Why the Tourist Crossed the Road
by Todd Wisti
Built in 1830 as a private home, The Gramophone Company Ltd. (now known as EMI) began its studio operation at the site in 1931, recording the top orchestras of the day. The Beatles' history at the studios began 6 June, 1962; they arrived at Abbey Road in an old white van, wearing black leather jackets and unloaded their battered equipment, including unpainted wooden amplifiers, which left much to be desired in the eyes and ears of the recording technicians. A four-song demo session ensued. At the session, the band's producer, George Martin, gave the Beatles a lecture about the importance of using better quality amplifiers, ending his diatribe with the query, "Look, I've laid into you for quite a time, and you haven't responded. Is there anything you don't like?" A long pause followed, with shuffling of the Beatles' feet. George Harrison stared at the producer and said, "Yeah, I don't like your tie!" And so began the placement of Abbey Road Studios as a shrine in the eyes of Beatle fans.
The building houses four studios. Studio One is roughly 92 feet by 52 feet, and has 4,876 square feet of floor space with a ceiling nearly forty feet high. It is large enough to record a 100-piece orchestra and a 120 piece vocal choir (what would happen if they tried to cram an additional piccolo player or one extra soprano in there is left only to one's imagination). Studio Two is about half the size of Studio One, and can accommodate 55 musicians. Studio Three is of a more moderate size (about the same amount of floor space as a modest house) and features a mirrored isolation room where unique acoustics take place due to the room's lack of parallel surfaces. The Penthouse Studio graces the top floor, with views looking down to the Abbey Road Studios' garden. Also on the premises are a fully licensed restaurant and bar, as well as two luxury apartments.
As Abbey Road Studios is a working business, public tours are not available. However, for a short two-month period in the summer of 1983 the doors were opened to interested parties for guided visits and a ninety-minute video presentation in Studio Two. Since that time, the doors remain locked to the public and there are no future plans for tours.
How to Get to Abbey Road
Unless you're an employee or you have booked a recording session, the chances are slim that you will be entering Abbey Road Studios, or even venturing into its car park. A person is able to obtain a good view of the building, though, from the sidewalk and the location is easily accessible via Underground.
To get to Abbey Road, depart the Underground at St. John's Wood Station; look to the southwest for Grove End Road, and follow Grove End Road for a few blocks, about ¼ mile. You'll come to a monument on a pedestal, and the famous Abbey Road album cover crosswalk (the markings on the asphalt have changed somewhat since 1969). Belisha beacons (lighted globes on posts) at the zebra crossing are there to warn drivers that this is a popular spot for pedestrians to cross the street.
St. John's Wood
© 2001 Todd Wisti
Todd Wisti writes about Abbey Road Studios amongst other topics in respect to British travel in his book Full English Breakfast. Visit the FULL ENGLISH BREAKFAST web site or buy Todd Wisti's Book here Full English Breakfast: A Ramble Through London, Wales, and Yorkshire: Travel, Adventures, and History
Also by Todd Wisti
The John Ritblat Gallery at the British Library