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London's Abbey Road: Walking in the footsteps of the Fab Four

The writer does his best George Harrison impression while walking across the iconic crossing at London's Abbey Road in September. The crossing is located in front of Abbey Road Studios where The Beatles recorded 90 percent of their catalog.

MATTHEW M. BURKE/STARS AND STRIPES

By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 3, 2013

The trees that line Abbey Road funnel the bone-chilling September breeze down the London street like a wind tunnel.

Slick streets and ominous clouds, too, are not enough to deter the throngs of pilgrims speaking French, American English and Russian from queuing up to cross the street made famous by The Beatles’ 1969 record of the same name.

Locals navigate the quiet neighborhood seemingly unaware as they go about their daily lives. Motorists pile up on both sides of the zebra crosswalk, scowling as they give way to those who clamber to walk in the footsteps of Paul, John, George and Ringo with visions of mop tops and yellow submarines in their kaleidoscope eyes.

Abbey Road is located about 10 minutes by foot from the St. John’s Wood tube station, just a short subway ride from downtown London. Not only is it home to the most iconic crossing in perhaps the world, but also Abbey Road Studios, an unassuming white building that has seen and recorded some of rock’s and pop’s greatest acts of the past 50 years, including the likes of Oasis, Radiohead, U2 and Lady Gaga, as well as film scores from “Star Wars,” “Braveheart” and “The Lord of the Rings.”

Of course, The Beatles were the most notable musicians to record at Abbey Road. They recorded an estimated 90 percent of their catalog there, according to the BBC, including “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and Pink Floyd recorded their critically acclaimed “The Dark Side of the Moon” there in the early ’70s.

The 16-bedroom residence at 3 Abbey Road, St. John’s Wood, was bought by the EMI label in 1929 for what today would be just shy of $160,000, according to Time and the BBC. It was the first custom studio complex of its kind and opened in 1931, featuring several studios of different sizes to accommodate everything from an orchestra to a soloist.

In 1962, The Beatles were signed to EMI’s Parlophone label by producer George Martin, thus beginning their run at Abbey Road. The studio was not only responsible for their albums and defining live-to-the-world satellite performance “All You Need is Love” in 1967, but also for innovations in multitrack recording.

Amid reports of an impending sale, the studio was protected in 2010 by the British government for its contributions toward shaping British music, according to the BBC.

June marked the 51st anniversary of The Beatles’ first recording session at Abbey Road, according to the studio’s website.

Over the years, Abbey Road has become a symbol, and a place for fans to congregate. In 2001, fans gathered there to mourn George Harrison, who had died of cancer.

When walking across the six simple white stripes as the “Fab Four” did 44 years earlier, one can almost hear their music echoing down the quiet street. They are there and will always be. And as long as the street remains, so, too, will their fans. I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob.

burke.matt@stripes.com

The unassuming Abbey Road studios has seen and recorded some of the greatest rock and pop artists of the last 50 years, including The Beatles, U2, Oasis, Radiohead and Lady Gaga.
MATTHEW M. BURKE/STARS AND STRIPES

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