On Friday morning, I had the privilege of wandering through Abbey Road Studios in London on a tour led by a wonderful woman named Colette. The best part of the tour was standing in the middle of Studio 2, the place where the Beatles created all that great music five decades ago.
“See that mic over there?” said Colette, “That’s one of the more than 800 mics in Abbey Road’s collection. We have producers and engineers who know our collection so well that they not only ask to use a specific model of microphone. They know the serial numbers of the exact mics they want.
“That Neumann U-47–which meant it was made in East Germany in 1947–has been here forever. I guarantee you that Paul McCartney or John Lennon used that Neumann when the Beatles worked here.”
This is hallowed ground. The space and environment where the Beatles (and Pink Floyd and Oasis and so many others) created timeless classics was no longer just a concept. I was there. In that room. On that floor. Surrounded by those walls. This is where it happened.
“What’s this piano?” I asked.
“That old thing? It’s one of the pianos used on February 22, 1967, to create the final chord for ‘A Day in the Life.’ The others are around here somewhere. We never throw anything out.”
No kidding. The hallways are lined with vintage gear that date back to at least the 1950s. This mixing desk is still available for use in Studio 3.
“And then there’s that piano over there.” Colette pointed to another beat-up upright. “That’s what Paul used to play ‘Lady Madonna’ on February 13, 1968. But they didn’t record that song here in Studio 2. That was a Studio 1 recording.”
Here’s a shot of Studio 1 from a staircase. The place is the size of a basketball court with a forty-foot ceiling, which result in a natural decay of exactly 2.6 seconds. No wonder it’s sought after for for classical recordings. John Williams recorded much of the Star Wars scores in this room which can accommodate an orchestra of up to about 100 pieces.
We eventually made it into Studio 3. Pink Floyd did most of Wish You Were Here in this studio.
Check out this ancient RCA ribbon mic that dates from the middle 30. Imagine if you could analyze the DNA left by all the performers that have used it.
Then there’s this old Hammond organ. How many hundreds of recordings feature it?
We’re still listening to music that was created in these rooms 50 years ago. Which of today’s pop music will we be listening to in 5o years? Think about it.
Thanks to Colette and the staff of Abbey Road for the tour. I’m never going to listen to a Beatles or Pink Floyd record the same way ever again.