Interview with Rupert Hine, Producer for Many '80s Hits Including Howard Jones, The Fixx, and Tina Turner

(This interview was originally published October 19, 2012 on the now-retired Kickin' it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the '80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like '80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)

Mr. Hine passed away in June of 2020 at the age of 72, so this opportunity to interview him before that is even more special to me.

When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the '80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.

This time that awesomeness is Rupert Hine. He is a musician and songwriter himself, but he may be best recognized as the producer on some especially outstanding '80s albums. The artists often get the majority of the attention and credit, but the producer can impact a record greatly and Hine has been recognized for certainly impacting his share. Some of my favorites include his exceptional work with Howard Jones and The Fixx as well as on the Better Off Dead soundtrack. In addition, he has worked with such other noteworthy artists as Tina Turner, Stevie Nicks, Bob Geldof, Chris DeBurgh and the Thompson Twins among many others. You'll find out about some of his biggest '80s hits, the Better Off Dead soundtrack and so much more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Rupert Hine...

Q: When did you know you wanted to be a professional musician? When and how did you get your own start in the music industry?

Rupert: I grew up in a house full of music. My mother was an amateur ballet dancer and my father an amateur musician who also played drums in a jazz band when he was young; he become a big duke Ellington fan - I mean BIG, I have inherited a collection of 78s which are his complete body of work (pre-vinyl) from 1922 until second world war. I started playing in the school band when I was 14 and chose to play the mouth organ, mostly because it was the cheapest instrument to buy, as all "beat groups" were at that time playing a repertoire that was essentially American Blues and R&B. That quickly became restricting and I left my second band to form a duo with David McIver and we started writing our own songs.

The coincidental occurrence that made all this spring to life was the release of The Beach Boys 'Pet Sounds' album right around this time. This album really did change my life because, up until then, all pop music seemed to be born out of a handful of basic instruments... e.g. electric guitars, electric bass, drums and possibly electronic organ. Sure, there were the occasional decorations like strings and horns, but all these ingredients were very basic in my mind. The arrival of Brian Wilson's extraordinary work represented, to me, the concept of "painting pictures with sound". I pretty much gasped at every bar of every track, delighting that the sonic canvas was so rich and new and unfathomable - it was that very not knowing that fascinated me and I in turn wanted to fascinate others by gaining a mastery of recording and arranging techniques. But I was still only a teenager... and all that seemed like a bit of a dream.

Having written a few songs and played in many small folk clubs, David and I set off to find ourselves some kind of deal. I can't believe how downright cheekily and brazenly we chose to walk into the offices of Soho's record labels and music publishers. In effect we got our first record deal on day one in London; we were signed to Decca Records and Feldman Music publishing, who also managed us. All this in the days where the recording contract was simply one page long and gave us a mere 1% royalty rate! This record was not a success and we can fast forward through five years playing working-men's clubs, typical bit parts in TV commercials, temporary office jobs, bar tending, etc. So the first real springboard into a life-in-music came from Roger Glover who I had met in the early days with Feldman Music as he had a band called Episode Six with Ian Gillan. These many years later he had, of course, become part of Deep Purple and in 1969 they were huge. Roger had become the de facto producer of the band as well as being the bass player and the band and their management had formed their own record label through EMI called Purple Records. Roger's production inclinations led him to suggest to the management that they sign David and me on a separate record deal with Roger producing and that's where everything really began.

Q: Then how did you end up getting more involved with producing music you were not performing? Did you ever anticipate that would end up being such a successful endeavor for you?

Rupert: The first Glover-produced album 'Pick Up A Bone' was a critical success but in reality sold few copies. However, the enthusiasm amongst those involved were keen to see a second album - but this time Roger Glover was 100% unavailable and this was 1972... and I remember well, Deep Purple had the bizarre Billboard award of being the biggest dollar earning music act in the world and as such they hadn't had one single day off in over two years. Roger's recommendation to me was that I produce it myself, to which I responded, "I'm not a record producer Roger, I have no idea what to do." His reply, which I remember so well, on a long distance phone call from Japan, was "Rupert, all your demos that you do at home on all those tape recorders and funny boxes and gadgets that you use, just do exactly the same thing but in a full sized recording studio and simply make it bigger." I did and thus I made my first Production.

This in turn led to my first true production for another artist [1973]. Yvonne Elliman was also signed to Purple Records and had just played the role of Mary in Jesus Christ Superstar. David and I were signed up as songwriters for this project during which time Yvonne asked if I would produce her (rather than Tim Rice, which was the record Company's suggestion). When I remarked that I was not a record producer, she responded "well it says that you are on your last album." I commented that I was only the producer because no one else was and I was only making music like I did at home and I didn't know how to handle loads of session musicians, orchestras, etc. She responded, "just do what you did on your record - only with me singing." I did, and it worked.

