Andre Gardner

Frank Yeates outside his home, Clearwell Castle in Clearwell, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, UK, 14th January 1971. Yeates, the son of a former gardener at the estate, bought and restored the Gothic Revival mansion in 1953. (Photo by Daily Express/Getty Images)

While a majority of our beloved classic rock songs and albums were recorded and mixed at some of the greatest and most technically sound recording studios in the world – Abbey Road, Sunset Sound, Electric Lady and Olympic Studios immediately come to mind – things started to change in the early 70s. Artists would complain that the sterile atmosphere in recording studios stunted their creativity. Band managers didn’t like the distractions of being right in the middle of a crazy, busy city where the musicians could get into trouble and not concentrate and work.

The solutions ranged from building a self-contained mobile recording studio that could be booked for recording projects for an extended period of time, to outfitting giant mansions with gear, making sure there were enough accommodations for the artists to live there while making their album. Make your album on a yacht in the Virgin Islands? No problem! Do the drum track in the basement of an old mansion, surrounded by the boiler and the piping? If it sounds good, let’s do it! With recording studios on wheels like the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio or Ronnie Lane’s Mobile Studio, basically an Airstream camper outfitted with gear, artists could record their music pretty much wherever they wanted. And in the early 70s, they did! By the 80s, homemade recording rigs became available, so the possibilities were endless (as you’ll soon read!)

Not only was this, in many cases, a respite for the musicians while they worked, but a lot of the places where they recorded had incredible acoustics. The most famous example of that would be John Bonham’s drums on “When The Levee Breaks.” It was recorded up a small flight of stairs on a landing in the entry hall of Headley Grange. His drums came alive on that landing, and with the help of two Beyer M160 mics and a Binson Echo-Rec delay, engineered by Andy Johns, that iconic drum sound was born.

While there are certainly more examples, here are 11 examples of rock songs and albums recorded in odd and interesting places:

  • Billion Dollar Babies - Alice Cooper (a swanky mansion in Greenwich, CT)

    Wanting to rehearse and record their sixth album away from the madness of New York City, Alice Cooper and his band made Billion Dollar Babies at the stately Galesi Estate, a 40-room mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut. Much of the album’s basic tracks were recorded here, with most of the work done in the huge ballroom or the greenhouse. Though Alice and band were not exactly welcomed by the neighbors – Alice said they were treated like “The Munsters” when they’d walk into town – one of the neighbors who were glad they were there was legendary actress Bette Davis. Word was she’d drive by the estate, blasting her horn and yelling for the boys to turn it up!

  • L.A. Woman - The Doors (their offices in West Hollywood)

    As The Doors began sessions for their sixth album, their longtime producer Paul A. Rothchild quit, leaving them to work with their engineer Bruce Botnick on what would become L.A. Woman. To provide a more relaxing atmosphere for the band to work, they set up shop at their band office on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, a freestanding two story building.  The offices were on the first floor and they set up a recording space on the second floor.  They recorded the entire album there, and Jim Morrison found the perfect place in the building to record his vocals: the lower level bathroom with its tiled walls – perfect acoustics!

  • Give Peace A Chance - John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (a hotel room in Montreal, QC)

    John Lennon wrote this classic for the ages while one of his “bed-ins” were happening in Montreal in the spring of 1969. Once Lennon came up with the idea for a song, he ordered some recording equipment be sent to Room 1742 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in downtown Montreal, and it was there that the song was recorded. People like Tommy Smothers, Petula Clark and Murray The K were in attendance and added to the festive atmosphere of the recording. The song did requite some post-production “sweetening,” though, and that was done by engineer Andre Perry. Perry would later open “Le Studio” in Morin Heights, QC, where Rush, The Police, David Bowie and Queensryche would later record.

