Aug 122009

In a recent thread on bands that were irrevocably weakened by the loss of a key member, Townsman jungleland2 made an interesting comment:

I too call Bullshit on Bob Stinson. Paul played most of the guitars anyway. Slim Dunlap gave them a new more textured sound. Don’t blame the strange late 80’s production of Don’t Tell al Soul..the songs are fantasic.

What interested me most was the last part, about the songs on Don’t Tell a Soul being “fantastic” despite the album’s generally acknowledged bad production. I’ve never been a Replacements fan, so I’m not equipped to argue whether the songs are on par with their more beloved works or not, but I’m scratching my head at the moment, asking myself if I own any records with songs that I believe are “fantastic” despite production that I don’t like. If I like the production of an album I feel fit to judge the quality of the songwriting, however if I really don’t like the production of a record I don’t have a clue as to how to judge the songwriting.

I’m reminded of the thing people say about flawed films that have “great scripts.” Do these people get a copy of the script handed to them when they sit down to watch a film? Why can’t I ever tell anyone about the “great script” behind a poorly made film? I know a lot more about music than I do film, but I wonder: Am I so tied to the sound of records that I can’t tell if the song itself is actually good? How about you?

If you have examples of fantastic songwriting smothered by production you can’t stand (as opposed to lo-fi production, for instance, that you may like despite it being considered technically deficient), I’d love to hear them. Most importantly, for my growth as a human being, I’d like to hear how you managed to discern the nuggets of nutrition within the aural turds.

I look forward to your comments!


  50 Responses to “What Is Fantastic Songwriting and How Can I Spot it on an Album with a Production That I Cannot Stomach?”

  1. Rod Stewart’s
    Baby Jane
    Young Turks
    Tonight I’m Yours
    Some Guys Have All the Luck

    All great songs with the most bombastic 80s production gated drums and cheezedick Roland bell sounds.

    If these same songs were recorded by Rod with a rock and roll band, I think many would agree that the lyrics and melodies are pretty cool, no?

  2. I like Cry for Love by Iggy Pop but the recording sounds like shit. The 80s were a horrible decade for production

    When in doubt, here’s how you can tell a good song marred by bad production: Play the song on an acoustic guitar. If it sounds good, it’s a good song.

  3. Also, Change Reaction by Robert Hazard and the Heroes.

  4. I could almost say ANY record on a major label from 1984 – 1988

    That snare sound (that EVIL Gated Snare), that synth sound.. every band was trying to sound new wave or at least modern, even when it was clearly not the right way to go.

    My #1 pick — XTC Oranges & Lemons. It took me months to submit to the production for what it was instead of just hating it for not sounding like Skylarking or Dukes of Stratosphear

    Jason & the Scorchers – Still Standing, Cheap Trick’s one with The Flame, Brian Setzer’s Live Nude Guitars, The Cars Heartbeat City, Mick Jagger’s She’s the Boss, ZZ Top Afterburner, The Power Station, Eric Clapton’s Journeman….ok, not GREAT records, but this is that overall production sound that sucked the life out of many better records of the time (which I can’t think of the GREAT example of right now).

  5. “if I really don’t like the production of a record I don’t have a clue as to how to judge the songwriting”

    One way is to see the band play it live. I hate the Brendan O Brien produced Springsteen records for their “sound” but found that many of the new songs were rather good live.

    My band covered “Tearing Us Apart” by Clapton & Tina Turner and with no gated snare or cheezy keyboards it kinda sounded cool.(not so cool that we ever played it again, but cool nonetheless)

    The Acoustic treatment is always a good judge of “song” (where MTV unplugged showed us how bad some of the hairband stuff was..and how surprisingly good Alice In Chains, STP, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, George Michael, Black Crowes, REM were)

  6. BigSteve

    I don’t think I agree with the acoustic guitar method of judging songwriting. To me all that tells you is that the song works when accompanied by just an acoustic guitar. I’m not at all sure that that’s THE way to prove a song is good.

  7. Mr. Moderator

    I’ve got to run to a meeting, but at a quick glance these responses have opened a major case of heartache. More later.

  8. The acoustic treatment is a pretty good way to test the goodness of a song or not. However, one might argue that there are some crappy songs with GREAT production.

