Shel Talmy (The Kinks and The Who producer)

by Greg Prato

When Shel Talmy first touched down in England (by way of California) in 1962, he had no idea he was going to soon play a major role in the birth of the British Invasion. But over the next few years, he hooked up with two of the leading bands of this movement - The Who and The Kinks - and produced some of rock's all-time classic tunes, including "You Really Got Me," "My Generation," "All Day and All of the Night," "I Can't Explain," "Sunny Afternoon," and "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere." He also produced another '60s pop classic, "Friday on My Mind," by the Australian act The Easybeats.

Speaking to Songfacts, Talmy, who nowadays resides once again on the West Coast, was up for discussing England in the '60s, production techniques, and the stories behind several of the classics he oversaw. It turns out he is still very much interested in working with artists.
Keith Moon, Shel Talmy and Pete Townshend on the cover of Talmy's <b>Making Time</b> compilationKeith Moon, Shel Talmy and Pete Townshend on the cover of Talmy's Making Time compilation
Greg Prato (Songfacts): When you arrived in England, did you have any idea there was a musical movement on the horizon?

Shel Talmy: The quick answer is no. Nor did I expect to stay on there. I thought I was going for five weeks and coming back to LA.

No, nothing was happening. They were doing what most of the Brits were actually calling "polite music." They hadn't glommed on to American rock n' roll in any way, shape, or form. There were a few exceptions of course, but no real movement had happened at all.

Songfacts: How did you end up in England?

Talmy: I was a recording engineer in LA, and the studio I was working for [Conway Studios] was owned by an English guy [Phil Yeend] who became my very good friend, and he kept telling me about the wonders of England. I thought being in my very early 20s it would behoove me to go and check it out before life passed me by. So, I just thought I'd be gone for five weeks and I'd be back. I had a deal waiting in LA as a producer and all kinds of stuff. That never happened.

Songfacts: When you first arrived, how much different was England to California for you?

Talmy: Oh, it was totally different. It was parochial, to say the least. Certainly way less modern in every way, shape, or form. Except I think they were more advanced in terms of "interpersonal contacts." Meaning sex. Everybody was enjoying sex, unlike what was happening in America at the time.

Songfacts: How would you compare the recording studios in England to the US at the time?

Talmy: They were pretty much the same. The good studios were very much on par with what was happening here.

Songfacts: How different or similar were the production techniques in both countries?

Talmy: I guess they were about the same. The main difference is how they were recording, because what I brought with me - after a lot of experimentation here in LA - was how to record drums and guitars better. I had worked out a way with Phil to use 12 mics on drums, and at the time I got to England, everybody was using three mics. The first session I did there, I said, "I'm using 12 mics." They said, "You can't do that. It will phase." And I said, "Well, I guess you'll have to wait and see." About two months later, everybody was using 12 mics.

The Who had just three instruments, but made quite a racket, much of it coming from Keith Moon's drums. "My Generation" is one of the most musically innovative songs of the era, with John Entwistle's bass riff where the lead guitar would typically be, and a rave-up at the end where everyone cuts loose. Talmy somehow held it all together in the studio.
Songfacts: Concerning the recording of The Who's "My Generation," how did you wrangle all those instruments into a kind of controlled chaos?

Talmy: Uh... by ear? [Laughs] I was an experienced engineer by that time, and had ideas on how to record. That's what I brought with me. I've been told by various people that I invented rock n' roll in England. I don't think that's the case, but I certainly brought a different way of doing it.

Songfacts: How tricky was it recording Keith Moon's drums in the studio?

Talmy: Oh, he was brilliant. He was my favorite person out of The Who. He was - and still is - the best drummer that ever was for rock n' roll in England. He was great.

Songfacts: How did you go about miking his drums?

Talmy: I used 12 mics. I had overheads, kick drum, two mics on the snare, toms, and all kinds of stuff.

The only story I can tell you about it is Keith - who was known as a wildman drummer - I said, "Do me a favor Keith. I don't care how close you get... don't hit the damn mics. They're too expensive." He said, "No problem. I won't do that." And he never did. He got within a millimeter or two, but he never hit a mic.

Songfacts: What do you recall about the recording of "You Really Got Me" by the Kinks?

Talmy: Again, I brought with me various things, like how to record guitars, which I had experimented with when I was engineering. Dave Davies is one of the most underrated guitarists of all time. He really was a very good guitarist. He was trying to experiment - he had his little Pignose amplifier, but we got it hooked up to a [Vox] AC10, and I was using some techniques I worked out on how to get a raunchier sound with distortion. It wasn't that difficult, because I had done it before in America.

Songfacts: The guitar sound you got on "You Really Got Me" is one of my favorites.

Talmy: Well, thank you. It helped that Dave was as good as he was, and that he was quite happy to listen. Pretty much the same mics were used here and in England, so that part was nice. The acoustics were good and the studios were comparable.

By the way, I always rehearsed before I went in - it wasn't like I just went in and said, "Well, let's see what we're going to do today, guys." I felt that would have been a total waste of time. A studio for me was a place to work, and that's what we did.

