Who’s the greatest producer of all time? Behind most seminal albums is a studio visionary, moulding artists’ raw talent into sonic splendour. Here’s 20 mix desk maestros with the best track-records for producing great records, as voted for by you – starting with Timbaland. The innovator’s early ’00s collaborations with the likes of Missy Elliott and Justin Timberlake dragged R&B into the future.
DJ Premier has had a hand in some of rap’s most genre-defining records. With credits on Biggie’s ‘Ready To Die’, Jay Z’s ‘Reasonable Doubt’ and Nas’ ‘Illmatic’, on which he sculpted Big Apple anthem ‘NY State of Mind’, Premier’s loose, gritty beats have an inimitable quality to them that in the ’90s set a new benchmark for hip-hop beat-craft.
Want proof of the Neptunes extraordinary powers? Simply stare at their lengthy list of productions and try to pick a favourite. Their beats for Clipse? Britney’s still-amazing ‘I’m A Slave 4 U’? Snoop’s ‘Beautiful’? Their work as NERD? You can tell a Neptunes production a mile off – testament to their unique, game-changing style.
The late J Dilla is a hip-hop hero like no other – a man whose love for creating rap beats that bend boundaries was such that he continued making stunning instrumentals even while on his death bed in 2006, as he fought a rare blood disease. The ensuing album ‘Donuts’ is a stone-cold classic.
Behind one of the greatest rap crews of all time is one of the greatest producers of all time. Wu-Tang Clan would be nowhere without RZA’s dazzling productions – the launching pad for Wu’s electric raps.
Mark Ronson renovated pop music in the ’00s; his slick brass-accompanied sound full of bound-around-the-room sugar rush energy. He moulded Amy Winehouse into a superstar, reimagined classics by everyone from Radiohead to The Smiths on an accomplished solo album and last year, breathed a new lease of life into Paul McCartney on the Beatle’s latest solo outing. Not bad, eh?
What do Azealia Banks, Adele, Paul McCartney, Primal Scream and Cee Lo Green have in company? The answer’s not what but who – the brilliant Paul Epworth. An Oscar winner for his Skyfall theme with Adele, the Londoner’s been at the forefront of assured, sophisticated pop for over a decade now.
Flood is another legend of British recording. You only need to look at the bleak, dusty world he created with PJ Harvey on 2011’s Mercury-winning ‘Let England Shake’ to understand why – as enveloping sonics go, you can’t go wrong with Mr. Mark Ellis. New Order, Nick Cave and the Killers have all enlisted his talents, but maybe his most famous work is with U2.
When the Tornados hit in the 1960s – featuring none other than Matt Bellamy’s dad, fact fans – it was unlike anything anyone had heard before. Joe Meek was the man responsible for their rich, rousing sound, packing claviolines, bizarre distortions and weird sonic effects into tracks from his home studio above a Holloway Road shop. A studio genius, make no mistake.
It says a lot about Dre’s pedigree as a producer and rapper that almost fifteen years on from his last album, 1999’s ‘2001’, the fast-ebbing world of music is still on tenterhooks for his next release. A genuine pioneer, the NWA mastermind’s magnificence in the studio has made him as well known for his productions as his bassy rhyming as a rapper.
Number 10 is a man without some of NME’s most-loved acts would never have flourished. Stephen Street moulded the Smiths into world beaters and made Britpop champions of Blur, also working with Babyshambles, Kaiser Chiefs and the Cranberries along the way. An extraordinary studio talent.
Without Quincy Jones, there’d have been no Michael Jackson, whose best work was achieved in late night sessions with the Chicago-born soul man. His vibrant style has earned him a record 79 Grammy Award nominations, and continues to influence and inspire: you only need to look at Frank Ocean’s ‘Channel Orange’ to see that.
No man embodies indie better than Steve Albini, whose acerbic, uncompromising approach to guitar music has made him a legend. The pinnacle of his career remains ‘In Utero’, on which he transformed Nirvana from grunge kids to malevolent noise monsters, but don’t forget Pixies ‘Surfer Rosa’.
Phil Spector’s ‘Wall Of Sound’ recording technique changed popular music forever, its impact on ’60s pop continuing to resonate today. Working with the Ramones, the Ronettes and on their astounding ‘Let It Be’, the Beatles, Spector coined a new style of production without which it’s hard to imagine modern music sounding as rich and sonically deep.
Danger Mouse, or Brian Burton to his mum and dad, announced himself to the world in 2004 with ‘The Grey Album’ colliding Jay Z’s ‘Black Album’ with the Beatles’ ‘White Album’ with spectacular, attention-grabbing aplomb. After a stint in Gnarls Barkley, he’s worked with Beck, the Black Keys, and most recently, with the Shins’ James Mercer under the name Broken Bells.
Ask any Radiohead fan how important an outside influence producer Nigel Godrich is on their work and they’ll quickly correct you – the Londoner is practically a member of the band, so great is his part in their evolutionary indie-rock. Now playing in Thom Yorke’s Atoms For Peace, his open-minded approach has helped the Oxford band break all kinds of boundaries en route to untouchable status.
Key to Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ was the muscular sound of producer Butch Vig, who made sure the record’s guitar packed an all-mighty Herculean punch. The Garbage man has since produced the Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day and Sonic Youth, and continued to work closely with Dave Grohl, helping the Foo Fighters grow into world beaters. A true great? You betcha.
An eccentric maverick, Rich Rubin is in at number three – and with good reason. Co-founder of the wildly influential Def Jam Records, his work with the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and Run DMC brought hip-hop kicking and screaming into the mainstream. Over 30 years later, he’s still an pioneering champion of new sounds (see Kanye’s grinding ‘Yeezus’).
Brian Eno’s reputation is impeccable, rightly regarded as the man without whom indie’s current infatuation with electronics wouldn’t exist. From Wild Beasts to St Vincent, the influence of his ‘Music For Airports’ continues to be keenly felt, as well as collaborations with Bowie and U2. Now signed to Warp, this innovator’s still innovating – 2012’s ‘Lux’ was an icy ambient wonderland.
Finally we arrive at the number one producer of all time, according to NME readers – the one and only George Martin. The man behind the Beatles, Martin channelled the restless energy and fizzing talent of the Fab Four into the world-changing records they left behind. His clear, impeachable style made their globe-conquering possible – a fact no Beatles fan underestimates. A true great.