As the building in which The Beatles recorded almost all their studio material, Abbey Road Studios in London is perhaps the most important location in the group’s history.
3 Abbey Road in the leafy district of St John’s Wood, London, was built in 1813 as a Georgian townhouse. It boasted nine bathrooms, two servants’ rooms and a wine cellar.
The building was acquired by the Gramophone Company in 1931, just a few months before it merged with the Columbia Graphophone Company to form Electric and Musical Industries Ltd (EMI).
EMI converted it to house studios to be used for the recording of classical music. Pathé filmed the opening of the studios in 1931, during which Sir Edward Elgar conducted the London Symphony Orchestra performing Land Of Hope And Glory while George Bernard Shaw watched in the audience.
The building’s Studio One is the world’s largest purpose-built recording studio, able to easily accommodate a 110-piece orchestra and 100-piece choir simultaneously. The studio’s acoustics and size also make it a popular venue for live music events and film scores, and a live area also has two spacious isolation booths.
Studio Two, in which The Beatles recorded the majority of their songs, is perhaps the most famous studio in the world. The scene of the majority of The Beatles’ sessions, it has a large space able to accommodate up to 55 musicians. It also has a range of upright pianos and a Steinway Model D concert grand.
Studio Three was designed to have natural acoustics and multiple isolation booths, and was used for the 5.1 surround sound mixes for The Beatles’ Anthology project, as well as Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here and recordings by U2 and Coldplay. It was created to be a self-contained project environment with a private lounge, kitchen and bathroom attached to the studio area.
EMI Studios, as it was originally known, was used extensively during the mid-part of the 20th century by British conductor Sir Malcolm Sargeant, who lived near to Abbey Road. Other celebrated figures to have recorded there include Yehudi Meuhin, Sir Thomas Beecham, Sir Adrian Boult, violinist Jascha HeIfetz and cellist Pablo Casals.
During the 1930s and 1940s, its roster of artists included Arturo Toscanini, Sir Edward Elgar, and Otto Klemperer, among many others. During this time EMI appointed its first A&R managers, and a range of non-classical recordings were made. Among the artists to have played at EMI Studios during this time were Fats Waller, Gracie Fields, Paul Robeson, Al Bowlly, Vera Lynn and Glenn Miller.
George Martin joined EMI in 1950 as an assistant to Oscar Preuss, head of EMI’s Parlophone Records. Martin took over when Preuss retired in 1955, by which time he was adept at recording classical and Baroque music, cast recordings of hit plays, and a number of comedy records by well-known figures including the Goons, Rolf Harris, and Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.
EMI Studios were also used for jazz recordings, and some early rock ‘n’ roll. On 24 July 1958 Cliff Richard recorded Move It at Abbey Road with his backing group The Drifters, who later became The Shadows. Move It was Richard’s debut single, and was widely seen as one of the first rock ‘n’ roll singles made outside the United States.
George Martin wanted to raise the profile of Parlophone and establish it as a successful label, and by the early 1960s he was interested in signing a rock ‘n’ roll group. In 1962 he signed The Beatles, thus beginning a relationship which transformed popular music, the fortunes of EMI, and the way studios were used to record music.
The Beatles’ EMI audition took place at Abbey Road’s Studio Two on 6 June 1962. Producer Ron Richards and engineer Norman Smith recorded four songs, which Martin later listened to. The group returned for their first proper recording session on 4 September, during which they taped versions of How Do You Do It and Love Me Do.