My 5 Favourite Producers

This month I thought I would spotlight five producers whose work I really admire and why.  Mostly these guys worked in the 70s or later, generally speaking I think recording technology was more primitive before then and the role of the the producer was to coax great performances out of the stars without manipulating the end result so much.  Check out hon. meshes for the pioneers.  They also are British rock producers reflecting pure listener prejudice on my part.  So sue me!

In no particular order:

1 Mick Glossop (Ruts, Skids).  Widescreen is the word.  Mick skillfully captured on tape the wide stereo sweep of the Skids Absolute Game album, keeping the rhythm section tightly meshed with multiple guitars and Richard Jobson’s foghorn vocals.  Other highlights include Magazine’s surging “Shot By Both Sides”, PIL’s harsh and uncompromising “Metal Box” and the Ruts thunderous “The Crack” still one of the most hard-hitting UK post punk LPs.  Later he transferred the same feel to looser folk-punk material by the Men They Couldn’t Hang, as well as other left field sounds by X-Mal Deutschland and er, Furniture.

2 Steve Lillywhite (U2, XTC).  Obvious choice, but like all the genius producers Steve covered an incredible amount of ground in his career.  His head-exploding drums on Siouxsie & The Banshees “The Scream” led to XTC whose “Drums & Wires” and “Black Sea” are true landmarks.  Superb songs, fat analogue production and stone room drums that shake the foundations.  U2’s “War” may have been responsible for starting a trend for bloated stadium rock but the tubs recorded at Windmill in Dublin are totally awesome.  If you can get with a mile of such sounds, pat yourself on the back and double your rates.  He helmed Peter Gabriel III which is pretty ground breaking and assembled an album out of the wreckage of the La’s recordings.  This guy rises to a challenge.

3 Martin Rushent (Buzzcocks, Stranglers, Human League). Not many knob twiddlers get to work on huge selling records in contrasting styles.  Rushent was an engineer at EMI moving into production with the Stranglers who he helped get signed to United Artists.  Their debut Rattus Norvegicus surprised even him by hitting big, he says that the band were very rough in the studio but when their parts were blended together their sound took off.  Equally tough productions for Buzzcocks and Dr Feelgood put him in the front rank of punk producers.  Tiring of guitar rock he taught himself synth programming and in 1981 he was employed by Virgin to produce Dare.  It led to a flood of offers from similar acts but Martin instead chose to slip out of view.

4 Bob Sargeant (The Beat, Haircut 100).  Abandoning attempts to forge a solo career in the proggy early 70s UK music scene Sargeant opted to move into production in the 80s, specialising in multi-instrument pop groups. His work with the Beat in particular is amazing, three albums varying in styles but always tight, effervescent and uncluttered despite large line-ups and lots of percussion and brass/guitar interplay.  He also spent a period working on the Peel sessions, leaving his fingerprints on lots of famous groups sound.

5 John Leckie (Stone Roses, Dukes Of Stratosphear).  Leckie has been active for 40 odd years sprinkling magic on a vast range of artists.  He seems almost ego-less adapting to almost anything that comes his way and avoiding a signature sound that could have put him out of fashion.  Its easier to pick a few highlights – the Stone Roses album, with guitar textures like no other, Psonic Psunspot, a vintage psych pastiche production that outdoes the originals, The Fall “This Nations Saving Grace” and Muse “Origin Of Symmetry”.  Can you get two poles further apart, proof if it were needed of colossal technical smarts and adaptability.  His no BS views on production are very encouraging for novices.  The material comes first.

Respect is due:

George Martin – Made songs sound like oranges whilst wearing a tie.

Bob Clearmountain – America’s own Lillywhite.  Nobody delivers more rawk per pound.

Roy Thomas Baker – Did excess (Queen), did undressed (The Cars), result success.

Bill Price – Leaned more towards the engineer role but an absolute master of bone-crunching rock guitars, he shaped both the Pistols and the Clash’s sound.

Trevor Horn – Very 80’s but there’s no arguing with the barrage of hits.  Frankie’s early stuff remain a landmark, soundscapes in which something new seems to crop up every time you listen.

Brian Eno – Oh go on then…

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