Skip to main content

Enter your email below to be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Please enter a valid email address
Please accept the terms
Best Tony Visconti Productions: 20 Game-Changing Albums Shaped By The Studio Maestro
List & Guides

Best Tony Visconti Productions: 20 Game-Changing Albums Shaped By The Studio Maestro

On albums with Bolan, Bowie and beyond, the best Tony Visconti productions have changed the face of music.


The sound of modern music would probably have been very different – and not half as exhilarating – if it hadn’t been touched by the hand of Tony Visconti. Born in Brooklyn, New York City, in 1944, and a lover of music from an early age, Visconti was proficient on a variety of instruments in his youth, but he would influence the course of music from the other side of the studio glass. Indeed, his journey to becoming one of the most influential producers in history began in earnest in 1968, with a move to London brokered by British producer and A&R man Denny Cordell. This led to him to making groundbreaking records with future-shaping 70s superstars David Bowie and Marc Bolan – and the best Tony Visconti productions of that era still cast a shadow over rock music today.

In a 2023 interview with The Guardian, Visconti said, “There’s no ‘Visconti sound’. I’m not Phil Spector or someone who comes in and says, ‘We’ll do it my way.’” And yet he remains one of rock music’s most iconic figures when it comes to innovative production work, and – as Iggy Pop’s The Idiot and The Stranglers’ La Folie albums also reveal – he’s a master studio mixer, too.

In tribute of a career that spans six decades, we take a chronological look through the best Tony Visconti productions.

Best Tony Visconti Productions: 20 Game-Changing Albums Shaped By The Studio Maestro

Badfinger: ‘Magic Christian Music’ (Apple, 1970)

Tony Visconti’s initial production credits included Tyrannosaurus Rex’s 1968 debut album, My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair… But Now They’re Content To Wear Stars On Their Brows, and David Bowie’s self-titled second album (aside from the Gus Dudgeon-helmed song Space Oddity). These CV entries now seem seismic, but, on the cusp of the 70s, Visconti’s work with the talented yet star-crossed Welsh rockers Badfinger was arguably deemed to be more significant.

Both parties initially came across each other when Visconti produced several tracks on 1969’s Maybe Tomorrow, cut while the band were still known as The Iveys. Despite being recorded for The Beatles’ Apple imprint, that title only saw limited release, though a number of its songs were revisited for Badfinger’s official debut album, Magic Christian Music. A notably more high-profile release, the record also featured several tracks produced by Paul McCartney (including the band’s biggest hit, the UK Top 10 Come And Get It). Nonetheless, Visconti’s sympathetic production suited Badfinger’s beautifully crafted, baroque and psych-infused power-pop, and many of Magic Christian Music’s best tracks – not least Dear Angie, Maybe Tomorrow and Crimson Ship – proudly bore his stamp.

Must hear: Dear Angie

Gentle Giant: ‘Acquiring The Taste’ (Vertigo, 1971)

During the early-to-mid-70s, Tony Visconti became the go-to producer for many of the era’s up-and-coming progressive rock acts, including The Strawbs, Canterbury scenesters Caravan and the virtuosic, London-based Gentle Giant. Based around three talented multi-instrumental siblings, Phil, Derek and Ray Shulman, the latter act cut their first two albums – Gentle Giant and Acquiring The Taste – with Visconti at the helm. Both are sprinkled with magic, with the former broadly adhering more to blues, rock and soul stylings, while the adventurous Acquiring The Taste showcased tracks such as Pantagruel’s Nativity, Edge Of Twilight and Plain Truth, reflecting Gentle Giant’s love of contemporary classical music.

Must hear: Pantagruel’s Nativity

T. Rex: ‘Electric Warrior’ (Fly/Reprise, 1971)

Tony Visconti’s association with Marc Bolan lasted for seven years and sired nine full-length studio albums, during which time the producer oversaw the artist’s transformation from trippy acoustic troubadour through to grinding, Gibson Les Paul-toting electric glam-rock god. After four albums’ worth of whimsical folk as Tyrannosaurus Rex, Bolan’s makeover began in earnest with the standalone hits Ride A White Swan and the UK chart-topping Hot Love during 1970, and flourished into full bloom on 1971’s magnificent Electric Warrior. By this time, Visconti had helped shape the freshly-minted four-piece T. Rex into a lean, mean boogie machine with across-the-board appeal – and his peerless production and otherworldly string arrangements played significant parts in the success of not just the chart-topping Electric Warrior, but also further contenders among the best Tony Visconti productions, including 1972’s The Slider and the following year’s soul-infused Tanx.

