When the history of music comes to be written, Abbey Road Studios should really have its very own chapter. As the world’s first purpose-built recording studio, the globally renowned north-west London complex has pioneered important advances in music technology and ushered in a host of legendary names through its doors over the past 90 years. We’re talking about the likes of The Beatles, Oasis, Pink Floyd, Adele, Kate Bush, Kanye West, Ella Fitzgerald, Amy Winehouse, Frank Ocean, Fela Kuti, Aretha Franklin, Radiohead, Fontaines D.C. and Lady Gaga – not a bad ensemble of musical talent, we think you’ll agree.
While a host of seminal albums have come to life within the hallowed walls of Abbey Road, there are also a number of artists who have been fortunate enough to create, record or put the finishing touches to their debut LPs at the studios, before then going on to dominate the music world in their own way.
To celebrate the launch of DHL and Abbey Road Studios’ FAST-TRACK Sessions talent search, which is offering up-and-coming artists the life-changing opportunity to complete a two-day recording session at Abbey Road with guidance from the esteemed producer Hannah V, NME is taking a fond look back into the studios’ storied past. Here are five of the best debut studio albums to have been recorded at Abbey Road.
The Beatles – ‘Please Please Me’
The lowdown: Recorded at Abbey Road Studios back when it was known as EMI Recording Studios, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr – with the help of their trusty producer George Martin – kicked off an album career like no other with their cheery-yet-ramshackle debut of original songs (‘Love Me Do’, ‘I Saw Her Standing There’) and covers (‘Twist and Shout’, ‘Baby, It’s You’).
Incredibly, 10 of the album’s 14 tracks were recorded in a single day (February 11, 1963). A mammoth undertaking, as Paul McCartney recalled: “John had to save ‘Twist and Shout’ until the last, and he was sucking zoobs all day – those little throat tablets. And he finally had to do ‘Twist and Shout’ knowing he had to do it last because it would just rip his throat apart to do it. It was great. You can still hear that on the record.”
What happened next: Music would never be the same again after the release of ‘Please Please Me’ in March 1963. The Beatles went on to alter the course of popular music forever by recording a host of all-time classic albums – including 1969’s ‘Abbey Road’, of course! – before splitting in 1970. 50-odd years later, they’re still considered by most to be the greatest musical group of all time.
Pink Floyd – ‘The Piper At The Gates of Dawn’
The lowdown: As The Beatles recorded ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ in Abbey Road’s Studio Two, next door in Studio Three Pink Floyd were taking their first experimental steps as a Proper Album Band. “So we’re sitting there chatting in the control room, getting to know one another,” producer Norman Smith recalled in 2007. “The control room door opens and in walks Paul McCartney. He wanted to meet the boys. He’d heard of them. And after a little chat with them, he comes across to me, puts his hand on my shoulder and he says to the Pink Floyd boys, ‘You won’t go wrong with this bloke as your producer.’”
The late Syd Barrett (more on him shortly) then led the way as the quartet let loose by, as drummer Nick Mason later noted, “effectively recording our live set… listening to ‘Piper…’ now gives a rough indication of the set list we’d been playing”. The end result was a thrillingly whimsical work which provided a fittingly psychedelic beginning to the Pink Floyd story.
What happened next: While Barrett soon exited the band, Pink Floyd persevered to become one of rock music’s greatest boundary-pushing acts (see 1973’s ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’).
Syd Barrett – ‘The Madcap Laughs’
The lowdown: Nearly two years after his unfortunate departure from Pink Floyd, Barrett released his intimate debut solo LP. Swiftly recorded at Abbey Road with the help of his former bandmate Roger Waters and his Pink Floyd replacement David Gilmour, ‘The Madcap Laughs’ showed a tender side to its enigmatic creator that continues to fascinate today.
“He gave the impression he knew something you didn’t,” drummer Jerry Shirley later remembered about working with Barrett at Abbey Road. “He had this manic sort of giggle which made ‘The Madcap Laughs’ such an appropriate name for his album – he really did laugh at you.”
What happened next: Barrett’s second solo studio album, ‘Barrett’, followed just 10 months later, but it was to be his last. After a brief stint in the band Stars, he withdrew from both music and public life. His legend was already secured, though – not that that mattered too much to the man himself. “It’s just writing good songs that matters, really,” Barrett once sagely mused.
Massive Attack – ‘Blue Lines’
The lowdown: Abbey Road was one of five studios used by the Bristol trip-hop group during the recording of their 1991 nine-track debut LP ‘Blue Lines’. Arguably the record’s best-known song, ‘Unfinished Sympathy’, was part-recorded and engineered at Abbey Road.
The spine-tingling track features beautiful, uplifting strings that were arranged and conducted by producer Wil Malone, who recorded a string section at Abbey Road to add even more gravitas to Massive Attack’s outstanding track.
What happened next: Massive Attack have gone on to release four more studio LPs since the arrival of ‘Blue Lines’, including 1998’s ‘Mezzanine’, which gave the group their first-ever UK Number One album. As well as becoming prominent climate activists, they’re also still a formidable live act.
Dave – ‘Psychodrama’
The lowdown: South London rapper, musician and producer David Omoregie – or Dave, as we all know him – headed to Abbey Road during the recording sessions for his lauded 2019 debut album ‘Psychodrama’.
As well as putting in the hours in the studios’ production suite The Garage, Dave and his co-producer Fraser T Smith recorded the strings for the deeply moving track ‘Lesley’ in Abbey Road’s Studio Two with the musician and arranger Rosie Danvers (who has previously worked with the likes of Adele, Kanye West and Coldplay).
What happened next: ‘Psychodrama’ deservedly won both the 2019 Mercury Prize and the Album of the Year award at the 2020 BRIT Awards, while Dave also picked up Best Hip Hop/Grime/Rap Act at this year’s BRITs following the release of his acclaimed second LP ‘We’re All Alone in This Together’. The sky’s the limit for Dave…
You can find out more about DHL and Abbey Road Studios’ FAST-TRACK Sessions by heading here