What defines a great recording studio? Whether it’s a recording studio on wheels, or one in the basement of a German apartment building, or a recording studio in a major landmark, a crucial element is the kind of talent your studio attracts.
When you think Abbey Road, you think of The Beatles. Hitsville USA is synonymous with Motown. But what about the recording studios behind the amazing albums like Michael Jackson’s Thriller or Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation? Take a trip down memory lane and crank it up to 11 with some of the most legendary recording studios in music history.
Surfin’ USA – Capitol Studios
Capitol Studios, owned and operated by the Capitol Music Group, is located in the landmark Capitol Records Tower in downtown Hollywood. Established in 1956 with four recording studios, Capitol Studios serves as the primary recording studios for the Capitol Records recording label.
The first artist to ever record at Capitol Studios was Frank Sinatra, who recorded his album Frank Sinatra Conducts Tone Poems of Color. The 60s saw artists such as The Beach Boys, Nat King Cole, and Bobbie Gentry. Capitol Studios success has continued since then.
The Mighty Mobile – A Piece Of Rock ‘N’ Roll History
Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Santana. What do these all have in common? They were all recorded in the same studio on wheels, owned by none other than The Rolling Stones. Nicknamed the ‘Mighty Mobile,’ The Stones would travel around to other artists to have them record inside their mobile recording studio. The late National Music Centre electronics technician John Leimseider once stated that it was, “unquestionably the Sistine Chapel of rock ‘n’ roll.”
Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry, Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti & Led Zeppelin III, and Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water all exist today thanks to a couple of Brits who decided to put recording equipment into an 18 wheeler.
The Birthplace Of Rock ‘N’ Roll – Sun Studios
In January of 1950, music producer Sam Phillips opened what was then known as the Memphis Recording Service. Phillips opened the studio because he wanted “to try and record the Blues and other music I liked. I knew this music wasn’t going to be available, in a pure sense, forever.”
Sun Studios was known as the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll with artists like Johnny Cash, B.B. King, and Jerry Lewis recording there. One of the biggest names to ever record there was in 1956 when Elvis Presley recorded his album Elvis at Sun Studios.
If It’s Good Enough For Cher – Muscle Shoals Sound Studio
Muscle Shoals Sound Studio’s conception came from an American R&B group that went by the name of The Swampers or the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Before opening in 1969, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section recorded tracks such as Aretha Franklin’s Respect and Etta James’ Tell Mama.
Cher recorded her sixth album at the Sound Studio the year it opened, and titled it 3614 Jackson Highway, which is still the address of the studio in Sheffield, Alabama. The Rolling Stones also recorded 3 songs from their 1971 album Sticky Fingers, including the classic rock single Brown Sugar.
The Sound That Changed America – Hitsville USA
The sound of the 20th century, Motown changed the music scene but also the social and cultural scene of its time. The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, The Jackson 5, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Supremes, The Marvelettes, The Velvelettes – are you seeing a pattern? It was THE era of Motown.
Hitsville opened in 1959 in Detroit, Michigan, and saw albums recorded such as Meet The Supremes, the 1962 debut album of the Supremes; Moods of Marvin Gaye, Marvin Gaye’s 1966 album; The Temptations 1966 Greatest Hits; and Stevie Wonder’s With a Song in My Heart in 1963.
Lesser Known But Legendary – Westlake Recording Studios
You may not have heard of Westlake Recording Studios, but there’s no doubt you’ve heard of the most famous album they produced. Westlake Recording in LA was the recording site of Michael Jackson’s 1982 album Thriller. The album became one of the best-selling albums in just over a year, and is still ranked as the second best-selling album ever today, just behind The Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits.
Westlake Recording is still open in LA, coming up on 50 years of recording. Other artists that have recorded at Westlake include The Queen of Disco Donna Summer, and 28-time Grammy award winner Quincy Jones.
Home Of The British Invasion – Abbey Road
Abbey Road is arguably one of the most famous recording studios in history thanks to The Beatles. The British Invasion band recorded most of their albums at Abbey Road from 1962 – 1970, including Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club in 1967, Let It Be in 1970, and of course, Abbey Road in 1969.
