Phil Ramone Made Crappy Music the Right Way
Phil Ramone, who died Saturday following an aneurysm, produced an astonishing number of albums it's not cool to enjoy. Wikipedia helpfully provides a category full of them. He was in on Rod Stewart's first pop standards album; he did the Sinead O'Connor album after the one Sinead O'Connor album; he did Frank Sinatra's late Duets albums, Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli albums, The Stranger and The Nylon Curtain. He was nominated for a million Grammys, and won something like half-a-million, and for a certain kind of music fan that's a bad thing.
Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to see how much of the coverage after his death was not only positive but glowing.
Which is not to say that all or even most Phil-Ramone-produced albums have fallen into disrepute. Ram is the canonical Paul McCartney solo album; Blood on the Tracks is inviolable; Paul Simon is Paul Simon.
But he also produced "Spies Like Us," for instance, and Everything But The Girl, and Debbie Gibson, but not the Debbie Gibson album you're thinking about. He worked with his white-male-boomerish contemporaries deep into an era that finds white-male-boomerisms tiresome.
Which is what makes it hard to judge producers by their output, especially within the authenticity-constrained parameters we've developed for rock music. You can blame Paul McCartney for making "Spies Like Us" (and you can blame me for enjoying it), but can you blame Phil Ramone for making it sound really-pretty-good?