RIP Martin Birch: Five Classic Tracks

August 13, 2020 3 min read

RIP Martin Birch: Five Classic Tracks

Earlier this week, we lost one of the greatest rock producers of all time.

You’ve only got to look at the list of bands Martin Birch worked with to recognize his impact on rock n’ roll. He cut his teeth engineering for Fleetwood Mac and Wishbone Ash before moving on to producing such legends as Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Rainbow and Iron Maiden.

Today, in honor of the late, great production wizard, we’re taking a run through five classic Martin Birch-produced tracks and talking about what makes them so great.

 

Deep Purple – Burn (1973)

For many, the idea that Deep Purple could continue without Ian Gillan and Roger Glover was improbable. Burn not only silenced the doubters, it gave Purple one of their best records in the process. The title track is a bonafide monster, and showcases Birch at his engineering and mixing best. The raunch, yet clarity of Blackmore’s guitar, the precise attack of Paicey’s drums and the tight harmonies of Coverdale and Hughes; it’s rousing stuff. 

 

Rainbow – Stargazer (1976)

Purple may have imploded in the mid-‘70s, but Birch was still on hand to produce the group’s myriad spin-off projects. Indeed, it’s testament to Birch’s shaping of the mighty Purple sound that Richie Blackmore and other Purple alum (more on them in a second) were so keen to tap the producer again. Stargazer from Rainbow rising was opulent, epic baroque-rock at its finest.  

 

Whitesnake – Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City (1980 – Live)

As I’ve already mentioned, Martin Birch had a knack for getting a band’s live feel down in the studio. It’s perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that he was also a live album producer par excellance. 

When it comes to Birch’s “in concert” work, Deep Purple’s Made in Japan and Iron Maiden’s Live After Death are routinely cited as the classics. I’m not going to dispute that – they’re two of my favorite albums of all time – but, I’d also cite Whitesnake’s Live in the Heart of the City as another gem. 

Dave Coverdale’s boys were always better in their earlier, bluesy incarnation than the hair metal posterboys they became, and the version of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City that appears on Live… is living proof of that.

 

Blue Oyster Cult: Veteran of the Psychic Wars (1981)

Veteran of the Psychic Wars is a fascinating number. Coming from the soundtrack to the movie Heavy Metal, there’s nothing particularly metal about it – surprising given the myriad hard rock clients on Birch’s CV (as well as BOC’s panchant for dabbling in the almighty riff). It’s a classic, though; hypnotic, moody and instantly captivating.  

As AV club put it:

The drums are tribal. The synths hum like incantations. The guitar is minimal, applied with ritualistic precision.”

An ethereal gem from a band that dabbled with heaviness and soundscapes in equal measure, Veteran is also testament to Birch’s versatility behind the mixing desk. 

 

Iron Maiden – Powerslave (1984)

Iron Maiden’s Egyptian epic is brought to life in all its opulent glory by Birch’s production. The relentless punch of Steve Harris’s bass, the thunder of Nicko McBrain’s drum kit (and one of my all-time favourite tom sounds on a rock record) and the sublime, layered Bruce Dickinson choir in the chorus – it’s a phenomenal capturing of a bombastic track.  

RIP Martin Birch and thank you for the music. 



Also in Fingerboard Stories

When A Musician Visits Nashville
When A Musician Visits Nashville

January 26, 2024 5 min read

To walk into his store is a sight to behold. The walls are lined with instruments from various eras, from legacy brands like Fender and Gibson to instruments from uncommon makers such as Paoletti and Mervin Davis. The staff are also not shy about letting anyone try anything. Want to play the $20,000 1950s Stratocaster? Go ahead!
If You Have To Ask...
If You Have To Ask...

January 12, 2024 4 min read

Louis Armstrong once famously said, “If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.” Some will say that talking about music is like dancing about architecture. Jazz has undergone several phases over the years, from big band to bebop to fusion to fuzak (though the less said about that one, the better). Many common elements exist in these styles that help define them as jazz.
A Silent Night For Every Player
A Silent Night For Every Player

December 19, 2023 3 min read

One of the most popular, if not the most popular, songs of the holiday season, Silent Night, originated in 1818 in the Austrian village of Oberndorf. Joseph Mohr, the local parish priest, approached Franz Xaver Gruber, a school teacher and organist, with a poem he had written. On Christmas Eve, faced with a malfunctioning organ, Gruber composed a simple melody to accompany Mohr's verses (with a guitar, no less! How fitting for this blog!). The song was first performed on Christmas Eve in 1818 at the St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf