THE PHONE rings just as Mike Chapman is finishing a wee-hours recording session with Suzi Quatro, whose previous Chapman-produced single, "Stumblin' In," enjoyed a lengthy stay in the top 10.
It's his wife. "I'll see you before dawn," the strawberry-blond producer-songwriter shouts over the din. "My body will be there, dear, but my mind will be gone."
A minute later the phone rings again in his Los Angeles studio. "Oh, hello darling," Chapman coos mischievously -- this time to singer Tanya Tucker. "Sure, come on over. I'm going to be here all night."
Forget about Rod Stewart -- this 32-year-old Australian-born record producer is rock 'n' roll's leading ladies' man. He has almost as many hits this year as Pete Rose -- many with a growing stable of pop songstresses.
Last fall Chapman produced two singles -- Exile's "Kiss You All Over" and Nick Gilder's "Hot Child in the City" -- that topped the charts one after another, a feat achieved only by Beatles producer George Martin and Bee Gees mentors Karl Richardson and Albhy Galuten.
Earlier this year, two of the producer's female-lead groups crashed the top 10 simultaneously: Blondie's "Heart of Glass" and Quatro's "Stumblin' In."
Now the album "Get the Knack," yet another Chapman project, is No. 1 in all the charts, as is the Los Angeles pop group's debut single, "My Sharona."
Also on the way from the Chapman hit factory are singles from another girl-lead group, Thieves, who've just released "Four Hundred Dragons," and Zane Buzby, whose "Don't Say No to Me Yankee Garbage" appears in the movie "Americathon." And the producer's telephone darling, Tanya Tucker, begins work on a new album next month.
Despite their pillow talk, Chapman and Tucker are "just friends," whose late-night rendezvous are devoted to discussing material for Tucker's upcoming album. But the ebullient producer confesses that he thrives on feminine attention. "I'd much rather work with women," he says. "They're fun to be around. And they all adore me."
Suzi Quatro agrees: "Not many rock producers are sympathetic to women. Mike's very attentive. Other producers act like they're doing you a favor. Mike makes you feel special, like he's only worried about you."
Chapman is disarmingly immodest about his sudden prominence. "I want to have more hits than anyone's ever dreamed of," he says. "I want people in the music business to get sick of the sound of hits because they'll be sick of hearing my records." Even his license plate brags: MC HITS.
Chapman has good reason to boast. Today's rock producers are stars in their own right. The music press dotes on them, avidly debating every new wrinkle in their studio technique. And many industry insiders admit that the presence of a name producer such as Richard Perry, Peter Asher or Giorgio Moroder often adds immeasurably to album sales.
Chapman's strength is his total involvement in and general control over each project. Unlike most producers, he often writes much of his groups' material, hires a backup band and brings the album in under budget, all the while cajoling his artists to perform at the peak of their abilities.
This is Chapman's second stay at the top. In the early '70s, he and partner Nicky Chinn -- who co-writes the due's songs and runs their business -- were in England and ruled the British charts, churning out swaggering teen epics for top idols like Sweet ("Ballroom Blitz"), Mud ("Tiger Feet"), Smokie ("Wild Wild Angels") and Quatro ("Can the Can").
Even today most Chapman-Chinn tunes are odes to the teen-age libido, bursting with coy sexual imagery and comic-book visions of adolescent lust and violence. Their recent Exile hit, "Kiss You All Over," was so openly erotic that several radio programmers refused to play it at all. Chapman refuses to apologize: "What do you think kids want to hear -- sermons?"
Obviously not. By conservative estimates, Chapman and Chinn have sold over 150 million albums and singles worldwide. But until last year, American chart success eluded them.
"In England, the BBC is the key," Chinn says. "If they go on a record, then its got a great chance to be a hit. But the charts are a mess. You can hear disco, country, rock, a record by a footballer and a comedy single all in the same hour. They don't give a damn about lyrics.
