Producer’s Notes: Mickie Most – Pt. 1

Monday, June 20, 2016
Producer’s Notes: Mickie Most – Pt. 1

Today is Mickie Most’s birthday, and while it may not be a national holiday in his native UK (although we’re of the mind that the idea should be given serious consideration), it’s nonetheless a day worth celebrating if you’re a music fan. Mr. Most was a major figure in the field of production during the ‘60s, the ‘70s, the ‘80s, and beyond, helping hone the sounds of a number of artists who made their way into the pop charts.

To celebrate the day of Mr. Most’s birth, we spoke with his son Calvin Hayes, a man with a pop chart history of his own (he played keyboards and drums for Johnny Hates Jazz, you know), about some notable moments in Most’s career. We’ve got the first batch of those moments for you today, and you’ll want to keep your eyes open for Pt. 2 in the near future, especially after you’ve seen how entertaining Pt. 1 is!

1. The Nashville Teens, “Tobacco Road” (1964)

Calvin Hayes: That was a good one! Glyn Johns recorded that one, at IBC Studios, Portland Road. 30 years later, my dad had dinner with him in his house in the south of France. Glyn had gone on to do the Eagles and become huge, and it was quite funny, ‘cause when they were talking about “Tobacco Road,” my dad turned to Glyn Johns and said, “Too much reverb!” And Glyn Johns laughed. Normally, Glyn Johns is pretty dictatorial, but it was quite funny, ‘cause my dad would say to him, “Yeah, it’s a bit too much reverb on that one!” My dad liked things pretty dry. But it was a great record, yeah. And the piano solo is fantastic! By the way, the Nashville Teens were managed by Don Arden, who helped my dad through his career being an artist, and then Don Arden had this group the Nashville Teens, my dad signed them, and then Don Arden nicked them and sent them off to Decca! So my dad never worked with Don Arden again.

2. The Yardbirds, “Little Games” (1967)

CH: I’m glad you decided to talk about “Little Games” rather than “Ha! Ha! Said the Clown.” There was a press to make the Yardbirds’ hit records, and then there was the thing with Jimmy Page being the only one left in the band. Actually, Dave Gregory from XTC, I was talking to him about this, because when my dad died, there were all these obituaries, and a lot of them focused on the fact that he failed with the Yardbirds and that he did such a terrible job. Well, Dave, who I really admire as a musician, he’s a musicologist, he’s in a far different league, and he turned around and said, “Actually, Calvin, I think it’s the Yardbirds’ finest album!” And I think the “Little Games” single is terrific. I think some of the album is great. I can see some of the blueprint of Led Zeppelin, and the Truth album by Jeff Beck, and even some Terry Reid, who was supposed to be the singer with Led Zeppelin. “Little Games” was also, I think, the first marriage of the “Kashmir” strings from Led Zeppelin. It was John Paul Jones and jimmy Page working on that. It was that moment in ’67 when pop songs and rock bands could work together.

“Little Games” got slagged when my dad died, ‘cause people were saying it was inferior Yardbirds, blah blah blah. But the band were falling apart. He said to me it was like making love to an old girlfriend. [Laughs.] The band weren’t really that interested, so it was kind of tough. “Ha! Ha! Said the Clown” was terrible, but I thought “Little Games” was a cracker. I got my dad to re-cut it in the ‘80s with a new wave group called The Autographs. They used to be called The Stukas, but they changed their name. They also did a single called “While I’m Still Young,” with Tommy Boyce, of Boyce and Hart! They were kind of like the Yachts, if you remember them. Anyway, my dad did try to record “Little Games” with them – I suggested it – and they recorded it, but it didn’t work. It just didn’t have the magic.

3. Terry Reid, “Superlungs My Supergirl” (1969)

CH: My dad never stopped Terry Reid from being a singer. He was all for it! He just didn’t like Terry Reid’s group. He thought Terry Reid’s group were “a little rickety-tick.” [Laughs.] And he also said that he could never record his voice correctly. He said that was the reason that he thought Terry Reid never made it. He had great producers: Graham Nash, Trevor Horn, Ahmet Eretgun, and my dad. That’s a pretty good list! But he never got successful. And my dad said he could never capture his voice. He tried putting his voice through a P.A. in the studio, because he couldn’t get the live sound. He thought, “Well, if I try putting his voice through the P.A. in the studio, that might work!” But it didn’t. He never captured his voice. My dad said, “It’s like being photogenic. Some singers don’t have the best voices, but you put a microphone in front of them, and it works. And with some people’s voices, they can sound great, but when you stick a microphone in front of them, it doesn’t work. There’s no rules.

But “Superlungs My Supergirl,” that was a good one. I liked that one. That was the closest he got to having a serious hit. It was a Donovan song, but the Donovan versions weren’t very good. I’ve heard them, but they’re not that great. But I thought that was really a great single. It was a bit frustrating to my dad with Terry Reid. He was never happy with it. He knew that he was somebody who had so much potential…and so did Led Zeppelin, I guess! So that was a tough one. A good single, though. It sounds like John Paul Jones on bass. You’ll want to check that, though.

