Abbey Road: How the world’s most famous recording studio fueled the rise of pop music

The first time I crossed the threshold of Abbey Road Studios to take on a mission, I had to constantly remind myself that I was a journalist, not a laptop geek. However, the work is quite special: an interview with George Martin.

His legendary producer is as charming as I imagined him to be, but at some point in the conversation, I found myself thinking: “I’m sitting here, in the very building that the Beatles made. out all those great songs, talking to the man who helped shape their sound. “

I’m not the only one fascinated by this place. David Hepworth’s wonderfully full new history of what he rightly calls “the most famous recording studio in the world” demonstrates how it has played a role in almost every aspect of development. development of pop music.

It’s so closely associated with the Beatles that it’s easy to forget how rich its 90-year history is, and as Hepworth reminds us, it’s not a museum, but an ever-busy recording studio.

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.

Thankfully, Hepworth – a veteran music critic and founding editor of magazines like Q and Mojo – gives such petty outfits a spacious landing. Instead, he focused on the more important names who made their music there. To pick out just one year, 1965, Hollies, Gerry and Pacemakers and Manfred Mann all had major hits recorded at Abbey Road.

The studio has been welcoming big names from the moment EMI opened its grand Victorian home in St John’s Wood in 1931. Noël Coward, already one of the world’s highest-paid musicians, joined in. into the microphone and Al Bowlly, Britain’s biggest music star of the 1930s, recorded hundreds of songs there.

Incidentally, the building was only officially known as Abbey Road in 1976, in reference to the Beatles’ last album recorded in the studio. And that title may have never been used because Hepworth reminds us that the Beatles planned to name it Everest, after the mint brand favored by their engineer Geoff Emerick .

Hepworth is brilliant at reminding us how revolutionary recorded music was in the early part of the 20th century. With the new ability to control inputs, successful recording has to do with something more than fidelity to the original performance, he writes. “It suggests that the recording might even offer, in some cases, something better than live music, something more mysterious, more ghostly, something, heard over and over and over again. , has penetrated the listener’s skin.”

With Abbey Road in microcosm, we are taken on a tour of popular music from decade after decade. The studio welcomes all artists and every genre imaginable. Pink Floyd, Kate Bush, David Bowie and Radiohead sought out magic in its sacred chambers.

Hepworth was keen to learn details that even the most erudite music enthusiast would not know. For example, did you know that Mia Farrow recorded Sleep safe and warm – better known as the lullaby that features a pass through the opening credits of Rosemary’s Baby – at Abbey Road in May 1968? 23 pieces of the puzzle were put together to help the actress with her first studio recording session. Director Roman Polanski apparently tried six professional singers before deciding the star of his film would be the best fit.

As the owner of Abbey Road until 2013, EMI has had a roller coaster of history, and Hepworth traces the glory years of the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest recording organization” and its decline during a time when streaming both democratized recorded music and completely devalued it. .

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While it’s hard for anyone to discover new information about The Beatles right now, Hepworth’s details about specific recordings are intriguing. Strawberry field forever carefully recorded in November and December 1966, and from its February 1967 release, it has been hailed as one of the best singles ever. Not everyone who worked at Abbey Road initially thought so. “To the technicians working in the studio at Christmas 1966,” he wrote, “this seemed illogical because they understood that it was far from the standard practice that other professionals even knew. even consider it an unreasonable thing. fail at work. “

A ‘frequency-changing device’ helped combine different songs, and Hepworth claimed the song “wouldn’t have worked without a greater amount of sweat”, most of which came from artists. Abbey Road technicians, George Martin, Geoff Emerick and Ken Townsend.

No doubt the sweat hasn’t stopped on Abbey Road over the years, but is it Pink Floyd’s Illuminate you crazy diamond or Sigur Rós Ara Baturquite exceptional results.


Abbey Road by David Hepworth

Music: Abbey Road by David Hepworth

Bantam Press, 400 pages, hardcover € 30.50; eBooks £10.99 Abbey Road: How the world’s most famous recording studio fueled the rise of pop music

Fry Electronics Team

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