Music biographer Jake Brown’s latest book, Behind the Boards: The Making of Rock ‘N’ Roll’s Greatest Records Revealed, takes the reader behind the scenes of some of the greatest albums ever created. Told through the eyes of the industry’s most famous producers, engineers and songwriters, from Butch Vig (Nirvana, Garbage) to Bob Ezrin (Kiss, Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd), this book recaps the history and creative process of these records, and answers the constant “How did he do that?” question.
Each chapter highlights a different producer, with emphasis on their contributions to the modern music scene and their work with specific artists. It’s a fascinating read with plenty of stories and unknown facts about the records we know and love.
The book starts with a profile of Jack Douglas, the producer of many Aerosmith albums, including its latest, Music From Another Dimension. While the first half of the chapter centers around Douglas’ efforts with the group, it also delves into his work with John Lennon on Double Fantasy, the last album Lennon would record before his death in 1980.
On that recording process, Brown quotes Douglas saying, “He (Lennon) gave me these raw demo tapes he’d made in Bermuda, and I would go to the studio, do the arrangements, and then come back to the Dakota after rehearsals, and play him the rehearsal tapes, and he would make a few suggestions. Then the next day, I would put those in motion in rehearsal, because the band didn’t know whose album they were making; it was total secrecy.”
For hard rock and metal fans, Brown features a chapter on Bob Rock and his work with artists like Metallica, Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi and the Cult. The chapter specifically emphasizes on Rock’s work with Mötley Crüe on its last album of the 1980s. “With Dr. Feelgood, I was just trying to make everything as big and powerful as I possibly could. My production at that point was more to do with sonics; being in the ‘80s, production for the most part, a lot of times was about sonics, about the sound,” Rock says.
The books also talks with songwriter/producers like Linda Perry, who has written some of the most famous pop songs for artists like Gwen Stefani, Pink and Christina Aguilera. In her interview, Perry discusses the emotional side of writing a song, only to hand it over to another musician for the final recording.
“There’s this song (Christina Aguilera) has, her single “Hurt,” that song I wrote about my dad. I had lost my father a year ago, and it hadn’t even been a year when I did that song, and she came to me, and had these two chords that her and this guy wrote, and she was like ‘I really like these chords, can you turn this into a song? I want the song to be about losing someone.’…I was going to be stubborn and just give her a mediocre make-up-what-I-think-loss-is, and pretend there was no emotion behind it whatsoever, and it ended up being this beautiful song about losing my dad…it’s really hard, and this is where the producer in me comes in because I have to go “Linda Perry would have never done ‘Beautiful’ that way, Linda Perry would have never done ‘Hurt’ that way.’…I have to figure out how to get her where she needs to be but still maintain the integrity and emotion , and have it sound like Christina Aguilera,” Perry explains.
Brown ends his series of profiles with a feature on Daniel Lanois, who he describes as “the ‘avant-guard’ of pop producers.” Lanois worked alongside co-producer Brian Eno to producer many of U2’s classic albums, including The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree, helping the band to hone its signature sound throughout its career. According to Lanois, “We’re lucky because they (U2) very much welcome any kinds of ideas into the studio, so they’re not so somber that they don’t just walk in and say ‘Alright, Eno, Lanois; here’s the song now, what are you guys going to do with it?’”
Brown’s Behind the Boards is a great read for all types of music fans—whether you’re into rock, pop, country, etc., he’s probably found a producer to fit your taste.