Abbey Road's greatest hits
As The Beatles' former studio faces closure, leading figures in music tell Mark Jewsbury what they think is the best album ever recorded there
Sunday 21 February 2010
News last week that debt-ridden EMI might sell its much-loved Abbey Road studios spurred swift action from the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and the National Trust. Immortalised by the Beatles album to which it lends its name, Abbey Road is a landmark in 20th century music: Elgar conducted an opening performance in 1931, and at 16, the violinist Yehudi Menuhin recorded with the composer there.
This weekend, discussions were already afoot for a rescue package. On Friday, on his BBC Radio 2 show, DJ Chris Evans played only songs recorded at Abbey Road, to raise awareness of the importance of "a musical landmark". Sir Paul McCartney has called for it to be saved. Ronan Keating and Craig David have both said they would move to keep the studios working. Keating said: "I back any campaign to save it and keep it going as a working studio." Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, added yesterday: "Increasingly recording studios are redundant, but if one has to be saved it is Abbey Road."
The studios in north-west London could be granted Grade II status as early as Monday, when Baroness Andrews, the chair of English Heritage, is to meet the Culture minister, Margaret Hodge. While the National Trust is also interested, EMI's reported asking price, in excess of £30m, will be an obstacle. Whatever the outcome, as our panel shows, closure would cue the final chords of the soundtrack to British musical life.
Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd
This has got to be my favourite Abbey Road album. It's my American Express: I never leave home without it. I only ever listen to it all the way through. There's something special about that complete piece of music that wouldn't make sense in any other order.
Stephen Duffy, The Lilac Time
Barrett, Syd Barrett
It's easy to forget that Syd Barrett recorded there with David Gilmour, that from somewhere so far away came works of uncomfortable genius. I never liked Abbey Road but we need to keep some cool rooms open because you can't replicate it on a laptop.
Anna Picard, music critic
Brahms, Ein Deutsches Requiem; Norrington/London Mozart Players
Ground-breaking in its day. A brilliant experiment. Tons of people have recorded classical works at Abbey Road. They had terrific producers and a reputation for hiring the very best editors.
Simon Price, Music Critic
Never for Ever, Kate Bush; Notorious, Duran Duran
If you are not a fan of The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Cliff Richard and The Shadows, the quality drops off quickly. I don't get the hysteria. I hope it is turned into student accommodation. It is a museum. I have been to studios that feel like studios and not a Madame Tussauds.
Tjinder Singh, Cornershop
Help!, The Beatles
Help! is hard to beat; The Beatles at their most immediate and melodic. A real masterpiece. Abbey Road Studios are a noteworthy national pleasure. We risk losing something unique and special that generations have come to find fascinating and an inspiration.
Green Gartside, Scritti Politti
The Madcap Laughs, Syd Barrett
It's revolutionary, inspirationally liberated and beautifully unravelled. Given the software plug-ins available today, the end of Abbey Road would be just another footnote in the irreversible reshaping of popular music.
Paul Carrack, Mike + The Mechanics
The Shadows, The Shadows
The Shadows was the first album my elder brother John brought home. It was the inspiration for many a young lad to attempt to make up their own tunes on the electric guitar. I played along to it over and over on a drum "kit" cobbled together from bits I found in the attic. It still sounds fantastic.
Terry Edwards, Choir Director
Atom Heart Mother, Pink Floyd
I worked on this album as a session singer, along with a choir and the brass section of the London Philharmonic. But the stand-out sessions I've done there were working with John Williams. Incredibly, he somehow managed to control 100 players and 60 singers with no effort and in the most musical way.
The Beatles (White Album), The Beatles
I nicked my dad's Beatles albums and put my name on them. I spent six months of my life at Abbey Road when I was 18 years old. There were rumours among the guys there that there is a bullet hole in Studio Two fired by John Lennon. I didn't see it, but I did look for it.
Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles
That's probably my favourite Beatles album. I was about 13 when it was released, and it had a massive impact on me. One of my most special memories of Abbey Road is when I got to sing using the "special" microphone that Paul McCartney and John Lennon used. It's brought out only on rare occasions.
Rod Argent, The Zombies
With The Beatles, The Beatles
For me, Please Please Me was recorded in a bit of a rush, so With The Beatles was the first proper Beatles record and meant the most to me. I have great memories of Abbey Road: we recorded Odessey and Oracle four days after Sgt Pepper, in the same studio and using the same tape machine.
Imelda May, Singer
Move It, Cliff Richard
I was fortunate I got to record live at Abbey Road just a short while ago, actually 50 years to the day that Cliff recorded Move It. When you walk in you feel the history. It has one of the best sounds in all of England. That is the reason why so many recorded there. It made people sound so good.
Late Orchestration, Kanye West
Because his recording was orchestral, Kanye respected the studio. I feel the heritage of the place. It has been maintained by all those who go through, left untainted, and you feel that when you perform there. I feel strongly that it will be maintained.
Yusuf Islam, the former Cat Stevens
Please Please Me, The Beatles
With tracks like "Twist and Shout", "Love Me Do" and my personal connection to John's leaning towards the other world with "There's a Place", it was a world-changing moment. The Beatles' records capture the magic of Abbey Road. So glad I got to be there.
Chaz Jenkins, Lso concert organiser
Star Wars: soundtracks to Episodes I, II, III
As of January 2010 the London Symphony Orchestra has made 726 recordings at Abbey Road. Its real strength is in soundtrack recording. If it were to close, a lot of recordings would be lost from the UK. It is the only studio that offers the scale needed for soundtracks.
Phil Sommerich, Classical Music Magazine
Elgar Cello Concerto with Jacqueline du Pré and the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir John Barbirolli
It has such raw emotion and brilliant technique shown to the world with all the recklessness of youth. But these days, on the classical side at least, more albums are done on location. You are recording, not creating, so you no longer a need a studio.
Mike Batt, Songwriter
The Last Emperor, soundtrack
One of the most evocative soundtracks. Perfectly suited to Bertolucci's movie. You can hear Studio One's atmosphere in the more symphonic cues. The lower strings' resonance comes from the shape and texture of the Abbey Road acoustics.
James Morrison, Arts Journalist
Abbey Road, The Beatles
Fittingly, the Beatles' swansong – with its last-minute cover in place of what had been intended as a glamorous overseas shoot – is, for me, their best album. The B-side is one of the most fantastically fluid continuous roller coaster rides ever committed to vinyl.
Ben Ayres, Rough Trade Records
Rubber Soul, The Beatles
I love everything about it, right down to the artwork. You can hear the inspiration happening. I'm surprised at the rumoured sale of Abbey Road Studios. I would have thought that the sheer monumental role of Abbey Road in popular music and its role culturally would mean it would remain for future generations.
Eddi Reader, folk singer
The Bends, Radiohead
It is the album I play to remind me to be creative. The sound of it is gigantic, vulnerable and mega-musical. I got a chance to record at Abbey Road and looked for the cupboard that Paul, John, George and Ringo used to sneak into for joints. The music created in that studio earned this country billions and we'd be stupid to tear it down.
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