Nowadays, it seems that the term "producer" is over used or has lost its meaning. Many times, next to the "producer" credit there is just a name that is actually the audio engineer or the guy who is recording, along with the band.
In the history of hard rock and heavy metal music, there have been producers that shaped the sound of many iconic bands, like Martin Birch for Iron Maiden of Killers (1981) up to Fear of the Dark (1992), Tom Allom for the '80s albums of Judas Priest, or Dieter Dierks for all those iconic Scorpions albums, including Lovedrive, Blackout and Love at First Sting among others.
However, there is also another type of producer, the "musical director", the one who will completely guide and command the band, even changing the songs, even adding music ideas, even playing music sometimes, even writing the music himself. There aren't many of them but in the history of hard rock, there have been a few albums that reached a platinum or multi-platinum status, thanks to that producer.
There are a few albums you surely know and you probably can't imagine that they wouldn't happen without their producer.
written by Andreas Andreou
ALICE COOPER - Trash (1989)
Producer: Desmond Child
Recorded in various locations from New York to Los Angeles, and from Boston to New Jersey, Trash started taking shape shortly after completing the tour for Alice Cooper's previous album Raise Your Fist and Yell. While at that time Alice Cooper (born Vincent Damon Furnier) was working with musicians like Kane Roberts and Kip Winger, Alice decided to make a commercial full comeback so he needed the assistance and the Midas' touch of Desmond Child. He knew his songwriting skills in hit singles from bands like Bon Jovi, so he needed someone like him to take care of his next album and lead him to mainstream success.
With a new main recording line-up and a company of special guests contributing backing vocals, like Steven Tyler, Jon Bon Jovi, Kip Winger, and adding a few guitar parts from people like Joe Perry, Richie Sambora, Steve Lukather and Kane Roberts, someone might say that Trash would be destined to be a huge commercial success. No, this wouldn't be possible without Desmond Child. After all, Alice Cooper's next album Hey Stoopid had more bigger names as special guests, a bigger songwriting team but didn't have Desmond Child leading so it didn't even come close to the commercial success of Trash.
So what Desmond Child did for Trash? Well, besides producing the album and giving that awesome sound, he co-wrote 9 out of the album's 10 songs!
Alice Cooper (the band) released the first album Pretties for You in 1969 and after a few albums as a band, starting with Welcome to My Nightmare in 1975, Alice Cooper-the band, became Alice Cooper-the solo artist. However, his early '80s albums, Special Forces, Zipper Catches Skin and DaDa, were misguided and marked his "blackout" period since Alice Cooper doesn't really remember them. Or he just doesn't want to talk about them.
After a short period in hiatus, Alice Cooper's Constrictor (1986) and Raise Your Fist and Yell (1987) added a metal edge and marked the artist's turn in the path of hard rock, glam, hair metal and heavy metal, the way it was played that time in the United States. But those albums seemed like presenting a caricature figure of Alice Cooper with certain limitations and without any radio-friendly big hit. It was Trash though, with the addictive, catchy and "candy" songs and sound that was the huge success needed and introduced Alice Cooper to a wider new audience. Many of them didn't even know him before, in a similar case like Whitesnake's same-titled 1987 album. There were many times that younger people thought Trash was his first album but Alice Cooper finally had a hit in the '80s!
The album's first single "Poison", dominated the charts, radio and TV music shows, while there were three more singles ("Bed of Nails", "House of Fire", "Only My Heart Talkin'") but also one of the album's highlights, "Hell Is Living Without You", that besides Desmond Child, it is co-written by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, that worked with Desmond Child in Bon Jovi's hits like "You Give Love a Bad Name" and "Livin' on a Prayer", among others. Desmond Child was also responsible for a few of those album's guests, since he had worked with them and co-wrote a few of their biggest hits.
Trash is the album that brought Alice Cooper back in the frontline and the album's legacy kept him there for three decades, even if he rarely performs many songs from that album nowadays, like it's not his album, despite being his ultimate mainstream success. Except "Poison", of course, and "Bed of Nails" following.
5 more super hits Desmond Child co-wrote: KISS - "I Was Made for Lovin' You" (1979), AEROSMITH - "Angel" (1987), JOAN JETT & THE BLACKHEARTS - "I Hate Myself for Loving You" (1988), BON JOVI - "Bad Medicine" (1988), MICHEAL BOLTON - "How Can We Be Lovers?" (1989).
