Bearded guru of the recording studio, Rick Rubin has been one of music’s top producers since making his bones as staff producer and creative head of Def Jam Records in the early ‘80s. While his seminal work with Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J and The Beastie Boys cemented his status early on, starting with 1990’s American Recordings by country legend Johnny Cash, Rubin has become the go-to guy for artists trying to recapture their mojo and launch a career comeback. Like any truly great producer, Rubin’s greatest asset is his ears and his ability to match artists with great material or bring out the greatness of their own talents. It’s no wonder everyone from Jay-Z, for whom he produced “99 Problems,” to heavy metal hall of famers Black Sabbath have him on speed dial. The following are the greatest comeback albums he has produced.
10. ZZ Top La Futura (2012)
Perhaps the only rock band to successfully merge drum machines with delta blues, Texas longbeads ZZ Top were a Rick Rubin-collab no brainer. They hadn’t seen the charts since their video-fueled 80s heyday but with Rubin at the board the group put together a top 10 album which critics called their best since the career highpoint Eliminator.
9. Neil Diamond 12 Songs (2005)
Though a critical reevaluation of this famed Brooklyn singer-songwriter had gained steam from the 1990s into the early 2000s no one was paying much attention to Neil Diamond’s recent albums until he hooked up with Rubin for this 2005 collection. Using a similar approach and many of the same musicians he used on his Johnny Cash-productions, Rubin helped Diamond craft his most successful and critically acclaimed album in decades.
8. Dixie Chicks Taking the Long Way (2006)
The Dixie Chicks were everyone’s favorite country band until they took a couple potshots at President George W. Bush at the height of post-911 patriotism and landed on industry blacklists. To get their careers back on track they called a man not exactly known for country music, Johnny Cash records aside. His lush, genre bending approach to the material helped ensure its success and the Chicks return to the top of the charts.
7. Linkin Park Minutes to Midnight (2007)
Four years had passed since Linkin Park’s sophomore record and when the group wanted to ditch their “nu metal” label there was only one man to call. No stranger to mixing rock with rap, Rubin turned the group onto new influences and helped them strip away the excess layers of their sound. The resulting multi-platinum album was such a commercial and artistic success Rubin stuck around for their next two releases.
6. Audioslave Audioslave (2002)
Though their debut record, Audioslave marked the creative comeback for members of two of the 1990s biggest and most influential bands. In a certain sense Rick Rubin put Audioslave together when he suggested the former members of Rage Against The Machine call up x-Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell after singer Zack de la Rocha quit their group. The band only lasted for three albums but both sold well and the group was a major live attraction while they lasted.
5. Tom Petty Wild Flowers (1994)
Tom Petty’s first solo album since 1989 found him tapping Rick Rubin to help give him the strength to break free of the constraints of his band The Heartbreakers. The album’s at once full and sparse production generated the hits “You Don’t Know How It Feels” and “You Wreck Me” and was the first of three records Rubin would helm for Petty and crew.
4. Metallica Death Magnetic (2008)
Though the undisputed biggest heavy metal band in the world, hardcore fans had been crowing for years about how Metallica traded in their early thrash metal sound for mainstream acceptance. With new bassist Robert Trujillo in place the band called Rick Rubin and asked him to help them get back to their roots. The album was both a worldwide hit and a favorite of fans and early reports are that Rubin will be producing heir next record as well.
3. Red Hot Chili Peppers Californication (1999)
Rick Rubin actually produced The Red Hot Chili Peppers 1991 commercial breakthrough Blood Sugar Sex Magik but the pressures of success lead to the departure of guitarist John Frusciante. The band slogged through the decade with a succession of replacements but didn’t make much of an impact until Frusciante returned for their landmark Californication record which expanded both their sound and audience. The group credits producer Rubin with giving them the creative freedom to achieve the album’s unique sound.
2. Black Sabbath 13 (2013)
Heavy metal patriarchs Black Sabbath began recording with avowed fan Rick Rubin in 2001 but the album got derailed when The Osbournes reality TV show became a major hit and the rest of the band went on tour with early 80s singer Ronnie James Dio under the name Heaven & Hell. When they finally got back together in the studio in 2012, former Rage Against The Machine drummer Brad Wilk had replaced founding member Bill Ward on drums, angering many fans. That didn’t stop them though from buying the new album in droves when it was finally released earlier this year, giving them the number 1 album in Canada, the U.K. and on the Billboard album charts in the U.S., the first Sabbath album in their long career to do so.
1. Johnny Cash American Recordings (1994)
Johnny Cash’s stark 1994 masterwork was the album that set the standard of all Rick Rubin comebacks. Find an amazing and largely forgotten old school artist, strip away all the production and preconceptions and record them simply in an environment that lets their talent shine. The Man In Black’s career went back to the dawn of rock n’roll at Sun Records and had endured personal tragedies and monumental successes, all of which he brought to bear as he sat down in front of the microphone with only an acoustic guitar to accompany him on a perfectly selected repertoire of originals, standards and unexpected covers. The pairing and formula were so successful it produced another 6 albums worth of music before Cash’s death in 2003, including the hit song and video for his cover of the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt.”