    I generally agree though that the 80s gave us alot of lousy sounding records. Some decent songs were hampered with timely production.


  9. Jungleland2,

    I just want to congratulate you for having the worst taste in music known to man. And that’s saying a lot. BigSteve formerly held that honor. I thought no one could possibly go that low. You have proven me wrong. Well done.

    This isn’t a bunch of nonsense either. It’s always been my belief that the individual is far more interesting than the follower, regardless of how foul smelling the individual’s beliefs may be. You certainly tread a path where no one has gone before. To suggest that Jagger’s “She’s the Boss” LP may have been something other than the turd it’s univerally seen as is frightening to say the least.

    That said, I agree that hearing an acoustic demo, be it on guitar, piano, lute, etc., is indeed the best way to judge the merits of how good a song might indeed be. As far as BigSteve’s comments are concerned, completely disregard them. I can’t recall a single time in which any of his commentary proved to be the least bit beneficial to any exhange of ideas.

    E. Pluribus

  10. “However, one might argue that there are some crappy songs with GREAT production.”

    Yeah, but the crappy songs with great productions aren’t great songs, are they? And those kinds of songs don’t hold up over time.

    I’m not saying that the Acoustic Guitar Method is the only way to identify a good song marred by bad production, it’s just the easiest way.

    For the record, I generally don’t like listening to songs that don’t have a full band. I’m just saying that if a song sounds good unadorned, but the produced version of it sounds bad, it’s the fault of the gated drums and the Yamaha DX7, and not the songwriter.

  11. The first album that comes to mind is Marshall Crenshaw’s Field Day, only because it received a critical pounding due to the production – but I’m not sure I actually mind it that much.

    I’m a fan of Mitchell Froom, and of Richard Thompson, but I’m not so sure they worked well together.

  12. If I like the production of an album I feel fit to judge the quality of the songwriting, however if I really don’t like the production of a record I don’t have a clue as to how to judge the songwriting.

    I come at it from the opposite direction: If I like the songwriting enough, I can generally get around less-than-stellar production. In some cases, I can eventually appreciate and even love “bad” production.

    Most importantly, for my growth as a human being, I’d like to hear how you managed to discern the nuggets of nutrition within the aural turds.

    I like songs. I like interesting melodies and lyrics. There are different ways to achieve this. You can have very daring, extravagant melodies, or minimal ones. You can have very obviously literate lyrics, or seemingly simple ones that in fact contain perhaps surprising depths. When I say “I like songs,” that’s not just a way of saying I like “pop” but not “rock.” Songwriting is not the end-all be-all of music; it’s certainly a lousy way to analyze, say, latter-day Coltrane, or a ’68 Grateful Dead show I found myself enjoying this week. But I’d argue lots of genres — be it Dylanesque folk-rock or AC/DC-like rock, have certain songwriting, let’s call them “genre conventions.” The conventions can be adhered to, subtly subverted or even bypassed entirely. There are lots of possibilities, that’s the cool thing about songwriting.

    I have a lot more to say about this, but I’ll end with this for now: I’m not sure what’s more depressing: the idea that bass lines and drum parts can be precisely mapped out and dissected — and god forbid if your parts don’t hold up — but good songwriting is a completely elusive and unquantifiable; or the fact that this thread is already about DX7s and gated drums. Did Simon LeBon steal everyone’s girlfriend here in the ’80?

  13. E –

    I did not mean to suggest that those were great records (or even good ones), they were just the first ones with that horrible 80’s production to come to mind (something I saw as immediately wrong when these came out)

    I am sure my list of actual great 80’s records with bad/annoying production will be slightly less frightening (but again, maybe not 😉 )

  14. Mr. Moderator

    “Crappy” songs with great productions certainly can result as GREAT songs. Is there really anything to merit a lot of bubblegum music? Have you ever heard people try to re-create old Motown songs? The originals are produced just right, no matter how simplistic and dumb some of them might be, but get the production vibe wrong and they’re just passable show tunes. Maybe it’s just me and my dependence on SOUNDS again, but I really like hearing something cool in the production. I even like a couple of Prince songs thanks to their production over all the rest of his shit.