  • London Town - Wings (Aboard A Yacht In the virgin Islands)

    For a while there, Paul McCartney was on a tear of recording in wild locations.  In 1973, he worked on the bulk of Band On The Run in Lagos, Nigeria, the following year he went to Nashville to record “Junior’s Farm” and “Sally G,” and in 1977, he and his Wings band members made several tracks from their London Town album aboard a yacht, anchored in a secluded back bay just outside of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.  They had a total of three boats, one for recording (named “The Fair Carol”) and the other two (“Samala” and “El Toro”) for the band to live.  Everything went pretty much without a hitch and, a year later, Paul would set up shop in a castle in Kent!

  • Straight Shooter - Bad Company (Clearwell Castle)

    After recording their debut album at Headley Grange (with drummer Simon Kirke setting his kit up in the basement, surrounded by the pipes and the water boiler!), Bad Company made their sophomore album Straight Shooter at Clearwell Castle, an 18th century gothic revival house situated in western England, not too far from Wales.  It was also at this castle that Peter Frampton recorded his Frampton album in 1974. Nowadays, Clearwell Castle is an in-demand wedding venue!

  • Rambler '65 - Ben Vaughn (inside a 1965 Rambler American car)

    Local rock/folk hero Ben Vaughn gets my award for recording an album in the oddest place.  He titled it after his favorite car, The Rambler American.  But he went one step further than that.  He recorded the entire album INSIDE HIS RAMBLER, parked in the driveway of his South Jersey home.  Somehow he managed to fit himself, his instruments, and all the recording equipment inside, and the album is amazing!! This is my favorite track:

  • Nothing But Time - Jackson Browne (on a tour bus driving down the NJ Turnpike)

    The fifth album by Jackson Browne was going to be live, but with a twist.  Running On Empty was more of a travelogue about life on the road and, to achieve that effect, live recordings were mixed with songs recorded in hotel rooms and, in the case of this track, aboard the band’s tour bus as it was driving between gigs.  If you listen closely to this song, you can hear the bus’s engine humming as it tools down the New Jersey Turnpike.

  • Yer Blues - The Beatles (In A Closet Adjoining The Abbey Road Studio Two Control Room)

    This is a strange one.  During recording of the White Album, John Lennon was always keen to change his voice or the sounds on the recordings in a dramatic way (just listen to “Revolution 9!”) The engineer, legendary producer Ken Scott, make a remark to John along the lines of “geez, at this rate you’ll want to record in that closet over there,” pointing to an equipment closet that adjoined the control room of Abbey Road Studio 2. About a week later, John had them set up mics and instruments in that exact closet, and it was there they did “Yer Blues,”

  • Songbird - Fleetwood Mac (onstage in an empty auditorium)

    To compliment the soft, plaintive nature of this beautiful Christine McVie-penned tune, producer Ken Caillat suggested she record this gorgeous song from Rumours, alone, onstage at the Zellerbach Auditorium in Berkely, with no audience present. He placed a bottle of wine and a bouquet of flowers on her beautiful nine foot long Steinway piano that was brought in, and she totally nailed it.

  • Tusk - Fleetwood Mac (On The Field Of Dodger Stadium)

    That brass section you hear on the title track of The Mac’s double post-Rumours album was none other than the USC Trojan Marching Band. The idea to use them, and record their performance on the field at Dodger Stadium, was the brainchild of Mick Fleetwood, and it only added to the quirky nature of the song.

  • Bad Company - Bad Company (Out In A Field at Midnight Under The Moonlight)

    To get the atmosphere and vibe just right for the vocals on “Bad Company,” Paul Rodgers set up a mic waaaaay out in the field behind Headley Grange. Once cables were laid and tests made, Rodgers waited until midnight, with the full moon shining overhead, to lay down that tremendous vocal. I picture that in my head every time I hear the song.

Sign me up for the 102.9 WMGK At Work Network email newsletter!

Join WMGK's At Work Network and get the latest rock news, exclusive presales, contests and more straight to you inbox.

By clicking "Subscribe" I agree to the website's terms of Service and Privacy Policy. I understand I can unsubscribe at any time.