Record producers occupy a strange place in popular culture. Some are just as big stars as the artists they produce; most simply toil behind the scenes.
The recently deceased Phil Ramone was the latter. But his presence could still be felt. As the producer, engineer or mixer behind all sorts of artists from Karen Carpenter to Chicago to Bob Dylan to-most notably-Billy Joel, he didn’t engage in any real wizardry or out there techniques to make the music stand out; rather, he spaced the instruments out just so they could all shine in their own time and way.
Ramone, as his excellent memoir Making Records (co-written with Charles L. Granata) recounts, didn’t set out to become a producer. He was initially a classical violinist but transitioned into recording by doing some engineering work on the iconic jazz album Getz/Gilberto , setting up his famous A&R Studios in New York from where he recorded artists from Dylan to Burt Bacharach and Clay Aiken.
In 1977, he teamed up with Billy Joel for the now-legendary album The Stranger, which began a decade-long collaboration of hit albums and hit singles including “Only The Good Die Young,” “She’s Always A Woman” and countless other staples of classic rock and adult contemporary radio.
Ramone was also an innovator in terms of recording technology: in fact, 52nd Street, the Billy Joel album released in 1982, was the first album ever commercially released on CD. He also pioneered surround sound recording for movies with soundtracks like Flashdance and he pioneered new ways of recording live music as well.
There are a ton of great Ramone produced records out there, but for me, the cream of the crop is his collaboration with Joel; it’s pure New York sound, made relatable for the masses. I thank you, Mr. Ramone; your music always brings me back to brighter days and is just so joyous.