Mutt Lange is a prolific songwriter and producer originally known for his work with hard rock band AC/DC in the late 70’s. In the 80’s, he achieved his biggest success co-writing and producing Def Leppard’s Pyromania and Hysteria albums. In the 90’s, he went on to do the same for Bryan Adams and his wife Shanya Twain.
For Lange, production and songwriting are often done in parallel. He is known for having developed a very distinct polished rock sound.
- SSL Mix Consoles — Lange was one of the first adopter of the Solid State Logic (SSL) mix console. SSLs were initially known for being fully “automated”, meaning that one could playback the mix settings over and over until everything sounded perfect. In other words, they were made for perfectionists like Mutt Lange. They also had a famous “buss” compressor, which gave a huge radio-ready sound to everything that went trough it. Eventually, SSL’s were so widely used that they became the “sound” of the 80’s.
- Layered vocals – Lange would often perform the backing vocals himself and layered the parts until he achieved what he wanted. Not as easy as it sound.
- Big guitars – Economical guitar lines often multi-tracked to perfection. Every note is optimized for maximum impact. A little known fact is that most guitars on Hysteria were recorded with a
Scholz R&D Rockman, a pocket sized guitar processor designed as a practice tool.
- Big Drums – The drums on Def Leppard ‘s Pyromania and Hysteria were recorded at half-speed on a 8-bit Fairlight CMI sampler. This technique allowed him to experiment with different song structures during recording. Nowadays, MIDI-triggered “drum hit replacement” is a common technique but Mutt was the first.
- Synth Bass — For many of his hits in the 80’s, he used synth basses, even when having world-class bass players.
Lange is listed as writer and/or co-writer of over 200 songs. These are recorded songs folks. This means that he has probably written (and rejected) thousands.
For me, the most impressive part is the wide range of musical style on which he applied his talent: hard rock, soft rock, country and R&B.
Beside the AC/DC, Def Leppard and Shania songs, here are a few that may surprise you:
- Huey Lewis & The News (Picture This) “Do You Believe in Love” – This song provided Lewis and the boys with their first hit. They learned from it and wrote their own hits after that.
- The Cars’ (Heartbeat City) “You Might Think”, “Magic”, “Hello Again” and “Drive” – I didn’t realized he produced that ones.
- Foreigner (Foreigner 4) “Urgent”, “Juke Box Hero” and “Waiting For A Girl Like You” — These songs were such classics. Air guitar central.
- Billy Ocean (Suddenly) “Loverboy” – Listening carefully, this could have been done by either Loverboy or Foreigner.
- Bryan Adams (Waking Up The Neighbours) “Everything I do” — Although I prefer the stuff he did on his Reckless album, this was by far Adam’s biggest chart success.
As they say, “A good song is a good song is…”.
Apparently, Mutt Lange is a practitioner of the Hooks & Spare Parts school of songwriting. No surprise there: every one of his songs is a collection of hooks precisely recorded and designed for maximum impact.
Light Sabers & Guitars
What really makes me a fan of this guy is the fact that he always made sure to create the most universally accessible songs possible. To me, he is to music what George Lucas is to movies: a purveyor of accessible popular entertainment. In fact, his vision for the Def Leppard record was to bring Star Wars’ to popular music using the latest technology available. I say mission accomplished.