Despite his attempts to remain modestly out of the public eye, Robert "Mutt" Lange will always be recognized as one of the world's most renowned record producers. His career spans decades and genres, and he holds the distinct honor of working on seven of the hundred top-selling albums of all time.
Lange was the second of three boys born to his parents in Mufilira, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). His father was a mining engineer and his mother a cultured woman from a well-to-do German family. Lange's friends called him John—his middle name—but his parents, fond of nicknames, called him "Mutt," a tag that would stick for years to come. From a young age he took an interest in country music, although Africa's mining towns weren't particularly tuned in to American culture. One artist that did, however, transcend the cross-Atlantic boundary was singer Slim Whitman—a favorite of the young Mutt.
Lange first began playing guitar in a band when his parents sent him to boarding school in Belfast, South Africa. After high school, he took a job producing commercials at a recording studio in that country, and he formed the bands Sound Reason and Hocus with some friends near Johannesburg. Hocus was comprised of Lange on bass, vocalist-pianist Stevie Van Kerken (whom Lange soon married), guitarist Steve MacNamara, keyboardist Allan Goldswain, and drummer Geoff Williams. During the band's less-than-illustrious career, they released only a handful of singles. When Hocus broke up, Lange decided to concentrate on his production work, scoring a few hits for other artists in South Africa. Within a couple of years, however, he and his new wife moved to London, England.
London in the early 1970s was rife with musical talent and Lange flourished in the city's cultural environment. He immediately found himself with a number of production jobs, his first successes being Graham Parker's Heat Treatment and City Boy's self-titled 1976 debut. Lange went on to produce City Boy's next three albums, earning a solid reputation for his work ethic and the incredibly full sound he achieved. Soon Bob Geldof and his band, the Boomtown Rats, enlisted his services for their first record in 1977.
By 1978, Lange's influence was felt all over London. His next work was for the avant-garde pop group XTC and their White Music LP. In an interview with an XTC fan site, the band's guitarist-vocalist Andy Partridge commented that on Lange's production of "This is Pop," "Mutt focused in on every sound, every curl, and cooked the groove out of us. We must have played this song well over fifty times, over and over and over. Until the cursing under our breath became louder than our guitars and drums. But he boiled a great take out of us. A zen process, when we stopped thinking about it, out it came, the perfect version."
Around this time AC/DC, who had already built a notable following with their first three albums, were searching for a producer to take their sound to another level. With Lange they produced Highway to Hell, their first huge success. After singer Bon Scott died, Lange helped the band find their replacement, Brian Johnson, and produced Back in Black, which eventually sold over 19 million copies and dominated radio charts worldwide. Greg Prato of All Music Guide commented that "Musically, the band hadn't changed much, although producer 'Mutt' Lange helped the group focus their high voltage rock." With Lange at the helm, AC/DC followed up with the less-successful For Those About to Rock (We Salute You).
In 1981 Lange began to branch out, exploring the softer side of rock with Foreigner's album 4. Throughout the recording sessions, he and guitarist Mick Jones butted heads constantly. But when the record—which included hits "Waiting for a Girl Like You," "Urgent," and "Juke Box Hero"—turned out to be the band's greatest success, the feuds were soon forgotten.
Around this same time, Lange was introduced to the up-and-coming British band Def Leppard through their (and AC/DC's) manager, Peter Mansch. The band was so enamored of Lange's previous work that they postponed recording their second album to allow Mutt to finish the Foreigner record before starting theirs. The band felt that their debut had been rushed and they needed Lange's expertise to achieve the success they desired.
Lange gave his signature treatment to the rawsounding Def Leppard, and the result was the radiofriendly High 'N' Dry. While the bright and full sound was a bit of a coup for metal purists, the record garnered heaps of praise and yielded a number of charting singles including "Let it Go" and "Bringin' on the Heartache." Lange's collaboration with the band on their third release, Pyromania, was much more involved: the album credits list him as a cowriter—sometimes principal writer—on all tracks. The album was constructed with a song-by-song building process that took months in the studio. When it was completed, however, it turned out to be a landmark release for both the band and its producer. They even joked that Mutt had become their de facto sixth member.
Despite the attention he gave to the bands with which he collaborated, Lange shunned the industry's glitz and glamour, opting for an almost reclusive existence. When Def Leppard toured to support Pyromania, Lange turned his attention instead to other projects—like new wave popsters the Cars. He left his indelible style on their largely successful Heartbeat City, a record that included the hits "Drive," "You Might Think," and "Magic."
Although Lange once again cowrote all the songs on Def Leppard's Hysteria, he turned down their request to produce the record, since his intense schedule was both mentally and physically exhausting—at the time, he was also producing AC/DC's Who Made Who. When Def Leppard struggled unsuccessfully to find a replacment, Lange took the reins again more than a year later, producing the album that many consider their finest work and one of the best-selling hard rock albums of all time, despite its three years in limbo. Single after single emerged from this record, topping playlists with "Love Bites," "Armageddon It," and one of the 1980s radio's biggest hits, "Pour Some Sugar on Me."
