Chris Thomas (record producer)
|Birth name||Christopher P. Thomas|
|Born||13 January 1947|
Brentford, Middlesex, England
|Instruments||Keyboards, bass guitar|
Christopher P. Thomas (born 13 January 1947 in Brentford, Middlesex) is an English record producer who has worked extensively with the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Procol Harum, Roxy Music, Badfinger, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend, Pulp and the Pretenders. He has also produced breakthrough albums for the Sex Pistols, the Climax Blues Band and INXS. He worked on the initial sessions for How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb by U2.
Chris was classically trained on the violin and piano as a child and he began playing bass in London pop bands, turning down at one point the opportunity to play with Jimi Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell before Hendrix had struck fame. After several years, Thomas decided that he had little interest in making a career as a performing musician. In a 1998 interview, he stated "I realized that being in a band you were dependent on all these other people, and I also knew that if I'd ever been successful in a band, I would've wanted to stay in the studio and just make the records; I wasn't that interested in playing live."
Recording sessions with the Beatles
Looking to break into production, Thomas wrote to Beatles producer George Martin seeking work and in 1967 was employed as an assistant by AIR, an independent production company which had been founded by Martin and three other EMI producers. Thomas was allowed to attend sessions at EMI Studios by the Hollies and, in 1968, the Beatles. He was there for much of the recording of the Beatles' self-titled double album (also known as the "White Album"). Midway through these sessions, Martin decided to take a holiday, and he proposed that Thomas continue working with the band in his absence. Thomas recalled: "I had just come back from holiday myself, and when I came in there was a little letter on the desk that said, "Dear Chris, Hope you had a nice holiday. I'm off on mine now. Make yourself available to The Beatles. Neil and Mal know you're coming down."
Thomas produced (without credit) "Birthday" and "Happiness Is a Warm Gun". He also played keyboards on four songs from The White Album: harpsichord on "Piggies", Mellotron on "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill", and piano on "Long, Long, Long" and "Savoy Truffle".
Early production credits
Thomas was not credited as producer or co-producer on The Beatles, although his name appears as co-producer on some of the original session sheets. By the end of 1968, he had received his first solo credit: The Climax Chicago Blues Band by the Climax Blues Band.
Procol Harum would be the first band with which Thomas would enjoy a steady working relationship, producing their albums Home, Broken Barricades and Procol Harum Live: In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra during 1970–71. Thomas subsequently travelled to Los Angeles to produce Christopher Milk's 1972 album Some People Will Drink Anything (Warner Bros/Reprise), and met John Cale, who invited Thomas to produce his Paris 1919. At the sessions with Procol, Thomas met Roxy Music singer-songwriter Bryan Ferry, who asked him to produce the band's second album, For Your Pleasure. The collaboration continued for the next four albums (Stranded, Country Life, Siren and Viva!).
Recording sessions with Pink Floyd
In 1973, as Thomas' work continued to attract interest, he took on mixing duties with Pink Floyd for their The Dark Side of the Moon album. In his Mix interview, Thomas claimed he would finish work on the Pink Floyd album at midnight and drive to AIR Studios to do more work on Procol Harum's Grand Hotel album until 5 am. Thomas got involved after David Gilmour, Rick Wright, Roger Waters and Nick Mason couldn't agree on how the album should be mixed: Waters and Mason wanted a dry and clean mix making use of the non-musical elements while Gilmour and Wright wanted the album to be mixed in a more subtle way and with a huge emphasis on echo. Wright denied that there were any violent arguments involved.
In a February 1993 interview, Gilmour described Thomas' role on The Dark Side of the Moon as a referee for arguments between himself and Waters, stating that they "argued so much that it was suggested we get a third opinion. We were going to leave Chris to mix it on his own, with Alan Parsons engineering. And of course on the first day I found out that Roger sneaked in there. So the second day I sneaked in there. And from then on, we both sat right at Chris's shoulder, interfering. But luckily, Chris was more sympathetic to my point of view than he was to Roger's."
Gilmour's recollections have been negated by Thomas: "There was no difference in opinion between them, I don't remember Roger once saying that he wanted less echo. In fact, there were never any hints that they were later going to fall out. It was a very creative atmosphere. A lot of fun."
In any event, Thomas's involvement resulted in both Waters and Gilmour completely satisfied with the final release and additionally, he also synchronized the echo on "Us and Them" and was at the session for "The Great Gig in the Sky". Interviewed in 2006, when asked if he felt his goals had been accomplished in the studio, Waters said:
When the record was finished I took a reel-to-reel copy home with me and I remember playing it for my wife then, and I remember her bursting into tears when it was finished. And I thought, "This has obviously struck a chord somewhere," and I was kinda pleased by that. You know when you’ve done something, certainly if you create a piece of music, you then hear it with fresh ears when you play it for somebody else. And at that point I thought to myself, "Wow, this is a pretty complete piece of work," and I had every confidence that people would respond to it.
