Happy Birthday Don Was: His Five Best Production Jobs

Nerds like us - you have to be a music nerd if you're reading a blog on Don Was - have favorite producers, like some sports guys have favorite coaches. Sometimes we listen to an album just because someone we like produced it, or it somehow gives it us extra cred even if we may not like the music the band plays.

Rick Rubin produced four tracks on Adele's mega-smash 21, and that got us to least perk up to it, with winning results. Longtime Radiohead knob-twirler Nigel Godrich produced Paul McCartney's 2005 album Chaos and Creation In the Backyard, and we sought out the album, going against our lingering anti-Paul stance.

Don Was is one of those producers that we follow here and there, from his work with the latter-day Rolling Stones to stints behind the boards for Bonnie Raitt, The B-52's, Willie Nelson and Brian Wilson.

Was born Don Fagenson on September 13, 1952, and saw the Stones when he was just 12 in 1964, leading to his lifelong love of the group. Three decades later, he produced their Voodoo Lounge disc.

His pop-rock duo with David Weiss, Was (Not Was) is probably best known for their single "Walk the Dinosaur," which we had carved in our brain from 1988 until 1991, when it was replaced by the opening riff of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Cub Band."

We also remembering hearing "Dinosaur" a lot at the mall, like from all angles. And who could forget "Dad I'm In Jail"? Was (Not Was)'s line of albums starting in 1981 were hella eclectic affairs, but some think they are very dated. They reunited in 2008 for a new album and some tour dates, and still play festivals.

Before his Stones entrenchment, Was worked on on Bob Dylan's Under The Red Sky, helped Raitt break a new audience with 1989's Nick of Time, and 1991's hit Luck of the Draw, which was propelled by the single "Something To Talk About." Your mother is listening to that song right now while she grocery shops.

In 1997, Was teamed with Brian Wilson to produce I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, one of the Beach Boys mastermind's best modern albums. Was also lensed the documentary about the making of the record; both the film and album were critical darlings.

Was' past few gigs have including producing albums from Todd Snider, Old Crow Medicine Show, Lucinda Williams, Kris Kristofferson, and Stone Temple Pilots. He played bass on last year's Elton John and Leon Russell project, The Union. We'd like to throw in a plug for this one - Ed.

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We picked our five favorite Was albums from his production career, and we included one of his most baffling production jobs from 1999. Remember Chris Gaines? Oh, is "Walk The Dinosaur" not stuck in your head yet? Here it is again.

5. The Rolling Stones, Voodoo Lounge, 1994: The first taste Rocks Off ever had of the modern Stones mechanism in our youth. The rocket-fuled "Love Is Strong," the anthemic "You Got Me Rocking" and "The Worst," one of Keith Richards' best solo cuts. The whole album sounded heavy and muscled. Great stuff.

4. Iggy Pop, Brick By Brick, 1990: OK, let's be honest: this only made our list because it includes "Butt Town" and the immortal line "When you live in Butt Town/ You gotta get down..." which was superbly delivered to us with wry commentary from Messrs Beavis and Butt-Head in the mid-'90s. Oh, and "Candy" was on this album too.

3. Willie Nelson, Across The Borderline, 1993: Was teamed with Paul Simon and Roy Halee to track this Willie LP of of Peter Gabriel, John Hiatt, Stephen Bruton and Dylan covers (among others), and revisiting his own "She's Not For You" from 1973's Shotgun Willie. Willie's take on Simon's "Graceland" is aces. Later in 2005, Was helmed Willie's Countryman, which saw the Red-Headed Stranger communing with reggae.

2. Todd Snider, The Excitement Plan, 2009: Snider got help from Loretta Lynn on this album's "Don't Tempt Me," a track that was turned into a great Conway & Loretta single that time forgot. The characters on Robert Earl Keen's "Corpus Christi Bay" do for Corpus what Springsteen did for Jersey.

1. Rolling Stones, A Bigger Bang, 2005: Suck it, haters. This is a great Stones album, mixed loud and stupid, the way we like our Stones albums. When the band was being collaborative, it cooks. When you hear what sounds like tepid Jagger solo album cast-offs, just fast forward. Our standout is "Oh No, Not You Again," which proved that the boys remembered to save some marching powder from Nellcôte.


Rolling Stones, Exile On Main St. (Rarities Edition), 2010: Was spiffed up ten tracks that were left on the slaughterhouse floor from the Exile sessions to create a bonus disc of rarities from the band's French expedition. Only a true superfan and confidante such as Was could do this material justice, and he very much did. Hopefully in some studio, Was and the guys are concocting new music for us, but until then be sure to revisit his work with the band. Yes, even Bridges To Babylon, which saw him nearly become the sixth Stone.

Garth Brooks Chris Gaines, In the Life of Chris Gaines, 1999:

This was Garth Brooks' Australian Babyface-style rocker alter-ego, produced by Was, in anticipation of a feature film that was never made. To it' credit, it had a great line-up working on it, and had these songs not been sung by a wacky alternate persona and actually been belted by Brooks himself, they could have been hits today.

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