After 81 years EMI is rumoured to have sadly put Abbey Road Studios up for sale. Alongside its well-known legacy as birthplace to most of the Beatles’ albums, it has an extensive and fascinating history that goes way beyond Lennon, McCartney and co. Abbey Road has played a vital and central role in the way we record and listen to music. As a salute to the great studios, here is a brief history of one of the most important buildings in music history.
The building itself was a Georgian townhouse, number 3 Abbey Road, St John’s Wood. It was built in 1831 and consisted of nine bedrooms, five large reception rooms, servants quarters, a wine cellar in the basement, as well a 250 foot garden. It was purchased by The Gramophone Company Ltd (now known as EMI) for £100,000 and in just two years was transformed into the world’s first custom-built recording studio.
Not long after it opened its doors, it continued to make history by recording Elgar’s landmark ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, starting a long standing relationship between the studios and classical recordings.
Abbey Road also played host to British greats such as Noel Coward, who recorded a series of his most memorable plays and musical numbers including the seminal “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” in 1932.
The studios played not only a huge part in the development of modern music but also in historical events. The studios even stayed open during the Second World War and recorded many of the now famous propaganda recordings by the British Government. In 1953 Abbey Road were responsible for recording the Queen’s Coronation for the BBC via landlines from Westminster Abbey.
Eddie Calvert holds the honour of being the first person to record a number one hit at the studios; his version of ‘Oh Mein Papa’ spent nine weeks at the top spot. Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ – the third biggest selling album ever – was recorded at the studio alongside albums by The Beatles, Blur, The Spice Girls, Queen, Mud and Spandau Ballet. Some of the world’s most famous film scores have also been recorded at the studios – including the iconic ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and ‘Return of the Jedi’.
Number 3 Abbey Road holds a special place in many musicians’ hearts and fond memories of creating some of the most seminal records of all time there. Steve Harley once remarked on the studios “very traditional atmosphere”.
Harley was a founding member of Cockney Rebel who recorded ‘Come Up and See Me (Make Me Smile) – one of the biggest selling singles of all time – at the studios. “It was full of all these people who wore brown overalls and there was a tea lady called Dolly – people I would describe as real old-fashioned London types. For young blokes like us who had been travelling the world being rock stars it sort of brought you back to earth.”
Abbey Road has been involved in some high-profile news stories including the media storm surrounding the recording of the Spice Girl’s second album, with hoards of fans and media camped outside in the car park for weeks.
A favourite story has to be the infamous saga involving the head of a Paul McCartney waxwork that got left on a train. It was found in a bin in an alleyway by a tramp that after allegedly seeing an article in a newspaper he had been sleeping on – begged for a train fare to London and handed it into Abbey Road Studios. He received a £2000 reward.
Sir Paul has expressed his hope that the studios are saved.
“There are a few people who have been associated with the studio for a long time who were talking about mounting some bid to save it… I sympathise with them. I hope they can do something, it’d be great.”
The studios are a huge asset to EMI and a big brand. If the studios are sold it is uncertain what will happen to Abbey Road. Will it stay a recording studio or become a hugely overpriced property development? The temptation to cash in on Abbey Road will be too hard to resist for greedy developers.
It seems a travesty that the studios are vulnerable to potential hawks who could turn it into a profit making tourist trap… forgetting its importance and significance in modern music and pop culture.