While Lange's success with Def Leppard was definitely his most notable career highlight in the 1980s, he also produced one-off hit makers for Billy Ocean and Huey Lewis and the News. The early 1990s were a period of revitalization for Lange as he produced Michael Bolton's One Thing and Bryan Adams's Waking up the Neighbours. In 1993, however, Lange's career took its biggest step ever when the then-divorced producer met Canadian country singer Shania Twain. After hearing Twain's debut album, Lange contacted her through Mercury Records; they began a phone relationship, playing and singing songs to one another.
"My manager told me this guy in England had seen my video and was interested in me. I guessed he was a songwriter and so eventually I took a call from him. I didn't know who Mutt Lange was," Twain told American Music Channel. Twain and Lange finally met in person that June and by December they were married.
They immediately set to work on their first collaboration, Twain's 1995 chart-topping Woman in Me, writing and producing each track. Among the songs were "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?" and "Any Man of Mine"—Twain's first number one hit. While the album broke the record for the most weeks spent in the country charts' number-one spot, it paled in comparison to the success of Twain's next record, 1997's Come on Over. By the end of 1999 it had sold 36 million copies worldwide and cemented Twain's place in country music history.
For the Record . . .
Born Robert John Lange on November 15, 1948, in Mufilira, Rhodesia; married Stevie Van Kerken, early 1970s (divorced); married Shania Twain, 1993; children: Eja D'Angelo.
Moved from Africa to London after the breakup of his band Hocus, 1970s; produced hit records for AC/DC, Foreigner, Def Leppard, the Cars, Michael Bolton, Bryan Adams, Celine Dion, Shania Twain, and the Backstreet Boys; Grammy Award for cowriting Bryan Adams's "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You." 1991; Grammy for producing Shania Twain's The Woman in Me, 1995; Grammy for cowriting Twain's "You're Still the One," 1998; Grammy for cowriting Twain's "Come on Over," 1999.
Awards: Grammy Awards, Best Song Written Specifi cally for a Motion Picture or for Television for "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You," 1991; Best Country Album for WomaninMe, 1995; Best Country Song for "You're Still the One," 1998; Best Country Song for "Come on Over," 1999.
Addresses: Record company— Mercury Nashville, 60 Music Sq. E., Nashville, TN 37203, phone: (615) 524-7500, website: http://www.mercurynashville.com.
The late 1990s found Lange focusing not only on his wife's mounting success but also on his own label, Zomba Records, which launched the careers of both Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys. He produced the Corrs' In Blue was one of the producers of Celine Dion's All the Way: A Decade of Song. In August of 2001, Twain and Lange's first child, a son named Eja D'Angelo, was born. The couple had to balance parenthood with the songwriting and production of Twain's Up! —another pop-chart smash released the following year.
While Twain still took part in much of the record's promotion, Lange managed to maintain his private lifestyle, staying at their palatial estates in Switzerland and Florida and acquiring the rights to nearly every photo of himself, including those with Twain. It became increasingly common for fans and paparazzi to see Twain alone in public, as she fulfilled her record label's promotion demands. Rumors circulated that the couple were headed towards divorce but Twain assuaged the public's suspicions, explaining her husband's choice to remain out the public eye. She told People, "He doesn't want to be a celebrity; he just wants to be a producer."
(City Boy) City Boy, Mercury, 1976.
(Graham Parker and the Rumour) Heat Treatment, Polygram, 1976.
(City Boy) Young Men Gone West, Mercury, 1977.
(City Boy) Book Early, Mercury, 1978.
(Boomtown Rats) Boomtown Rats, Mercury, 1977.
(Graham Parker and the Rumour) Parkerilla, Malibu, 1978.
(Boomtown Rats) Tonic for the Troops, Mercury, 1978.
(XTC) White Music, Virgin, 1978.
(Foreigner) 4, Atlantic, 1981.
(AC/DC) For Those About to Rock (We Salute You), Sony, 1981.
(Def Leppard) High 'N' Dry, Mercury, 1981.
(Def Leppard) Pyromania, Mobile, 1983.
(The Cars) Heartbeat City, Elektra, 1984.
(AC/DC) Who Made Who, Sony, 1986.
(Def Leppard) Hysteria, Mobile, 1987.
(Billy Ocean) Tear Down These Walls, Jive, 1988.
(Bryan Adams) Waking Up the Neighbours, A&M, 1991.
(Michael Bolton) One Thing, Columbia, 1993.
(Shania Twain) Woman in Me, Mercury, 1995.
(Bryan Adams) 18 'til I Die, A&M, 1996.
(Backstreet Boys) Backstreet Boys, Jive, 1996.
(Backstreet Boys) Backstreet's Back, Jive, 1997.
(Shania Twain) Come on Over, Mercury, 1997.
(Celine Dion) All the Way: A Decade of Song, Sony, 1999.
(Backstreet Boys) Millennium, Jive, 1999.
(The Corrs) In Blue, Atlantic, 2000.
(Shania Twain) Up!, Mercury, 2002.
Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), June 5, 1999.
People, June 14, 1999.
"Back in Black, " All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 4, 2004).
"The Other Half," American Music Channel, http://www.americanmusicchannel.com/interviews/shania.cfm (February 4, 2004).