Top 10 Ted Templeman Records
What do Van Halen, the Doobie Brothers, Van Morrison, Captain Beefheart and Aerosmith have in common? They all worked with a guy by the name of Ted Templeman, who parlayed the experience he gained playing with several forgettable '60s pop groups into a career as one of the '70s' most successful and, clearly, versatile record producers. That's why we've pulled together our own list of Top 10 Ted Templeman Records to celebrate his accomplishments.
Though it didn’t deliver the kind of triumphant career comeback Aerosmith were hoping for (that came two years later with ‘Permanent Vacation’), the Templeman-produced 'Done With Mirrors' showed there was plenty of life left in the Boston band. And that may not have been the case without Templeman’s proven record for churning out electrifying hard rock, most famously in the shape of no less than six platinum-selling Van Halen LPs leading up to working on the Aerosmith album.
Just before teaming up with Aerosmith, Templeman had put his hard-rock hit streak to work on behalf of solo artist Sammy Hagar and his breakthrough 1984 release, ‘VOA.’ Templeman’s relationship with Hagar dated back more than decade, through their mutual involvement in Montrose, but ‘VOA’ hits like ‘I Can’t Drive 55’ and ‘Two Sides of Love’ show that their creative chemistry was not only alive and kicking, but primed to take Hagar’s career to the next level.
The irony of ‘VOA’s’ success (see No. 9 on our list of the Top 10 Ted Templeman Records) is that it helped put Hagar on Van Halen’s radar and push Templeman to the sidelines, fingered as a guilty party behind the band’s separation from singer David Lee Roth. Luckily, Diamond Dave was waiting for Templeman on the other side and asked him to oversee the recording of his new band’s debut album, ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile.’ When it arrived in stores, it went toe-to-toe with the so-called “Van Hagar”’s first release, ‘5150,’ ultimately losing the sales war but winning the battle with many VH purists.
This underrated cult classic from one of the most tragically overlooked bands of ‘70s rock is one of Templeman's finest early works. Little Feat leader Lowell George was one of the period’s most remarkable but elusive talents, and the fact that Templeman harnessed his eclectic songwriting into a cohesive and entertaining album like ‘Sailin’ Shoes’ is testament to his already formidable production skills -- only a couple of years after he began working on that side of the studio console.
Lowell George’s eccentricity (see No. 7 on our list of the Top 10 Ted Templeman Records) had nothing on those of Templeman’s next production client, and another former Frank Zappa associate: Captain Beefheart. By 1972, Beefheart and his ever-evolving Magic Band had already uncorked six, creatively groundbreaking but low-selling albums blending art-rock, alien blues and schizoid poetry. Templeman wasn’t about to change that, and there wasn't much he could do to improve the Captain’s commercial prospects, but under his guidance, ‘Clear Spot’ became a high-water mark of Beefheart’s post-‘Trout Mask Replica' career.
Power struggles and disintegrating band relationships have dominated conversations about Van Halen’s landmark sixth album for so many years that they tend to overshadow the incredible music it contains. And what about Templeman’s role as referee between the bickering musicians, even if they did conveniently scapegoat him in the end? Any way you slice it, Templeman had a hand in corralling this fractious foursome long enough to mold hits like ‘Jump,’ ‘Panama’ and ‘Hot for Teacher’ into universally recognized anthems for the 1980s.
Van Morrison’s first of two pairings with Templeman (the other being 1972’s ‘Saint Dominic’s Preview’) marked the Irish troubadour’s move west -- from Woodstock, NY, where most of ‘Tupelo Honey’'s songs were written, to the San Francisco Bay Area, where they were recorded. Coincidentally, their union also carried a record-company mandate to deliver more commercial material, following Morrison’s less accessible recent efforts. The plan worked, vaulting the album into many fans' hearts and into the Top 30 on the strength of three strong-performing singles.
Call it coincidence or call it fate -- we just find it amazing that long before “Van Hagar” began inspiring debates of historical proportions, it was Templeman (along with his longtime engineer, Donn Landee) who oversaw the production of Montrose’s seminal debut album, featuring then-unknown singer Sammy Hagar. The results speak for themselves, thanks to timeless songs (‘Space Station No. 5,’ ‘Bad Motor Scooter’) that kicked American hard rock in the ass and finally helped it compete with the British giants that dominated the first part of the ‘70s.
Other than Van Halen, no other band is as closely associated with Templeman than the Doobie Brothers, whose career ascension in many ways mirrored their producer's. Beginning with their very first album in 1971, and then hitting their stride on 1973's ‘The Captain and Me,’ the Doobies and Templeman tore through the decade together, selling millions of records along the way. It couldn’t, and didn’t, last forever, but amid the usual bust-ups and myriad pitfalls of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, their jointly conceived hit streak can't be denied.
Templeman will always be most associated with Van Halen, so it's no surprise that the most influential album he's ever produced is their debut. Considering the seismic impact of this multiplatinum LP on the rock 'n' roll landscape, the biggest compliment we can pay Templeman is that he was wise enough not to over-produce the young band that was putting its trust in him. As a result, he masterfully captured the sheer power and raw vitality of Van Halen’s finely honed stage act within the studio, solidifying their future as well as his own.