He created the Beastie Boys but can Rick Rubin make Neil Diamond cool?
By Ciar Byrne and Nicholas Mayes
Published: 28 December 2005
He is the man behind some of the biggest success stories in the music industry. Now Rick Rubin, who launched the Beastie Boys, worked with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Run DMC and revived the career of Johnny Cash has a new ambition – making Neil Diamond cool.
The housewives’ favourite, who shot to fame in the 1970s with hits including “Sweet Caroline” and “Song Sung Blue” is attempting to stage a comeback in Britain.
Rubin has produced Diamond’s new album, 12 Songs, which has already been a commercial and critical hit in the US, where it went straight into the Billboard chart at No 4, the first time the singer has seen one of his albums debut in the Top 10.
The album is released in the UK in early 2006 and, if Rubin’s magic works, it will introduce Diamond to a whole new audience.
Rubin, 42, from Long Island, became involved with the early hip-hop scene in New York. He set up the Def Jam record label with DJ Jazzy Jay in the early 1980s, which produced LL Cool J and Public Enemy. Rubin also produced the Beastie Boys and Run DMC, combining their hip-hop sound with elements of heavy rock. In 1988, he parted amicably from Def Jam and set up the Def American label in Los Angeles, which later became American Recordings, where he worked with such rock acts as Slayer, Danzig and The Cult.
In 1993, Rubin met Cash, whose singing career had taken a dive after Columbia Records dropped him six years earlier. The following year, the two released the first of four albums that were to restore Cash to fame and proved particularly popular with college radio stations.
While working with many of the elder statesmen of rock, a roster that included such luminaries as Mick Jagger, Tom Petty, AC/DC and Donovan, Rubin continued to produce new acts including System of A Down, whose debut album came out in 1998.
Phil Alexander, editor-in-chief of Mojo magazine, believes there are two key reasons for the success of Rubin, who has been described by MTV News as “simply the most important producer of the last 20 years”.
“Firstly, he’s an incredible music fan. He understands an artist’s catalogue and heritage. The second point is that he has a great set of ears. He lets the musician work with stuff then sits and listens back to it. He’s using his ears rather than wasting time twiddling knobs.”
Radio producer and music journalist Paul Sexton said: “Rick Rubin seems to revel in the improbable. It’s impressive enough to uncover three rough diamonds in the streets of Greenwich Village and create white hip-hop, as he basically did with the Beastie Boys. But the sheer sonic scope of what he’s taken on as a producer is extraordinary, the word “versatile” doesn’t do him justice. The Diamond album gets back to the essence of what made him good in the first place, which is exactly what he did with Cash.
“He seems to know these artists better than they know themselves, and I can’t see why Neil Diamond won’t be one of next year’s coolest names to drop.”