October 23, 2010 – With all the talk about EMI possibly selling Abbey Road Studios, the U.K. government has stepped in and declared it a historic site so that no radical changes can be made. Culture Minister Margaret Hodge declared the iconic venue a “Grade II” listed building, which means that although changes to its interior are permitted, any proposed alterations must respect the character and preservation of the site. In a statement, Hodge said the listing had been granted “overwhelmingly on the historic merit of the studios” and because “it has huge cultural importance and a very special place in the hearts of recording artists and music lovers alike.”
In other words, the Beatles did most of their recording there, and Paul McCartney might donate a lot of money (and he has a LOT of money) to make sure it keeps its historic status.
I shouldn’t be so catty. A year ago when EMI’s Abbey Road studios were made a historic landmark, it was very fitting…and not only because the Beatles recorded there. Pink Floyd recorded the classic “Dark Side of the Moon” there, along with most of their other albums. The Zombies used Abbey Road to record their fantastic “Oddessey and Oracle” album, and the Hollies did the bulk of their recording there. It deserves historic status.
The building was originally a nine bedroom townhouse which was later converted into apartments. The Gramophone Company purchased the building in 1931 and constructed recording studios within the building. When they merged with the Columbia Gramophone Company, they became EMI, and the building was renamed EMI Studios. When the Beatles decided to name their 1969 album “Abbey Road”, it was named for the street in front of the studio. The building was not named EMI Abbey Road Studios until a year later, no doubt based on the popularity of the Beatles final recordings (yes, “Let It Be” came out after “Abbey Road”, but that material was recorded before AR).
I visited Abbey Road studios the first time I visited England. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and I had already spent most of my trip taking in as many Beatles sites as I could. I had to have my picture taken in that famous crosswalk, and I had to see the studios where all of that magic happened.
I was immediately disappointed. Upon arriving at the studios, I went inside and asked the receptionist if I could take some pictures, and if there were any sort of tours. She stated that unless I had business there, I would have to leave…with no pictures allowed. Looking back, I can fully understand. If they let every Beatles nut that came around access to the building, they would never get any work done. After all, it is still a functioning studio, unlike the original Sun Studios, where Elvis recorded in Memphis. Sam Phillips had cleared out of that building in the early 1960’s, so the studio has been converted into a museum. It’s worth a visit just to stand where Elvis stood to record “That’s Alright, Mama”.
I did, however, get a quick shot in front of EMI Studios.
Then it was time to attempt a shot in the crosswalk. I quickly realized two things: 1) in order to get the right shot, you have to stand in the middle of Abbey Road and 2) Abbey Road is a pretty busy street. My friend did manage to get a shot of me in the crosswalk, but it’s from the corner across the street. To get just a picture of the crosswalk, I ran out into the street, focused and snapped away…and almost got killed in the process. But it was worth it.
Later that night, we met up with Jim McCarty, the former drummer of the famous Yardbirds. When we told him that we had visited Abbey Road that day, he started laughing. He said that he was there one day to do some recording, and the drummer from the Zombies (Hugh Grundy) was unloading his drums out in front of the building. He had left his car running, and before anyone realized what was happening, it went driving down the street by itself, with Grundy wildly running after it!
Now that’s historic.