Scholz R&D Rockman, Shanya Twain, song arrangement, songwriter, songwriting, SSL

Mutt Lange – Hi-Tech Songwriting

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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.

Production Techniques
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.

High Output
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.

Stylistic Range
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…”.

Captain Hook
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.

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29 thoughts on “Mutt Lange – Hi-Tech Songwriting

  1. Jack says:

    It’s worth taking a look at Mutt Lange’s songwriting/production techniques even if you don’t particularly like the style of the music that he produces, and your blog entry shows why.

    It’s interesting how Lange uses technology in a cool and creative way when recording songs. The Beatles were the masters of that approach — using any technique that worked to get the sound they wanted — and Lange seems to follow that as well. To me, it shows that it doesn’t matter what tools or techniques you have to use to achieve a certain sound, the important thing is that you get the sound that the song needs.

    In terms of songwriting, Lange’s songs have some great ideas that songwriters can apply to their own music. Shania Twain’s “Come On Over” for example, changes keys with every new verse, going up a half-step. So the song is continually ascending and building excitement. It’s such a simple idea but the results are fantastic.

    Given Lange’s success, I’d say the George Lucas comparison is a very apt one.

  2. tomslatter says:

    Interesting post. I don’t know Lange’s work that well, but I now feel an urge to check it out.

    As the Beatles were mentioned in the previous comment, I’ll keep on listing: David Bowie has also used the studio as an integral part of his songwriting. In particular he’s often been a master at capturing improvised, ‘accidental’ sounds and making them a vital part of the song. (on albums like Low, Lodger,Outside)

  3. You, truly, have blown my mind with this post. I have always viewed Mutt Lange as “…do not look at the man behind that curtain”. I never knew he did vocals on tracks, but, as a singer, who is somewhat obsessed with harmony and harmonic structure, I can see where the want/need to perfectly craft a song and the elements within it would be his goal – even if it includes being both a producer and vocal contributer.

  4. Mutt Lange is not only commerically successful, but is a master of making the complex chord changes and arrangements seem simple. His use of key changes is unrivaled in rock music and his use of post chorus tags, multi-part bridges, reinventing outros and varying instrumentation and vocal arrangements during a song is also unrivaled. He is a modern day master and his records certainly worthy of the praise they receive.

  5. Teagan,

    He got *this* hot wife because he encouraged her songwriting skills and made sure *her* ideas got on tape. Now that’s the most loving thing you can do for a songwriting girlfriend.

    He’s also a kick-ass producer.

  6. Don S. says:

    Hi, this is great information.
    Curious as to where you got your info regarding how Def Leppard got that drum sound. Im a BIG Pyromania fan and love the drums on it.

    I have a 1983 Pyromania Tour booklet where they state that Rick Allen’s two best friends are Linn (drum machine) and Simmons(drum). You state that Mutt slowed down the drums to half speed to get the sound. Do you have anymore insight?
    Thanks,
    Don

  7. Steve L says:

    I wrote a letter to Mutt once regarding the Leps snare drum sound on Pyromania… he responded that he used Drawmer gates to trigger a Simmons SDS tom module for the bottom end, and a Simmons snare module for the white noise…

    still have that letter somewhere, framed of course!

    • Tom Schleiter says:

      Steve L. That is really cool that he responded! You should post a picture of the letter I’d love to see it!

  8. Big fan of Mutt Lange he knows how to get the best out of an artist..He did a great job with NICKELBACK ….love the wall of vocals classic ……I still use some vintage toys like ART SGX EXPRESS and Roland R-8 Rhythm composer with synth and fretless electric bass sounds….Great respect to his talent and private life God Bless..
    MATTHEW
    THOMAS

  9. Chris Lewis says:

    Been following Mr. Lange for years.
    Incredible song writer / producer !!
    Seems like everything he touches turns to gold.

    Hard to believe that not very many people know who he is…
    Probably by design, I imagine he would have everyone beating down his house !!

    Is he currently doing any new projects ??

    Great respect to him and great site to you !!

    Chris Lewis in Denmark

  10. Pingback: Geneva Lake and Mutt Lange: AMAZING « Japan Lover

  11. Joe Leadfoot says:

    Greetings – Can anyone tell me how to get in touch with Jeff ‘Mutt’ Lange? Perhaps the recording studio he would currently be working out of?

    Thanks…

    Joe

  12. Amused says:

    Overproduction, thy name and supplicant is Mutt Lange. He never met a sound he couldn’t produce to death, and in the studio it’s about him and him alone. The band is just there for window dressing. I would never let him near a song I cared about, then again most of the songs he’s made famous are throwaways anyway.

    • Don S. says:

      Amused said,

      If most of Mutt’s songs are “throwaways” then the millions of records that he has helped to sell mean nothing I guess.

      He helps make music for the average person to buy and listen to.

      Its not rocket science.

      Don

  13. Matthew Thomas says:

    Amused said:
    Sorry but Mutt Probally took a pass on your songs cause they needed too much work to be a hit,That’s why you still sell hotdogs at your road side hotdog stand

  14. Anita, I don’t have Mutt’s contacts. He is a very private man and doesn’t like being contacted — even by fans. You may have better luck with his associates: agens, lawyers, mix engineers, etc.

    Good luck 🙂

  15. Scott Roberts says:

    Amused…. Why would you make such a moronic statement, foreigner, ACDC Back in Black, Def Leppard Pyromania and Shania’s albums. Countless others. Please list your accomplishments????………………waiting……..waiting

    • dionn anzulovich says:

      hey scott, appreciate your comment, Song of the Year gave me a Compilation Honors Award 2011, but really never been given credit where credit was due i’ve been creating songs since early childhood. Working on a book to reveal the secrets of this amazing craft… & more famous songs i was involved in creating. Blessings vandio

  16. Pingback: Identifying elements within a piece that reveal the sonic finger print of a producer | Fli's Music Blog

  17. Dion ANIzULoVICH says:

    I may have a LOT OF DIFFICULTY KEEPING COPYRIGHTS… BUT BETTER LATE THEN NEVER…WATCH FOR MY BOOK DISCLOSING ORIGINAL LYRICS SHEETS OF MANY FAMOUS SONGS & revealing the TRUTH & LIES!!! of your PRECIOUS mutt… LOOKS LIKE DAVID COULTIS… remeber mutt met u & shania at SOUTHWEST SOUND WHERE U AND sHANIA MET ME IN lONDON oNT mARCH 83 IN AN ICE STORM where you got song books

  18. Dion ANIzULoVICH says:

    Thunderstruck is my story when I was alittle kid I WAS ONAbUS GOT HIT BY
    A TRAIN i was thunderstruck.. true story coming from a piano lesson…. yeah they gave me the big T… ITS IN MY SONGBOOK …YOU CAN CHANNEL FROM THE OTHERSIDE… NOTHING TO DO WITH LIGHTNING STRIKING A pLANE… GOOD TRY…THOUGH…dionn….Time for a Royalty

  19. Dion ANIzULoVICH says:

    SHANIA MY SONGS MADE U FAMOUS…. NEED THE next Big Hit!!! GUESS THATS WHY U STAYED WITH MUTT U BOTH HAD A BIG SECRET…DID DAVID
    COULTIS KNOW>>> or get any royalties PERHAPS HE DIED BOTTLES OF 151
    PROOF & STILL ROLLING….CRAZY DRIVING

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