Must hear: Jeepster

Sparks: ‘Indiscreet’ (Island, 1975)

In a 2020 interview with Rock And Roll Globe, Tony Visconti recalled his initial collaboration with Sparks’ Ron and Russell Mael by revealing that he “fed into the Sparks desire to make art-rock and get as far out as possible with their music… They encouraged me and I encouraged them to push the boundaries.” Certainly, Indiscreet benefitted from this meeting of minds, and it remains not only one of the best Tony Visconti productions but also one of Sparks’ most sonically daring and audaciously realised albums. Band and producer alike clearly relished the chance to take on everything from fist-punching rockers (Happy Hunting Ground) through to 1930s-style swing jazz (Looks, Looks, Looks) and even the exquisitely coquettish chamber-folk of Under The Table With Her – and they pulled the whole caboodle off with aplomb.

Must hear: Under The Table With Her

David Bowie: ‘“Heroes”’ (RCA, 1977)

David Bowie and Tony Visconti’s close working relationship produced an astonishing body of future-shaping music which has been pored over in microscopic detail – and no doubt will be for years yet to come. Consequently, other innovative titles ranging from the dark-hued rock of The Man Who Sold The World through to the breathtaking Philly soul stylings of Young Americans could easily have made the cut among the best Tony Visconti productions.

Nonetheless, Bowie’s groundbreaking “Berlin Trilogy” of releases (the three albums recorded before, during and after his sojourn in Berlin, from 1976 to 1978) perhaps spawned the most influential music of his career, so it would be remiss not to include one entry from this trio. Again, the new-wave-presaging Low and/or Lodger would be equally appropriate, yet “Heroes” is perhaps the one among them touched most by Visconti’s hand. The sole “Berlin” album recorded entirely at Hansa Tonstudio, in Germany’s capital, its songs came from spontaneous studio jams, and they may never have been captured had it not been for Visconti’s vigilance – and his decision to keep a two-track tape machine running at all times.

Also, Bowie famously immortalised his producer in the lyrics to “Heroes”’s magnificent title song, with the lines “And the guns shot above our heads/And we kissed as though nothing could fall” relating to a moment when Bowie glanced out of the studio window and saw Visconti kissing his then girlfriend and “Heroes” backing singer, Antonia Maass, right by the notorious Berlin Wall.

Must hear: “Heroes”

Thin Lizzy: ‘Bad Reputation’ (Vertigo, 1977)

Recalling his mid-to-late-70s production work with Thin Lizzy in a 2023 Record Collector feature, Tony Visconti said, “They expected some Bowie-type input from me, so I had permission to take chances with them.” This approach led to the realisation of one of the beloved Irish rockers’ most diverse and satisfying studio albums, 1977’s Bad Reputation, which featured fiercely-executed rockers (Killer Without A Cause, the lean and menacing title track) rubbing shoulders with glorious widescreen pop-rock songs (Southbound, That Woman’s Gonna Break Your Heart), heartfelt confessionals (Downtown Sundown) and the glorious Celtic soul of Phil Lynott’s Van Morrison-inspired Dancing In The Moonlight (It’s Caught Me In Its Spotlight).

Visconti would stay on to capture the last hurrah of the classic, Brian Robertson-era Lizzy on the magnificent Live And Dangerous, and would produce another barnstorming studio set, Black Rose, in 1979, yet Phil Lynott and company would never again make a record with quite the same derring-do or sense of adventure Visconti coaxed out of them for Bad Reputation.

Must hear: Dancing In The Moonlight (It’s Caught Me In Its Spotlight)

The Radiators: ‘Ghostown’ (Chiswick, 1979)

Another Dublin band to benefit from Visconti’s production work, The Radiators (originally known as The Radiators From Space) had links with Thin Lizzy, as they supported Phil Lynott’s team on their tour in support of Bad Reputation. Widely accepted as Ireland’s first punk band, The Radiators featured The Pogues’ future guitarist/songwriter Philip Chevron and Steve “Rapid” Averill, the latter of whom later found fame designing sleeves for U2.