Q: Which do you enjoy more, performing or producing? What are some of the major differences between producing and performing (other than the obvious physically playing the music)?

Rupert: Without any hesitation I say producing and this is because of that phrase I used earlier... the painting pictures with sound. This is what I adore and still love with a passion. Performing "live" for me always seemed like a job that you had to repeatedly play the same songs over and over again to "spread the word"... but there was never any "painting". It's true that in this day and age it is possible to be very sophisticated with your sonic canvas in the live realm, but still to me, that same "art" analogy is appropriate; you wouldn't want to see an artist painting a picture live, you would just want to see or own the painting. All the exciting aspects of improvisation, which is surely the most interesting aspect of live performance, don't interest me for my own music.

Q: The Fixx's 1983 album Reach the Beach includes one of my favorite songs of the decade in "One Thing Leads To Another". How did you begin working with The Fixx? What can you tell us about Cy Curnin and the guys and your experiences working with them?

Rupert: One of my favorites, too... I have often thought that this song on so many levels is the very best production I have ever done. There are many other favorites, and possibly better technically production tracks but for a number of reasons this has everything in one fell swoop.

Having recorded and produced their first four albums across one decade I obviously have many, many great memories or working with The Fixx, but it started when I was asked by a tiny record label in London called 101 if I was interested in producing a single with a band then called The Portraits. I was, and we did - and that track was called "Lost Plains". I enjoyed working with the band hugely and very soon we had a bigger record deal with MCA in place, and started recording their first album Shuttered Room. This was recorded, unlike future Fixx albums, in a relatively live-performance fashion. The primary objective became how to capture and emphasize the extraordinary guitar playing of Jamie West-Oram and I believe it was this element in the band that drew early attention to their unique sound. There were was much kerfuffle about the name change from The Portraits to The Fixx and MCA America were already very wary that the drug connotation was going to be a problem. We had never thought of that connection particularly because the idea came from the fact that I often commented on getting "a fix" on various aspects of making a record and it had a nice, logical quality that the overall thing would become "the fix". It was only when we agreed to spell it with a double xx that they agreed to it.

The simplest way of putting it is that when working with The Fixx I always felt like the sixth member of the band. We rehearsed together - where many of the upcoming production ideas would be talked about in theory and where we could try things out at little cost. This is something that is rarely done these days. In many ways my production and arrangement ideas ran parallel with The Fixx's career; many new ideas that became part of my armory were birthed in working on The Fixx's four albums.

Rupert Hine produced the first four studio albums released by The Fixx including 1983's Reach the Beach. This was the band's second album and included the hits "One Thing Leads to Another" and "Saved by Zero". The album itself would peak at #8 on the Billboard album chart and "One Thing Leads to Another" would go on to be the band's most successful and recognized single. As I mentioned, it is one of my favorite songs of the early '80s and made it all the way to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in November of 1983. Here is the video for "One Thing Leads to Another" by The Fixx...

Q: Any interesting facts or memories you can let us in on from creating that great single "One Thing Leads To Another"? What are your feelings regarding the single today over 28 years later?

Rupert: I think the most satisfying element of this track is its minimal production. A few sounds each with its own exact space and dimension. The work put in on Shuttered Room with regard to West-Oram's guitar sound hit a new peak with the Reach The Beach album generally and this track in particular. On a strictly personal level, the whole backing vocal arrangement which I did with Cy and me singing together is particularly satisfying and became somewhat iconic with regard to our working relationship. Still, 28 years later, it is in my top five singles that I have ever produced and, again, on a strictly personal level, still my favorite.

Q: You produced the "Better Be Good To Me" track on Tina Turner's Private Dancer album in 1984. What can you tell us about the great Tina Turner and your experiences working with her? How about that single?

Rupert: Easily the most lasting memories I have of working with Tina on those three albums in the '80s and early '90s are all to do with her extraordinary singing talent. I shall never forget the physical, nerve-tingling feeling that I experienced the very first time I recorded her in the studio. This was for the first track on the 'Private Dancer' album, which I had also written for her, "I Might Have Been Queen". Tina's technique was to take backing tracks of songs people were writing for her and rehearsing them by playing these cassettes in her car, in her home, etc. and just singing along until, as she put it, the song became hers. On that day she would call you up and say, "I'm ready." And I would pick her up from her house in London, drive her to the studio; she would jump out, run to the nearest microphone and let it out. Staggering! I was speechless at the end of the first performance of that first song with her. Not only was it word, tone and beat perfect, but it had all of that extra amplified "Tina Turner" edge and feeling to it.

