Lanois is a titan in the music industry. You have most certainly heard his work, if not his name; he is the producer behind records too numerous to name here, for artists including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Brandon Flowers, The Killers, Robbie Robertson, Ron Sexmith…and so it goes on. Alongside Brian Eno he perhaps most famously co-produced U2’s seminal album, The Joshua Tree. Three of the albums he produced or co-produced have won Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, while four others have been similarly nominated.
What does a producer do, exactly? In short, oversees the recording. This can include artistic functions, like brainstorming, choosing songs and performers, providing feedback during studio recording sessions, running said sessions, and managing the mixing and mastering of tracks. It can also include entrepreneurial functions like overseeing the budget, schedules, contracts and negotiations. It’s a big job indeed, and like so many great producers in music history, Lanois has a trademark sound to his production work: “‘big’ and ‘live’ drum sound, atmospheric guitars, and ambient reverb.” It’s a sound that could define the huge arena bands of the 80s. Lanois, in the 80s, was one of, if not the most, in demand at this craft.
Born in Hull, Quebec in 1951, Lanois grew up in Ancaster, Ontario and turned his hand early to production work. However, he is also a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, with over a dozen records to his name. He’s written film scores as well, including Lost in Mississippi and Sling Blade, with much of his work has been covered by other artists. “The Messenger,” the lead track from his second studio record, was released as a single, but there is no obvious story to be found about this track, no history of chart presence or performance, nothing to suggest its widespread significance. Most notable, it seems, was the Tea Party’s cover; this song is somehow so fitting for that band’s darker, atmospheric sound, and their release of “The Messenger” alongside a video filmed in Toronto, I suspect, is what drew the attention of the Huffintgon Post’s writers to this song. At least they went to source.
Lanois’ legacy and musical greatness are without doubt. But is this one of Canada’s best songs ever? It’s a beautiful, melancholy, haunting piece that’s part of a renowned record, but I think personally it’s too obscure; in a previous post we speculated that chart performance, particularly Stateside, might have been a metric employed by the team compiling this list. Does this selection indicate a preference for artistry over commerce? Or is just a reflection of the authors’ personal tastes, or limited awareness? Nothing says it’s the best like, “because I said so,” but as I’ve said before, Canada has produced a great number of songs with brilliant artistry and global appeal, across all genres. At the end of this countdown, I’ll be sure to recognize some of those songs that were inexplicably absent; songs that make you go, that’s Canadian??! Awesome.
Lanois was, quite rightfully, inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2005, and continues to produce and record today.