5. Dr. Dre
Rock and Roll isn’t the only genre with super producers. In the 80s, a kid from Los Angeles called Andre Romelle Young (better known as Dr. Dre) was busy defining the sound of West Coast rap music and helping create the careers of the genre’s biggest acts.. After a successful start as a local D.J., Dr Dre met up with an enterprising drug dealer and rapper called Eazy-E to form NWA. With Dre producing, the group shot to almost instant national fame and notoriety with their raw sound and controversial lyrics. Once the group dissolved over financial problems, Dre embarked on a successful solo career and became a producer for just about every rap artist who mattered. Besides his own platinum albums, he worked on hit records for Snoop Dogg, 2Pac, Eminem, 50 Cent, The Game, and others. Influenced by funk stalwarts like George Clinton and Curtis Mayfield, Dr. Dre avoided samples, preferring the flexibility of using live musicians to create his beats. The resulting tracks were heavy on synthesizers and keyboards, creating a unique sound that came to dominate the West Coast scene and continues to influence hip hop records to this day.
4. Sam Philips
When young Sam Phillips realized he didn’t have enough money to pursue his dream of being a lawyer, he settled for his second choice and went to broadcasting school. The legal system’s loss was rock and roll’s undying gain. Starting a little label called Sun Records, Sam Phillips was responsible for discovering some of early rock’s most influential artists. Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Howlin’ Wolf, and Carl Perkins were among the rock gods who laid down tracks overseen by Phillips. An artist’s producer first and foremost, he allowed young singers like Elvis to play around in the studio and find their way naturally to the best take. Less interested in audio perfection than most producers, Phillips chose the takes he felt best captured the emotion of the song and the people performing it. One of the architects of rock music, Phillips will always be remembered for his fantastic ear for new talent and his ability to get real, raw performances out of it. A lot of people have claimed to have invented Rock and Roll, but few people have as strong a claim as Sam Phillips.
3. Berry Gordy
Berry Gordy revolutionized popular music and basically created a brand new genre with his star-packed record label Motown. Assembling perhaps the greatest collection of musical talent in the history of popular music, Gordy brought the world The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder and many more. Gordy knew how to spot talent, but more importantly, he really knew how to package and market that talent. By creating a wholesome image for his stable of singers, he was able to bring Black American music to mainstream white audiences in a way no one else ever has. But all the marketing in the world wouldn’t have made a difference if the music wasn’t good. And boy was Motown music good. Gordy employed a small army of incredibly talented song writers and session musicians and had a magician’s knack for matching artists to songs. Despite the long whispered rumors and accusations that he was a control freak who exploited his artists, Gordy’s legacy in popular music is forever cemented. The guy produced “My Girl.” If that isn’t worth a lifetime pass, what is?
2. Phil Spector
While Barry Gordy was busy creating the Motown sound to great acclaim and sales in Detroit, a musician, songwriter and session player called Phil Spector was putting the final touches on one of the other trademark sounds of the 60s. Dubbed by Spector “The Wall of Sound” it involved densely layered multiple tracks, plenty of echo, and a mix custom designed to sound great in mono on AM radio and jukeboxes. The technique allowed Spector to create single after single of lushly arranged pop masterpieces and create a reputation for himself bigger than the artists he produced. In later years, he worked extensively with former Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison, producing Let it Be (without Paul McCartney’s blessing) and several of their solo hits. Still incorporating the Wall of Sound technique, he produced timeless Lennon solo tracks like Happy Christmas (War is Over) and Imagine. Unfortunately, Spector’s increasingly erratic behavior (and his penchant for pulling guns on the artists he worked with), led to a slow demise of his career and reputation. Still, his legacy is firmly cemented in rock history and his songs still define classic rock to this day.
1. George Martin
On February 13th, 1962, a record producer called George Martin had the most important meeting in the history of pop music. Already a successful producer of classical albums, cast recordings of musicals, and comedy acts, Martin was interested in branching out to rock and roll. Auditioning a young group of Liverpool musicians, he initially wasn’t all that impressed with their skill, but liked their vocals and personality. Martin swallowed his reservations and- after firing their drummer- signed the Beatles to a recording contract. Martin nurtured the group through their first recording sessions and helped Paul McCartney and John Lennon shape and hone their massive, but still raw, talents. Under his guidance, the two songwriters, along with George and Ringo, blossomed into the greatest band of all time. The Beatles wrote great songs, but they recorded amazing records. Working with Martin, they expanded the boundaries of pop music and smashed all preconceived notions of what a rock and roll record could sound like. Martin was an old hand at producing, but he shared a love of experimentation and helped the Beatles bring classical instruments, sound effects, and studio tricks to their records. George Martin produced a lot of other groups in his career, but he’ll always be remembered for creating the greatest pop records the world has ever heard.