We were just kids; we had these songs and we had these dreams. Our destination? Sound City… When you’re young you’re not afraid of what comes next? you’re excited by it. – Dave Grohl
What a way to start the film Sound City, which traces the roots of this revered recording studio. Many musicians and bands of various stature took this studio as pilgrimage. But no one left after using it empty-handed. Either one track becoming a hit, or a whole album.
Sound City sounded to me like Sun City, the album that was produced in the late 1980s about apartheid in South Africa. That album, in which Ringo Starr participated was a statement to the industry in bth sides of the Atlantic to ban South Africa and not perform in it. Some groups including Queen continued to do so and they had their own reasons but most of them shied away from Sun City.
Sound City is different, of course. It’s a recording studio, not of the classy type like Record Plant in New York. “It’s a shit hole,” says producer Butch Vig. “It’s kinda dumpy,” laments another in the FF inner circle. “Everything is second hand,” offers another. “You can record something there and walk out for 15 years and when you come back, it’s still the same place,” comes the verdict of one who was there for so long.
But shit, listen to the list of all songs big hits that came out of Sound City – Nirvana’s Nevermind, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Rick Springfield’s Jessie’s Girl and a host of other big names or names that became big, very big. Cheap Trick, Metallica, Pat Benatar, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Barry Manilow, REO Speedwagon, Buckingham Nicks, Dio, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins… wow. So this is Sound City!
The next five minutes was devoted to the founders and managers of the recording studio, then to the equipment available. A blow-by-blow account of sorts, indeed this thing I am writing. So worked up by this documentary movie. It also included trivia like Neil Young came in with a very old car, which bellowed smoke from every window and two police cars were trailing him. He was even made to step out of the car finally when he made it Sound City and do the customary procedures the police mouthed in that kind of situation. Neil is a Canadian and did not hold any driver’s license, but five minutes later the police left as if nothing happened. There’s always a privileged exception to the rule somehow.
Past 16 minutes into the film, the spotlight turned to Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham, the dynamic duo that would catapult the Fleetwood Mac several scales higher than when it was a pure blues band in the mid-1970s. Lindsay and Stevie used to be the Buckingham Nicks who lost their record contract and found a platform for their songs in Sound City.
The next focus is on the drums sound featuring Smells Like Teen Spirit. Then the litany of bands that came to grace the studio and record including Foreigner and, of course, the Grateful Dead.
New learning: tracking live or recording the track live, meaning the musicians have to record the songs without editing from top to bottom. Jimmy Iovine used this with John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges album as well Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes. Jimmy figured well in this last album produced in Sound City. So this is about sound engineers. The next topic is Paula Salvatore, the wondergirl in the studio, and those that preceded her as studio managers.
Then we move down to the producers some 34 minutes in the documentary.