Dr Dre: ‘2001’: The work of one of modern music’s greatest producers at the top of his game. The crisp, futuristic hip-hop odyssey has arguably never been topped in terms of production value.
Nirvana – ‘In Utero’: After the success of ‘Nevermind’, Kurt Cobain wanted to create something all the fair-weather MTV fans would hate. Cue Steve Albini, an advocate of aggressive, live sounding production. who gave the trio the raw, guttural sound they desired.
PJ Harvey – ‘Let England Shake’: Having previously worked with the likes of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, The Smashing Pumpkins and Polly Jean herself, producer Flood is no newcomer to dramatic intensity. But, with ‘Let England Shake’, the Londoner took Harvey’s tales of social unrest and allowed the record’s haunting core to fully unfold, creating a 10/10, Mercury Prize-winning masterpiece.
Scarlett Johannsen – ‘Anywhere I Lay My Head’: On ‘Anywhere I Lay My Head’ – Hollywood A-lister Scarlet Johansson’s album of Tom Waits covers – TV On The Radio man Dave Sitek took a bunch of demos that even the singer called “horrible” and managed to create a lusty and atmospheric world from them, elevating the album immeasurably.
Deftones – ‘White Pony’: Though Terry Date had been at the mixing desk of both previous Deftones albums (‘Adrenaline’ and ‘Around The Fur’), it was on ‘White Pony’ that he truly excelled. Giving space for the band’s increasingly experimental tendencies to breathe, he crafted an album that fused elements of metal, shoegaze and trip-hop whilst never seeming overcrowded.
NERD – In Search Of…’:Originally largely featuring drum machines and a more electronic influence, NERD’s debut was re-released a year later in 2002 with live drums and a heavier sound. Audibly showing the development of The Neptunes into the genre-fusing production team that would become their trademark, ‘In Search Of…’ was the document of Pharell and Chad hitting their stride.
Nas – ‘Illmatic’: DJ Premier recognised exactly the world Nas was detailing on his debut offering, mirroring the Queens rapper’s rhymes about life on the ashen streets of New York with subway sounds and howling sirens. Referred to as not just one of the great debut albums of all time, Premier’s beats had an unstoppable charisma that made Nas’ job almost easy.
The Beatles – ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’: Producer George Martin helped The Fab Four throw the pop rule book out of the window on their kaleidoscopic eighth studio album, forging an orchestral baroque pop masterpiece the likes of which has rarely been matched since.
Michael Jackson – ‘Thriller’: There’s no mistaking Quincy Jones’ contribution to arguably Jackson’s finest hour, lending focus and warmth to the Prince of Pop’s sprawl of ideas as he reached his creative peak – most notably on the album’s title track, expertly shaping its unforgettable, iconic ghostly ambience.
The Smiths – ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’: The Smiths’ swansong saw Stephen Street help Johnny Marr and co escape what the guitarist called their ‘jingle jangle’ sound for something more sophisticated. Taking cues from The Beatles’ ‘White Album’, the band used synthesised saxophone and string arrangements for the perfect farewell.
Radiohead – ‘OK Computer’: Often credited as “the sixth member of Radiohead”, Nigel Godrich’s production is an integral cog in the Radiohead machine. With Thom Yorke and co citing the non-linear styles of Ennio Morricone and Miles Davis as key influences for ‘OK Computer’, the then-fledgling producer’s learn-as-you-go method provided the perfect foil for the band’s rapid fire ideas.
Miles Davis – ‘Bitches Brew’: Inspired by avant-garde composer Edgard Varese, ‘Bitches Brew’ producer Teo Macerro took the jazz foundations of the time and fused them into almost controversially experimental ground. Using innovative new studio techniques such as tape delays and reverb chambers, the record’s approach to sound was truly pioneering.
Phil Spector – ‘Back To Mono’: No one innovated 20th century recording practices like Spector, whose ‘wall of sound’ technique continues to influence the way albums sound today. Having shaped ’60s girl group the Ronettes, he later produced the Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’, also working with the Ramones – but on this rare moment in the spotlight, he showcased his talents alone, in sparkling clarity.
