On a cool, English Sunday afternoon, there was a crowd loitering on the sidewalks of this wealthy London neighborhood called St. John’s Wood. Some people were waiting to use the zebra crosswalk made famous on the cover of The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album. Others were using pens to scrawl messages on the front of Abbey Road Studios, where that album—and many others—had been made. Things like “Imagine all the people,” and “John Lennon Lives!”
I was there because of the music, too. In a rare public event, Abbey Road Studio’s most famous room was being opened to the public for a lecture by Ken Scott, an engineer on The Beatles' seminal “White Album.” I had assumed that the topic, a look at “vintage recording techniques and equipment,” occupied a fairly esoteric niche when I bought my ticket. Judging from the long line to get into the building, though, it was clear that music nerdery (like many other nerdy things) had gone mainstream.
Joining Scott were two younger music engineers from America, Brian Kehew and Kevin Ryan. Kehew and Ryan are the authors of Recording The Beatles, a 500-plus-page volume created from 15 years of research and housed in a shell designed to look like a old-school tape reel box. Recording The Beatles is, all at once, a labor of love, a celebration of music recording culture and, quite likely, the most detailed historical compendium of photography and information about the Fab Four’s time in the studio. The book is also a subtle illumination of the dynamic relationship that occurs between people and their tools, a constantly shifting balance which can either enable—or thwart—inspiration.