Songfacts: "I Can't Explain" by the Who?

Talmy: "I Can't Explain," I did at Pye [Pye Studios in London] - that's the only one I did at Pye. The Who, when I first heard them, I thought, "This is the best actual rock n' roll band I've heard in England."

Pete wrote a song he thought would catch my ear, and he was correct. He used "You Really Got Me" kind of as a model, which it doesn't resemble, but still it was a very melodic song with a lot of stuff happening and a good beat. It took me four takes to get it, because again, we were rehearsed.

"I Can't Explain" was The Who's first single. Talmy wrote the B-side, "Bald Headed Woman""I Can't Explain" was The Who's first single. Talmy wrote the B-side, "Bald Headed Woman"
Songfacts: "Friday On My Mind" by the Easybeats?

Talmy: "Friday On My Mind" was a whole different situation. They approached me via their then-manager. They were Australian, as I'm sure you know, and had been unsuccessful in England. I liked what I'd heard, but I didn't like the songs. So, I said to them, "Guys, go home and write a bunch of songs, come back once a week, and play me what you got." This went on for about seven weeks. I kept rejecting stuff until after the seventh week I heard "Friday on My Mind," and I said, "That's the one we're doing." We did, and the rest as they say is history.

Songfacts: "Dedicated Follower Of Fashion" by the Kinks?

Talmy: Ray Davies was one of the more prolific songwriters I have ever worked with. He could literally write a dozen songs overnight if he felt the mood. We used to get together about once a month or once every week or two and go through the stuff he had. I would pick out the ones that I thought were real far along, and the ones that were not so far along, and the ones that would probably never be far along. "Dedicated Follower Of Fashion" was one that stood out immediately. A song like "Sunny Afternoon," I think I heard four bars, and said, "That's probably our next #1." It was so obvious. That's how we worked.

Songfacts: Do you agree that your work with The Who and The Kinks eventually led to the creation of punk rock?

Talmy: I don't agree. Punk rock initially for me were a bunch of guys who didn't know how to play their instruments. So, I kind of resent the fact that we were called "punk rock." But everybody I used played extremely well. Eventually, punk rockers got better - in fact, I even did The Damned once, and we came up with a couple of good songs because they could play their instruments. They were good. But that was an evolution... we're talking ten years later.

Songfacts: Which song that you produced proved to the hardest to get just right?

Talmy: I don't think I really had one, because we rehearsed and we had an arrangement - which I helped with always - and a routine. What I always tried to do was get within 10% of where I really wanted to hear the stuff in the studio and leave another 10% for inspiration on the spot. That's always been my formula, and that's kind of the way it all worked out. I also took the time with Pete [Townshend] to make sure I was able to catch all of the distortion the right way. He and I sat in the studio for about two or three hours one night and worked out how to mic it the best way, so it was going to come out the best, because he was extraordinary with what he was doing. Nobody was really doing it yet.

Songfacts: Which song that you produced are you most proud of, and why?

Talmy: I'm proud of a lot of the stuff I did, including stuff that never became hits. Obviously, the three or four that you mentioned I'm very proud of, along with "Sunny Afternoon," "Waterloo Sunset," "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere," "Tired of Waiting." I'm also proud of all the stuff I did with the Pentangle, Creation, Chad & Jeremy, and all those people.

Songfacts: What are some tracks that you produced that you feel should have been classics?

Talmy: I'm currently working with a company called Jingle Box, who are a very large licensing company for tracks for TV, films, commercials, etcetera. And they're very interested in these songs. Creation, gosh, I probably had at least 30 commercials with their tracks. As a matter of fact, the latest Audi commercial is using a Creation track, the newest Rambo film is using a Creation track, and Coors Light is using a Chad & Jeremy track. So, there you go.

Songfacts: Are you still interested in producing rock bands? And if so, can potential artists get in touch with you through your site?

Talmy: Yeah, they certainly can. I'm certainly interested. However, things have changed enormously since I was doing rock bands. I really need to know that the rock band that is contacting me has some sort of a deal going, because there's no way I can go and get them deals like I used to. It doesn't work like that anymore. If they have a deal, then I'm extremely interested.

Also, I'm currently looking for somebody that writes melodies for lyrics I'm writing - somebody who is modern-ish. If there's anybody out there who writes melodies who has had some success and is looking for something perhaps new-ish with the lyrics I'm writing - I'm writing something different than a lot of what is going on today - I'd be happy to hear from them, and maybe we can collaborate that way. It would be nice. Going back to Leiber and Stoller, I never found my Mike Stoller to Jerry Leiber. I've always looked for one and never really found one. I'm interested in finding one now.

November 22, 2019
Further reading:

The Who Songfacts
The Kinks Songfacts
The Easybeats Songfacts
Fact or Fiction: British Invasion

More producer interviews:
Alan Parsons
Ron Nevison
Butch Vig

More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 1

  • Ravi Khalsa from Phoeniz Az UsaHow did you come to using 12 microphones for drums?
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