I WAS VISITING LONDON a few weeks ago and on a slow day decided to do the Beatles walking tour (which was inevitably called the “Magical Mystery Tour”). The tour of course ended at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in northwest London, and I got to see no fewer than six tourists nearly get killed stepping directly into oncoming traffic while trying to catch the iconic crosswalk photo.
Modern music fans usually don’t listen to music live, unlike our ancestors, who listened to live music exclusively. As I stood outside Abbey Road Studios and watched a 16-year-old Colombian girl weep at the site where the likes of “Golden Slumbers,” “A Day in the Life,” and “All You Need Is Love” were recorded, I realized that a musical tour of the world — a tour of the songs that moved you to tears, or helped you through a hard time, or amped you up for a big moment — would actually be a tour of the studios, these often nondescript buildings that are typically hidden in plain sight in our cities. Here are some of the world’s greatest studios.
Abbey Road Studios
The studio itself doesn’t stand out particularly from the rest of the buildings around it, and it sits in a fairly quiet posh northwestern London suburb. If it weren’t for the tourists crowding the crosswalk and the Beatles-related graffiti covering its outer gate, one might pass and never notice it. The most famous image of Abbey Road is of course the crosswalk right outside the studio. Vehicles in London are legally required to wait at so-called “zebra crossings” as long as you physically stay in motion, so you can take as long as you like taking your picture, as long as you move in slow motion.
Aside from most of the Beatles albums, Abbey Road (formerly EMI Studios) is also the recording site of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon (1973), Duran Duran’s eponymous debut album (1981), parts of Radiohead’s The Bends (1995) and OK Computer (1997), and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way (2011).
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The Dungeon is probably better known for the hip-hop collective that was born out of it, the Dungeon Family. The Dungeon itself was a studio in producer Rico Wade’s mother’s basement in Atlanta, Georgia, but the collective has included some of the greatest hip-hop acts of the South and, consequently, of all time.
At the top left is the only picture I’ve been able to find of the Dungeon — pictured in it are the Dungeon Family and production-company founders of Organized Noize, Sleepy Brown, Ray Murray, and Rico Wade (from left to right). Probably the most famous members of the Dungeon Family are Big Boi and Andre 3000 (bottom left). Virtually all of Outkast’s albums were recorded with the Dungeon Family. It’s also the home of Gnarls Barkley, Cee-Lo Green, Bubba Sparxxx, Janelle Monae, and Future (pictured to the right with a Dungeon Family tattoo on his forearms).
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Muscle Shoals Sound Studio
Muscle Shoals may be best known for a song that wasn’t recorded at Muscle Shoals: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” One of the lines is “Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers / And they been known to pick a song or two.” Muscle Shoals was formed when a band, the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section (nicknamed the Swampers) broke away from the great FAME Studios nearby and formed their own. While they’ve got a slightly bigger studio these days, it’s still in the tiny town of Muscle Shoals, way off the beaten path in northwestern Alabama.
Even though the original studio looked like a roadside mechanic’s garage, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio would go on to record tracks for the likes of the Rolling Stones (“Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses” from Sticky Fingers in 1971), Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome” (1973), Bob Seger’s Night Moves (1976), the Black Keys’ awesome Brothers (2009, at the new studio), and, of course, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first album (but not released till much later), Skynyrd’s First (1978).