These Legendary Recording Studios Produced Some Of The Greatest Music Of All Time
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.
A Big Fan Of Self-Promotion – Trident Studios
Trident Studios in Soho has been the recording studio for more famous singles and albums than we have space to list. Trident opened in 1968 with a strong start when part of The Beatles’ The White Album and The Beatles’ single Hey Jude were both recorded that same year.
The momentum didn’t slow after that. 1969 saw David Bowie’s album David Bowie; 1970 had Elton John’s Elton John; and in 1972 & 1973 Queen recorded part of their album Queen, as well as their album Queen II. Trident really seems to like the self-titled albums…
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.
A Home For Hendrix – Electric Lady Studios
Electric Lady Studios was founded in the summer of 1970 by a true music legend, Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix’s longtime sound engineer Eddie Kramer said in a 2013 documentary, “it was specifically built for [Hendrix], with his vision in mind… it had to be a place where he felt comfortable as an artist.” Sadly, just 10 weeks after the opening Hendrix passed away, but the studio continues to operate in honor of him.
One of the most notable albums to be recorded at Electric Lady is a 1972 multi-grammy award-winning album, Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book. Following that success, David Bowie and John Lennon booked studio time in 1975 to record a cover of “Across The Universe” for Bowie’s Young Americans album.
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.
A Place Fit For A King (Or A Sir) – Château d’Hérouville Studios
Château d’Hérouville was built in 1740 in the Val-d’Oise department outside of Paris. Originally used as a courier relay station between Versailles and Beauvais, it served as a stable to nearly a hundred houses. The chateau was painted by Vincent van Gogh so you know those horses were living in style!
In 1962 it was purchased by composer Michel Magne, who then turned it into a recording studio in 1969, to be eventually run by musician director and sound engineer Laurent Thibault. Sir Elton John recorded three of his albums at the château: Honkey Château in May 1972, Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player in October 1972, and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in October of 1973.
Turning Out The Hits – Sound City Studios
Sound City Studios opened in the Van Nuys neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1969 and since then they’ve contributed to the making of over 100 gold and platinum records.
Seven years after opening, Fleetwood Mac came to Sound City to record their track Never Going Back Again from the album Rumours, which would become one of the highest selling albums of all time. Through the years Sound City had the likes of Elton John, Neil Young, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Johnny Cash.
Last Man Standing – The Record Plant
The Record Plant opened its first location in New York in 1968 and then opened a second location in Los Angeles a year later, with a third studio in Sausalito in 1972. The Los Angeles studio is the only studio still active.
The Record Plant gave space for Alice Cooper’s School’s Out album, the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Lady in 1968, Cheap Trick’s first studio album Cheap Trick in 1977, and Black Sabbath’s Vol. 4 in 1972. The LA studio location has lived on to host artists like Florence + The Machine, John Legend, and Janet Jackson.
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.
Black And Blue Basement Operation – Musicland Studios
Musicland Studios was another German recording studio, much like Hansa Tonstudio, that was producing and recording with big names in the 60s and 70s. It was established in the late 1960s in Munich in the basement of the Arabella-Hochhaus building until the 1990s.
The Rolling Stones recorded Black and Blue in 1976 in the basement studio, and that same year Led Zeppelin recorded Presence. Donna Summer was the third hitmaker to record at Musicland that year, recording her best-selling hit I Feel Love in 1976.
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 2018 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.
From Disney To Guns N’ Roses – Sunset Sound Recorders
Sunset Sound Recorders is a recording studio located on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood that was founded by Walt Disney’s Director of Recording, Tutti Camaratta, at the encouragement of Walt himself. The studio started off recording many of the soundtracks for the earliest Disney films including Mary Poppins and 101 Dalmatians.
Over the years the studio moved away from Disney and focussed more on the classic rock genre. More than 200 gold records have been produced and recorded at Sunset Sound, including Prince’s Purple Rain, Janis Joplin’s posthumously-released Pearl, and The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.