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Abbey Road Studios turns 90: from 'Ceremonials' to 'Late Orchestration', here are six key albums recorded in the London venue

Filmmaker Mary McCartney will mark the venue's anniversary in November with a tribute documentary

The Beatles' Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr recording at Abbey Road Studios for the 'Our World' live television broadcast in 1967. Shutterstock
The Beatles' Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr recording at Abbey Road Studios for the 'Our World' live television broadcast in 1967. Shutterstock

To be a fly on the wall in the rooms of Abbey Road Studios.

For the past 90 years, this London music institution – formerly known as EMI Recording Studios – not only birthed some of the greatest pop music of all time, but also became a key tourist destination in its own right.

Even the nearby pedestrian crossing on Abbey Road, immortalised on the album cover of The Beatles' 1969 Abbey Road album, remains a haven for Beatlemaniacs and is now listed as a national heritage site.

This music and pop-culture history will be explored in a documentary by Mary McCartney, daughter of ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, to mark the studio's 90th anniversary, which takes place in November.

Titled If These Walls Could Sing, the film features interviews with artists and staff.

Paul McCartney during a recording session for The Beatles. Abbey Road Studios. October 1968 Credit: © Apple Corps Ltd.
Paul McCartney during a recording session for The Beatles in October 1968. Apple Corps Ltd

"Some of my earliest memories as a young child come from time spent at Abbey Road. I’ve long wanted to tell the story of this historic place," McCartney said.

And what a story to tell, with an eclectic list of famous artists who have travelled to the venue over the years for inspiration and to perfect their creative vision.

Here are six classic and varied albums recorded in Abbey Road Studios over the years.

1. ‘Abbey Road’ by The Beatles (1969)

The album that gave the venue its name.

The Beatles' penultimate release was not only a document of a band in flux, but a love letter to a place that provided them with inspiration over the years.

Recorded over a five-month spell in 1969, the album produced seminal hits including Come Together and Here Comes the Sun. In what can be viewed as an ingenious, or lazy, marketing campaign, the album's cover shot of the band crossing the road to the studio is based on a sketch by Paul McCartney.

Taken by photographer Iain Macmillan, that memorable image was captured at 11.35am on August 8 of that year. With a local policeman stalling traffic for the Fab Four, the whole session took 10 minutes and the final photograph was chosen from a reel of six images. Such was the success of the album, major label EMI renamed the venue from EMI Recording Studios to Abbey Road Studios in 1969.

2. ‘Afrodisiac’ by Fela Kuti (1972)

Finding the right studio to harness the energy and capture the detailed sound of this album was essential, with its large and sprawling band whipping up a stew of thick grooves, sharp horns and polyrhythmic beats.

Kuti's choice of Abbey Road Studios was inspired. With Kuti as producer, the album became one of the bedrocks of the post rock music movement, which came to be 15 years later.

3. ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ by Pink Floyd (1973)

By the time the English prog-rock maestros entered the studios to record this career-defining eighth album, they were a well-oiled machine.

With tracks developed on previous tours, the band recorded 10 songs across two sessions between 1972 and 1973. Nearly 50 years later and 45 million albums sold, The Dark Side of the Moon isn't just a career highlight for the band, but also pushed the boundaries for cutting-edge audio production.

4. ‘The Last Emperor’ soundtrack album produced by David Byrne and Ryuichi Sakamoto (1987)

This Academy Award-winning film score traces its inspiration to Abbey Road Studios, where former Talking Heads singer-songwriter David Byrne and Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto recorded the majestic soundtrack.

The duo presented a lush collection of mostly instrumental tracks melding East Asian harmonies with western classical orchestration.

5. ‘Late Orchestration’ by Kanye West (2006)

Kanye West brought hip-hop to the building. Well, sort of. Fresh from the success of his brilliant 2005 album Late Registration, the rapper and producer recreated the baroque sounds of the album by performing a "hip-hop with strings" concert at Abbey Road Studios.

Recorded and shot in front of an intimate audience and backed by a 17-piece all-female string orchestra, Late Orchestration testifies to West's ambition and experimentation.

The cover art for the release has the West teddy bear mascot crossing the famed pedestrian Abbey Road crossing.

6. ‘Ceremonials’ by Florence and The Machine

Cashed up by the success of 2009 debut album Lungs, Florence and The Machine rinsed the extra budget by heading to Abbey Road Studios to record a grand album.

With the celestial fluttering of harps to the expansive strings and Welch's bewitching vocals, Ceremonials was meant to be recorded in Abbey Road Studios. Its success propelled the group to arena act status.

Updated: January 17, 2021 12:10 PM

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