Where To Start With... Mark Ronson
These days, thanks in large part to his ubiquitous 2014 hit 'Uptown Funk', DJ and producer Mark Ronson can justifiably be considered a household name the world over. But even for someone who grew up in the kind of surroundings that made a career in music seem almost inevitable, not even Ronson himself could have predicted the kind of success that has seen him pick up numerous Grammys and produce one of the biggest-selling singles of all time.
Back in 2001, when Ronson made a cameo appearance in Ben Stiller's hit comedy Zoolander, it's unlikely anyone outside of New York City would have recognised him. Born in Notting Hill in London, Ronson moved to the city at the age of eight with his mother and his stepfather, Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones, growing up on Manhattan's Upper West Side in a household surrounded by music and counting the likes of Sean Ono Lennon amongst his childhood friends.
By the end of the 1990s, Ronson had made a name for himself on the New York club scene, where his eclectic DJ sets had seen him gradually move away from playing the hip-hop clubs where he began his fledgling career and become a regular fixture at high-profile events and parties all over the city. It was at one of these that he was introduced to singer Nikka Costa by her manager, who had been impressed by Ronson's musicianship and suggested the pair could work together.
Ronson ended up co-producing Costa's 2001 album Everybody Got Their Something, using connections he'd made producing music for a Tommy Hilfiger ad to get one of the album's singles, 'Like a Feather', licensed for one of their campaigns. The album proved to be Ronson's first big step in the transition from DJ to producer, and also helped him secure a record deal from Elektra.
His debut album Here Comes The Fuzz arrived in 2003 and showcased Ronson's production talents with the help of a laundry list of guests stars. Still working very much in the genre of hip-hop, the album featured vocals from Ghostface Killah, M.O.P., Nate Dogg, Mos Def an Q-Tip, as well as appearances from others such as Jack White and Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo. While the album was well-received by critics and saw one of its singles, 'Ooh Wee', debut at No. 15 on the UK Singles Chart, the album sold poorly and, just two weeks after its release, Ronson was dropped by his record label.
Despite this, Ronson continued to grow his production portfolio, contributing tracks to albums by Lily Allen and Christina Aguilera. Then his publishing company got in touch to say that a young, British singer was in the process of creating a follow-up to her debut album, and that they'd like to put her in touch with him to see if they could work together. The singer was Amy Winehouse, and the album they recorded together, Back to Black, catapulted them both into the big time.
On the back of Back to Black's success, Ronson released his second album Version in 2007, applying the same retro style to a series of cover versions by the likes of Radiohead, The Smiths and The Zutons, with Winehouse providing lead vocals on a cover of the latter's 'Valerie'. During this time Ronson continued work as a producer, adding the likes of Adele, Nas and Bruno Mars to his expanding list of production credits.
A third album, Record Collection, arrived in 2010 under the name Mark Ronson & The Business International, which garnered good reviews and showcased Ronson's skills in different genres, but it was his next album that would see him jump to another level of commercial success. Aside from the stupendous success of its inescapable lead single 'Uptown Funk', the Uptown Special album as a whole was arguably Ronson's best yet, incorporating a range of musical styles but still managing to sound more cohesive than any of his previous efforts.
This week Ronson returns with album No. 5, which the man himself has described as “definitely the best thing” he's ever done, adding that he's created an album filled with “sad bangers.” Late Night Feelings contains 13 new tracks and features a list of guest appearances that includes Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys, Lykke Li, Camila Cabello, Yebba and King Princess, among several others.
You can find the video for the album's title track below, beneath that we've picked out five key tracks from Mark Ronson's career so far...
Currently enjoying a bit of a resurgence thanks to its use in an ad for Dominos Pizza, 'Ooh Wee' was arguably the standout track on Ronson's debut album and even though it's much more in the hip-hop vein than most of his later work, the song still has the feel-good party vibe that was all over Uptown Special. Based around a sample of Boney M's hit 'Sunny' and featuring the talents of both Nate Dogg and Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah, it still sounds just as good as it ever did.
One of two highlights we've picked from Version, this cover of Radiohead's 'Just' features vocals from Phantom Planet frontman Alex Greenwald and adds funky horns to proceedings and achieves the unlikely goal of creating a Radiohead song you can dance to.
The video for the track is a tongue-in-cheek recreation of the one created by Jamie Thraves for Radiohead's original, only here Ronson is every member of the band, while the passersby on the pavement outside mock him for not “writing his own songs”.
Originally a minor hit for Liverpool band The Zutons in 2006, 'Valerie' is the second track we've picked from Version, partly because it's one of the album's tracks and sees Ronson hooking up with Amy Winehouse for a second time, but also because it achieves the rare feat of improving on the original (with apologies to Zutons frontman Dave McCabe).
Ronson version is based around the beat from The Jam's 'A Town Called Malice', which takes the track into pure Motown territory, adding Winehouse's distinctive, smoky vocals and reaching No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart.
'Bang Bang Bang'
The opening salvo from Ronson's third album Record Collection is also one of its standout tracks, a slice of cool synth pop made even better by Q-Tip's rap verses and MNDR's unsettling nursery rhyme vocals. Record Collection may not have been Ronson's most successful album from a commercial point of view, but there's much more stylistic scope across its 14 songs than on his previous records, but nothing that quite matches the immediacy of its opening track.
We had to include it on the list, didn't we? How could we not? Yes, you've heard it already, of course you have. Everyone has. You couldn't escape it. It was on in the car, in that cafe you went for lunch, at the hairdressers, and you only popped into that supermarket for milk but, damn, if they weren't playing it in there too.
It's been streamed on Youtube more than 3.5 billion times. One more won't hurt, will it?