Recording sessions with Badfinger
Thomas produced a trio of albums for power pop group Badfinger on the tail end of their career, beginning with 1973's Ass, and 1974's Badfinger and Wish You Were Here albums. Ass was originally recorded with Badfinger producing, but the group later admitted they were incapable of producing themselves. Members Pete Ham and Tom Evans solicited Thomas' help in cleaning up existing recordings and laying down new tracks. Although the succeeding album Badfinger retained Thomas from the outset and was considered by critics to be an improvement in production, neither album was successful in the marketplace. For their third project together, Thomas held a meeting with the group and pleaded that they all concentrate on making the best record they could muster. It turned out that Wish You Were Here garnered the most positive critical response from periodicals, including Rolling Stone magazine.
Recording sessions with the Sex Pistols
In 1976, he was asked by Malcolm McLaren to produce the Sex Pistols. Thomas’ colleagues in the recording industry were horrified by his involvement with the Sex Pistols, particularly when he found himself producing the band at the same time as he was working with Paul McCartney. His work with the band also led to one of his most curious album credits. Co-producer Bill Price explained:
The simple facts of the matter were that Chris was hired by Malcolm (McLaren) to do a series of singles for the Sex Pistols. I was hired by Malcolm to do a series of album tracks with the Sex Pistols. Life got slightly complicated, because I did a few album tracks that Chris remade as singles. Also, Chris started a couple of tracks, which got abandoned as singles, which I remade to be used as album tracks. On quite a large number of songs, when we'd finished the album, we had two versions of the song. I couldn't quite understand why Malcolm kept chopping and changing between different versions of different songs. It slowly dawned on Chris and myself that Malcolm was trying to slip between two stools and not pay Chris or me. So we said, "I'll tell you what, Malcolm. Whatever's on the Sex Pistols' album, it was either done by me or Chris, and you can pay us and we'll divvy it out amongst our little selves." Which is what we did. But it did force that very strange credit, simply because the sleeve was printed long before it was finally decided which version of each individual song was on the record. If we'd known, it would have said 'produced by Bill Price' or 'produced by Chris Thomas'. That's how you ended up with that credit, 'produced by Bill Price or Chris Thomas'.
However Chris Thomas categorically disputes this explanation.
During 2007, Thomas produced a brand new studio recording of "Pretty Vacant" for use in the new video game Skate. John Lydon, Steve Jones and Paul Cook all play on this new version, which was recorded in Los Angeles in July 2007, with only original bassist Glen Matlock absent (Sid Vicious had died of a heroin overdose in 1979 while awaiting trial for allegedly murdering his girlfriend Nancy Spungen).
Work with other artists
Thomas also programmed Moog synthesizer on David Bowie's first two albums, the song "Son of My Father" by Chicory Tip, Leonard Cohen's Songs of Love and Hate, and Elton John's eponymous album. He also programmed and played Moog synthesiser on George Harrison's All Things Must Pass and the theme from The Persuaders! by John Barry. In 1979, Thomas produced Wings' final album Back to the Egg, as bandleader Paul McCartney was looking for a more (and then current) New Wave or Punk oriented production style.
In 1985, Thomas played a critical part in achieving a worldwide breakthrough for Australian band INXS. The band's keyboardist and main songwriter Andrew Farriss stated that the band had "already finished the Listen Like Thieves album but Chris Thomas told us there was still no 'hit'. We left the studio that night knowing we had one day left and we had to deliver 'a hit'. Talk about pressure." Thomas recalls he was worried that the standard of songs the band had laid down was not as strong as he wished. Thomas then went on to produce the follow up album, 1987's Kick, which became INXS' most successful album of their career. He also produced 1990's X.
Thomas was a fundamental part of the Pretenders success, producing The Pretenders' first (self-titled) album 1980, the second album "Pretenders II" 1981 and the third classic "Learning to Crawl" 1984 and all singles in between; his work on Learning to Crawl earned him the nickname on the liner notes of the "fifth Pretender". He returned on their 1994 success "Last of the Independents" co producing one track "Im A Mother" with Ian Stanley.
He regards Pulp's Different Class as one of the best records he has made, and admits: "I love working with writers. That's the person I always respond to most in a band.'’
Thomas has won Rolling Stone Critics "Producer of the Year", Billboard "Producer of the Year", Grammy and Brit Awards.
