked up with Naomi Campbell and she tried to record it, which obviously didn’t work, and then Sandra St. Victor from The Family Stand did it for her album, but she got dropped.
“Finally, Roger got back to me and said, ‘Listen, we’re doing an album and we’d love to do the song’, and they got Trevor Horn to produce it, which was really funny because I was so into Crazy by Seal at the time and it was very much that vibe in my head. Of course, it didn’t turn out that way – but they hired me to remix it and that one really turned out good.”
But there’s one project he wishes had come into fruition: “My dream was to put Al Green and Bob Dylan together and do a gospel record. I would say that that’s still the project I wish I’d been able to do. And I think it would have been amazing.”
‘Arthur Baker Presents… Dance Masters: Arthur Baker’ is out July 21 on Demon.
Read the full interview in the August 2023 edition of RETROPOP, out now. Order yours or subscribe via our Online Store, use our Store Finder to locate your nearest stockist, or get Digital Copies delivered direct to your devices.