Prince – ‘Sign O the Times’: ‘Sign O’ The Times’ saw Prince return to a contained, one-man working practice that resulted in one of the icon’s most sonically experimental releases yet. Favouring electronics over traditional rock guitars, the record’s minimal approach and progressive arrangements took Prince’s already classic songwriting and pushed it into new terrain.
Missy Elliott – ‘Miss E… So Addictive’: Full of futuristic beats, emcee Elliott’s third studio album showcased producer Timbaland at his most ambitious and groundbreaking, helping craft a volatile, genre-colliding rap epic.
David Bowie – ‘Heroes’: The second installment of Bowie’s hugely collaborative ‘Berlin’ trilogy, ‘Heroes’ showed off the Dame Dave’s playfully idiosyncratic production to the full. Influenced by krautrock and the Cold War, but presented largely as an accessible, optimistic art-rock nugget, it took Bowie’s initial socially-informed ideas and polished them up to perfection.
J Dilla – ‘Donuts’ – Instrumental hip-hop mastermind J Dilla released the incredible ‘Donuts’ on his 32nd birthday in 2006. Three days later he was dead. Having suffered from a rare blood disease, the LA musician wrote large parts of this mesmerising aural trip from a hospital bed as his condition worsened, still managing to carve out one of rap’s most innovative sounding albums ever.
Daft Punk – ‘Random Access Memories’: Returning after an eight-year break between studio albums, Daft Punk swapped the techno of ‘Human After All’ for an eclectic array of West Coast-influenced disco, electronica and dance. From the arrangements to the samples to the quality of sound, ‘Random Access Memories’ was a LP that succeeded because of so much more than one summer smash hit.
Eminem – ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’: Dr. Dre took the executive production chair for ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ among a five-strong team including the Bass Brothers and Eminem himself, stripping down the beats to a sparse minimum in order to make sure the rapper’s provocative and personal rhymes were given the maximum attention. Suffice to say, it worked.
DJ Shadow – ‘Endtroducing’: A pioneering trip-hop gem, DJ Shadow’s masterwork is a stunning aural trip. Released in 1996, going on to become a definitive snapshot of that era in British dance music, its dark, shadowy sonics are the main attraction here, rather than melodies.
Beastie Boys – ‘Licensed To Ill’: While simultaneously working on Slayer’s ‘Reign In Blood’, Rick Rubin brought his love for bombastic guitars to the Beasties’ influential debut, proving the perfect accomplice as the trio looked to execute their rap-rock crossover vision. There’s a reason this album demands to be listened to at near-defeaning volumes – and that reason is Rick Rubin.
Burial – ‘Untrue’: The cold, steely sound of urban alienation, ‘Untrue’ made a superstar of Burial – or would have, had the mysterious beatmaker not kept his identity secret until recently. Full of sleek post-dubstep sonics, tracks like ‘Archangel’ showed a heartful side to modern British dance that inspired the xx and rebelled against the stereotype of electronica as a mechanistic music.
Bob Marley – ‘Legend’: A posthumous retrospective featuring Marley’s biggest hits, ‘Legend’ showcased some of the finest work to come from The Black Ark – the back garden studio run by Lee Scratch Perry. Despite using relatively basic technology, Perry drew a warmth and inclusivity out of Marley’s recordings that would go on to make the record the best-selling reggae album of all time.
Beck – ‘Sea Change’:Originally intended to be a predominantly acoustic album, ‘Sea Change’ was steered into its eventual eclectic, orchestral form by producer Nigel Godrich. Recorded live with effects added later, Godrich’s approach was designed to both capture energy and allow for precision.
Beach Boys – ‘Pet Sounds’: In debt to Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ production, ‘Pet Sounds’ was a record in thrall to lush, multi-part harmonies, intricate layers and impossibly warm tones. Though the likes of ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ and ‘God Only Knows’ display classic songwriting in their own right, Wilson’s production ensured the overall feel of the record was heartbreakingly pure.
Aphex Twin – ‘Drukqs’: Aphex’s 2001 30-track, two CD marathon fully utilized the benefits of being a self-producer. A forward-thinking, technology-indebted release that married the musician’s progressive writing and recording style in completely co-dependent ways, ‘Drukqs’ was as reliant on the way its sounds were presented as on the warped new noises themselves.