"Better Be Good To Me" was a Holly Knight and Mike Chapman song and because Tina was such a Fixx fan, the involvement of Jamie West-Oram on both these tracks was a notable feature. In fact my involvement with Tina Turner was initially very much to do with her manager wanting me as a songwriting-record producer which was fairly uncommon at that time - in combination with Tina's enthusiasm for my production of The Fixx.

The Private Dancer album was Tina Turner's solo breakthrough in 1984. The album featured several production teams including Rupert Hine notably on "Better Be Good To Me" and "I Might Have Been Queen". "Better Be Good To Me" was released as a single in September of 1984 eventually peaking at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and later winning a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. Hine would also produce and co-write the title track for Turner's 1986 Break Every Rule album. Here is the video for "Better Be Good To Me" by Tina Turner...

Q: I am a huge fan of Howard Jones and simply adore especially his Human's Lib and Dream Into Action albums from 1984 and 1985 respectively. First, how did you begin working with Jones? What can you tell us about Howard Jones and your experiences working with him?

Rupert: Howard was a local songwriter/performer at the recording studio that I had by then developed with Trevor Morais in Buckinghamshire - Farmyard Studios. He was drumming up a huge local following and had attracted most of the country's A&R people. Warner Bros UK had just had a complete regime change and the four people at the top saw in Howard a great vehicle for making a brand new stamp on the UK music business. They asked me to go and see him and I saw a concert in Aylesbury where there were probably 1000 people at a club called Fryers (which still exists) and it was so packed and full of fervor that there were actually people fainting in the front and being handed out by roadies. All this from an artist who had not even signed any kind of record deal yet! I had never seen anything like it! All this excitement and out of control crowd for one man on stage with a bunch of small electronic keyboards. Of course, Jed the mime-artist provided some great and unusual visual entertainment, but really Howard whipped up this storm with his own extraordinary persona and exciting instrumentation.

The trick with Howard, on the first album, was a conceptual one. How were we going to translate this relatively small sounding collection of "cheap and cheerful" synthesizers into something that would sound exciting on record. It certainly sounded exciting at the gig, as is often the case, it was bloody loud. In effect it was a process of discovery using more sophisticated synthesis whilst maintaining a sense of minimalism. The follow-up album 'Dream Into Action' developed the sonic canvas much more colorfully. By then we had expanded our instrumental arsenal considerably. I always appreciated Howard's lyrical sensibility strongly and it meant that there was always a powerful sense of purpose behind each and every song.

Q: Any details or feelings on any of the great singles in particular like "What Is Love"?

Rupert: "What Is Love" is one of the very, very few songs that I have ever recorded where everyone involved (in terms of "the business" i.e. record labels, publishers, agents, etc.) knew that we had a hit. I think people imagine that record producers always know the hit tracks on an album and produce them accordingly but in truth, very few people ever know, the whole idea of a sure-fire hit is SO rare. In this case it was because of its unique melody and I believe, less obviously, its Buddhistic lyrical sensibility. As a footnote, check out Duncan Sheik's recent cover of this song on his Covers '80s album.

Human's Lib was the debut album for Howard Jones released in March of 1984 in the UK (and then in June in the U.S.). The second single was "What Is Love?" which peaked at #2 on the UK chart and made it to #33 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart during the summer of 1984 as well. Here is the video for "What Is Love?" by Howard Jones...

Dream Into Action was released in March of 1985. The album contained several hit singles including "Things Can Only Get Better", "Life in One Day" and the original version of "No One Is To Blame". It also included a bonus track of "Like To Get To Know You Well" which would also be featured on the Better Off Dead soundtrack.

Q: I have always loved "No One Is To Blame" very much. I like both versions, but I think the original is my favorite. What are your feelings regarding the re-recorded version produced by Phil Collins? How did that come to be and you were not involved?

Rupert: "No One Is To Blame" was originally recorded outside in an open barn next door to the studio and my idea was to keep it feeling very bare to communicate directly with the listener with as little decoration as possible. What I didn't realize was just how effective and memorable the song itself really was. In a way, we recorded this version as an afterthought to the main body of work on the album. Had it been in the running for the album recording proper, I think I might have approached it differently, even though I love it as it is. It was very much because of this "under-cooked" approach to the production that the song was considered for the following album again and my good friend Phil Collins had fallen in love with it, thus the new version featured Phil in a big way and, of course, was bound to sound different.

