On April 1, 1969, after leaving behind Rick Hall’s FAME Studios, the members of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, a.k.a. The Swampers, opened their own studio at 3614 Jackson Highway, in Sheffield, Alabama...and despite the fact that it was not, in fact, located in Muscle Shoals, they called it Muscle Shoals Sound Studio anyway.
Hey, if you want to complain, you take it up with those guys. We’re just here for the music, which is why we’ve put together a list of five tracks which were recorded at the studio, some of which were crucial to Muscle Shoals’ success and others which we just thought you’d find interesting.
R.B. Greaves, “Take a Letter, Maria” (1969)
Written by Greaves and produced by Ahmet Ertegun, this song holds an important place in Muscle Shoals history, as it was the first hit single produced by the studio. In fact, it was Greaves’ biggest hit, climbing to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and inspiring a major shift in the studio’s fortunes.
The Rolling Stones, “Brown Sugar” (1971)
In December 1969, not long after having signed to Atlantic Records, the Stones made their way up to Alabama after a show in Florida and recorded three songs over the course of three days, all of which were destined to turn up on Sticky Fingers. The first day, they recorded “You Gotta Move,” and the last day they recorded “Wild Horses,” but smack dab in the middle of the two, they laid down the song that would become the album’s first single and, in short order, a No. 1 hit.
Rod Stewart, Atlantic Crossing (1975)
Prior to this album, Stewart had always produced his own records, but having changed his base of operations to the U.S. from the U.K. (hence the album’s title), he was swayed to work with Tom Dowd, a gentleman who’d already earned legend status via his work with The Rascals, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, and Derek and The Dominos, among others. With Dowd at the helm and the Memphis Horns and members of Booker T. and the MG’s backing him, Stewart found himself with a brand new sound, but it was one that audiences devoured: the LP became his fifth chart-topper in the U.K. and spawned two No. 1 hits (“Sailing” and “I Don’t Want to Talk About It”).
Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Free Bird” (Demo) (1977)
The craziest thing about Skynyrd’s sessions at Muscle Shoals is that they couldn’t find a label for their album at the time they recorded there, so the material ended up sitting around and gathering dust...until the plane crashed that killed three members of the band, that is. Not long after that tragedy, the band released Skynyrd’s First and...Last, which contained a chunk of the material recorded at Muscle Shoals, including the demo for their signature song. Also worth noting: in 1998, the album in question was reissued as Skynyrd’s First: The Complete Muscle Shoals Album.
Julian Lennon, “Valotte” (1984)
Given that he resembled his relatively recently-deceased father in both look and voice, there was much anticipation surrounding the debut album of Julian Lennon, and the LP’s title track played up that resemblance to great success. While not all of the Valotte album was recorded at Muscle Shoals, this song definitely was. In fact, the surroundings of the studio make an appearance in the lyrics: when Lennon sings, “Sitting on a pebble by the river playing guitar,” he’s singing about the Tennessee River.