BAD COMPANY - Holy Water (1990)
Producer: Terry Thomas
The legendary British band was disbanded after the release of Rough Diamonds (1982) but sometime in 1985, the original members Mick Ralphs (guitar) and Simon Kirke (drums) were working on a new project. At that time, their record label requested to use the Bad Company name, so they asked singer Paul Rodgers to join them again. However, Rodgers was committed to a new project (The Firm) and Brian Howe stepped in. With Howe on vocals, Bad Company released Fame and Fortune in 1986 but after that, the band started working with producer and songwriter Terry Thomas for the next three albums.
Terry Thomas, replacing producer Keith Olsen, brought to Bad Company the best possible sound for such a band and he also offered them his songwriting skills. Holy Water was a success and reached platinum status.
What Terry Thomas did for Holy Water? He is credited as a co-writer in 11 out of the 13 songs of the album but he actually wrote most of the music and he also played guitar and hammond organ on the album. Many people consider him as a regular member of the band while in the album's credits you can find his name in the "additional musicians".
Original members Mick Ralphs and Simon Kirke were somehow stepped aside and the album sounded mostly as a Brian Howe & Terry Thomas collaboration. Ralphs even refused to follow the band on the road after the album's release since it seemed he lost the "battle of egos", even if his exit was supposed to be for "personal and family issues". Someone might say that this isn't a "true" Bad Company album, just like the albums bands like Black Sabbath and Riot released the same year.
Despite its success, Holy Water and the Howe-era is underrated in the band's history, where most people have connected them with singer Paul Rodgers. A great singer who falsely believes that only he should be considered as the Bad Company voice.
Recently, singer Brian Howe died (May 6, 2020, aged 66) and after a few days, Paul Rodgers posted a video on social media, saying that he is alive and the Bad Company fans should not worry, without mentioning anything about Brian Howe. That's one of 2020's biggest fouls in the music industry.
5 more albums with Terry Thomas' credits: TOMMY SHAW - Ambition (1987), BAD COMPANY - Dangerous Age (1988), FASTWAY - On Target (1988), FOREIGNER - Unusual Heat (1991), BAD COMPANY - Here Comes Trouble (1992).
DEF LEPPARD - Hysteria (1987)
Producer: Robert John "Mutt" Lange
Def Leppard's previous album Pyromania (1983) was an important step away from their earlier heavy metal and NWOBHM roots. Pyromania was a massive success but in the mind of Mutt Lange, the next album would be "bigger" and larger-than-life in all terms. An album where every song could be a hit single that could dominate the charts.
Hysteria's recording is one of those long and multiple sessions that create those stories and myths we love to read. Started in early 1984, it was completed in the beginning of 1987, with Mutt Lange checking and arranging every small detail. The kind of details that most musicians and many producers wouldn't mind to look for or think about. Songs like "Animal" took up to three years to be completed! At some point in the beginning though, Mutt Lange had such a full schedule, that producer Jim Steinman was brought to work with the band. Lange returned in the producer's chair for Leppard very soon.
In such a monumental and historical release you can also find traces of drama, adventure, even tragedy. In the end of 1984, drummer Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car crash but he was determined to continue playing and his bandmates stood next to him. Working with a drum company, they designed a custom drum kit that was also offered to the band and producer Mutt Lange a new dimension to work with. Hysteria was also the last Def Leppard album of guitarist Steve Clark who died in 1991, before the release of the next Leppard studio album, Adrenalize.
What Mutt Lange did for Hysteria? He is credited as a co-writer in all of the album's songs, where he added the "hit" factor. Even the few heavy metal traces someone could find in Pyromania, now they're completely gone. Or they just entered a "pop" frame. Mutt Lange was the one who arranged and added the multiple vocal harmonies, adding background vocals anywhere he could. And then, Lange used any available new technology and recording method, presenting an album sound no one had heard back in 1987. Lange, as a perfectionist, added the "perfect" element to Hysteria.
Mutt Lange was also asking for more songs and the running time of Hysteria is a little more than an hour. In the vinyl era, Lange predicted that compact disc will be the next format that will dominate the music market and he wanted to add more music testing the limits of the new format.
Hysteria is one of the top best-selling albums in the history of hard rock music, the multi-platinum album with the 7 singles, the album that made the term "pop metal" more popular and dominated the '80s music scene. A defining moment for the '80s mainstream hard rock / metal scene.
