Here we are, the last episode of Sonic Highways. And what a way to end the series and album by documenting one of the greatest cities in America, New York. The overarching theme that the music of America is connected by sonic highways is explored in much more detail in this episode, especially in the metaphorical sense of Grohl being inspired by the underground system of rivers below the surface of New York.
New York is known for a lot of things, but music has tended to be a lesser known quality of the city. Things like Broadway, Times Square and the city’s rich history often overshadows the fact that music has always been a big business in this city, and is often referred to as the center of music – no disrespect to LA. Legendary musicians such as Ramones, New York Dolls, Sonic Youth, Billy Joel, Grandmaster Flash, Lou Reed, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Lana Del Rey all found their beginnings in the city that never sleeps. And it’s not just homegrown musicians that roam the city, musicians across the world all made their way to the big apple to record their music, too. The 70s were incredible for recording, with musicians such as Jimmy Irvine, KISS, John Lennon, Elton John, David Bowie and Led Zeppelin all recording records in famous studios across the city.
A lot of New York’s music scene happened underground and was majorly undiscovered. The city became a magnet for eclectic people, performing in clubs such as the tight, sweaty, dirty CBGB’s where bands like the Ramones performed and began to change the music scene forever. And it wasn’t just rock and punk music that dominated New York, Hip-Hop found it’s place there too. Even though Hip-Hop had a different uniform and lifestyle, their attitude was exactly the same. Musicians such as Run DMC and Public Enemy evolved from the city, with RUN DMC even tying ties in the rock community with their famous collaboration with Aerosmith, combining the music worlds together.
For this song, the band decided to record ‘I Am a River’ in The Magic Shop. Rather than choosing a well-known studio – such as Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios – they decided to record in an unknown one. A studio run by a guy you know (Steve Rosenthal), a guy you can trust. The studio also had a Neve console, which is extremely close to the band and Grohl as Grohl acquired a Neve console from Sound City Studios in LA to help preserve music history, which the band now use to record their records on. David Bowie also managed to record in this studio entirely unbeknown to everyone with his 2013 release ‘The Next Day’. No one figured it out, showcasing that New York is one of the most public cities in the world, but also one of the most private.
‘I Am a River’ ends up being one of Foo Fighters most adventurous and epic songs to date. One of their longest too, standing at just over 7 minutes long. The song encompasses that feeling of everyone being connected by something, in this case – music. That life isn’t remotely complete without music, and that it allows a form of expression that you can’t achieve in any other medium. This song also encompasses an orchestra provided by the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra showcasing how – just like with Aerosmith and RUN DMC – you can mix two extremely different genres of music together to create a masterclass of talent and music ability.
Sonic Highways as a whole has been one of the best musical journeys that I have ever had the pleasure of taking. It’s been informative, insightful and mesmerizing to see how much influence a city can have on the music that it produces. Foo Fighters strive on getting the next generation to find inspiration in the smallest of things, and once you have that inspiration, you shouldn’t be afraid to use it. And by using all these unknown studios, they manage to show kids that they need to close their laptop and support their local studios to prevent these archives of music history from dying out. Sonic Highways could honestly go on forever, every city in America has a story to tell through music. And not just America, but the whole world too.
Words by Sophie McEvoy.