Singles produced by Thomas include:
- "Street Life", "Love Is the Drug" by Roxy Music
- "Let's Stick Together" by Bryan Ferry
- "Be Good to Yourself" by Frankie Miller
- "Anarchy in the U.K.", "God Save the Queen", "Pretty Vacant", "Holidays in the Sun" by The Sex Pistols
- "Brass in Pocket", "Talk of the Town", "I Go to Sleep", "Back on the Chain Gang" by The Pretenders
- "Let My Love Open the Door", "Face the Face" by Pete Townshend
- "Blue Eyes", "I'm Still Standing", "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues", "Sacrifice", "Can You Feel the Love Tonight", "Circle of Life" by Elton John
- "What You Need", "Need You Tonight", "Never Tear Us Apart", "Suicide Blonde", "Disappear" by INXS
- "Stay" by Shakespears Sister
- "All for Love" by Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart and Sting
- "Common People" by Pulp
Albums produced or mixed by Thomas include:
- 1968: The Climax Chicago Blues Band by Climax Blues Band, The Beatles by The Beatles
- 1969: Climax Blues Band Plays On by Climax Blues Band, Abbey Road by The Beatles
- 1970: A Lot of Bottle by Climax Blues Band, Home by Procol Harum
- 1971: Tightly Knit by Climax Blues Band, Mick Abrahams by Mick Abrahams
- 1972: Some People Will Drink Anything by Christopher Milk, At Last by Mick Abrahams Band, keyboard player on Son of My Father by Chicory Tip
- 1973: For Your Pleasure by Roxy Music, Stranded by Roxy Music, Grand Hotel by Procol Harum, Paris 1919 by John Cale, Ass by Badfinger, The Dark Side of the Moon (mixing) by Pink Floyd
- 1974: Badfinger by Badfinger, Wish You Were Here by Badfinger, Exotic Birds and Fruit by Procol Harum, Kurofune (aka Black Ship) by Sadistic Mika Band, Country Life by Roxy Music
- 1975: Siren by Roxy Music, Hot Menu! by Sadistic Mika Band
- 1976: Viva! by Roxy Music, Let's Stick Together by Bryan Ferry
- 1976: Full House by Frankie Miller
- 1977: Hurt by Chris Spedding
- 1977: Never Mind the Bollocks by the Sex Pistols
- 1978: Power in the Darkness by Tom Robinson Band
- 1979: Back to the Egg by Wings
- 1980: Pretenders by The Pretenders; Empty Glass by Pete Townshend
- 1981: Pretenders II by The Pretenders, The Fox by Elton John
- 1982: All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes by Pete Townshend, Jump Up! by Elton John
- 1983: Too Low for Zero by Elton John
- 1984: Hysteria by The Human League
- 1984: Learning to Crawl by The Pretenders; Breaking Hearts by Elton John
- 1985: Listen Like Thieves by INXS; White City by Pete Townshend
- 1987: Kick by INXS
- 1988: Reg Strikes Back by Elton John; Live Nude Guitars by Brian Setzer
- 1989: Sleeping with the Past by Elton John
- 1990: X by INXS
- 1992: The One by Elton John
- 1994: Last of the Independents by The Pretenders, The Lion King soundtrack, Jewel by Marcella Detroit, The Division Bell by Pink Floyd (mixing)
- 1995: Different Class by Pulp
- 1996: Filthy Lucre Live by Sex Pistols
- 1997: The Big Picture by Elton John
- 1998: This Is Hardcore by Pulp
- 1999: Run Devil Run by Paul McCartney
- 2001: Or8? by Hoggboy
- 2004: How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb by U2
- 2006: On an Island by David Gilmour; Razorlight by Razorlight
- 2010: Serotonin by Mystery Jets
- 2013: Snapshot by The Strypes
- Jackson, Blair (1 January 1999). "Producer Chris Thomas: THREE DECADES ON THE CUTTING EDGE AND THE CHARTS". Mix Magazine. Archived from the original on 30 December 2010. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
- "Producer Chris Thomas: THREE DECADES ON THE CUTTING EDGE AND THE CHARTS". Mixonline.com. 1 January 1999. Retrieved 8 May 2020.
- "Happiness is a Warm Gun". The Beatles Bible. 15 March 2008. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
- Mason 2005, p. 178 harvnb error: no target: CITEREFMason2005 (help)
- Classic Albums: The Making of The Dark Side of the Moon (DVD), Eagle Rock Entertainment, 26 August 2003
- Baker, Lenny. "GUITAR WORLD Magazine Presents Legends #16 Classic Rock (February 1993)".
- Harris 2006, p. 135 harvnb error: no target: CITEREFHarris2006 (help)
- Harris 2006, pp. 134–140 harvnb error: no target: CITEREFHarris2006 (help)
- "Roger Waters Revisits The 'Dark Side'". Billboard.com. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
- "The Scream". MOJO: 84. February 2016.
- Michie, Chris (1 October 2000). "The Bill Price Interview". Mixonline.com. Mix. Retrieved 28 December 2016.