Here, the tantalising title (If These Walls Could Sing) feels like an unrealised promise. It suggests secrets and stories, hidden narratives waiting to be uncovered in this documentary about Abbey Road studios. Hell, it even pitches itself as the untold story, a film where Mary McCartney makes use of her connections to give us a privileged insight into one of the most important recording studios in popular music. Alas, the documentary itself is the issue, never finding a clear form or purpose beyond shifting between talking heads in a vaguely linear way; a collection of very known, or very knowable, anecdotes that don’t reveal anything together.
This is not the story of Abbey Road, this is a very standard feeling Beatles documentary interspersed with other people talking about recording at Abbey Road. There is vague interest throughout, and many of the figures are people you would want to hear from, but not much is got out of them. Each person tells very surface level narratives that only really offer stories about what happened, no sense of revelation or true insight. The true story of Abbey Road would delve into the ‘why’ more, finding out the minutiae of what makes this place special, delving into its specifics. Towards the start we have some reference to ‘high end equipment’ and ‘everything working’; what we need is a sense of the place. We know it is important; we know a bunch of people recorded great music there. This documentary leaves us feeling it is important because people recorded great music there, a self fulfilling thing that thus implies they could have recorded these things anywhere.
The documentary in the room that must be referred to is 2013’s Muscle Shoals. This also takes on a legendary studio but it explores. It takes the idea of the place having a signature sound, of being perceived as actively impacting music (people record there to get that sound), and investigates that idea. This means we get a cavalcade of talent alongside a strong narrative core. Alongside a raison d’être. If These Walls Could Sing just gives the cavalcade, and gets so little out of it. There are figures in it with stories, with knowledge, and the interviews eek out so little. Everything is from this position of distanced awe and reverence, with no sense of the interrogative or the human angle. It is puff piece throughout.
The lasting feeling is the sense of watching a recruitment video, the kind of film an employer would put on for you about their workplace on your first day. It alludes to some struggles but the ongoing narrative is one of unquestioned and vague importance. Truly, the only really interesting thing in it is the film’s ability to place Gallagher brother interviews next to each other (to smartly edit them so some eye lines are implied to match up, which is fun) and to make them tell conflicting stories. If only the stories were more interesting and if only they fit into some cohesive whole.
The listless and purposeless feeling is also expressed by a late film Kanye West sequence. A documentary releasing in 2023 should have perhaps reconsidered this inclusion; West, and a key performance, is part of the broader, linear story of Abbey Road but, when this documentary has no sense of narrative, it just becomes one of many cuttable stories. No narrative segment feels necessary here (many even feel unthoughtful, and like the interviewees have too much control, ending up saying rambling nonsense). The proper story of the studio may have to touch on the Kanye performance but this version would also be aware of context; it would frame this moment by alluding to controversy around this figure and it certainly wouldn’t, like this film, include interviews from West (thus platforming him).
Once again, If These Walls Could Sing has no interest in uncovering, exploring or truly documenting. Sure, you will get some stories worth hearing from this, mostly because it is a collection of very famous people just allowed to talk. There is a loose level of engagement from this but an overriding feel of missed potential. If you have these people, if you have this place, if you have this access, how do you only produce this? Why didn’t you find the story and why did you actually show so little?
8 thoughts on “If These Walls Could Sing: An Abbey Road Doc that Doesn’t Come Together”
This documentary was great I don’t know how you can publish an unjust story it gave the watcher a lot of historical stories by performers what documentarie did you see.
There is always some clown who is going to leave a negative review I thought it was very good and interesting,
Sorry, I watched and being from that era, you are dissing what you don’t know about and only just to be Liberal. We’re all sick of the “ Fake News”. Woke is the Joke! Especially after Bacharach’s death! Blasphemes and unintelligent!
If these comments could sing.
Stephen, I think you gave a fair, honest, and just report on how blasé this movie really was! I am a Beatles fan and a Paul McCartney fan, and Mary McCartney should not be doing movies or documentaries; this could’ve been done a lot better in the hands of a professional, with more enticing angles… sure, everybody wants to see Paul and hear what he has to say (dear old dad) but I expected a much higher level of quality, and people shouldn’t settle for much, much less, and that’s exactly what they got in this movie.
Great writing Stephen, your other articles must be very good-cheers!
Thank you for reading. I adore the subject matter here but the film is far from its equal.
Very much interesting
I have read books and watched all the docs ever made about the Beatles and Abby Road. I never made it all the way thru this doc because it’s all recycled stories. Even Paul had nothing new to say. Your review is spot on…if this is your first doc on EMI, you might enjoy it. For those of us eating up Beatles docs since the 60’s, this is boring….keep telling it like it is.