The best music producers of all time
17 May 2020, 19:15 | Updated: 13 May 2021, 15:25
Who are the people behind the greatest tunes of all time? Radio X salutes the producers who changed the world.
Eno started his musical career playing with glam pioneers Roxy Music, but left after their second album to pursue a solo career. For the rest of the 1970s he worked on his own “ambient” music and became the ideas man and collaborator for artists such as Robert Fripp, Talking Heads and Devo. While Tony Visconti actually produced David Bowie’s “Berlin” trilogy, it was Eno's input that inspired the superstar to explore new sonic landscapes. His unique, analytical style unlocked new ideas in bands like James, Coldplay and U2, who owed the second half of their career to Eno’s influence on the Achtung Baby album.
Best production: U2 - Zoo Station
Guitarist Rodgers met bassist Bernard Edwards while touring with the Sesame Street live show (!) and they formed the band/production company/organisation Chic in 1997, quickly becoming the masters of the disco scene. Rodgers and Edwards produced Sister Sledge, notching up hits like We Are Family, and made records with Diana Ross and Deborah Harry. David Bowie came looking for hits and worked with Rodgers on the huge hit Let’s Dance, leading to massive success with Madonna, Duran Duran, INXS, The B52s and more. In 2013, he hooked up with Pharell Williams and Daft Punk for the killer track Get Lucky.
Best production: David Bowie - Let’s Dance
Originally a musician, Hannett was a key part of Manchester’s scene in the mid-70s, before he produced Buzzcock’s milestone Spiral Scratch EP in 1977. This kick=started a career that saw him helm records by John Cooper Clark, Jilted John, The Durutti Column, Magazine, A Certain Ratio and an early outing for U2. His eccentric methods created a world of sound for Joy Division and their two albums - Unknown Pleasures (1979) and Closer (1980) - remain classics. When Joy Division’s Ian Curtis died in 1980, he produced the first New Order album, but soon parted company with the band and Factory Records. Substance abuse caused issues, but towards the end of his life he produced The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays before dying at the tragically young age of 42 in 1991.
Best production: Joy Division - New Dawn Fades
Sir George Martin
Best known for being the genius that produced The Beatles, Big George Martin’s classical training and days producing comedy allowed him to harness the ideas and talent of the Fab Four, evolving their sound from the days of She Loves You through to Sgt Pepper and Abbey Road. He also produced a stable of stars, comedians and other projects in an amazing career. He died in 2016, aged 90.
Best production: The Beatles - A Day In The Life
Hertfordshire-born Epworth had a career as a remixer under the name “Phones”, but soon became the mastermind behind Noughties classics like Silent Alarm by Bloc Party and A Certain Trigger by Maximo Park. He’s since worked with Florence + The Machine, Adele, Foster The People, Paul McCartney, Coldplay, U2, Lana Del Rey, London Grammar, James Bay and Mumford And Sons
Best production: Florence + The Machine - Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)
Albini made his name in the controversial 1980s punk act Big Black, which gave him a reputation for uncompromising, back to basics music. When Big Black wound up in 1987, Albini formed Shellac, but also developed a sideline in producing other bands - or, in his favoured term - recording them. Having produced Pixies’ seminal 1988 album Surfer Rosa, Albini came to the attention of Nirvana, who employed him to bring some much-needed “edge” to the follow up to Nevermind, which became In Utero. Since then, Albini has produced records by The Breeders, PJ Harvey, The Auteurs, Mogwai, Iggy Pop and The Stooges, Manic Street Preachers, Jarvis Cockers, The Cribs and more.
Best production: Pixies - Bone Machine
Visconti is best known for his collaborations with David Bowie: from The Man Who Sold The World through the “Berlin” trilogy of Low, “Heroes” and Lodger through to the musician’s final albums The Next Day and Blackstar, he was an essential part of Bowie’s career. Aside from that, Visconti worked with Marc Bolan, Thin Lizzy, Kaiser Chiefs and The Good The Bad And The Queen’s 2018 album Merrie Land.
Best production: David Bowie - “Heroes”
Horn made a huge impression in 1979 as the frontman of Buggles, who scored a UK No 1 hit with Video Killed The Radio Star, before joining prog legends Yes for a time. His years spent as a session musician led him into the world of production and he soon became known for tracks by ABC, Dollar, Spandau Ballet and Grace Jones. Horn was also part of the ZTT label and was the musical mastermind behind Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s huge success. Since those heady days, he’s produced Simple Minds, Pet Shop Boys, Paul McCartney, Belle And Sebastian, Lisa Stansfield and Seal’s hit Crazy.
Best production: Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Relax
Starting as a lowly tape operator in the early 1970s, Lillywhite had his first success by producing Siouxsie And The Banshees’ debut single Hong Kong Garden. Hits for XTC, The Psychedelic Furs and Peter Gabriel followed, before the producer became involved with new Irish band U2 - he worked the boards for their first three albums, Boy, October and War. Lillywhite was married to Kirsty MacColl and produced her festive duet with The Pogues, Fairytale Of New York. Since then, he’s produced records for The La’s, Chris Cornell, Beady Eye, Morrissey, The Killers and The Rolling Stones.
Best production: U2 - New Year’s Day
Born Brian Burton in New York State, Danger Mouse made a splash when he mixed The Beatles with Jay-Z for the bootleg LP The Grey Album, but soon found his talents in demand with artists like Gorillaz, The Black Keys, Beck, U2, Adele, Portugal The Man and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Best production: Gorillaz - Dirty Harry
Leckie started off from the bottom, staring work at Abbey Road in 1970 - one of his first credits was for John Lennon’s debut solo album. He ticked off three of the four Beatles (John, George and Paul), graduating to engineer for Pink Floyd’s albums Meddle and Wish You Were Here. Leckie became a producer in 1976 and worked with early 80s acts like Magazine, Simple Minds and The Human League. In 1989, the producer worked with The Stone Roses on their classic debut album and since then has worked with Radiohead (on The Bends), Cast, Richard Ashcroft, New Order, The Coral and the first album by Muse.
Best production: The Stone Roses - I Wanna Be Adored
Born in Windsor, Weatherall was part of the team that produced the football/music fanzine Boy’s Own, which saw him immersed in the blossoming acid house scene. A DJ at the legendary Shoom club with his fanzine colleague Terry Farley, Weatherall produced tracks under the name Bocca Juniors, before remixing Happy Mondays’ Hallelujah with Paul Oakenfold. His remix of Primal Scream’s I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have became the monster hit Loaded and this lead to him producing the majority of the Screamadelica album in 1991. Weatherall manned the desk for artists like New Order, Bjork, Manic Street Preachers and James before his untimely death in February 2020 aged just 56.
Best production: Primal Scream - Come Together
Street’s career started as an engineer, which saw him work extensively with The Smiths, achieving producer co-credit on their final outing Strangeways Here We Come. He went on to produce Blur’s There’s No Other Way and followed that with the albums Modern Life Is Rubbish, Parklife, The Great Escape and Blur. Since then, Street has produced Kaiser Chiefs’ debut LP Employment, plus albums by Babyshambles, Feeder and Courteeners.
Best production: Blur - Chemical World
Rubin was famous for mixing rap with rock in the late 1980s on his Def Jam label, applying his magic to works by the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Run DMC and LL Cool J. He went on to work with the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers, AC/DC, Rage Against The Machine, Linkin Park, Adele, Jake Bugg, Ed Sheeran and many more, including the final recordings by the legendary Johnny Cash.
Best production: Beastie Boys - Fight For Your Right