  15. alexmagic

    There are Guided By Voices songs that sound like they were recorded in a shoe box – with the shoes still in the box – that are still recognizable to me as great songs.

    I hate the production on Oranges and Lemons, but I think it’s also their weakest collection of material, and the handful of really good songs do succeed in spite of the production. Garden of Earthly Delights and The Loving have the same aural novacaine sheen as the rest of the songs, but I can still hear something I like in the former and the latter just powers right past the production. Mayor Of Simpleton actually seems to have been written to capitalize on the sound of the album.

    I can’t decide if I agree on this “boil it down to the acoustic version” idea. To take a song that I’m assuming everyone here can agree on (maybe I’m wrong) and most of us have heard at various stages: You can hear “it” at every stage of Strawberry Fields Forever’s development, but does that acoustic demo of just Lennon playing really give the full picture of how great a song that was going to be as a finished product? I think that’s a case of the production being intrinsic to the greatness of the song.

  16. Mr. Moderator

    Nice Simon LeBon line, Oats!

    I’m happy to stay away from ’80s productions for now, but for many of us they do represent a low point in production. There’s something about that style of production that screams over the song itself. To tie this into Van Halen, I’m now recalling that Aztec Camera version of “Jump,” which stripped away all the bad ’80s nonsense and taught me that there was an enjoyable song in there. Sometimes, though, the “stripped-down” method only reveals more badness.

  17. I LOVE Cry for Love
    and Lucky at Love

  18. Jungleland2,

    Thanks for the response. I misread your post. My apologies. That said, my comments regarding BigSteve’s inability to contribute anything worthwhile still stand.

    When you get a chance, please post your 10 80s favorites that suffer from bad production. I’d very interested in seeing that list.

    E. Pluribus

  19. saturnismine

    there’s no *trick* (as in “try hearing them play it live” or “try listening to an acoustic version of it”) to being able to tell a good song despite crappy production.

    if it’s a good song, you *feel* it no matter the era or taste that governs its presentation. it cuts through the crap and gets you viscerally.

  20. …and one more thing, Jungleland2,

    As I’ve stated previously, I appreciate your commentary and respect your point of view, even though I find it horrifying at times.

    Because that respect is there, I want you to know that I think the Replacements stink worse than a bowel movement wrought from the remanants of multiple cans of National Bohemian, crabs, and deviled eggs. I have yet to hear a single song from that pack of assholes that’s even as good as a Royal Guardsmen B side. From what I can tell, and truth be told my research has been somewhat scant (it’s hard to go the extra mile for something so bad), too much Replacements time was spent on the particulars of being seen as cool when that time should have been spent on learning the actual ins and outs of decent songwriting, whatever that actually entails (good points, Oats!) Wilco, as I’ve suggested previously, suffers similarly.

    I’m still waiting for someone to post the one track that will prove me wrong in my assessment of their so called talents.

    As far as acoustic demos are concerned, many do indeed prove that a turd can be polished.

    E. Pluribus

  21. “Is there really anything to merit a lot of bubblegum music?”

    Merit? I don’t know, let me slip on my labcoat and conduct a thorough assessment.

    I love the 70’s am pop on which I was raised. I’m not sure how you are measuring the “Crap Factor” of songs but let’s take Kung Fu Fighting for example. I love that song. The production, and specifically the rhythm guitar, plays a big part. That song would sound pretty stupid on an acoustic guitar because the song itself is just kind of stupid. Dressing it up makes it a better listen, not a better song.

    Now take Tears for Fears. They blow. And so does their production. If you stripped away the ghastly 80’s production of Shout, you would still be left with a stone cold turd.

    Finally, in Alexmagic’s example, Strawberry Fields sounds great on just an acoustic. The production might make it sound even better but it stands on its own unadorned.

