BBC Radio 4 – Desert Island Records
5. He chose a song on a beach to take to his desert island.
“It was by no means a beautiful place. It was as much a dump of a beach as you could find,” laughs Rick, as he presents Rockaway Beach by Ramones, which is inspired by the larger beach city in the United States, located in Queens, New York.
I was the only punk rocker… for a very long time. Yes, it was a bit sad
The song takes him back to his teenage years: “I was the only punk rocker in my school. There were no other punk rockers and there was no internet, so I couldn’t meet like-minded people through social media. I was the only punk rocker… for a very long time. Yes, it was a bit sad! said Rick.
And he still remembers the thrill of discovering Ramones at that time: “They were the first fast-playing band I ever heard, and I remember hearing them in middle school and just laughing. It was really funny to me – it made no sense. And it’s funny to hear them sing Rockaway Beach in such a happy way!
6. He didn’t know how to produce records when he started – but knew exactly what he wanted to hear
“Tome, [rap] was punk rock,” Rick explains. “You didn’t have to be a virtuoso to be a great rapper…You had to have a point of view, something to say, and generally something to get excited about.”
He liked the music he heard in New York City hip hop clubs, but felt that early attempts at recording rap were too polite – and decided the answer was to do it himself:
“The only reason I did it was because I bought 12-inch singles – there weren’t any rap albums yet – and the music in the hip-hop clubs didn’t didn’t sound like those records. I wanted to make records, really for me, that sounded like what I liked going to the club that was a lot more raw, a lot less musical.
“The fact that I didn’t know how to make recordings allowed me to make recordings that were true to what they were,” says Rick, “instead of following the rules of recording where you hire a big band and you make everything sound a certain way. It didn’t. I was doing it much more like someone who didn’t know what they were doing.
7. The artists behind his biggest crossover hit needed persuasion
Rick approached hip hop group Run-DMC – his partner in Def Jam Recordings Russell Simmons was the older brother of DJ Run, one of the group’s founding members – with the idea of recording the 1975 song Walk This Way of the rock band Aerosmith.
“They were okay with the idea of the music…because the rhythm [at the start of the original Walk This Way] – Psst-Dat-Ba-Boom-Boom-Dat Psst-Dat-Ba-Boom-Boom-Dat – was a well known hip hop breakbeat, so you would hear this beat in hip hop clubs already before Run-DMC did it do . They had never heard of Aerosmith and they had never heard of the song Walk This Way, all they heard was the beat of the drum. And the drum beat was the one they were excited to play to.
“Then I suggested, ‘Well, we’re going to do the lyrics, the Aerosmith lyrics,’ and they thought it was crazy, like, ‘Why would we do that? “” But in the end, Run DMC followed Rick’s idea, and the track was an international hit.
“He did what I hoped he would do by just explaining what rap music was to people who didn’t understand,” Rick says.
8. Johnny Cash thought his career was over – until Rick invited him to record again
In 1994, Johnny Cash released the album American Recordings: he was 62 years old and had been widely written off by the music industry. The intense, no-frills, home-recorded album, produced by Rick Rubin, was a huge critical success, and Cash’s career enjoyed a major late revival, including a historic performance at Glastonbury.
Rick recalls his first encounters with Johnny, after seeing him perform in front of a crowd of around 100 guests:
“He didn’t know who I was, but he wanted to understand why I wanted to work with him, because why would anyone want to work with him? In his mind, he was over.
“We just sat and talked for a while. And I said, ‘Well, let’s sit down and play me some songs you like and we’ll figure out what to do.’ He sat in my living room and he just started playing me these songs, most of which I had never heard, old old country songs or old folk songs, and it was beautiful.
Rick continued to work with Johnny Cash, almost until the very end of his life in 2003, making many other recordings:
“He was no longer good enough to shoot. His partner [his wife June] was gone. And his choice was to die or move on. And he chose to continue.