Rockstars are innately unusual people- just look back at Ozzy Osbourne’s animal-biting, or virtually any habit of Keith Richards. These eccentricities frequently spill over into their recordings, mainly through music and lyrics, but also through the unusual settings of these recordings. While many resort to recording in tour buses or other mobile sites, more methodical sessions occur in off-the-beaten-path spaces, with these settings imbuing the record with their own unique history and sound. Some of the products, including Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Radiohead’s OK Computer, prove worth the extra effort in their eventual unbelievable success.
As the old adage goes, inspiration can strike anywhere- including inside of a haunted castle, or even locked in a coffin. Let’s take a look at the strangest places famous records were recorded.
Black Sabbath- Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973)
The fifth studio album from Black Sabbath was recorded in Clearwell Castle, a venue also used by Led Zeppelin. The gothic estate came equipped with a basement recording studio, as well as some possibly supernatural components; lead guitarist Tommy Iommi recalled seeing shadowy figures lurking around the property late at night. Though scary for some, this eerie environment led to Iommi composing the legendary riff heard on the title track.
Beach Boys- Smiley Smile (1967)
Lead singer Brian Wilson’s eccentricities are well known in the music world, but you may not know that these ticks also extend to the artist’s recording methods. The Beach Boy’s twelfth studio album was recorded in Wilson’s home, mostly on radio transmitting equipment. Makeshift innovations were quickly utilized, including substituting an empty pool for an echo chamber, as well as using a shower stall to record vocals.
Nine Inch Nails- Broken (1992) and The Downward Spiral (1994)
10050 Cielo Drive, Los Angeles was the sight of the Tate Murders in 1969, the first crime of the Manson family murders that rocked Los Angeles in the late 60’s. Despite the grisly history of this property, Nine Inch Nails’ frontman Trent Reznor rented the property starting in 1992. The band recorded two albums there before Reznor moved out in 1993, claiming the house had “too much history.”
Wings- Band on the Run (1973)
Unenthused with the prospect of recording yet another album in Abbey Road studios, lead singer (and ex-Beatle) Paul McCartney insisted that his new band record in an “exotic locale.” After setting up shop in an EMI studio in Lagos, Nigeria, Sir Paul realized he got more than he bargained for. Folklore abounds about the dismal conditions; the West African country was, at the time, plagued by a violent military dictator and uncomfortably hot weather. Some even reported band members were robbed at knifepoint during their recording tenure, with thieves stealing recordings of demos and pages of lyrics. Despite these major setbacks, Band on the Run would later go triple platinum.
Wings- London Town (1978)
With two band members exiting mid-session, the outlook for Wings’ sixth album looked bleak. This, along with the discovery that lead singer Paul McCartney’s wife was carrying their third child, lead to the band nixing a plan to release the album with an accompanying tour. With this extra time, Wings headed to the Virgin Islands, recording the remainder of the album aboard a moored yacht called the “Fair Carol.”
Radiohead- OK Computer (1997)
St Catherine’s Court, a medieval Tudor mansion in Bath, England, served as the setting for Radiohead’s first self-produced album, OK Computer. The estate was previously used by The Cure to record Wild Mood Swings (1996), as well as Bloodflowers (2000).
Red Hot Chili Peppers- Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)
For the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ fifth album, producer Rick Rubin suggested his own Laurel Canyon property (known as “The Mansion”), purported to be previously inhabited by magician Harry Houdini. The band reached a general consensus that the home was haunted, with drummer Chad Smith refusing to live there with his bandmates during recording. The band is apparently undeterred by the paranormal residents, having returned to record their 2006 album Stadium Arcadium. “The Mansion” has also hosted a flurry of famous faces for recording, including Marilyn Manson, Slipknot, and even Maroon 5.
Pink Floyd- A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987) and The Division Bell (1994)
The thirteenth studio album from Pink Floyd, A Momentary Lapse of Reason, was mainly recorded on guitarist David Gilmour’s houseboat, the Astoria. The boat, docked on London’s Thames, also served as recording headquarters for 1994’s The Division Bell.
John Mellencamp- No Better Than This (2010)
Mellencamp’s 25th studio album has an inherent folky-y vibe, as the singer created the record on a 1950’s recording machine, and only one microphone. Arguably the most mobile on this list, the singer recorded many of the tracks at historic sites- Savannah’s First Baptist Church, as well as the San Antonio hotel where Robert Johnson recorded in the ‘30’s.
The Black Keys- Rubber Factory (2004)
After recording their first two albums in drummer Patrick Carney’s basement, the Black Keys found a bigger place to record their third: in an abandoned tire factory. The recording headquarters’ previous life is immortalized in the album title.
Animal Collective- Campfire Songs (2003)
Experimental musicians Animal Collective desired an “inviting” sound for this album, something they achieved by recording it sitting outside on a porch in November (extra points for the freezing weather.)
Bon Iver- For Emma, Forever Ago (2008)
After the unraveling of his band, as well as a breakup, Wisconsin native Bon Iver (Justin Vernon) secluded himself in his family’s secluded hunting cabin and recorded his first solo album. The solitary environment pervades the album, contributing to the artist’s signature doleful sound.
The Cowboy Junkies- The Trinity Session (1988)
These Alt Rockers chose to record their second album in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Ontario, around only one microphone. The band credited their inspirations to the Southern (mostly Catholic) US, which makes sense once you hear the cloistered sound of this record.
Sunn 0)))- “Bathory Erzsebet” (2005)
Undoubtedly the most historically inspired piece on this list, Sunn O)))’s song “Bathory Erzsebet” was inspired by the infamously brutal 16th-century serial killer Elizabeth Bathory. The artists achieved the distinct sound by locking vocalist Scott Conner in a coffin throughout the recording of the song.
Neil Young & Crazy Horse- Ragged Glory (1990)
For this record, Young and his frequent collaborator Crazy Horse traveled to a secluded Northern California cabin. Though this sheltered recording environment is not that uncommon in the music industry, the artists took this a step further by having Neil record his vocals for “Don’t Spook the Horse” while standing in a pile of manure.