  22. Mr. Moderator

    cdm, “Kung Fu Fighting” is a great example of what I’m trying to get at. That’s a pretty solid song in my book…BECAUSE of the accumulation of sounds! No one says, “Let’s strip down Beethoven’s 9th and see if it really stands up as a composition when played by a quartet!” Because it was written for a lot of people to play simultaneously, it is what it is. Similarly, I hear modern-day pop songs of whatever genre the same way. How about that stupid song from the same time in our childhoods, “You Sexy Thing?” RE-TAR-DED song without the accumulation of sounds, don’t you think? If Richard Thompson decided to “bless” us with some semi-serious, scholarly acoustic version of the song it would probably suck. It needs all those sounds working just right. On the other hand, when the sounds that make up a song aren’t working right, I have serious trouble believing that there’s a good song behind it. Of course, there are rare occasions when I get to hear the song in a new light. I’m curious how others work this out, that’s all.

    Another way of looking at this is songwriters who can’t sing. How did anyone sit down and listen to Kris Kristofferson croak through one of his songs in that godawful voice and be able to discern the melody? But they did, and god bless them! Man, “Me and Bobby McGee” must be a tremendous song at its root. Have you ever heard Kristofferson sing it? At least Burt Bacharach and Hal David could set out sheet music for Dionne Warwick and have her sing their songs in that disciplined fashion, which probably didn’t vary one bit from the notation.

  23. I can’t tell for sure but I think that we’re agreeing in principle but just calling it different things.

    The point is that “Kung Fu Fighting” as a finished product is a great listen, but not a great song. If you heard Kris Kristopherson singing Me and Bobbie McGee when he was just a helicopter pilot, I’ll bet you would still have been able to recognize the potential. On the other hand, if you heard an acoustic demo of Carl Douglas doing KFF, you probably wouldn’t have been quite as impressed.

  24. Hank Fan

    Changing the topic a bit: What do you guys think are some of the 1980’s records with great production? That decade (my decade) really suffered on the production end of things. I’d be curious to know what records the experts (you guys) think really stood out from the crowd.

    Now back to the topic: One indication of a great song that has nothing at all to do with production is great lyrics. As far as the music is concerned, we’re talking about rock. It’s mostly just a bunch of major chords. A good line is worth a lot.

  25. Hank Fan

    Also, I would love to hear an accoustic demo of Kung Fu Fighting. That song’s got a ton of great lines.

  26. While I don’t agree great songwriting is absolutely essential to making great records, I think there is some merit to the idea that a great song will work with just a guitar and vocal. I think of songwriting as the balancing of chords, melody and lyrics in a way that hangs together perfectly but provides enough surprises to grab attention. The format of rhythm instrument and vocal specifically highlights just those elements.

    I agree with Jim that there are a significant number of GREAT Motown records built on relatively pedestrian songs. I Can’t Help Myself is pretty much all about the bass line, for example.

    Finally, Strawberry Fields is a great song to me, in a way that many of McCartney’s more sophisticated but somewhat derivative efforts efforts, it is in a universe of its own. I can’t really name a style of song that came before that it really feels like. Even unadorned, it’s got an natural yet unusual vibe. Lennon’s unique songwriting voice is at the crux of his Rock Superpowers.

  27. “You Sexy Thing” and “Kung Fu Fighting” may have started out as basic piano demos highlighting the rhythm and hooks that make the songs so appealing. Again, I can’t speak for all, but the demos were most probably interesting enough to capture the imaginations of the rest of the players who worked on the final tracks. They actually might have been pretty neat as demos.

    Why I bring this up is because most of us are guitar oriented, and the guitar is a somewhat limited rhythmic instrument. There’s only so much that can be heard from a guitar demo, despite the fact that I love listening to the things. The piano is a whole ‘nother story. A few years ago, I heard an interview with Allen Toussaint in which he played his piano demo for a pretty basic Lee Dorsey number. I think it might have been “Working in a Coal Mine”. I was overwhelmed by how much was going on with the simple framework of the song, based on the demo. That taught me A LOT about what makes a good song, rhythm being vitally important.

    E. Pluribus

  28. My RTH chops are rusty after a few months of not checking in, but I’m definitely siding with Oats on this one. A lot of stellar songs can still come through a less than stellar production. And of course stellar production can’t save a song that sucks in the first place.

    I won’t go so far as to say that production is no more than an ad-on; it’s an integral piece, or at least is in those pieces in which quality of production is a possible element: to go looking for it in early recorded music is a valueless distraction. But I hardly think of it as the whole show; it’s no more than another relevant piece of information as to why a given song works or won’t. To foreground it as the make or break element of a song seems off to me, and it certainly makes no sense to say that it’s impossible to evaluate the quality of a song with poor production. That’s like saying you can’t hear what another person says if you find their voice annoying–while that can be a distraction, you still do hear them.

