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"As a producer, my biggest break came during working on "Watching the Detectives" and I discovered where the echo button was on the tape machine."
Despite being a fabulous song-writer, a smart quipper and passably handsome, Nick Lowe never hit stardom. Part of the reason might be that Nick, a long-time bass player, never loved the spotlight quite enough. From Kippington Lodge to Brinsley Scwharz, to Rockpile to Noise-to-Go and Little Village (and those are just the more famous ones) Nick always seemed to want to be part of, not just a band, but a team of equals. He used to seem a bit like a McCartney in search of his Lennon.
Further proof of his knack for team-work is the number of classics for which he's sat in the producers chair. Despite a catalog stacked with witty pop songs, more people probably own a song that Nick Lowe (more here) produced than one he performed. In interviews he often expresses amazement about this, as he believes he's no whiz at the mixing board. And certainly he's no sonic architect like Phil Spector or (shudder) Mutt Lange. After all, he earned his nick-name, Basher, for his recording philosophy of "bash it out now - tart it up later". But that gut-level style fit the times so perfectly and even when times changed and things got electronic ("Any barnyard horse can kick a synth" he once said) Nick always kept the songs and the people who played them right up front.
1. Graham Parker Back to Schooldays
Nick's first gig at the controls was this album, where much of his former band, Brinsley Schwarz, were now backing up this fiery little British soul-punk under the name the Rumour.
2. The Damned New Rose
Nick also produced what is commonly called the first punk rock single (which contained a love song and a Beatles cover - hmmm).
3. Snuff Rock Gobbing on Life
C.P. Lee (of Albertos Y Lost Trios Paranoias who deserve a post of their own) strikes again with first punk piss-take, which mocks the Pistols, the Damned and the Clash in a few short minutes.
4. Wreckless Eric Whole Wide World
Lowe's only production for Eric was this single, but it's a monster that will never die.
5. Elvis Costello Watching the Detectives
Lowe and Costello's partnership is another example of his ability to draw out the best in others, I mean how else can you explain how Nick produced Elvis Costello doing what many consider the definitive version of Nick's own "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding"?
6. Dr. Feelgood She's a Wind-Up
The Feelgoods may be the very embodiment of pub-rock and they certainly cranked up the tempo and the volume of what began a a bit of a laid-back movement.
7. Carlene Carter Baby Ride Easy
Johnny Cash's step-daughter (and child of country legends, June Carter and Carl Smith) married Nick Lowe who produced some hit-an-miss albums for her. Strangely, her move to Nashville, thankfully accompanied by her husband (and Tom Petty sideman), the late Howie Epstein, began her prime period.
8. Mickey Jupp Old Rock n' Roller
Jupp is another lesser pub rock vet (he did write "Switchboard Susan", which got covered by both Nick himself and the Searchers when they recorded at Dave Edmunds' Rockfield studios).
9. The Pretenders Stop Your Sobbing
I suppose there are more popular nominees for the absolute zenith of Chrissie Hynde's catalog but I'd say she's made a fine, storied career out of never quite topping this one.
10. Richard Hell Kid With the Replaceable Head
Nick produced Hell? Yup, again just the once. (The 'video' is for the Destiny Street version produced by Alan Betrock and Hell.)
11. John Hiatt Love That Harms
Nick's would have a strong hand in bringing Hiatt's taut song-writing to a broader audience but not just yet.
12. Johnny Cash Without Love
When Johnny Cash is your step-father-in-law you better write him a damn good song, you better play on it and produce it in your basement. Much later, Nick's "The Beast in Me" became the linchpin in both his and Johnny's mid-nineties comebacks.
13. Fabulous Thuderbirds Diddy
The fun-loving, crowd-pleasing retro-minded music the Brit's cheerfully call "pub rock", North Americans derisively refer to as "bar rock". This is probably because while the back-to-basics movement Nick and his contemporaries built was vital and alive, sometimes the North American equivalent sounded like paint-by-numbers boogie even when, in the Fabulous Thunderbirds case, they have Stevie Ray Vaughn's brother in the band and had some middling eighties hits.
14. Paul Carrack Don't Give My Heart a Break
It's Lowe's song-writing and production (alongside Carrack's warm vocals) that keeps this from descending into tinky eighties pop.
15. Moonlighters I Feel Like a Motor
Austin De Lone, from Eggs Over Easy, was the Yankee in pub rock's court and even in his next band, the Moonlighters, he kept a vigil for the sounds of '75.
16. The Redskins Keep on Keepin' On
Their goal was,"To sing like the Supremes and walk like the Clash" and Nick's job was to keep them from sounding like a Trotskyist version of the Commitments.
17. His Latest Flame Somebody's Gonna Get Hurt
A pretty, if lushly melodramatic, pop song that bears little evidence of Nick's tricks.
The Men They Couldn't Hang Greenback Dollar
Sure TMTCH were Pouges-ian but what a ripping version of this Hoyt Axton-via-the Kingston Trio song.
18. Katydids Lights Out (Read My Lips)
An Anglo-American folk-pop band, to whom Nick gave a bright sound, to no commercial avail.
19. Rain A Taste of Rain
Liverpudlian jangle, probably owned a lot of the same records as the guys in R.E.M.
20. Mavericks Blue Moon
The Mavericks, not a name you'd want to be pallin' around with in these post-Sarah Palin times, played country with a keen sense of history, which made them a perfect choice to do one song (again) with Nick.
Nick hasn't produced much in recent years. Since the nineties, he's focused on his ideal micro-niche as a writer and performer of tightly focused soul-country-pop songs over a four album Brentford Trilogy.
"It's either this or the biscuit factory, really."
Nick Lowe on his career
Nick Lowe on his career