Pharrell Williams names the greatest music producer of all time and says that he was responsible for introducing The Neptunes’ iconic clav sound

Pharrell Williams
(Image credit: Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images for Urban One Honors)

He might be regarded as one of the finest producers of his generation, but when it comes to naming the greatest of all time, it turns out that Pharrell Williams is unequivocal.

“Quincy Jones, obviously!” was his response when asked for his GOAT pick by a reader of The Guardian, who also wanted to know if Williams agreed with Friedrich Nietzsche’s belief that life without music would be a mistake. 

“Life without music would be like a human being without sense,” replied the oft-behatted hitmaker. “I was always making music as a kid, but never thought I could do something with it.

I don’t have the mental endurance to stay on something as long as a film score. There’s a reason Hans Zimmer has two Oscars.

Reflecting on the early part of his life, Williams adds that “I always knew I was going to do music, I just never knew what - whether I would end up as a terrible music teacher or an art teacher who was always asking his friends to come over and play on the side. But this was how it was written and I give thanks every day.”

Another reader wanted to know if it was Williams or Neptunes partner Chad Hugo who introduced the Clavichord/Clavinet sound that became a hallmark of their early productions.

“Man, you’ve put me on the spot, but it was me,” he says. “I’ve always liked different sounds - like how Picasso’s eras were defined by his influences. The clavichord was a way to express Middle Eastern note patterns and chord progressions, but to also be raspy like a guitar. You can hit the 50-yard line between Middle Eastern and traditional guitar licks, like in Superthug.”

Williams also reveals that he wouldn’t consider writing a film score, because he’s not cut out to compose something of that length. 

“There are all kinds of races: relay, marathons, cross-country, sprints,” he explains. “A film is a marathon. Every step has to be pencilled in to take people on a journey. A 15-second jingle would be a sprint. My speciality is the three-to-five-minute race. I don’t have the mental endurance to stay on something as long as a film score. There’s a reason Hans Zimmer has two Oscars.”

Elsewhere, Williams recommends that everyone should go back and listen to De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising and De La Soul Is Dead - soon to be released on streaming services - and says that he’d be keen to collaborate with Playboi Carti. Of potential collaborators from the golden era of ‘70s jazz and R&B, he says that “there’d be many people I’d want to work with from the yacht rock, soft rock, soul or funk part of the ‘70s. And that’s without getting into Burt Bacharach or Stevie Wonder vibes. How would I possibly choose?”

Ben Rogerson
Deputy Editor

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it. 

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