  29. 2000 Man

    Well, I can’t play anything, so unfortunately I can’t hear acoustic treatments of many songs, so if I think they’re swell then it’s because I have lousy taste. I can never figure out how musicians hear songs or understand what their part would be in an acoustic demo, anyway. I bet I’d be less blown away by songs I like if it did understand that.

    Anyway, I agree with sat. I can get past crappy production. Something like the noise Times New Viking purposely buries their seemingly pretty good songs under is the exception for me, but Steve Lilywhite’s horrid recording and looping of Charlie Watts on Dirty Work I can overlook because I like a lot of the songs. The bad songs have nowhere to hide because any subtleties Charlie may have added are masked by Lilywhite’s gigantic drum production, but I can still enjoy One Hit (To the Body) and Had It With You because they feel good to me.

    Hankfan, I like the sound of The Stones’ Undercover album a lot. It’s still got drums that sound pretty normal, and the guitars sound great. there’s not many 80’s albums I can say that about. My other choice for a terrific production from the 80’s off the top of my head is Keith Richards’ first solo album,Talk Is Cheap. The cd sounds great, but the lp is sublime. I have to get a new one because mine is apparently stolen, but I used to use it to show off new stereo stuff.

    Eplurb, The Replacements certainly aren’t Dave Clark 5 ish. They weren’t invented so your grandma would have some rock n roll to understand while the grandkids had a dance party in her basement. They were for noisy kids that liked to drink. Kids that didn’t care if the 60’s ever happened or not. Actually they may be the only generation so far that doesn’t care what happened in that decade anymore than any other decade. That attitude is half of what makes the band so great. They knew what happened, and they still sang The Great Bob Dylan’s song as “Like a Rolling Pin.”

    Then again, since I’ve fulfilled my Hear Factor duties, I’m listening to Bachman Turner Overdrive, so what the hell do I know?

  30. saturnismine

    tracy ullman’s version of kirsty maccoll’s “they don’t know” is a shittily produced version of a great song. the song is so great, that you don’t care about the shitty production.

  31. BigSteve

    I just find the premise of this discussion dubious — the idea that over here you’ve got a song, which has lyrics, a melody, and a chord pattern than can be strummed on an acoustic guitar, and over there you’ve got production and arrangements, and the latter are applied to the former with varying degrees of success.

    What would an acoustic demo of James Brown’s Get Up Feel Like Being a Sex Machine consist of? I don’t think you could do it. Most groove oriented music, late Talking Heads for example, is not made from songs that are dressed up with ‘production’ after the fact. I thought everyone knew that many artists used the studio as an instrument nowadays, and that there’s a lot of music where rhythm and texture are what’s really happening.

    Obviously there are songs that we’re used to hearing as big productions that would still work as scaled back solo performances. But the idea that all good music must function that way is a very narrow-minded approach.

  32. I think what makes Kung Fu Fighting work (and I have actually thought about this before) is the vocal. The guy is totally feeling it! Listen to his ad libs on the outro. Most people focus in on the vocal when they listen (maybe not us types, but the average Joe) so an engaging vocal can make a huge difference. I think the Wallflowers cover of “Heroes” proves this. Without Bowie’s passionate vocal, you’re left with what is actually a boring song.

  33. BigSteve: I can’t speak for other but I’m not saying it’s either one way or the other.

    Hankfan: Great sounding 80’s albums include Let It Be by the Replacements, and Swordfishtrombones, Raindogs, and Franks Wild Years by Tom Waits.

    HVB: Where are you for this discussion?

