Spectropop remembers

MICKIE MOST (1938 - 2003)

Prolific pop producer whose ability to match a song to a performer ensured hit after hit.

Mickie Most, who has died of cancer in London aged 64, was one of the UK's most successful pop music producers, enjoying consistent hits from 1964 until the mid-1980s. Most's legacy includes such pop classics as House Of The Rising Sun, Hi-Ho Silver Lining, Mellow Yellow and You Sexy Thing. Yet a Mickie Most production often signalled pop fluff, with Most employing his considerable abilities to create hits around artists chosen purely for their pin-up appeal. In this sense, he laid the blueprint for the boy bands and girl groups that dominate today's charts. Most so consistently placed the right song with the right singer that he claimed to have had more worldwide No 1 hits than any other producer.

Born Michael Hayes in Aldershot, the son of a regimental sergeant-major, Most left school at 15 and broke into Britain's fledgling 1950s rock'n'roll scene as a member of the Most Brothers, who regularly played the Two Is coffee bar in London, a popular place for emerging rock acts. The Most Brothers enjoyed UK success with It Takes A Whole Lotta Loving To Keep My Baby Happy; then quickly faded. Changing his name to Mickie Most, the singer followed his wife Christine back to her native South Africa in 1959, and found pop stardom there, fronting The Playboys and scoring 11 consecutive No 1s with covers of contemporary American songs.

Most returned to England in 1962, but after scoring only one minor hit with Oh Mr Porter, he realised that he was unlikely to succeed. So he turned to other areas of the music industry. Initially this involved selling records in supermarkets and petrol stations, placing his discs in strategically placed racks (he would name his company RAK).

When this looked to be less than lucrative, he decided to start producing pop records. Most was both talented and incredibly lucky - seeing Newcastle rhythm and blues outfit the Animals at London's Crawdaddy Club, he signed them to EMI with the proviso that he was their producer. Their debut single, Baby Let Me Take You Home, was only a minor hit, but the follow-up, House Of The Rising Sun, a powerful and brooding interpretation of a Josh White blues song that they released in the summer of 1964, proved an instant classic and topped both the UK and US pop charts. Most won a Grammy at that year's awards and the groups he produced would be at the helm of the British invasion that dominated the US charts for the next two years.

His talent was in understanding what constituted a good song and how to create an arrangement that was distinctive on radio. He created the careers of Donovan, Lulu, the Nashville Teens and the Animals - all of whom enjoyed international success while Most was producing them. Yet Most's most phenomenal success was with the lightweight Manchester act Herman's Hermits. The band's manager Harvey Lisberg presented the Hermits to Most in 1964. Most thought that the group's singer Peter Noone resembled a young John Kennedy, and agreed to sign them. He chose their material and by 1965 Herman's Hermits were challenging the Beatles as the world's most popular band, selling over 10m singles and albums over a 12-month period - all produced by Most.

Most did not adapt well to the new mood that entered rock music in the late-1960s: the Animals fired him in 1965, saying that he forced "too commercial" material on them. Then, having launched Jeff Beck's solo career in 1966 with Hi-Ho Silver Lining, his production of the Yardbirds 1967 album Little Games was a disaster. The band would soon evolve into heavy rock superstars Led Zeppelin, yet Most forced them to record Ten Little Indians and other lightweight fare. Aware that his tastes were not in tune with rock fans, Most stuck with producing pop - much of which critics dismissed as "bubblegum" - for the rest of his life.

In 1969 Most created RAK Records and RAK Music publishing. He and infamous rock manager Peter Grant formed RAK Management, which developed Led Zeppelin and Bad Company into two of the world's most popular rock bands. In the early 1970s, RAK Records scored consistent UK hits with the likes of The Sweet, Smokey, Mud and Suzi Quatro, while working with the songwriting/production team Chinn and Chapman.

Meanwhile, Most's brutally honest assessments of new talent on the ITV variety show New Faces made him a household name. The longest-lasting RAK group was Hot Chocolate, a multiracial band whose hits included Every One's A Winner and You Sexy Thing. The 1980s found Most scoring hits less often, although Racey, Kim Wilde and Johnny Hates Jazz (featuring his son Calvin Hayes) all attained some degree of popularity in the UK.

Most sold RAK to EMI in the late-1980s and continued to make money - he was the first producer in the UK to own the rights to his own records. RAK Studios remains active in St John's Wood. Last year the Sunday Times estimated Most's fortune at £50m in its annual Rich List. A noted cook, Most was also a collector of vintage cars and motorbikes.

He is survived by his wife Christine and three children.

Garth Cartwright - The Guardian

Michael Peter Hayes (Mickie Most), record producer: born June 20, 1938 - died May 30, 2003.