Review: More Surface Than Substance in New Abbey Road Studios Doc "If These Walls Could Sing"

Mary McCartney's "If These Walls Could Sing" on Disney+ is a diverting, but Wikipedia-deep, documentary of the world's most famous recording studio.

As you might imagine, the film focuses heavily on the Beatles years, with lots of routine reminiscences from dad, Paul, and his pal, Ringo, plus somewhat more robust insights from Giles Martin, son of George. Beatles fans won't hear any stories they haven't heard before, but they'll likely come away wishing they'd heard a little more.

To McCartney's credit, she does go beyond just the Beatles. Using old photos and newsreel footage, she touches on the studio's origins, and the notable early sessions there, including Sir Edward Elgar directing the London Symphony Orchestra in performances of his Pomp and Circumstance Marches, along with footage from the 1960s of Jacqueline du PrĂ© recording her landmark rendition of his Cello Concerto.

There also are interviews with Cliff Richard, who worked at Abbey Road before the Beatles did, and fascinating footage of George Martin and Burt Bacharach leading Cilla Black through the recording of Bacharach's "Alfie."

We also get interviews with the former members of Pink Floyd, talking fairly civilly about one another, as they recount the creation of Dark Side of the Moon.

John Williams, meanwhile, is brought in to talk about the studio's emergence as a haven for recording movie soundtrack music, including his scores to some of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films.

Zooming ahead a bit closer to modern times, we get an odd, scripted voice-over interview from Kate Bush discussing her love of the place,  and Liam Gallagher riffing inarticulately and brother Noel, riffing somewhat more articulately, about how cool recording studios are, especially this one.

What's missing are details about the technical innovations pioneered at Abbey Road and why pop artists still record there in an era when they could do many of the same things the Beatles did with cheap software and a laptop.

Record engineer Ken Townsend, who gets mentioned a lot, isn't interviewed and should've been. It also would've been interesting to enlist Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehew, authors of "Recording the Beatles," or Mark Lewisohn or Brian Southall (who wrote a book about the place) to provide the film with a bit more depth and detail.

Charting the evolution of a classic song by the Beatles or the Floyd in order to provide viewers with a better understanding of how some of these classic tunes were developed, layer-upon-layer, in the studio  also would've been a nice touch.

"If These Walls Could Sing" is a decent overview, but functions only as an appetizer for anyone eager for a more detailed exploration of this facility, which was so important not just to the Beatles' career, but to the history of recorded music as a whole.


  1. Haven't seen it (not available yet on Disney+ in Australia for some reason), but this review sounds like it was a missed opportunity. Sad really as I was really looking forward to it. Given the time it took to make (2 years apparently) and the access she had, seems like Ms McCartney might lack the imagination to have made it something special.

  2. Watched it. Agree with the points in the article above. Would have loved to see some takes of George Harrison playing.


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