  34. I wouldn’t exactly call myself an expert when it comes to things technical about rock recordings (in fact, I wouldn’t call myself an expert about them at all. All heart is all I got), but ever since I was a kid, I’ve been nagged by a strange feeling–a guilty one, almost–and this thread may actually be the place where I can finally give voice to it, lol. I am hopelessly in love with The Doors’ LA Woman, but John Densmore’s drums on that record have always sounded to me like he was very deliberately knocking around a pancake box (contrast that with the firecracker snaring you hear on a track like “Break on Thru” off the first album), and the treatment to Morrison’s voice made him sound like he was in the constant throes of constipation throughout the entire undertaking (or at least squatting rather ingloriously over a toilet for some other reason). And I know that all the bios of Morrison say this was necessary because he had fucked up his God-given talent so much, but yet and still…

    However, again, an absolutely brilliant record (with a few turkeys), and among one of my favorite albums of not only theirs, but of anyone’s. Don’t know how they pulled it off, but they did. I wear it with pride: pancake box, the crapper, all of it. 🙂


  35. When we talk about bad production, are we talking about poorly recorded stuff (including lo-fi), or do we mean once-trendy hallmarks of hi-tech productions that have aged poorly?

  36. Hank Fan

    cdm – Great call on the Waits’ albums. I always loved the playing on those records, but the production is fantastic too.

  37. Mr. Moderator

    Oats, I tried to make it clear in the title of this thread and in my later note that I’m not talking – necessarily – about lo-fi recordings. I’m talking about music with production that YOU (OR I) CANNOT STOMACH. Some, for instance, may not have the stomach for close-mic’ced studio sounds of the late-70s, like Steely Dan’s last few albums. Others may not have the stomach for albums that are lo-fi. Others may not have the stomach for tinny ’60s pop singles. And so forth. I don’t want us to assume there’s any GOOD or BAD production. I want us to discuss how we might manage to tell that a song is well written when we have to fight through production that is – TO US – sickening.

    BigSteve, nice points. You get what I’m saying about this whole “sound” issue over songwriting, at least in some instances.

  38. mikeydread

    Late to the party but I would like to nominate John Hiatt’s All of a Sudden, a 1982 lp produced by Tony Visconti. There are some half-decent songs buried buried somewhere under all that keyboard treacle. I Look for Love, My Edge of the Razor and Some Fun Now could stand a makeover. It’s as though Huey Lewis set out to cover Gary Numan.
    No wonder that success remained a stranger until his sound dried out and the songwriting could shine through.

    Presumably the sound they (Geffen-Visconti-Hiatt) were aiming for was just the ticket at the time, but I suspect that the gloss had come off before it even left the showroom. Thank heavens he survived it.

  39. hey Hankfan,
    Here’s my list of especially well produced 80s albums:
    Police-Zenyatta Mondatta
    Clash-Combat Rock
    Japan-Gentlemen Take Polaroids
    AC DC-Back in Black
    Pet Shop Boys-Actually
    Motley Crue-Shout at the Devil
    Duran Duran-Rio
    Iggy Pop-New Values&Lust for Life
    Van Halen Women & Children First
    Ozzy Osbourne-Blizzard of Oz
    Michael Jackson Thriller&Off the Wall
    Guns&Roses-Appetite for Destruction
    Midnight Oil-Deisel&Dust
    Love and Rockets Express
    Siouxie&The Banshees-Tinderbox
    Morrissey-Viva Hate
    i could keep going for a while

  40. Gotcha, Mr. Mod. However, I do think there is something of a false binary here in boiling things down to “production” or/versus “songwriting.” There are many other factors that help make an album good or great. In particular, I’d implore RTH to consider, once in a while, the intangible positive qualities, the things that just can’t be lab-coated into submission.

  41. 2000 Man

    Oats, I’m with you on the intangibles. But the question is valid. As the week has progressed and I’ve been allowed to listen to something besides my first Hear Factor (which we’re starting anew already?), a song came to mind that I’d hardly think you could screw up to the point it would be unlistenable. That would be “Once Bitten Twice Shy.”

    Ian Hunter’s production of it is pretty big for its day, but it’s still got a looseness that makes it fun. He could pull it off in the enormodome and it would be one of the highlights of the night, for sure.

    Great White’s version always rubbed me the wrong way, and so much of it is really just piano, drums and vocals. A singer’s style is one thing, but I never minded the way heavy metal guys sing (or yell, whatever). But the piano sounds fake and the drums are horrid.

    I know, I just compared Ian Hunter to Great White. It’s pretty much not fair, but I always felt that if Great White hadn’t released that song when they did, they’d have probably actually had something there with a real piano and normal sounding drums. Any intangibles they may have been able to bring to the table were removed or processed away into the place where time and space forgot.

