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How Abbey Road Studios Became a National Historic Landmark

Public outcry over rumors of sale of Abbey Road Studios led to landmark status

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Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty
Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty

After what seemed like a Long and Winding Road, the iconic Abbey Road Studios—made famous by the Beatles, whose 1969 album, Abbey Road, had a cover photo of the Fab Four using the pedestrian crossing in front of the recording studio—was declared a national historic landmark by the British Cultural Ministry in February 2010.

Rumors that cash-strapped record label EMI was planning to sell Abbey Road Studios started circulating in mid-February, inspiring Beatle fans everywhere to Come Together in defense of the historic building and to urge EMI to simply Let It Be. Some fans also appealed to Britain's National Trust to purchase the building so that developers could never get hold of it, and for a few days it looked as though officials at the National Trust were on the verge of saying, "We Can Work It Out."

It wouldn't have been the first time the National Trust had acquired property associated with The Beatles—the childhood homes of both John Lennon and Paul McCartney are already part of the Trust's portfolio—but after looking Here, There and Everywhere for a solution, Trust officials finally decided that purchasing the famous studio would be problematic.

Landmark Status Saves Abbey Road Studios
Just when things were beginning to look bleak, British Cultural Minister Margaret Hodge declared the site a national historic landmark due to its "outstanding cultural interest." During her announcement on February 23, Hodge confessed that the Beatles' "If I Fell," recorded at Abbey Road Studios in 1964, is her "favorite song of all time."

"Whether your tastes are for classical, hard rock or pop music, one of your favorites is more than likely to have recorded at Abbey Road," said Hodge, who gave the building a Grade II listing, the Cultural Ministry's second-highest rating, which does not prohibit interior modifications but requires them to be consistent with the character of the building.

The History of Abbey Road Studios
EMI bought the 1831 Georgian townhouse in London's prestigious St. John's Wood neighborhood for 100,000 pounds in 1929 and turned it into a recording studio. Originally called EMI Studios, the facility was renamed Abbey Road Studios in 1970 after the Beatles' Abbey Road album made it famous. While Abbey Road Studios is most closely associated with the Beatles, who recorded almost all of their albums and singles there between 1962 and 1970, many other musicians from nearly every possible musical genre have recorded at Abbey Road.

In 1958, Cliff Richard and the Drifters (later renamed Cliff Richard and The Shadows) came to Abbey Road Studios to record "Move It," which many people consider the first European rock single. Many other rock and pop musicians followed—from Pink Floyd and Jeff Beck to Radiohead and Duran Duran to James Taylor and Stevie Wonder—but Abbey Road also attracted many other artists over the years.

British composer Sir Edgar Elgar conducted the London Symphony Orchestra playing some of his compositions at the studio opening in November 1931, Glenn Miller and Dinah Shore had sessions there in the 1940s, and Andrew Lloyd Webber recorded the scores of many of his musicals at Abbey Road. Many notable film soundtracks also have been recorded in the Abbey Road Studios, including the music for the Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies as well as Amadeus, Cold Mountain, and the Fantastic Mr. Fox.

No Sale: Partners Wanted for Abbey Road Studios
As public outcry over the rumored sale of Abbey Road Studios grew, EMI and its parent company Terra Firma said they never intended to sell the studio, and revealed that they turned down a purchase offer of 30 million pounds (about $47 million) in mid-2009. Instead, the two companies said they were looking for investors who could partner with them to upgrade and revitalize Abbey Road Studios so that it could continue to play a significant role in our musical heritage.

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