Most people know the re-recorded version of "No One Is To Blame" which was co-produced by Phil Collins and also included his backing vocals and drumming. That version was released as a single in 1986 and became Jones' biggest hit peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reaching #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. This version is faster and more "radio-friendly", but I still tend to love the original haunting stripped down version just as much if not better.

Q: I have grown to love the 1985 film Better Off Dead as well as its soundtrack. How were you brought in to produce the soundtrack for the Savage Steve Holland gem? What parameters or direction were you given in creating it? Anything you wanted to be in there that wasn't able to be for whatever reason?

Rupert: I was signed for my solo albums of the '80s to A&M Records. It was an enjoyable fit and I liked working with them. During the process I got to know the people in the Los Angeles office quite well and they were producing this film. I read the script and found it hilarious. I have to say that at the time I didn't feel the finished film was half as funny as the script, even though it was directed by the screenwriter himself. The truth was that Savage Steve Holland had made his name thus far on directing animation and he was a bit of a "fish-out-of-water" with humans. Having said that, he himself was tremendously funny and I loved working with him too, any day that included him was a chuckle from top to toe. All the time we were mixing for instance, he would be bouncing up and down on a small (one yard in diameter) trampoline shouting out comments, willy-nilly, as he bounced.

Who would have known then that the movie's protagonist, John Cusack, would turn out to be such a great actor? As regards to direction, Savage Steve was very open and invited any ideas or thinking. As was the modus operandi of the day, there was to be as many current musical artists on the soundtrack as possible hence the reason I used Howard [Jones] and Tears for Fears for instance. It was, I believe, my connection to these artists that was the original reason for contacting me. I then said I would do it - but only if I was allowed to work on the score as well. I am sure there were many things I wanted in the film but the restrictions of time, budget and contractual limitations all played a part.

Q: I really like the song "With One Look (The Wildest Dream)" in particular. I assume that Curnin and West-Oram collaborating on that track came from your past work with The Fixx? What are your feelings regarding that song?

Rupert: "With One Look" is a rare track for me, in as much as it is a collaborative musical effort between Cy and myself, with the lyrics of Jeannette Obstoj. Yes, it was recorded off the back of working with The Fixx. I was also working with Martin Ansell at the time and had great pleasure in including his track ["Shine"] which was later released on his An Englishman Abroad album.

As I mentioned earlier, the soundtrack featured "Like To Get To Know You Well" by Howard Jones which fit just perfectly for the scenes it was used in. Hine composed and performed on several songs himself while working with his good friends from The Fixx to create "With One Look" (which is an outstanding tune on its own). Here is the actual music video for "With One Look (The Wildest Dream)" by Rupert Hine & Cy Curnin...

Q: What are your feelings regarding the film Better Off Dead now compared to when it was first released?

Rupert: As I've said, I was disappointed with the finished film at the time but this was more to do with the, apparently, often found situation where a script is so much better than the final product. After some time I grew to like the film a lot and think of it fondly now...I found it funnier once some time had elapsed.

Hine finished up the decade producing The Other Side of the Mirror for Stevie Nicks and Presto for Rush in 1989. The Stevie Nicks album went platinum and reached #10 on the Billboard album chart featuring the single "Rooms on Fire" which peaked at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100. In her liner notes for her 1991 greatest hits compilation Timespace Nicks wrote, "The night I met Rupert Hine was a dangerous one. He was different from anyone else I had ever known... He was older, and he was smarter, and we both knew it. I hired him to do the album before we even started talking about music. It seemed that we had made a spiritual agreement to do a magic a fabulous Dutch castle, at the top of the mountain. It always seemed to me that whenever Rupert walked into one of these old, dark castle rooms, that the rooms were on fire. There was a connection between us that everyone around us instantly picked up on." Presto was the thirteenth studio album for Rush and was released in November of 1989. It made it to #16 on the Billboard album chart and featured the single "Show Don't Tell" which made it to #1 on the U.S. Mainstream Rock Chart.

Q: What do you remember best about the decade of '80s music? What lasting impact do you feel music from the '80s has made?

Rupert: I think the wide range of '80s music following on from the somewhat bombastic '70s brought music back to a tight, punchy, melodically-driven and sonically interesting immediacy. It seemed by the end of the '70s that this thing called "rock" had grown and grown and expanded and become a bit of a monster. Big bands were just becoming bigger, saying the same things over and over, more inflatedly. Then Punk put paid to that and out of the ashes of the quick explosion came New Wave which was a much more musical version of Punk and out of those careers, a rejuvenated '60s sensibility to me became much, much more interesting. This coincided with a positively atomic boom of electronica. Suddenly it seemed that there were absolutely no limitations whatsoever for creating any sound that your imagination could come up with. The '80s, from a production perspective, seemed like a constantly evolving journey whereby every week, every single week, you had new equipment doing new things in ever changing ways. It was all very exciting. In fact, in many ways, by the end of the '80s, that highly adventurous journey had settled into a few new genres that in themselves weren't particularly inventive.