4. C.C.S., “Whole Lotta Love” (1970)

CH: Oh, that was a good one! Yeah, that whole thing came about because my dad was involved with the initial management of Led Zeppelin. He had a company called RAK Management, and he and Peter Grant were co-owners. And Peter had Stone the Crows, Terry Reid, the Yardbirds with Jimmy Page, the Jeff Beck Group… Quite the roster! And then Peter got Led Zeppelin together. But Peter’s policy was “no singles.” Everybody in the industry was going into albums – “Oh, it’s all going to be albums, we’re going to phase out singles” – so my dad started a singles label. [Laughs.]

They kind of parted ways at that point. I think Peter had convinced my dad that he was dying. And he was quite fat, and he didn’t look that well. “I haven’t got that long to live, Mickie, but I’ve got this band…” So my dad sort of went, “Oh, all right.”But he kept a little piece of Led Zeppelin. My dad was ready to step in to do their first album, and it didn’t work out, but obviously with Glyn Johns and Jimmy Page, you listened to it, and it was, like, “Fucking hell, this is amazing!” [Laughs.]

They were still sharing an office on Oxford Street, my dad and Peter. I used to like to hang out there when I was a kid. My dad had a big office on one end, and it was Peter on the other end. Peter was always mumbling into the phone, kind of covering it with his hand, but my dad did hear him one afternoon. He had some promoter call him one afternoon, offering him a million dollars for a Led Zeppelin tour. And Peter turned ‘round and said, “Fuck off!” And put the phone down. [Laughs.] My dad was, like, “Bloody hell!”

But Peter had a policy: if you want to buy the record, then you’ve got to buy the album. Don’t put out singles. That was his thinking. Well, when my dad heard the second album, since he was still involved with him, he said, “This sounds like a fucking smash!” And they came out with a single in America, but not in England. But my dad had been working with John Cameron, who’d done the Donovan arrangements for “Sunshine Superman,” “Mellow Yellow,” and all, and he came up with the idea of forming this group with Alexis Korner and Peter Thorup.

Alexis Korner had been responsible for helping the Rolling Stones start the R&B movement in England, and he was a character. I loved Alexis. And he found this Swedish guy who was a bit of an alcoholic called Peter Thorup, and with John Cameron they said, “We want to do this thing, and it’s kind of a brass band like Chicago, but we’re going to do rock stuff.” They were called Collective Consciousness Society. The three of them came over one afternoon to where I grew up, and my mum plied them with beers, and she took pictures of them standing in bushes. Anyway, they did a big, brassy version of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.”

John Leckie, the great producer and engineer, he said one of the first sessions he remembers working on at Abbey Road was C.C.S., and that they had the whole band there. It was great. It was the cream of British session musicians. They had Barry Morgan on drums, who had Morgan Studios, and the guys who played on the Donovan records. Tony Carr, the percussionist. And they were all characters, but they could all deliver. The first C.C.S. album is really good. My dad liked that one. And “Whole Lotta Love” became a signature song for Top of the Pops, so in England it’s a really well-known piece of music, and it’s a great record. But “Boom Boom” is the one I really love from the first album. It was a great concept. They were trying to do something different. And my dad was thinking, “Well, if Led Zeppelin won’t release it as a single, fuck it, I’ll release it as a single!” But he said, “I don’t want to try and copy it, because if I try and do it the same, what would be the point? But a hit song is a hit song, and a hit riff is a hit riff, and if you can find another way to dress it, then great!” And that’s exactly what he did.

5. Peter Noone, “Oh You Pretty Things” (1971)

CH: Oh, I love Peter! [Laughs.] He’s like my uncle! He’s the closest thing I have to a family member. I met him when I was two, and he’s always been my mate. I’ve worked with him, produced records for him, and he’s great.

“Oh You Pretty Things” was the first Peter Noone solo single, and my dad found the song…through the publisher, I think. You’d have to research who that is. I should’ve looked that up! But David Bowie had had a big hit with “Space Oddity,” but that was ’69. He put out “The Prettiest Star” and the Space Oddity album, but he was kind of in the doldrums then. And my dad heard this song, and it was before Hunky Dory was recorded, so it must’ve been a demo, I guess. But my dad said, “Okay, this is gonna be Peter Noone’s solo single!” But my dad always had a lot of respect for writers, so he said, “Well, I’ve got to get the writer involved.” So Bowie actually came to the session and played piano. That’s him playing the piano on it!

When Hunky Dory came out, I had a test pressing of it, so I got into that immediately, and then Ziggy Stardust came out, so suddenly I’m a big David Bowie fan! So I went and said to my dad, “You were working with David Bowie! You did that record with Peter Noone! What happened?” And he went, “Oh, Bowie was great. He came to the studio, he played piano.” I said, “Yeah…?” “And then Bowie said, ‘Oh, you should come have dinner with me and my wife, Angie.’” And I said, “Why didn’t you go?” And he said, “He was wearing a dress!” [Laughs.] It was the Man Who Sold the World period. So I said, “Oh, well, fair enough!”

No, but my dad liked Bowie a lot. In fact, my dad was at…oh, was it Olympic? He happened to be in the next room when Bowie was producing Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes.” This was just when Bowie had done “Oh You Pretty Things.” That was a big boost to Bowie’s career. My dad put a big billboard of Peter Noone just as you were driving into town into London. It was very expensive, thousands of pounds, to put this big billboard up. People didn’t do that in those days. But it had a picture of Peter in a bow tie, and it said, “Peter Noone: Oh You Pretty Things,” and Bowie had a picture taken next to it! So he was pretty made up that he’d had a hit song. It kind of validated him after “Space Oddity.”