Growing up in the eighties and nineties, spotting Steve Lillywhite’s name in the credits bespoke an aural signature: whether you recorded severe Eno-influenced synth pop like Ultravox, a punk fellow traveler with a histrionic bent like Peter Gabriel, or an Irish band looking for a mix commensurate with the size of their songs and blather like U2, if you could afford him, or your record company stuck you with him, Lillywhite was the man. He was a ringmaster, an organizer of chaos — how could a miracle of bile like Talk Talk Talk survive as to my ears the best post-punk album? Perhaps it prepared him for the miracle of treacle that was the Dave Matthews Band in 1994.
Give him this too: his ear for touchstones was impeccable. Glance at my list below. Someone you know loves The Crossing or Vauxhall and I. Kirsty MacColl’s Electric Landlady, recorded by a terrific singer-songwriter and heavenly background vocalist who happened to be Lillywhite’s wife until her death in 2001, is my pick for Album You Should Know — buy or stream it! None of these albums, in other words, are unknown quantities. Speaking of Dave Matthews, Lillywhite was around long enough for Matthews’ fans to quibble over Lillywhite’s mix of a 2001 album. If you can piss off Diamond Dave and Keith Richards, I suppose you’ve done something right as a producer.
1. Psychedelic Furs – Talk Talk Talk
2. XTC – Black Sea
3. Peter Gabriel – III (Melt)
4. The Rolling Stones – Dirty Work
5. Marshall Crenshaw – Field Day
6. Morrissey – Vauxhall and I
7. U2 – Achtung Baby
8. Kirsty MacColl – Electric Landlady
9. The La’s – The La’s
10. XTC – Drums and Wires
11. Ultravox! – Ha!-Ha!-Ha!
12. U2 – War
13. The Pogues – If I Should Fall from Grace with God
14. Big Country – The Crossing
15. Siouxsie and the Banshees – The Scream