Signing with London’s Chiswick imprint, the group scored an unlikely Irish Top 20 hit with their frantic debut single, Television Screen, prior to the release of their 1977 full-length, TV Tube Heart. That album’s notably more sophisticated follow-up, Ghostown (1979), featured evocative string arrangements that alone earn a place among the best Tony Visconti productions, and included excellent tracks such as Walking Home Alone Again and Song Of The Faithful Departed. The record enjoyed critical acclaim on release and has become a cult-level classic, but its poor sales led to the band splitting in 1981.

Must hear: Song Of The Faithful Departed

Hazel O’Connor: ‘Breaking Glass’ (A&M, 1980)

A portrayal of modern-day exploitation and the seedier side of the post-punk music industry, the 1980 film Breaking Glass featured Coventry-born singer-songwriter Hazel O’Connor playing the lead role of Kate Crowley opposite Jonathan Pryce and Phil Daniels (of Quadrophenia and Blur’s Parklife fame). Though it arrived in a blaze of publicity, the film is now primarily recalled for its soundtrack – made-up entirely of O’Connor’s brittle but engaging songs – which, to all intents and purposes, became the singer’s debut album. Visconti was heavily involved in the creation of the record, playing keyboards and arranging the songs in addition to producing. His input greatly benefitted the UK Top 5 success of a record that also spawned two spin-off UK Top 10 hits, Eighth Day and the sweeping ballad Will You?

Must hear: Will You?

The Boomtown Rats: ‘Mondo Bongo’ (Mercury, 1981)

The final Boomtown Rats album to feature guitarist Gerry Cott – and arguably the group’s last consistently great record – Mondo Bongo proffered a playful, if often lyrically barbed collection of songs, with Tony Visconti happy to facilitate the Dublin group’s desire to experiment beyond their established new-wave boundaries. A case in point: the album’s lead single, Banana Republic, pitted a ska-reggae hook against one of Bob Geldof’s most pointed lyrical diatribes about Ireland’s political corruption, yet still resulted in a Top 3 hit in both the UK and Ireland. Though greeted with mixed reviews, the single’s underrated parent album also went Top 10 and garnered a rave Rolling Stone review in which David Fricke pegged it as “an intoxicating mixture of pop and punk”.

Must hear: Banana Republic

Elaine Paige: ‘Stages’ (Warner Music, 1983)

Tony Visconti’s love of the wider musical spectrum has often allowed him to complete successful collaborations in areas outside of the typical rock and pop realm. One such example of this among the best Tony Visconti productions was his work with actress, singer and West End theatre star Elaine Paige, which resulted in a run of four consecutive UK Top 30 albums during the mid-80s.

Paige first came to mainstream attention in 1978, when she was selected to play Eva Perón in the first production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita, and Visconti would go on to play a significant role in her continued success during the following decade. He produced Paige’s stellar version of Memory, from the musical Cats, which went Top 10 in 1981, and the song would open 1983’s Stages – a superlative collection of songs culled from musicals, among them Good Morning Starshine (from Hair) and I Don’t Know How To Love Him (from Jesus Christ Superstar) – which went double platinum.

Must hear: Memory

Altered Images: ‘Bite’ (Epic, 1983)

As his track record with both David Bowie and Elaine Paige makes abundantly clear, Tony Visconti is in his element when working with theatrically inclined singers. He admitted as much in 2023, when he told Record Collector, “I love to work with singers who are also actors because they’re less inhibited and have an ability to support the lyrics of a song with the proper emotions and nuance.”

Altered Images’ Clare Grogan also had acting experience, and she crossed paths with Visconti after appearing in 1981’s much-loved romcom Gregory’s Girl. The producer was impressed by her talent, saying that Grogan “lit up the whole studio when she sang”. Teaming up with the Glaswegian post-punk outfit for their third album, Bite, Visconti gave the group a sophisticated, mainstream sound that took them away from their tried-and-tested post-punk pop. A startling development at the time, the record has aged gracefully, and the lush textures of songs such as Bring Me Closer and Thinking About You certainly earn it a place among the best Tony Visconti productions.

Must hear: Bring Me Closer

Adam Ant: ‘Vive Le Rock’ (CBS, 1985)

Adam Ant experienced enormous success with Adam And The Ants’ early-80s hits Kings Of The Wild Frontier and Prince Charming, and his solo career got off to a flier with the UK chart-topper Goody Two Shoes. However, after the relative failure of his second solo album, 1983’s Strip, the lifelong David Bowie and Marc Bolan fan turned to Tony Visconti for help.