Beyond The Beatles, Abbey Road Studios was the recording site for Pink Floyd’s 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon, and The Shadow’s self-titled 1961 album The Shadows.
Home To Your “Heroes” – Hansa Tonstudio
Hansa Tonstudio was founded in 1962 in West Berlin, just one year after the building of the Berlin Wall. That wall never stopped artists from making music though.
Hansa has played host to artists for over 50 years and is still doing so today. David Bowie recorded his album Low in 1977, and later that year he recorded a second album, “Heroes.” He then returned in 1982 to record his EP Baal. Outside of Bowie, Hansa Tonstudio has seen U2, Depeche Mode, and R.E.M. come through its door.
A Canadian Hideaway – Little Mountain Sound Studios
Tucked away on the west coast of Canada, Little Mountain Sound Studio was seen as an escape for artists to focus on music. Little Mountain Sound producer Mike Fraser described Vancouver as “a really great place for [artists] to come and hang out. They got left alone by the fans – nobody bugged them, and they could come and work in this great rock ‘n’ roll building.”
Founded in 1972, acts like Bryan Adams, Aerosmith, Whitesnake, and The Cult all came to record at Little Mountain Sound. Bon Jovi’s 1986 album Slippery When Wet was recorded entirely at Little Mountain Sound and went on to be Billboard’s top-selling album of 1987.
Worthy Of A Gold Medal – Olympic Studios
Olympic Studios was founded in the 1950s and had multiple locations around London before settling at its Barnes St. location in the mid-1960s. The Rolling Stones recorded five consecutive albums at Olympic from 1967’s Their Satanic Majestic Request through to 1972’s Exile on Main St. The Beatles recorded their 1967 single All You Need is Love at Olympic Studios as well, and that same year The Jimi Hendrix Experience recorded its Are You Experienced album.
Recording producer and sound engineer Eddie Kramer described Olympic Studios as “at the cutting edge of virtually every studio in London. We were very innovative and of course we had, I think, the best console in England and possibly the world at the time.”
A Piece Of Country Music History – RCA Studio B
Opened over 50 years ago, RCA Studio B was built in 1956 by Dan Madox at the request of RCA Victor Records. At the time the studio cost $37,515 to build and took about four months before it was usable. In 1977, the studio was made available for tours from the Country Music Hall of Fame and was eventually donated to them.
Since 1956, RCA has been home to country legends like Dolly Parton, who recorded her 1974 album Jolene at Studio B. Elvis Presley recorded his 1960 single It’s Now or Never at Studio B as well, which became one of the best-selling physical singles of all time.
“The Best Studio In America” – Cherokee Studios
Yes, you read that right. Former Beatles producer George Martin named Cherokee Studios as the ‘best studio in America’ is his autobiography. Founded by three brothers whose father told them they need to find ‘real careers’ after no success with their band The Robbs, they had the epitome of musical talent come through their doors. Cherokee Studios was a Hollywood recording staple from 1972 until it closed its doors 35 years later in 2007.
David Bowie recorded his 1976 platinum album Station to Station with Cherokee Studios, and Michael Jackson chose Cherokee for his best-selling 1979 album Off the Wall.
We Will We Will Rock You – Rockfield Studios
Started by two brothers in a small Welsh town under the name ‘Future Sounds Ltd’, Charles and Kingsley Ward probably never imagined how famous their studio would become. Musician Dave Edmonds suggested the name be changed to ‘Rockfield Studios’ in 1967, and from there they only grew. In 1969 they relocated, and in 1973 they added the ‘Quadrangle’ studio, large enough to hold full bands when needed.
The Quandrangle studio is where Queen wrote and recorded Bohemian Rhapsody, which was featured in the film as well. Rockfield was one of the first residential studios in the UK. After Queen, The Cult recorded their debut album Dreamtime in 1984, and Motorhead recorded On Parole in 1979.