Recording studio

Abbey Road: How the world’s most famous recording studio changed pop

The first time I crossed the threshold of Abbey Road Studios for an assignment, I had to remind myself that I was a journalist and not a fan with a laptop. The job was pretty special, though: an interview with George Martin.

he legendary producer was just as captivating as I imagined, but at several points in the conversation, I found myself thinking, “I’m sitting here, in the very building where the Beatles made all those amazing songs, talking with the man who helped shape their sound.

I’m far from the only one bewitched by the place. David Hepworth’s wonderfully comprehensive new history of what he aptly calls “the world’s most famous recording studio” shows how it played a role in nearly every facet of pop’s evolution.

It’s so strongly associated with the Beatles that it’s easy to forget just how rich its 90-year history has been and, as Hepworth reminds us, it’s not a museum, but a recording studio forever. busy.

Abbey Road has been used by countless bands and the fact that my second professional visit was to interview the Kooks, who recorded one of their albums there, shows that it has also hosted its fair share of lightweights.

Fortunately, Hepworth – seasoned music critic and founding editor of magazines such as Q and Mojo – gives a large place to these unimportant outfits. Instead, it focuses on the most important names that have made their music there. To name just one year, 1965, the Hollies, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Manfred Mann all had massive hits recorded at Abbey Road.

The studio has hosted big names from the time EMI opened the doors to the grand Victorian home of St John’s Wood in 1931. Noël Coward, already one of the world’s highest paid songwriters, sang in his microphones and Al Bowlly, Britain’s biggest musical star of the 1930s, recorded hundreds of songs here.

Incidentally, the building only officially became known as Abbey Road in 1976, in deference to the last Beatles album recorded at the studio. And that title may never have been used since Hepworth reminds us that the Beatles planned to name it Everest, after their engineer Geoff Emerick’s favorite brand of menthol cigarettes.

Hepworth is great at reminding us how revolutionary recorded music was in the early part of the 20th century. “With the new ability to control inputs, recording music successfully involved something more than fidelity to the original performance,” he writes. “It suggested that the record could even offer, in some cases, something better than live music, something more mysterious, more narcotic, something which, through repeated listening, penetrated the skin of the listener. ‘listener.”

With Abbey Road as a microcosm, we are taken on a decade-by-decade popular music tour. The studio has hosted all kinds of artists and every genre imaginable. Pink Floyd, Kate Bush, David Bowie and Radiohead sought magic in its hallowed halls.

Hepworth is keen to dig into details that even the most erudite music lover might not know. Did you know, for example, that Mia Farrow recorded Sleep safe and warm – better known as Lullaby which features in the opening credits of Rosemary’s baby — at Abbey Road in May 1968? A gathering of 23 musicians came together to help the actress make her first studio recording. Director Roman Polanski had apparently tried out six professional singers before deciding which star for his film would be the most suitable.

As owner of Abbey Road until 2013, EMI has had a rollercoaster history and Hepworth traces the glory years of the so-called ‘world’s largest recording organisation’ and its decline at the time. where streaming democratized recorded music and completely devalued it. .

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While it’s hard for anyone to uncover new information about The Beatles, Hepworth’s details on specific recordings are captivating. Strawberry Fields Forever was painstakingly recorded in November and December 1966, and since its release in February 1967 has been hailed as one of the greatest singles of all time. It’s not that anyone working at Abbey Road initially thought so. “To technicians working in the studio at Christmas 1966,” he wrote, “it would have seemed absurd because they understood that it had departed so far from the usual way of doing things that other professionals would even have considered it irremediable. botched work.

A ‘frequency changer’ helped marry the various tracks and Hepworth insists the song ‘wouldn’t have reached its triumphant conclusion without a greater weight of sweat’, most of it coming from the technical experts at Abbey Road , George Martin, Geoff Emerick and Ken Townsend.

There’s no doubt that sweating has been a constant at Abbey Road over the years, but whether it’s Pink Floyd Shine on your mad diamond or Sigur Rós Ara Báturthe results were quite special.


Abbey Road by David Hepworth

Abbey Road by David Hepworth

Music: Abbey Road by David Hepworth

Bantam Press, 400 pages, hardcover €30.50; e-book €10.99