  42. Certainly the issue of production so bad that “you cannot stomach it” adds a nuance to the issue. We’re not talking about production you dislike, apparently, but production that’s quite literally so bad that you can’t stand to listen to the song at all. In which case, of course you can’t judge the songwriting.

    Still, that just begs the question of how bad the production has to be before it’s so bad that you can’t stand it.

    I doubt that anyone thinks that Husker Du records have first rate production. But they’re a band that wrote a lot of great songs. I notice the production flaws at times but then just go right back to listening. But I bet there’s a couple people on this list who might say they “cannot stomach” the Husker Due production quality.

  43. Last night, looking for ’80s albums with good production, I scrolled through my iTunes and came across The Dream Syndicate’s Days of Wine and Roses. I love this album, but not exactly for the songwriting or production, per se.

    See, I love these songs, but I don’t necessarily think of them as triumphs of songwriting, the way I might think of something by Randy Newman or Wussy or XTC. It’s more about them being the perfect vehicle for that amazing first lineup of The Dream Syndicate, and vice versa. There’s a symbiotic relationship between band and songs that’s just awesome on that album. On his new album, Joe Pernice does a mellow cover of “Tell Me When It’s Over,” and it doesn’t really work. (Although it sounded nicer when he did it solo at the Tin Angel show last Saturday.)

    And the production, on the surface, is really utilitarian. I had to look up on Wikipedia who did it — Chris D. of the Flesh Eaters. But it’s perfect — not too murky or poorly recorded, but not fussed over either. It just takes a great picture.

    Everything about this album resists proctomusicology. I love the songs, production, and musicianship. of this album, but because of the way they interact and complement each other.

  44. hey guys Les Paul died.

  45. BigSteve

    The question wasn’t whether there were good albums in the 80s, was it? I don’t want to speak for Hankfan, but I think it’s a more interesting question to ask which 80s recordings were still great despite being recorded with classic 80s production techniques. I love Days of Wine & Roses too. I think it’s one of those perfect albums where I wouldn’t change a single thing. But it’s clearly not an 80s production.

    I’d nominate Scritti Politti’s best work from the 80s as music that rises to greatness while still featuring production techniques that annoys so many people on other artists’ records of that era.

    Miles Davis agreed with me too:

    I also always loved this track:

    Major 80s Look too.

  46. “hey guys Les Paul died”

    That’s a drag, he was Great.

    I saw him at one of those Monday night shows at the Irridium in NYC in 1996 (pre-stroke). He sat in the lobby in between shows, shaking hands and signing stuff. When I got to the front of the line, he signed my Les Paul and then, with the enthusiasm of a high school kid playing his first battle of the bands, he asked if I was coming to the show. Very enthusiastic and down to earth especially considering all of his technological contributions.

  47. Since I’m in a Macca mood, I’ll throw Tug Of War in the mix of good production on an 80s album. It didn’t hurt that Macca provided a decent set of tunes to boot. Further proof would be followup/sequel: Pipes of Peace. Horrible songs, bad vibes. Then there’s Press to Play. It was all downhill. That was Hugh Padgam, right? The benchmark for 80s pop production.


  48. Clarification: Pipes of Peace isn’t ALL horrible songs. It just pales in comparison to Tug of War for me.


  49. I’ve changed my opinion…

    I was not able to come up with additional records that I could consider great AND annoyingly produced in the 1980’s. I think the bands that succumbed to the slick late 80’s production were either (a) Not great to begin with [Power Station, Glass Tiger] or (b) had past their golden era and were trying to act modern, even if they did not have the songs to back it [David Bowie’s Tonight, McCartney – Press To Play, Mick Jagger, Dylan, Hall & Oates]

    I’d put Squeeze in category b for Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti… I’d love to blame the production, but truth is the record stinks

  50. Ok, I have ONE

    Sting’s …nothing like the sun (1987)

    I would put this in line with Sting’s best work, except I can’t get past the production.

    He recorded The Soul Cages soon after (although it was released after that) and all of the production tricks were gone. The hooks were not as good but the record stands up better today by far.

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