Top 10 Mutt Lange Records
What do AC/DC, Def Leppard, Graham Parker and the Cars have in common? They've all had classic albums produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange. Born to German and South African parents in Zambia, Lange played guitar with several amateur bands before relocating to England in the mid-'70s and launching a production career at the age of 30. In spite of this somewhat late start, within just a few years Lange had become one of the world’s most successful and in-demand producers. Our list of the Top 10 “Mutt” Lange Records focuses on the very best of them.
One of Lange’s first assignments was resurrecting the career of British blues veterans Savoy Brown. While 1978’s Savage Return didn’t exactly burn up the charts or light up radio request lines, it did reinstate the group’s credibility and ignite a respectable ‘80s comeback -- not to mention it extended the band’s career viability behind eternal main man Kim Simmonds that continues to this day.
After he was universally recognized for his work with a variety of artists throughout the '80s, Lange helped Bryan Adams get his career back on track following a major creative and commercial stumble on 1987’s Into the Fire. Waking Up the Neighbors may have relied on too many ballads, but it also contained a handful of catchy rockers. It ended up selling 10 million copies across the globe.
None of Lange’s chart-topping productions may have come to pass without the résumé-building work he put in, way back in 1976, on behalf of critically acclaimed pub rockers Graham Parker and the Rumour. Parker’s breakthrough sophomore album, Heat Treatment, clearly benefited from Lange's commercial touch when it crashed onto the charts -- even if some critics complained that the producer had tamed Parker’s emotional performance style in order to get there.
After achieving massive success with AC/DC (see elsewhere on our list of the Top 10 Mutt Lange Records), the producer could pretty much work with anyone he damn well pleased. But in 1981 he decided to mold a scrappy new British metal band by the name of Def Leppard into global superstars. Even though their first collaboration, High ‘n’ Dry, stops short of polishing the young quintet’s chiseled hard-rock edges, it set the stage for the more refined and mature pop-metal sound that, in years to come, would define the sound of ‘80s rock.
No other band besides the Police transitioned between the ‘70s and ‘80s more efficiently than the Cars. But after striking New Wave gold with each of their first four LPs, the overworked Bostonians were fraying at the seams by 1984. So in swooped Lange to the rescue, and the respect he commanded duly forced the squabbling band to focus its talents long enough to deliver the hit-packed, multi-million-selling Heartbeat City.
After initially tapping Meat Loaf collaborator Jim Steinman to produce their fourth album, Def Leppard came to their senses and called in Lange to complete the record that would become Hysteria. It was well worth the three-year delay, since the quintet walked away with the quintessential state-of-the-art pop-metal record of the era, melding impeccable songcraft to cutting-edge technology. It ended up selling more than 15 million copies worldwide over the years.
The analog purity of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell sounds 100 years removed, not a mere eight, from Hysteria’s digital advancements (see No. 5 on our list of the Top 10 Mutt Lange Records). That’s as much a testament to the producer's range as it is to his skills as a persuasive studio diplomat. Not just anyone could have persuaded Australia’s obstinately no-fuss hard rockers to make the small but significant recording and arrangement adjustments necessary to streamline their bruising, three-chord songs. It took AC/DC’s career to the next level.
Like the Cars (see No. 6 on our list of the Top 10 Mutt Lange Records), Foreigner had built a respectable arena-rock career on the back of several platinum successes. But when Mick Jones, Lou Gramm and the rest of the band started sensing the slightest sign of a career downturn, they called Lange for assistance. It paid off: 4 went on to eclipse the sales marks of Foreigner’s first three albums, broke the band internationally and remains one of AOR's greatest achievements.
If Hysteria was too sleek for true metal heads, and High 'n' Dry still a tad raw for mainstream consumption, then Pyromania represents the perfect balance of Def Leppard’s melodic hard rock -- envisioned and meticulously orchestrated by Lange. At a time when Michael Jackson's Thriller was revealing the astounding commercial possibilities of an album stuffed with all killer and no filler, perhaps no other rock record of the era accomplished this like Pyromania. Def Leppard’s career exploded as a result.
At 25 million copies sold and counting, Back in Black remains one of history’s top-selling albums and the ultimate measuring stick for any hard-rock band. And if we keep in mind AC/DC’s notoriously impatient ways in the studio (never mind the traumatic pall cast by Bon Scott’s recent death), as well as the sheer difficulty of capturing such electrifying, spontaneous energy within tightly wound songwriting arrangements, we have further evidence of Lange’s uncommon skills and impeccable ear in the service of his clients -- whoever they may be.