Going Inside The Iconic Capitol Records Building For Its 60th Anniversary

One of the most unusual buildings to adorn the Hollywood skyscrape is now turning 60.

In a very rare event, the hallowed studios of the Capitol Records Tower were open to the public this past weekend to celebrate 60 years of phenomenal recording history.

Photo by Michael Hixon

Photo by Michael Hixon

Capitol was founded two decades earlier by songwriters Johnny Mercer and Buddy DeSylva, along with Glenn Wallich of the famous Wallich’s Music City record store that anchored the corner of Sunset and Vine for decades, from 1940-1978.

Already home to the dynamic Nat “King” Cole, Capitol hit it’s stride firmly in 1954 when the label signed a former saloon singer and fallen teen idol by the name of Frank Sinatra.

Believe it or not, Frank’s career had been on the skids for several years when an Oscar win for his acting, not singing, coincided with his signing to Capitol Records. Sinatra promptly re-established him self with a series of concept albums that propelled him to super stardom.

I know them well as my mom had them all. The moody In The Wee Small Hours was probably the best known. Longtime Capitol studio engineer Steve Genewick demonstrated five different versions of the classic song “What’s New” from that album. We heard the original vinyl recording, both 1990 and 2000 digital remasters, an iTunes version, and the new HD which was the best, followed pretty closely by the 1958 vinyl release. All other versions were paled by comparison.

My favorite item on display was Nat King Cole’s very well used piano, along with various chairs, microphones, sound walls and other equipment from 60 years of recording history at the Capitol Tower.  Pictures of the famous names that used these hallowed items also adorned the walls.

Walking through Sudios A and B, I was humbled by knowing that Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Les Paul, The Beach Boys, Beatles, Elton John, Tom Petty, Dave Koz, Katy Perry and most recently Sam Smith, plus hundreds more of the voices we have heard all of our lives once stood there.

Photo by Michael Hixon

Photo by Michael Hixon

Sound buffs may already know this, but under the Capitol parking lot there are no less than 8 natural reverberation chambers that have added various stages of echo to many famous recordings over the past 60 years.

Photo by Michael Hixon

Photo by Michael Hixon

When I was a young adult, a kindly gentleman who owned the record store I shopped at as a kid, gave me a replica of the Capitol Tower, first issued in very limited release back in 1956. I still cherish that very rare artifact.

The next time Capitol opens it’s doors, jump for the chance to see these studios. it is a unique experience indeed.

More from Bill Dudley
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