Abbey Road Studios

On 4 February 1968, while The Beatles were recording Across The Universe, it was decided that the song needed female harmony vocals in the chorus. Paul McCartney stepped outside the studio and held an impromptu audition among the ‘Apple Scruffs’ gathered outside Abbey Road.

The girls were Lizzie Bravo, 16, and Gayleen Pease, 17, both from London. They were the only Beatles fans ever invited to contribute to a recording session.

There was a whole crowd of girls outside and Paul went out to find a couple of suitable ones. They were so excited. They couldn’t believe they’d actually been invited by Paul not just inside the building but into the studio itself, to sing with The Beatles.
Martin Benge, engineer
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

The Beatles never knew the studios as Abbey Road; its official title was EMI Studios. After the release of the Abbey Road LP in September 1969, however, the studios became world-famous, and in 1970 the building was formally renamed Abbey Road Studios.

The album was originally to be titled Everest, after the brand of cigarettes smoked by Geoff Emerick. However, the idea was dropped when The Beatles decided they had little enthusiasm for a photo shoot in the Himalayas.

It was around July, when it was very hot outside, that someone mentioned the possibility of the four of them taking a private plane over to the foothills of Mount Everest to shoot the cover photograph. But as they became more enthusiastic to finish the LP someone – I don’t remember whoom – suggested, ‘Look, I can’t be bothered to schlep all the way over to the Himalayas for a cover, why don’t we just go outside, take the photo there, call the LP Abbey Road and have done with it?’ That’s my memory of why it became Abbey Road: because they couldn’t be bothered to go to Tibet and get cold!

John Kurlander, sound engineer
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

On Friday 8 August 1969 the iconic photograph of the group walking on the zebra crossing outside the studio was taken by Iain Macmillan. Five other shots were also taken during the morning shoot, which lasted around 10 minutes. For two of the photos Paul McCartney wore sandals; in the other four he was barefoot.

The zebra crossing was moved from its original location in the 1970s; it is now slightly further east than it was in 1969. However, that doesn’t prevent thousands of fans each year recreating the photo shoot.

The walls outside Abbey Road Studios are often adorned with graffiti from fans; this is discouraged, however, and the messages are regularly whitewashed.

Beyond The Beatles

EMI Studios were not just used by The Beatles during the 1960s; a range of other popular – and lesser-known – musicians also recorded there during the period. Notably, Pink Floyd recorded many of their albums there up until the mid 1970s.

In 1980 Abbey Road Studios formed a partnership with Anvil Post Production to work in the film scoring business. Anvil-Abbey Road Screen Sound continued until 1984, although Abbey Road’s success in the scoring business continued beyond that date. Recordings made there include The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Return Of The Jedi, Amadeus, Braveheart, the Lord Of The Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter films.

Abbey Road street sign and graffiti

Between 18 July and 11 September 1983 the doors to Studio Two were opened to the public, to coincide with a new mixing console being installed in the control room. The studio hosted a film called The Beatles At Abbey Road, the soundtrack to which contained a number of previously-unheard studio outtakes.

The cover of The Beatles’ Abbey Road LP has been widely mimicked over the years, by artists including The Shadows (Live At Abbey Road), Red Hot Chili Peppers (The Abbey Road EP) and Paul McCartney (Paul Is Live).

In 1995 Radiohead recorded The Bends at Abbey Road, and in 1997 Oasis’ third album Be Here Now was made. With the emergence of Britpop and the Anthology releases, The Beatles enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, which coincided with a higher profile for Abbey Road Studios.

In March and April 2005 a film festival was held at Abbey Road Studios. This included a tour of Studios One and Two, and an exhibition in Studio Two consisting of photographs, and a fully autographed sleeve from every original UK Beatles album. Also on display were several microphones, two upright pianos, and a Hammond Organ.

Among the many artists to have recorded at Abbey Road are Pink Floyd, Duran Duran, The Pretty Things, Elbow, Iron Maiden, Jamiroquai, Robert Fripp, Kate Bush, Oasis, Dido, Fats Waller, Connie Francis, Josh Groban, Cliff Richard and The Shadows, Adam Ant, Radiohead, Al Stewart, Muse, XTC, The Zombies, Alanis Morissette, Take That, U2, Green Day, Bucks Fizz, The Killers, James Taylor, Peter & Gordon, Gnarls Barkley, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Elliott Smith, Syd Barrett, Plácido Domingo, Michael Nyman, Sigur Rós, The Hollies, Manfred Mann, The Seekers, Gerry & The Pacemakers, John Mayer, Madness, Kanye West, Sarah Brightman and the Spice Girls. However, it is The Beatles who will best be remembered for their world-changing recordings made there between 1962 and 1970.

In February 2010 it was announced that EMI was putting the studios up for sale, though the record company later denied the claims.

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