Rock’n’roll might have happened anyway without Sam Phillips, but it would have probably not been the same. Starting out in the blues world, he set up Sun Records and have hands in the early careers of Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. In fact, it was Howlin’ Wolf who Phillips considered to be his greatest discovery. The second? Elvis Presley, who he famously discouraged from releasing a ballad, and so changed the course of history.
Not just the man who made Motown great, but the man who made Motown. Not just a brilliant producer responsible for forging the trademark Tamla sound, first with The Miracles and on through The Supremes and eventually The Jackson 5, Gordy coupled his melodic and technical nous with the skill as a manager and record executive to create a beacon that would define the shape that black American music was going to take.
As jobbing producer for the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Busta Rhmes and Common, James Dewitt Yancey would eventually become one of the most lauded hip-hop producers of his generation. His work as an artist in his own right with underground crew Slum Village was also growing in stature by the early 2000s, and J Dilla was truly on his way. Tragically, as his music was hitting its tipping point, he died in 2006 of the rare blood disorder TTP, at the age of just 32.
Chest-beating, fist-pumping and elbow-clutching just wouldn’t exist in the same way without the sterling work of multitrack pioneer Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange. One of the very architects of arena rock, he put the ‘oof’ in AC/DC’s ‘Highway To Hell’ and ‘Back To Black’ and be credited with a large part of the success of Foreigner and Def Leppard, and co-wrote Bryan Adam’s planet-eating ‘Everything I Do (I Do It For You’) Showing no small skill in aligning himself with music’s most powerful, Lange was last heard on Lady Gaga’s ‘You And I’ – one of the better tracks on ‘Born This Way’.
One of the giants of the jazz world, Macero served as in-house producer at Columbia, where he produced seminal records by Miles Davis, including ‘Kind Of Blue’ and ‘Bitches Brew’. Macero’s mastery on those records, along with Dave Brubeck’s ‘Time Out’ meant he was the man behind three of the most famous jazz records of all time.
An apprenticeship with the greats at Abbey Road was always going to stand the young Leckie in good stead, but making two iconic records of consecutive decades is Godlike by anyone’s standards. ‘The Stone Roses’ actually provided the watermark where the 80s ended moved on into an age of something grander, and five years later he achieved the same majesty with Radiohead and ‘The Bends’. In a career like that, the debuts from Elastica and Verve might even be considered
Hip-hop braggadocio can account for a lot, but not for the chosen nom de plume of Christopher Edward Martin. For most of the 90s and beyond, he was the genre’s most distinguished trackmaster, representing the New York sound more authentically than anyone else. Dre may have been bigger, but Premier’s mastery with jazz and funk samples, together with fierce loops and heavy scratching made his a generation’s go-to guy. Plus his encyclopedic memory for rhymes means he can scratch in lines from different songs to create entirely new phrases. Way cool.
Never has rock been more melodramatic and piano-drenched than when it comes from the hand of El Steino. Quite fitting for a man with a background in musical theatre (Whistle Down The Wind), and he brought those qualities to the table in wheelbarrow’s to Meat Loaf’s ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ and its sequel. But never one to let bombast overshadow the emotional core, he was also the brains (as well as the brawn) behind Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’.
One of the founding fathers of all the best bits of modern US R&B. And so you can’t hate him if some of the schlock can be traced back to him also. Babyface was a pioneer of New Jack Swing in the 80s, before setting up LaFace with old mucker Antonia ‘LA’ Reid to give the world TLC, Usher and Toni Braxton under their guiding hand. There’s barely a prominent artist in the genre he hasn’t worked with, and as a result he’s clocked up a mammoth 26 R&B number ones.
It takes a genius to work on both punk and prog, and do both justice, but Chris Thomas had the Midas touch. Not only did he mix ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ (and produce several key Roxy Music albums including ‘For Your Pleasure’), Thomas also helmed The Sex Pistols’ debut single ‘Anarchy In The UK’. Versatile indeed.