Q: After over four decades in the business, from your perspective, how has the music industry changed over that time? And where do you see it headed?

Rupert: I'm afraid you are going to have to read my blog for the answer to this enormously vast question. It is in fact, a whole book, which I am still very much writing... The one thing I will say, and it is very relevant to the time we live in, it seems to me that we have an arc from the '50s to the 2000s (noughties) that has in many ways gone full circle (therefore not technically an arc at all); that is... in the '50s few artists wrote their own songs and everything was hinged on the marketing potential of the singer. There were countless song competitions from the San Remo Festival to the origins of the Eurovision Song Contest.

In short it was all about the singer, the songs were professionally written by conveyor-belt songwriting teams. There was little emphasis on originality - as the most commercial aspect of the music seemed to be its familiarity, somewhat like country music is to a country audience. Things that sounded vaguely familiar sold the best. Here we are in this millennium with those same song contests and talent shows and emphasis on singers not the songs. Originality is left for the self-promoting artists via the internet with no commercial encouragement from those potential investors. Of course, the most positive aspect of that insularity is that everyone is free to do anything in music they want these days and the real problem is only when they try to get noticed. But, as I said before, that is the new story and it is a big one.

Q: Please tell us a little about where your music career has taken you since the 80s and what else Rupert Hine is up to nowadays.

Rupert: Having said what I've said thus far in the context of the '80s, I will make this answer cover the whole arc I've just spoken about. On the one hand, I have always maintained an innate love of music that changes the way you feel in just four minutes. That is not only the remit of the text it is the glorious combination of sound, music and words that creates a sonic film for us to experience. So, although that journey has taken me from the self-writing musical explosion of the '60s and the discovery and development of modern pop music, through more musical genres than we could count, to where we are today, there are nonetheless several constants. Being responsible to your listeners and "having something to say" is number one. We should never occupy the attention of others with our noodlings and our "messing about with gear". We should at all times be focused on the original, the as yet unsaid and ultimately anything that changes the way you feel. Given that the best thing that any of us can do is the thing that ONLY we can do, our journey always has to start and end with ourselves. Less attention spent on what everyone else is doing and more focus on realizing our own potential.

So, to answer your question in terms of what I'm doing "nowadays" then, I am continuing in all those capacities to explore music and I'm in the process of exchanging my in-studio production skills for those of recognizing and developing the talents of others. Something which it seems is typical for those of us that reach the age I am today. There is a natural desire to hand batons over to new runners, helping and guiding where requested, generally enthusing and applauding otherwise. I have a headful of ideas every day of every week and in many ways, I have seldom thought more creatively. That's a good feeling at my age.

Q: What are some of your proudest professional accomplishments so far?

Rupert: You ask of proud, professional accomplishments. There are too many really to list here without looking or sounding presumptuous so I will cherry-pick a couple and say that the project "One World One Voice" in 1990 is probably the strongest simply because it was in and of itself a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a musical chain letter that travelled the world starting with Sting and Afrika Bambaataa in New York and ending 300 artists/musicians later, in Moscow. It was made as a two-hour television program and was broadcast the same day to 650 million people worldwide. Topically, this project is just about to be re-released.

More recently in 2008, I was fortunate enough to be asked to assemble and executive produce a double album for the Dalai Lama called The Art of Peace. This was a joy and the third most downloaded album on the planet during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Most recently, I received a Fellowship Award from the APRS and was presented with this honor by none other than THE original record producer, Sir George Martin and my amusing citation was delivered by another of my artists (three albums), Sir Bob Geldof.

Q: What can we expect in the future?

Rupert: As for the future, I have a new Rights Management Company called Auditorious which is signing new artists specifically for developing their songwriting talents. This is a joint venture with BMG Rights Management who I believe have the closest thing to that overworn expression "new model", but more of that later...

I am so honored that Rupert was able to take some time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. Special thanks go out to Fay Armstrong who helped coordinate this tremendous opportunity for me. You can find out a lot more and keep up with him at his official website. I want to take this occasion to again thank Rupert Hine for his incredible contributions to '80s pop culture especially through his production work (painting pictures with sound) on so many hit records as well as the Better Off Dead soundtrack and, even more, for going back to the '80s with us here for a little while as well.

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