If These Walls Could Sing, the new music documentary from Mary McCartney, daughter of Beatles’ legend Paul McCartney, looks at the legendary Abbey Road recording studio in London and the history behind it. With artists like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and many others have recorded in this studio over the years, the documentary only scratches the surface of the studio’s history and acts as something just above a Wikipedia entry.
A large chunk of the film focuses on The Beatles, which is mostly fair since they recorded some of their most iconic songs and albums in that studio and made the studio so famous that they changed the name from EMI Studios to Abbey Road after the success of the Beatles album of the same name. While The Beatles were an important piece of the Abbey Road Studios’ history, the film doesn’t dive into any artist or band as much as it does The Beatles, which is unfortunate, because I was intrigued by the other artists who recorded there. Pink Floyd famously recorded their most famous album, The Dark Side of the Moon, at Abbey Road Studios, yet the film barely gives them any time for the recording of that band or the process they went through with that album. We also learn about Oasis had a tumultuous first recording session there, about how composer John Williams used Abbey Road Studios for some of the most iconic film scores, and that Nigerian artist Fela Kuti recorded three of his albums there. All of this is interesting, but it is all crammed into the last third of the film and not given nearly enough time.
The best thing If These Walls Could Sing has going for it is the archival footage and the talking-head interviews. Seeing footage of The Beatles when they were young and at their peak was amazing and watching John Williams compose “Duel of the Fates” from Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace will make any movie and music fan happy. McCartney also gets interviews from artists like Noel and Liam Gallagher of Oasis, Elton John, Jimmy Page, Ringo Starr, and, of course, her father Sir Paul McCartney. These interviews give more insight into the mindset the artists were in while they were recording while also allowing the artists to express their love for Abbey Road Studios and how it changed their careers.
If These Walls Could Sing is not a bad documentary, but it is one that I wanted more from. Obviously, the music in the film is amazing and, like most of the people in my screening, you’ll probably be bobbing your head or singing along to several of the songs that you know and love. But perhaps making a singular movie, and one that runs under 90-minutes, about one of the most iconic recording studios was not the correct choice. A long-form miniseries featuring several one-hour-long episodes might have been the route this should have gone to explore the artists who have played there and the people who have kept this studio going for over 90 years. But for what we got, If These Walls Could Sing gives a decent insight into why Abbey Road Studios is an important landmark in music history that will have you wanting to listen to Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band on your ride home.
If These Walls Could Sing played in the Documentary section of the 2022 Chicago International Film Festival.
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