"America is more sophisticated -- its pop music needs more lyric content. Also, in America, if you don't get played on the radio, you don't get sold. It's that simple."
In 1975, Chapman married an American woman and moved to Los Angeles. It took several years to regain his Midas touch. Now nearly every record he touches turns to gold, and several, including "Hot Child in the City" and "Heart of Glass," to platinum.
"I just kept on doing what I was doing," Chapman confesses as he plays back a batch of Quatro tracks at ear-splitting volume.
Chapman works at a feverish pace, like a man worried that his next hit may be his last. His lightening speed in the studio is the stuff that music business legends are made of.
Many producers spend a week tuning drums. Chapman finished the "Knack" album in 11 days. For the Quatro project, he completed 13 tracks in three days -- five in one brutal 10-hour session. He produces with the abandon of a kamikazi pilot, dancing widely around the control booth and sprinting into the studio to sing "scratch" tracks and flail away on percussion instruments.
"I'm tired of all this plodding old-age music," he complains. "Who cares about Fleetwood Mac anymore? Making records should be a straightforward process, an enjoyable day's work. I spend most of my life in a recording studio and I want to have a ball."
While Chapman kicks out the james, partner Nicky Chinn oversees their Chinnichap writing, publishing, production, and artist-development firm. The pair met in 1970 at a London disco. Chapman, who had left Australia to seek his fortune, was playing in a British pop group called Tangerine Peel. Chinn was writing songs for a Peter Sellers movie, his break into British music circles.
"Our first day together we wrote five of the trashiest songs you could ever wish to hear," Chinn laughs, "but the chemistry was there."
The songs won them a publishing deal with British pop mogul Mickie Most, who steered the duo to Sweet, a British teen group who recorded Chapman and Ginn's first hits. "We were very influenced by American bubble-gum music," Chinn admits. (Their first hit, "Funny Funny," came four months after the 1920 Fruitgum Company's "Yummy Yummy.")
The British music press has repeatedly attached these dedicated followers of pop fashion. Chinn counters: "The public has a right to choose. Records are no different from dresses or shirts. You buy the ones you like."
Accordingly, the team has begun a hesitant courtship of the disco crowd. So far the results are mixed: "Heart of Glass" was a smash while Exile's disco follow-up to "Kiss You All Over" disappeared without a trace.
"The Exhile song was a terrible mistake," Chinn confesses. "We couldn't give the record away. There's a time to set trends and a time to follow trends and we followed the wrong trend."
Chapman appears more ambivalent. He repeatedly boasted about "Atomic," a disco cut from Blondie's next album, all the while confessing that disco was "totally foreign" to him.
"Anybody can make a disco record," he growls. Giorgio Moroder's the Only great disco producer. I've stolen everything he's ever put on record."
For now, Chapman is concentrating his seemingly inexhaustible energies on Tanya Tucker -- his prize reclamation project, much like Blondie and Suzi Quatro before her. Her career has faltered in recent years, as the singer vacillated between pleasing her loyal country following and seducing the more fickle pop audience.
"I must make hits with her," Chapman says. "It's got to be a platinum ablum with a couple of big singles. I'm only concerned with top-40 commercial music. I could care less about that country junk."
When Tucker peeks into the control room, Chapman chides the singer about her wardrobe, which is highlighted by a pair of slacks decorated with jungle designs. "You look like you bought the drapes from the Beverly Hills Hotel," he jokes.
Despite his phenomenal success, Chapman still hungers for adulation. "I'm not looking for respect," he says coolly after Tucker has wandered out of earshot. "I want disbelief."
But can he keep up the grueling pace? "What's the point of taking it easy when I'm doing so well?" he says, cranking up the volume on another new Quatro track. "I want to take advantage of my hot streak. My business manager told me the other day that I'm going to kill myself."
Chapman turns up the volume control another notch. "Maybe he's right. But what a way to go."