Jimi Hendrix's studio is celebrating its 40th Anniversary, so you KNOW what that means around here!
When I first started this list, I figured I'd settle on 10. Then 15. Eventually 25. Yes, I've still got a few more. Never mind the idea that many big studios had studios on both coasts. The major label studios are the trickiest, since often the credits go to something generic like "Recorded at Columbia Studios in New York City."
In the end, I've settled for letting Memphis stand in for many of the smaller markets where great music has been recorded--and I STILL had to cut Stax. After all, I've got to attempt some version of balance. I didn't include any recording studios in the rest of the world, except England, since they once owned us and I can't pronounce French or German.
Feel my pain as I try to make sense of who recorded in these places. Sometimes the studios lay claim to artists who only had their records mixed there. Therefore, any room "magic" is done for.
You could even make a case that the records got recorded in some of these rooms IN SPITE of the room. After all, more lousy albums have been recorded in these places than classic ones. But nobody brings them up.
This is a "Rock-Era" based list. Hip-hop is in its own category.
Great music can be recorded anywhere. Just like a great photographer is often made great by his or her proximity to great subjects. You still have to know how to work the equipment, but if you've got John Lennon singing through the mic, you've got a much better chance of recording something good than if you had ME behind the mic.
Let's dig in! And be sure to write in your favorite studios!
After all this, I think I may someday soon compile a list of indie studios and oddly-recorded albums. Why not? Good music is fun to find!
25) Ardent Studios, Memphis: Memphis may be the greatest musical city in the U.S. Sure, New Orleans gets all the hype for having so much history and tragedy and phenomenal architecture and Texas has brought us many great singer-songwriters and country singers and musicians, but in order to keep my sanity, we'll look at who has been to Ardent!
24) Electrical Audio, Chicago: Steve Albini is a polarizing figure since he's extremely outspoken on his opinions of the music biz. He's turned out to be right much of the time. He's recorded thousands of bands. The ones listed below give you an idea of the spectrum. And if you're wondering where is Nirvana, The Pixies and the Jesus Lizard? Well, his studio opened in 1997, meaning the acts below were more likely to have recorded in the rooms he now calls home.
23) Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios, Box Wiltshire: Easily the polar opposite of Steve Albini's straight-forward no-nonsense approach, Peter Gabriel's studio is a luxurious paradise where I would one day like to be buried.
22) Britannia Row, London: If only because Joy Division's Closer was recorded here. The rest are gravy.
21) AIR Studios, London: Sir George Martin may never have found another act quite as successful as the Beatles (come to think of it, neither has anyone else!), but he did open this amazing studio where bands often go to record their orchestration if nothing else. You can't do EVERYTHING on your laptop.
Porcupine Tree, Susan Boyle, Peter Gabriel, Sigur Ros, Scott Walker, Coldplay, George Michael, Beth Orton, Pulp, Damien Rice, Sting, Sparks, Portishead, INXS, Bryan Ferry, Adam And The Ants, King Crimson
20) The Magic Shop--New York: This place has solidly been growing its legacy over the past couple of decades and I know people who have been there to visit. Yet, I don't know how good the food spread might be. Anyone know?
18) Hyde Street Studios, San Francisco: What a great mix of performers. Rather than be known for a particular style--the San Francisco Sound--they serve up a variety Dunkin' Donuts would be proud of.
17) Jackpot Studios, Portland, Oregon: Larry Crane, publisher of Tape-Op, shows what you can do with serious dedication. You don't need the biggest studio on the planet or the fanciest, you just need to have a good ear and a sense for what people want out of life.
16) Columbia 30th Street Studios, New York: Considered "by some people" to be the best sounding room and the greatest recording studio in history, Columbia's 30th Street Studio is one of those places that was torn down because it's New York and nothing lasts. Kind Of Blue, the jazz album owned by everyone, was recorded there.
15) The Record Plant--New York, Los Angeles: Some people went to L.A. some went to New York and I'm still confused about The Plant in Sausalito, which was not included here because Kenny G recorded there, rendering null and void everything else they ever accomplished. I'm not listing the Hit Factory, since we've got enough New York studios on this list. Anyhow, just look at this small sampling and tell me you wouldn't want to be a lowly intern in a faraway decade.
Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Aerosmith, Stevie Wonder, Billy Idol, Rod Stewart, Prince, Babyface, Janet Jackson, Marilyn Manson, No Doubt, Macy Gray, P. Diddy, Kanye West, Madonna, Rihanna, Lil' Wayne, Lady Gaga, Jay-Z
14) Gold Star, Los Angeles: Just for the name alone, I would want to record here. Phil Spector recorded here, as did quite a few other great acts, often asked to perform at gunpoint.
Phil Spector, The Ramones, Buffalo Springfield, Brian Wilson, The Ronettes, Richie Valens, Iron Butterfly, The Monkees, Tigers Of Instantaneous Death, The Go-Go's, The Association, Leonard Cohen, Joan Jett, Dick Dale, Tina Turner
13) Sear Sound, New York: I always remember reading that Sonic Youth were recording here for the vintage equipment. Who doesn't like old equipment beside Steve Hatch, a guy I went to high school with who is worth MILLIONS and won't spend $30 on a DVD because he don't look back?
