Abbey Road Studios in St John’s Wood is one of London’s biggest tourist hotspots that isn’t open to tourists. Thousands of people visit each year, graffitiing their name on the studio’s outside wall (and their neighbours’ walls too) and attempting to recreate the Beatles’ famous walk over the zebra crossing from the cover of the Abbey Road album. And rightly so. London should be proud of being the place where arguably the most famous album in the world was recorded, part of London’s cultural contribution to the world. (Just don’t take too long doing this though – make it a quick picture if you don’t want to get honked at!).
I do feel sorry for other artists though – if it wasn’t for the Beatles, Abbey Road would be famous as the place Dark Side of the Moon was recorded. And if that didn’t make it worth a pilgrimage, Abbey Road was where Cliff Richard recorded Summer Holiday, Vaughan Williams Symphony No 5 made its debut, Fela Kuti recorded two albums and John Williams was there with the music to Raiders of the Lost Ark. The plaque on the building isn’t for the Beatles – it commemorates Edward Elgar making a recording of Land and Hope and Glory in 1931.
Abbey Road isn’t the only studio in St John’s Wood. Over in Charlbert Street is RAK Studios where some of the biggest pop records of the late 70s and 80s were recorded, and more recent hits too. The studio was originally a school, built in the mid 19th century. In 1976 it was bought by record producer Mickie Most and fitted out as a music studio. Mickie had been a musician during the rock and roll days of the late 50s, having been on tour with Cliff Richard. By the 60s he had turned record producer – working on the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” and Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman”. By the 70s he was the most-in-demand record producer in the country, working with artists like Suzi Quattro, Mud and Hot Chocolate. He went on to found his own record label – RAK records and was a household name as a panellist on the ITV talent show “New Faces”.
The RAK studios was the next logical step for Mickie – a chance for his artists to record on state-of-the-art equipment. Hot Chocolate’s classic “Every 1’s A Winner” and Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” were two of the first Top Ten records made at RAK Studios, then there were hits by Ultravox, the Smiths, the Thompson Twins and The Jam. Even non-music fans will know one song recorded there – Christmas classic - the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York”. In more recent years David Bowie and Adele have recorded at RAK. After work finished musicians would head over to the Isaac Newton pub across the road – now Café Rouge.
When Mickie Most died in 2003 a plaque was put up for him outside the studio. Like Abbey Road, the studio is not open for visitors, but unlike Abbey Road, RAK Studios doesn’t get many fans posing outside – a shame I feel. Why not buy yourself a cup of hot chocolate and take a tribute selfie outside this place where so many well-known records were born.
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