If These Walls Could Sing: A History of Abbey Road Studios
Mary McCartney takes us to the walls of Abbey Road studios for her directorial debut, If these walls could sing.
The film premiered over Labor Day weekend at the Telluride Film Festival. Over the years, the festival has become a mecca for studios to launch their Oscar contenders. Anyway, Disney takes the opportunity to launch the documentary Abbey Road. If you’re not throwing a music doc at SXSW, Telluride is the second best place. I can’t say enough good things about the movie. It’s got everything you want – at a minimum – in a documentary about Abbey Road Studios: the early days, the Beatles and, of course, John Williams recording some of the best movie soundtracks of all time.
I first discovered Abbey Road when The Beatles Anthology first aired on ABC. In reality, sergeant. peppers and Abbey Road went on to become my first two albums ever purchased. It’s unclear how many of the albums I own were recorded within the walls of Abbey Road Studios, which was originally called EMI Recording Studios until the name change. I’m sure I’m not the only one with a similar story.
The premises at 3 Abbey Road was once a nine bedroom townhouse. In 1929 the Gramophone Company acquired the property and opened a recording studio in 1931. It’s a studio with a 90-year history and photographer Mary McCartney brings us an intimate look at its history in her first feature film as than director. She grew up in the studio because her father is the legendary Paul McCartney. With her background in photography, she is able to bring viewers beautiful images on screen. For the fans this is historic as the studios are private and as far as I know there are no tours of the facility. The closest fans can usually get is recreating the Abbey Road cover.
Many of the greatest rock songs in history were recorded at Studio Two under the watchful eye of producer George Martin. George is not alive but his son, Giles Martin, carries on his legacy. I could watch Beatles documentaries all day. We’ve already seen the music come to life in the Emmy-winning film The Beatles: Come Back last November. Last summer we saw Paul McCartney give a masterclass in McCartney 3,2,1. And while I can watch the surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, discuss their music all day, Abbey Road is more than The Beatles. It’s The Hollies, Elton John, John Williams, Pink Floyd, Oasis, Ye, Celeste and many more. We discover images of Jacqueline du Pré, shots of Fela Kuti and many others. McCartney and editor Paul Carlin incorporate extensive archival footage embedded into the interviews.
On the soundtrack front, Abbey Road is where Dame Shirley Bassey nearly passed out while singing the theme to The golden finger. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page shares a story about recording because he was in the studio that day. Likewise, Elton John has an eternal story to tell about when he was a session musician for The Hollies and Paul McCartney came in and played “Hey Jude.”
In the 1980s, John Williams recorded the The Raiders of the Lost Ark score in Studio One. He came at a time when the future was uncertain for the studio. Abbey Road had been sold and many items were auctioned – others were given to Paul McCartney for safekeeping. Williams kept coming back to record more scores as it is one of the best spaces in the world to record film music. Watching the film, you really begin to understand why so many musicians want to record there. History alone is reason enough. As Paul McCartney said in an interview at Studio 2: “If these walls could sing.
I know some of my readers will probably be uncomfortable with the appearance of a certain musician. Believe me, I totally get it, but as much as it pains me to say it, Mary McCartney wouldn’t tell the story without including Pink Floyd and that includes you know who. But still, there’s a who’s who of people discussing the studio. This film is only 86 minutes long, but there’s probably enough material for an expanded documentary series on the story. But as it is, If these walls could sing presents a selection of the greatest hits from the history of nine decades.
If these walls could sing is a celebration of the history of Abbey Road Studios and one of the best music documentaries of the year. As soon as this movie hits Disney+, you’ll be doing yourself a huge disservice by not hitting play ASAP.
DIRECTOR: Mary McCartney
STARRING: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Elton John, Roger Waters, Noel Gallagher, Liam Gallagher, John Williams, Celeste, Sheku Kanneh-Mason
If These Walls Could Sing holds its world premiere during the 2022 Telluride Film Festival in the Show program. Disney+ will release the film at a later date in 2022. Rating: 5/5
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