India.Arie, Bjork, Blink-182, Blonde Redhead, Boss Hog, Boy George, The Breeders, David Bowie, Alex Chilton, Death Cab For Cutie, Marianne Faithfull, Hole, Monster Magnet, Phish, Sonic Youth, Wilco, Yeah Yeah Yeahs
12) Ocean Way, Los Angeles: If I were a successful musician and was asked where I would like to record, I would choose Los Angeles and then goof off by the ocean all day and let the session cats record my tracks for me.
Eminem, Avril LaVigne, Michael Jackson, Green Day, Elvis Costello, Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, No Doubt, Beck, Filter, Counting Crows, Lyle Lovett, Snoop Dogg, Joni Mitchell, Ice Cube, Phil Collins
11) Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, Sheffield, Alabama: A legendary studio in a place where I'm sure it would be difficult to find any decent pizza. I guess artists have to suffer for their art. Even Art Garfunkel, who was born "Art."
10) Chess Studios, Chicago: You'll notice the Rolling Stones recorded in just about every important studio because they were, among other things, high-class studio whores. Everyone else belonged there by birthright.
9) Sun Studios, Memphis: One of the great sounding rooms, Sun Studios is responsible for making the 1950s a livable decade and by spearheading the decline of western civilization. We thank Sam Phillips for saving our lives.
8) Sunset Sound, Los Angeles: Just a smidgen of the talent that's been to Sunset Sound over the years. C'mon, L.A., you had Air Supply in your crosshairs and you let them go?
7) RAK Studios, London: Judging by the talent listed below, I'd guess this was one moody studio. Except for Sir Paul who probably chatted up the receptionist while Robert Smith pouted in the waiting room for his studio to "be ready."
The Cure, Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Sinead O'Connor, Siouxsie And The Banshees, Big Country, Grinderman (Nick Cave), Arctic Monkeys, Ray Davies, Randy California, Stone Roses, The Jam, Fine Young Cannibals, David Bowie
6) Olympic Studios, London: Easily my pick for the best recording studio to record. If it was good enough for the Rolling Stones around the time of Beggars Banquet and the Yardbirds and Troggs, I would surely fit right in.
Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, The Small Faces, Boy George, Spice Girls, Bjork, Roxy Music, Cool Ranch (Hmmm.--ed.), Duran Duran, The Troggs, The Yardbirds, The Who, Queen, Hawkwind, Procol Harum
5) Motown, Detroit: Not just a studio, but a studio that came completely furnished with a band. Motown wasn't just a record label--and Tamla and Gordy--but a way of life. Then operations were moved to Japan, er L.A., and the Detroit economy crumbled.
4) Atlantic Studios, New York: The Velvet Underground recorded Loaded here, which made me feel a little better that it wasn't Squeeze, an album I've never even heard, so maybe I'm completely wrong, but I haven't heard anyone really defend Squeeze, so I'm going to assume I'm right about this and not just being stupid about it and dismissing a completely great album without ever hearing it. Right?
John Coltrane, Cream, The Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, Winger, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Twisted Sister, AC/DC, Chaka Khan
3) Abbey Road Studios, London: I'll let you decide who is better: The Beatles or Wang Chung. Discuss below and please back up your analysis. Thank you. Abbey Road: it's more than just a famous street crossing (that they moved).
The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Pretty Things, The Zombies, Al Stewart, Wang Chung, Duran Duran, Radiohead, Oasis, Al Bowlly, Dashboard Confessional, Iron Maiden, Glenn Miller, John Mayer, The Killers, XTC, U2, Syd Barrett,
2) SARM Studios (Island), Notting Hill, London: I'm really impressed with how many British acts recorded here. Nice to see them keeping us Americans out. Of course, they had to record "Do They Know It's Christmas," which as far as these dopey, big group things go, isn't quite so bad.
The Clash, John Martyn, Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Dire Straits, Genesis, Bad Company, Nick Drake, Bob Marley, Iron Maiden, Roxy Music, Cat Stevens, Traffic, Jethro Tull, Depeche Mode, Queen, King Crimson, Fairport Convention, Jimmy Cliff, Mott the Hoople, Band-Aid
1) Electric Lady Studios, NYC: Given the number one slot because it was Jimi's studio and it was designed to be freaky and way out and conducive to musicians and it's underground and near the subway. You can also get a hot dog on the corner. Very important for musicians who need a quick bite. The Papaya Juice will keep you up for hours. Thank you, high fructose corn syrup, you are the secret nectar to the Rock Gods.
Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Kiss, Birdland With Lester Bangs, Eric Clapton, Rihanna, Beastie Boys, The Cars, Violent Femmes, Bob Dylan, Jay Z, Mary J. Blige, Elvis Presley, Peter Frampton, Curtis Mayfield, Alice In Chains, The Mars Volta, The White Stripes