Experience the late Richard Swift’s pop brilliance in five of his best songs
When news broke Tuesday morning that Richard Swift — the beloved producer, musician and touring member of the Black Keys, the Shins and the Arcs — had died after an undisclosed illness, legions of artists and admirers took to social media to pay homage to an unsung hero.
Swift, who was 41, wasn’t famous and never wrote a commercial hit song, but his singular work resonated through a lot of ear drums.
Among many notable credits, Swift produced or co-produced songs for soul band Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, the Shins, Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier, singer-songwriter Damien Jurado and the Tijuana Panthers.
A pop classicist, Swift composed oft-remarkable work that on first listen sounded transported from the pre-Beatles 1960s, when doo-woppers and beach-combers were turning Brill Building-penned odes into hit records.
Swift issued seven studio albums under various guises and offered a steady supply of singles and EPs, the last of which, “Kensington,” came out in 2012.
That a lot of people are learning of Swift’s work only with his passing is tragic, but he left such a volume of structurally sound, and sublimely inspired, music that his presence will likely endure.
Here are five songs that typify Swift’s approach.
“Lady Luck” (2009)
Singing in sweet falsetto, Swift draws on early 1970s soul music, tapping tambourines and all, in this highlight from his 2009 album, “Atlantic Ocean.” The album title references the seminal soul label, but it’s hardly a throwback record: mixing analog recording techniques and clusters of synth tones, dropping in lovely piano-driven melodies. And, no, that’s not Swift in the video. He’s played by a female stand-in.
“The Bully” (2008)
As a producer, Swift reveled in celebrating the limitations of gear, as if creating the illusion that he’s unearthing a long-buried 45 from your great uncle’s collection. Believe it or not, “The Bully” was recorded not in 1958 but 2008. It features the scratchy, distorted voice of the titular jerk, who’s accused you, the listener, of leaning on his car while he was inside.
“Ballad of You Know Who” (2007)
Father John Misty is all fine and good, but if you want a wink-free piano balladeer, Swift’s your man. Which is to say he was less interested in wit and grins than burrowing into an emotion and living there.
“Losing Sleep” (2006)
Issued while Swift was working to make a dent on the Los Angeles club scene, “Losing Sleep” arrived while hipsters were shifting allegiances from rock to electronic music and classicists such as Swift were working in relative quiet. But, then, one reason why Swift’s music will likely live on is its timelessness.
“Kisses for the Misses” (2004)
During his last few years, Swift had shifted from writing to producing and playing, and helped bring to the public work by Foxygen, the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, singer- songwriter Kevin Morby and indie pop band Tennis. Those recordings are fine and everything, but Swift’s own work is much more majestic and will only grow in stature as the years pass.
Everyone loves you when you’re gone With five years left from the day And nobody wants to sing love songs Today it’ll be OK
From the Emmys to the Oscars.
Get our revamped Envelope newsletter, sent twice a week, for exclusive awards season coverage, behind-the-scenes insights and columnist Glenn Whipp’s commentary.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.