Common Thread: The Producers Come Out to Play (Part 1)

by Jeff Fiedler

Common Thread is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which we offer up mini-reviews of a small (and often very diverse) assortment of albums that all have one specific shared trait; that "common thread" can vary from column to column. 

It’s rare that record producers become stars in their own right, though there are certainly exceptions to the rule – Quincy Jones and Babyface are just two wildly successful producers who have become household names, in part due to their dual success as multiple-Grammy-winning recording artists, while Todd Rundgren miraculously managed to simultaneously juggle his duties as a rock star in the ‘70s and ‘80s, both as solo artist (“Hello It’s Me,” “I Saw the Light,” “Can We Still Be Friends”) and the leader of Utopia (“Set Me Free,” “Love Is the Answer”), with a second career as a wildly in-demand producer for the likes of Badfinger, Grand Funk, Patti Smith, Meat Loaf, Cheap Trick, and XTC. Still, many producers began their careers as musicians themselves before permanently retreating behind the curtains to focus on nurturing other artists, while other producers like to indulge themselves on occasion and make a disc to call their very own. In this five-part edition of Common Thread, we take a look at twenty-five albums from four different decades that are just a few intriguing examples of musical dabblings from individuals who have found even greater success or fame as producers than as performers, beginning with … 

I Want Candy, The Strangeloves (1965, Bang)

This album is notable for several reasons. Not only did the title track miss the Top Ten by just one spot, it became a new-wave classic a full two decades later after being covered by Bow Wow Wow. [The album also yielded two additional Top 40 hits in “Cara-Lin” and “Night Time.”] But this album is also notable for marking one of the rare on-disc appearances from industry veterans Jerry Goldstein, Richard Gottehrer, and Bob Feldman, a team who by this point had already co-written and produced the Angels’ chart-topper and enduring girl-group classic “My Boyfriend’s Back” and produced the McCoys’ Number One smash “Hang on Sloopy.” [Goldstein also co-wrote the Top Ten hit “Come on Down to My Boat” for Every Mother’s Son.] The trio wouldn’t last beyond this one album, but Goldstein would go on to massive success in the ‘70s as the regular go-to producer for R&B/funk band War, while Gottehrer would not only go on to produce such notable albums as Richard Hell & the Voidoids’ punk classic Blank Generation, Blondie’s self-titled debut and Plastic Letters, the Go-Go’s’ Beauty and the Beat and Vacation, and Marshall Crenshaw’s much-lauded self-titled debut, but would, with Seymour Stein, co-found the wildly successful Sire Records label.

(Turn On) The Music Machine, The Music Machine (1966, Original Sound)

A true garage-rock classic, these quintet only managed one Top 40 hit during their brief existence, the grungy, frantic rocker “Talk Talk.” [In fact, this debut disc would be one of only two albums the band would make before disbanding.] But “Talk Talk” remains one of the most underrated 45s of its era, and the band’s bassist, Keith Olsen, would go on to become one of the biggest producers of the ‘70s and ‘80s, helming such discs as Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled 1975 affair, Foreigner’s Double Vision, the Grateful Dead’s Terrapin Station, Pat Benatar’s Crimes of Passion and Precious Time, Whitesnake’s 1987 self-titled breakthrough disc, Sammy Hagar’s Three Lock Box, Rick Springfield’s Working Class Dog and Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet, and Starship’s No Protection, to name just a few of his most famous credits.

Excursions, The Trade Winds (1967, Kama Sutra)

This Rhode Island pop group would only score one minor Top 40 hit, “New York’s a Lonely Town,” but band members Pete Anders and Vini Poncia weren’t done – the duo would later re-team under the name The Innocence and score a second Top 40 hit with “There’s Got to Be a Word!” before inexplicably changing names for their next release to Anders & Poncia before splitting up for good. Poncia would turn his attention to writing and producing, and he’d have a great deal of success throughout the ‘70s, co-writing Ringo Starr’s Top Ten hit “Oh My My” (Poncia would appear on all of Starr’s albums from 1973’s Ringo through 1978’s Bad Boy, also producing the latter disc) and Leo Sayer’s chart-topping “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing,” producing four albums for Melissa Manchester (including the Top Ten smash “Midnight Blue” and the Top 40 hits “Just Too Many People” and “Just You and I”) and producing the Kiss albums Dynasty and Unmasked, even co-writing the band’s hits “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” “Sure Know Something,” and “Shandi.” [He’d also produce Peter Criss’ 1978 solo debut.] Poncia’s profile would gradually diminish in the ‘80s, but he’d notably resurface at the end of the decade to co-write several cuts on Kiss’ Hot in the Shade.

I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonite, Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart (1968, A&M)

By the time they signed a recording deal with A&M, this duo had already established themselves as very successful songwriters and producers, having co-written such hits as Jay & the Americans’ “Come a Little Bit Closer,” Little Anthony & the Imperials’ “Hurt So Bad,” and a long string of singles for the Monkees that included “Last Train to Clarksville,” “Valleri,” “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” and “Words.” [Boyce and Hart are also responsible for writing the timeless opening theme song for the band’s television show.]  The duo would ultimately make three albums for the Herb Alpert-and-Jerry Moss-owned label, each of them sporting a Top 40 hit (“Out & About” hails from Test Patterns, while “Alice Long (You’re Still My Favorite Girlfriend)” hails from It’s All Happening on the Inside), but this is perhaps the most famous of the three discs, the title cut becoming a Top Ten hit and enduring radio favorite on oldies stations. Though the duo’s hits would dry up by the end of the decade, they never really went away – the two would form a short-lived quartet with Davy Jones and Mickey Dolenz in the mid-‘70s and they’d continue to write hits behind the scenes, Hart even serving as an unlikely co-writer on such ‘80s hits as New Edition’s “My Secret (Didja Get It Yet?)” and Robbie Nevil’s Top Ten hit “Dominoes.”

Tin Tin, Tin Tin (1970, Atco)

This Australian quartet was short-lived, releasing only two albums, but they did reach the Top Twenty in the U.S. with the song “Toast and Marmalade for Tea” from this tough-to-find self-titled debut (produced by Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees), and the band members would find greater success in later years. John Vallins would team up with Nat Kipner, the father of bandmate Steven Kipner, to write the Number One hit “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” for Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams in 1978. Steven Kipner would find even greater success, co-writing such massive hits as Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” and Chicago’s “Hard Habit to Break” and both producing and co-writing such smashes as Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” (written and produced with David Frank, formerly of The System of “Don’t Disturb This Groove” fame), Kris Allen’s “Live Like We’re Dying,” Natasha Bedingfield’s “These Words,” Dream’s “He Loves U Not,” 98 Degrees’ “The Hardest Thing,” Kelly Rowland’s “Stole,” and The Script’s “Breakeven” and “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved.”