Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wednesday's Radio Show – Steve Lillywhite

Because it's winter break week, I got a little extra time this week to spin a few tunes. Thus, the one-hour "Play It And Be Darned" radio show on music produced by Steve Lillywhite was more like 90 minutes this morning.

Which is a good thing. Because as I said yesterday, the 50-something producer has certainly been responsible for a lot of great work.

U2 –A Day Without Me (1980)
Simple Minds – Up on the Catwalk (1984)
Marshall Crenshaw – Hold It (1983)
Rolling Stones – One Hit (To The Body) (1986)
Thompson Twins – In the Name of Love (1981)
The La's–There She Goes (1991)
Talking Heads–(Nothing But) Flowers (1988)
The Pogues–If I Should Fall From Grace With God (1987)
Kirsty MacColl–They Don't Know(1995)
Peter Gabriel–No Self Control (1980)
Big Country–Wonderland (1984)
Phish–Free (1996)
Guster– All the Way Up To Heaven(1999)
Psychedelic Furs–Pretty in Pink (1981)
Joan Armatrading–The Weakness in Me (1981)
Jason Mraz –Wordplay (2005)
Counting Crows –Big Yellow Taxi (2002)
Chris Cornell–You Know My Name (2006)
U2–Beautiful Day (2000)
Big Country –The Storm (1983)

Edited on Thursday (so that the wrong information doesn't spread around the Internet): See Mr. Lillywhite's comments on this post. Though he produced releases from both Kirsty MacColl and Chris Cornell, the particular tracks listed above were not in fact produced by him. The Bond theme was done by Cornell and the movie's composer, David Arnold, while the original version of "They Don't Know" was released in 1979 – five years before the couple even met. Sorry about the confusion.

A few things of note:

•I find it interesting that other than a handful of bands (U2, Big Country, his ex-wife Kirsty MacColl, Dave Matthews Band) that he has become closely identified with, Lillywhite hasn't produced more than 1-2 albums with most artists. Most of the time, it's only a single album. Is it because his price is too high? Are his techniques too unsuited for anything more than a trial period with most artists? Is he too heavyhanded as a producer?

•Examples of the latter are both The La's (who disagreed vocally with what he did to their first and only album) and the Dave Matthews Band, whose members fired him before finishing their fourth album with him. I'd be interested in knowing how much of it is personality clashes and how much of it is their disagreement with his techniques.

•Or it could be simply a lack of time, particularly in the early days. Take a look at Lillywhite's dancecard in 1981. Among the albums to come out that year bearing his imprint: Joan Armatrading's Walk Under Ladders, The Brains' Electronic Eden, the Psychedelic Furs' Talk Talk Talk, and U2's October. In a hectic 1983 that already had included Lillywhite working with U2, Big Country and Marshall Crenshaw, Rush badly wanted him to helm Grace Under Pressure (1984), but he chose to work with Simple Minds instead.

•Lillywhite's best known for his heavy sonic layering, which is really the 80s equivalent of the Phil Spector Wall of Sound. Just listen to all those clamoring guitars on "Up on the Catwalk." On the other hand, there's the Guster tune, on the band's major label debut nine years ago. It's as gentle and simple as anything the band has done subsequently. So he's definitely not a one-trick pony in the way that Spector was.

•Though people most closely associate early U2 with "I Will Follow," the fact remains that "A Day Without Me" was the band's very first single off Boy. It was also the first song Lillywhite recorded with U2. I listen to it and I think A Flock of Seagulls, but it is actually a song Bono wrote about the suicide of former Joy Division vocalist Ian Curtis.

•A few weeks ago, I dissed the Rolling Stones as I talked about how Mick Jagger's voice grates on my nerves at times. But then I listen to something like "One Hit (To the Body)" and I do a little reconsidering. This is definitely Mick at his best. I love the stripped-down raw power and energy of this song, which Lillywhite is able to bring to the forefront.

•According to what I've read, Lillywhite met MacColl during Simple Minds' Sparkle in the Rain recording sessions. They married later that year and divorced in 1994. Still, Lillywhite produced her career-spanning compilation Galore the next year, which included her version of "They Don't Know" – a song of hers that Tracey Ullman had turned into a big hit. MacColl, who never was as popular as she should have been, was killed in a bizarre boating accident off Cozumel in 2000.


steve lillywhite said...

hi there, this is steve lillywhite( i have my name in google news alert!) thank you so much for the show. it is quite humbling ! a couple of mistakes though, i did not in fact produce "they dont know" and "you know my name " by chris cornell was done before i got involved wth him. as for doing more than one cd, i think i have in fact done more 2nd and third albums than most people. u2 joan armatrading,big country, psychadelic furs, dave matthews band, and soon will be matchbox twenty. as for the la's, they have not made a 2nd one in 17 years !!

thank you again Steve

Rob said...

I am incredibly honored by your presence on the site. And I stand corrected: The extensive interview with Chris Cornell about working with about you omitted the fact that he had recorded the James Bond theme before you got involved. And the important thing is that I played one of your ex-wife's best songs, right?

The imminent Matchbox 20 retrospective (with some your newly newly produced tracks) was the subject of some discussion on today's show.

Thanks again for commenting and making corrections. Someday, I'd love to hear what went behind the scenes of "The Crossing" – still one of my favorite 80s albums and one of the most unique sounding of the decade.