5 more albums "Mutt" Lange produced: AC/DC - Highway to Hell (1979), AC/DC - Back in Black (1980), FOREIGNER - 4 (1981), DEF LEPPARD - Pyromania (1983), BRYAN ADAMS - Waking Up the Neighbours (1991)
KISS - Destroyer (1976)
Producer: Bob Ezrin
Destroyer, the fourth studio album of Kiss followed the success of the Alive! live album, something that the previous three studio albums didn't reach at that time. Might be a paradox in music history that a live album (at the time of its release) is the most successful release of a band then, but it helped Kiss to establish their name as a ground-breaking live act; "the hottest band in the world".
After that success and since the live album didn't stop selling, the band decided that they will need to record their best album to date, so they will need something more, a producer that could lead them to the next level.
Bob Ezrin brought in the sound of Kiss a few special sound effects, choir and children voices, most notable on "God of Thunder" track including also an unusual drum pattern, strings and an orchestra for "Beth", a track that was supposed to be a filler, a track that Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons didn't like but ended also as a b-side at the "Detroit Rock City" single... and became one of the band's most successful songs. And that's also another paradox with a b-side used as a filler, to become a huge success.
What Bob Ezrin did for Destroyer? He was the musical director of Destroyer and besides his experimental method and techniques, he co-wrote almost all of the album's songs.
Destroyer, with the iconic cover art of Ken Kelly, was the first studio album of Kiss reaching platinum status, the studio album that established them and marked their bigger tours and stage shows. "It is a cinematic album", as Paul Stanley once said to Rolling Stone magazine, while Gene Simmons added, "Destroyer was ultimately a major leap forward for us because of Bob Ezrin. We were just knuckleheads, guys who turn it up to 11 just because we can. We didn’t know anything. We could barely tune our guitars. Before Destroyer, we just did what we did: We played, we wrote songs up to the level of our musicianship, and that was about it".
After a few more albums and the 1978 solo records, in 1981 the band worked again with Bob Ezrin. That time, Ezrin discarded their demo tracks and suggested making a concept album. Ace Frehley didn't like the idea and that also affected his position within the band. Both Stanley and Simmons agreed to do what the producer said but that second time, the result was the album Music from "The Elder", a commercial failure and Kiss didn't even tour for that album.
5 more albums Bob Ezrin produced: ALICE COOPER - Billion Dollar Babies (1973), ALICE COOPER - Welcome to My Nightmare (1975), PETER GABRIEL - Peter Gabriel I (1977), PINK FLOYD - The Wall (co-producer, 1979), PINK FLOYD - A Momentary Lapse of Reason (co-producer, 1987).
MEAT LOAF - Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell (1993)
Producer: Jim Steinman
Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell trilogy is one of the most iconic and best-selling chapters of rock and hard rock history. And while the first part, originally released in 1977, has sold more than 40,000,000 copies worldwide, the second part released in 1993 sold more than 14,000,000 copies and if you will consider the time it was released, that's a huge number!
Meat Loaf (born Marvin Lee Aday) has a great voice but truth to be told, songwriter Jim Steinman is the driving force behind his success since he wrote all the songs for the first two parts of the Bat Out of Hell trilogy. Steinman also wrote Meat Loaf's Dead Ringer and Braver Than We Are albums, while Steinman's solo album Bad for Good of 1981 was also supposed to be Meat Loaf's follow up to Bat Out of Hell. Meat Loaf was unable to sing for a short period back then, so Steinman released those songs as a solo album. However, a few of those ideas and songs were reworked and used in Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell since that was the original plan.
The album's first single "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" was edited for the video clip (directed by Michael Bay) and the single version since it's album running time is 12 minutes, but the meaning of the lyrics was always causing confusion with a man-lover that would do anything in the name of love, except "that". There are a few funny theories over the years, but most likely, it is that the man-lover "won't stop dreaming of her every night of his life".
What Jim Steinman did for Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell? Well, actually it is his album, since he wrote it and produced it. Everything was done under his command and his creativity.
Before the release of the album, a few people in the music industry thought that this was going to be a joke and Steinman with Meat Loaf won't be able to make another commercial success. They were proved wrong.
5 more albums with full or partial credits to Jim Steinman either as producer or/and composer: MEAT LOAF - Dead Ringer (1981), BONNIE TYLER - Faster Than the Speed of Night (1983), Various Artists, Soundtrack - Streets of Fire (1984), BONNIE TYLER - Secret Dreams and Forbidden Fire (1986), THE SISTERS OF MERCY - Floodland (1987).