Steve Brown, who brought crisp and anthemic production to some of the UK’s biggest music acts in the 1980s and 90s, has died aged 65 after a short illness relating to a fall at his home in early December.
Brown produced hits such as the Cult’s She Sells Sanctuary, Wham!’s Club Tropicana and the Manic Street Preachers’ Motorcycle Emptiness.
His career began in the early 1970s as a teenager, after a chance encounter with Elton John at a petrol station Brown was working at, with John advising him to call his manager – he ended up with a job as a drum roadie. This led to a tape operator job in a studio alongside an old schoolfriend, Steve Lillywhite, who would also go on to become a successful producer; Brown worked his way up to the role of engineer, for hits including Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day as well as the incoming punk scene.
He stepped up to a co-producer role alongside Robert “Mutt” Lange for the Boomtown Rats in the late 1970s, and segued into the glossy pop of the 1980s, producing hits like Tears Are Not Enough for ABC. His biggest success came in 1983, producing Wham!’s debut album Fantastic, including singles Young Guns (Go for It) and Club Tropicana.
Brown turned away from synthpop and back towards guitars – “I like to produce sounds that you want to turn up,” he said in 1985 – and helped make the Cult’s She Sells Sanctuary into one of the great rock anthems of the 1980s, while also producing with Freddie Mercury, Alison Moyet, the Alarm and more that decade. The Cult paid tribute, saying: “He was hugely influential in the Cult’s evolution and shall forever be entwined in our DNA.”
In the 1990s, he brought a similar stadium sound to the Manic Street Preachers’ single Motorcycle Emptiness, with bassist Nicky Wire also paying tribute, saying they “had so much fun working with Steve. He taught us so much.” He also worked on Mansun’s hit Britpop album Attack of the Grey Lantern.
He is survived by his wife of 36 years, Jacky and their two sons Max and Luke. “He was the loveliest of men, kind, generous, incredibly funny,” Jacky said. “He lit up a room with his humour, and always tried to help those with less than he had. He left a true legacy both professionally and personally.”