Their collaboration began well, with the 1984 single Apollo 9 narrowly missing the UK Top 10. 1985’s Vive Le Rock followed through with effervescent, Bolan-esque pop songs including Miss Thing, Razor King and Rip Down. However, while the material delivered, the album missed out on the UK Top 40, and Adam chose to concentrate on his acting career before returning to the fray with 1990’s Manners & Physique.

Must hear: Apollo 9

The Moody Blues: ‘The Other Side Of Life’ (Polydor, 1986)

The Moody Blues are rightly regarded as progressive-rock pioneers, but their collaboration with Tony Visconti prompted a radical stylistic departure on their 12th studio album, 1986’s The Other Side Of Life. Recorded at Visconti’s own Good Earth Studios, in central London, the album’s overall sound was largely dominated by synthesisers and sequencers, and – at Visconti’s instigation – relied heavily upon the cutting-edge technology of the day, such as guitar synths and the Yamaha DX7 sampling keyboard.

Nonetheless, the Moodies were open-minded enough to accept change, with bassist John Lodge later telling Hit Channel that Visconti had “made great records for us. He showed me a lot of things about how to work computers, and that stayed with me.” The group were glad they gave Visconti the reins: The Other Side Of Life’s first single, Your Wildest Dreams, went Top 10 in the US, while the album itself became another platinum-selling entry among the best Tony Visconti productions.

Must hear: Your Wildest Dreams

The Seahorses: ‘Do It Yourself’ (Geffen, 1997)

As John Squire’s immediate post-Stone Roses project, The Seahorses were always going to be put under the microscope. Nevertheless, their lone studio album, Do It Yourself, has its moments. Recorded on a major-label budget in Hollywood’s Royaltone Studios, it’s a sturdy, well-executed guitar-driven rock album whose best tracks – Squire’s hard-rocking Love Is The Law, vocalist Chris Helme’s melancholic Blinded By The Sun and the Squire/Liam Gallagher co-write Love Me And Leave Me – all benefit from Tony Visconti’s assured, widescreen production. Released in May 1997, Do It Yourself arrived when Britpop was in its death throes, yet it still rose to No.3, went platinum in the UK and, regardless of any flaws, it remains superior to The Stone Roses’ sprawling Second Coming.

Must hear: Blinded By The Sun

Manic Street Preachers: ‘Lifeblood’ (Epic, 2004)

In the early years of the 21st century, Tony Visconti was busily fielding calls from younger bands enamoured by his production work on David Bowie and Marc Bolan’s records. One such act, enduring Welsh rockers Manic Street Preachers, loved Visconti’s contributions to Bowie’s 2003 album, Reality, so much, they even wanted to work with the producer at the same complex in which that record had been created – New York’s Looking Glass Studios.

The two parties got on well (“James [Dean Bradfield, Manics frontman] is a great singer, he knows how to belt it out,” Visconti later told Record Collector), and the songs Visconti helmed for the Manics’ underrated seventh album, Lifeblood, are more than worthy of their place among the best Tony Visconti productions. Emily makes for a gloriously dignified tribute to Emmeline Pankhurst, while the haunting Cardiff Afterlife is truly sublime.

Must hear: Cardiff Afterlife

Morrissey: ‘Ringleader Of The Tormentors’ (Sanctuary, 2006)

On paper, the idea of The Smiths’ former vocalist, Morrissey, collaborating with Tony Visconti was tantalising enough, and their work together on 2006’s high-profile Ringleader Of The Tormentors more than lived up to the billing. Recorded in Rome and containing a track (Dear God Please Help Me) featuring a string arrangement by the legendary Ennio Morricone, Ringleader Of The Tormentors showcased Morrissey at what Visconti referred to as his “passionate and confident best”. The producer’s arranging skills also played a significant role in ensuring that the record was a top-drawer triumph which deservedly went straight to No.1 in the UK. During the sessions, Visconti described Ringleader Of The Tormentors as “one of the best albums I’ve ever worked on” in an interview on his website, and lush, dashing pop songs such as You Have Killed Me, The Youngest Was The Most Loved and On The Streets I Ran suggest his claim was not so wide of the mark.

Must hear: You Have Killed Me

Angélique Kidjo: ‘Djin Djin’ (Razor & Tie, 2007)

Dubbed “Africa’s premier diva” by Time magazine, Beninese-French singer-songwriter, activist, actress and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo received several Grammy nominations for her earlier albums, but she finally won one with her eighth full-length release, the heady Djin Djin. Though heavily rooted in the singer’s native West African culture – and featuring songs sung in French and her traditional Yoruba language – the record had a lightness of touch courtesy of Tony Visconti’s masterful production (and the presence of guest stars ranging from Joss Stone to Alicia Keys, Josh Groban and Peter Gabriel), which gave it enough of a Western pop sensibility to achieve crossover success.

Must hear: Salala (ft. Peter Gabriel)

David Bowie: ‘Blackstar’ (ISO/Columbia/Sony, 2016)

The music world was deeply affected by David Bowie’s death, on 10 January 2016 – an event all the more shocking, as it came just two days after the release of Bowie’s final studio album, the remarkable Blackstar. Bowie recruited a New York jazz quartet, led by saxophonist Donny McCaslin, for the sessions, which were overseen by Tony Visconti. Explaining the logic, Visconti later told Mojo, “If we’d used [Bowie’s] former musicians they would be rock people playing jazz… Having jazz guys play rock music turns it upside down.”

That was certainly the case, as Blackstar really was something special. With both artist and producer on top form, the album captured Bowie confronting his own mortality with dignity and guile on Lazarus and Dollar Days, but it also included daring, genre-defying tracks such as Girl Loves Me and the endlessly shape-shifting, ten-minute title track. It all added up to a suitably spectacular farewell from rock’s ultimate master of reinvention.

Must hear: Lazarus

The Damned: ‘Evil Spirits’ (Spinefarm, 2018)

The Damned’s most high-profile release in years, 2018’s Evil Spirits benefitted enormously from one of the best Tony Visconti productions of the 2010s, and it scored the legendary punks UK Top 10 chart success for the very first time. The album’s chart peak of No.7 was well deserved, for The Damned had prepared some of their finest songs for the record, with the likes of Look Left, Devil In Disguise and the brilliant, John Barry-esque Standing On The Edge Of Tomorrow all bottling the group’s heady brew of punk, pop and psychedelia.

Speaking to NME, guitarist Captain Sensible revealed that Visconti’s production methodology was key to Evil Spirits’ success. “There’s something wonderful about the 70s sounds; glam, rock and punk records, they all sound so great,” he said. “Tony specialises in beautifully crafted old-school production. He had us all playing live, bashing it out in the same room with a focus on getting the initial band version of each song as close as possible to the finished thing.”

Must hear: Standing On The Edge Of Tomorrow

Perry Farrell: ‘Kind Heaven’ (BMG, 2019)

Like many of the artists featured in this list of the best Tony Visconti productions, flamboyant Jane’s Addiction and Porno For Pyros frontman Perry Farrell was inspired to form a band after falling in love with David Bowie and Marc Bolan, so it’s no surprise that he would eventually seek out their primary sonic architect for a collaboration of his own. With hindsight, we can only ask what took him so long, for Farrell’s link-up with Tony Visconti produced one of his very best records, 2019’s Kind Heaven. Stuffed with life and energy, the album included storming, politically charged rockers ((Red, White, And Blue) Cheerfulness, Pirate Punk Politician) in addition to club-friendly tracks such as Machine Girl and Spend The Body.

Visconti’s deft production guides the whole record, though his orchestral skills particularly enhance More Than I Could Bear and the grandstanding Let’s All Pray For This World. In response, American Songwriter probably nailed it best, with their review declaring, “The 60-year-old Farrell sounds inspired and as edgy as 30 some years ago. If this collaboration with the 75-year-old Visconti is any indication, age has not dulled either innovator.”

Must hear: Pirate Punk Politician

Find out where Tony Visconti ranks among the best music producers of all time.

More Like This

Best Yes Albums: All 23 Studio Releases, Ranked, Reviewed
List & Guides

Best Yes Albums: All 23 Studio Releases, Ranked, Reviewed

Seminal prog-rock classics, the best Yes albums showcase the incredible musicianship at the heart of the group’s success.

‘Animals’: A Track-By-Track Guide To Pink Floyd’s Orwellian Opus
List & Guides

‘Animals’: A Track-By-Track Guide To Pink Floyd’s Orwellian Opus

A track-by-track guide to every song on Pink Floyd’s ‘Animals’ album – a politically charged howl that captured the unrest of 70s Britain.

Sign up to our newsletter

Be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Sign Up