Chapter 12: Studio System (Life in the Recording Studio)

One question that I kept asking musicians for years, even though I don’t think I ever got a good response: What was the most memorable day in the studio while you were recording the album? Generally, their eyes glaze over and they try to dredge up something interesting that happened. Here’s the truth: most of the time, working in the studio is a tedious slog with lots of time spent tuning and miking drums and balancing levels and focusing on the minutiae of ProTools edits. But the image of the studio as creative crucible persists, and a good studio has seen its fair share of magic over the years. About a decade ago, I realized just how potent the studio myth is, when I went to interview Depeche Mode, who were recording their latest album in London at the legendary Abbey Road studios. At the end of the evening, my taxicab pulled away, and I shamelessly gawked at the famous intersection where the Beatles had posed for their album cover. (It looked much the same, except the Beatles weren’t there.) As I headed back to my hotel, I realized that while Depeche Mode were nice enough guys, I hadn’t been particularly thrilled to meet them. But catching sight of Abbey Road: that was when every ounce of jadedness drained out of me and I became a starstruck teen again.

  1. What’s the deal with that weird German phrase at the beginning of Def Leppard’s “Rock of Ages”?
  2. When Donna Summer recorded “Love to Love You Baby,” was she actually having an orgasm humping the floor?
  3. Did Prince play guitar on Madonna’s “Act of Contrition”?
  4. Is it true that Pink Floyd recorded a complete album using only household objects?
  5. I think the bassline for Chic’s “Good Times” is the greatest bass part ever recorded. Where did it come from?
  6. Are members of Monty Python on the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine”? I’m almost certain it’s Graham Chapman echoing Ringo in the third verse.
  7. That amazing drum sound on the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”—how did Phil Spector get it?