Phil Ramone, the “Pope of Pop,” died on Saturday at the age of 79.
Phil Ramone, one of the greatest modern producers of popular music died Saturday of as-yet-unknown causes. Though many media outlets are reporting Ramone’s age at 72, the New York Times confirmed via public records and family that he was 79. Ramone, born in South Africa and raised in Brooklyn, was a classically trained violinist. His true musical loves, however, were always jazz and pop. He was Zelig-like in the music industry for the past 50+ years, working on everything from John Coltrane to Madonna to the Alice’s Restaurant soundtrack to Harry Belafonte during his career – he was even the recording mastermind behind Marilyn Monroe’s famous “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy in 1962.
Ramone started as a songwriter in the famed Brill Building, then started his own recording studio, A&R Recording, in the late 1950s. From there, he went on to work as an engineer, sound mixer, and producer on hundreds of records over the next 50 years. He was nominated 33 times for Grammy awards and won 14 of them. He won his first Grammy in 1965 for best non-classical recording for his work on the bossa nova classic, Getz/Gilberto. He won Album of the Year Grammys in 1976 for Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years, in 1980 for Billy Joel’s 52nd Street, and in 2004 for Ray Charles’s final studio album, Genius Loves Company. He has also won Grammys for everything from Best Musical Show Album (Promises, Promises and Passion) to four separate Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album awards, all as producer for Tony Bennett albums. Ramone won a coveted Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2005 and also won an Emmy in 1973 for his work on a Duke Ellington television special.
He was a legendary producer who was able to remain close to the musicians he produced – two of his children are named after Paul Simon and Billy Joel. Even though he was considered conservative as far as how deep of a fingerprint a producer should leave on a record, he was quite innovative in the studio and worked with notable nonconformists such as Bob Dylan, The Band and Lou Reed. Also – Ramone was the one who convinced Billy Joel to be a trailblazer with the new CD format coming out in the early 1980s and 52nd Street ultimately became the first album released in CD format in 1982. Phil Ramone was a true pop pioneer – see the results of some his finest work below with Billy Joel’s “Big Shot” off of 52nd Street and then Paul Simon’s title track to Still Crazy After All These Years below: