When selecting a recording studio, it's important to examine a variety of attributes. Are there instruments on site? What is the room made of? How much will it run you a day? Who else has recorded there? How many low priced hookers can you fit in the control room? These are issues of paramount importance.
For some time, we'd assumed we'd be traveling outside of our San Francisco home to record in less familiar surroundings. We did Los Angeles last time, but the poison cocktail of cat dander, couch hopping, apocalypse-flavored air quality, and general lack of a proper night's sleep soured us on a repeat trip. We tossed around ideas of New York, Minneapolis, Ohio but nixed them because, respectively: too expensive, too effing cold, too Ohio-y. That was before we stumbled serendipitously on Hyde Street Studios.
The bad first: it's in one of the scuzziest, stinkiest, bum-laden, pimp-infected areas of San Francisco. It's not the sort of studio you step outside from for a breath of fresh again: again, the air smells more of B.O. and methamphetamines. It's the sort of area where you might wear a SARS mask, a nose plug, earmuffs, and a condom, just in case. Better yet: I'm just going to have Zach roll me into the studio in one of those human-sized plastic hamster spheres.
Now, the good: everything else. Hyde Street Studios began back in 1969, when hippies were still making curious and innovative music instead of demanding my nickels for weed on Haight Street. San Francisco, as you probably know, was a mecca for these smelly artists and many of them, including Credence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Jerry Garcia, recorded some of their early work at Hyde Street. Of course, such success was not to last (said in the style of those "Behind the Music" voiceover, please). A conglomerate named "Filmways" bought Hyde Street and, when time came to replace and renovate, Filmways politely told the management at Hyde Street to suck an egg. While other studio both in the bay and nearby were upgrading to fancy 24 tracks and other once-modern conveniences, Hyde Street was like a geriatric dinosaur and business and employees fled to hipper, nicer studios. That is, until 1980, when the studio was purchased by a partnership of forward viewing music-types, updated, and reopened as it is today.
At least, uh, that's what their website tells me. I read it so you wouldn't have to.
Of course, by 1980, those trailblazing hippies that made Hyde Street so interesting and successful had long since either stopped making music, broken up the band, drugged themselves into an eternal stupor, or gotten straight jobs at brokerages specializing in junk bonds and currency trading. So who has peopled the studio since? A partial list must include Dead Kennedys, Bonnie Raitt, Cake, Digital Underground, Willie Nelson, P.J. Harvey, The Melvins, Tupac, Primus, Knapsack, Green Day, Prince, and E40 (who, really, might be the coolest man on the planet. Hell, Santa Claus is his homie).
Those names are nice and all but all they prove that the studio is a legit operation. I own albums by most of those people but still, something wasn't quite right. We liked the vibe of the studio, the copious keyboards and pianos on site, the availability, the price: everything was right where we wanted it. There was just a lingering doubt. After all, this was quite a decision: we'll be spending twelve hours a day there for weeks on end; it had better be gravy. And then, then dear friends, we noticed one last name of Hyde Street's client list and that one name made it all okay.
That name, of course, is Shaquille O'Neal.
Basketball fans of the 90's and early millennium will remember the imposing monster that Shaq was. I myself nurtured an active and vitriolic distaste for those dynastic Laker teams and was literally overcome with joy when the Pistons finally ended their run of ridiculous domination. But, as overpowering as Shaq was on the basketball court, he was equally ubiquitous off it: he starred in a completely humiliating feature film called "Kazaam" which would probably be his first career mulligan; he pimped the video game "Shaq Fu," which was a money-grab so transparent that Krusty the Clown would balk at it; he even has author credit on "Shaq and the Beanstalk and Other Very Tall Tales," a children's book that enjoyed glowing reviews and that I almost just bought for eight bucks and change on Amazon before remembering I just quit my job. Beyond all that, however, the foray outside basketball I remember most fondly was Shaq's music. Shaq can, perhaps, be credited for being the first in a long line of professional roundballers to crossover into the music industry, which we really can't hold against him but we're going to anyway.* Shaq penned and performed a staggering five albums, had such guest rappers as Nas, Jay-Z, and Warren G, and even released one of those "too soon!" greatest hits compilations (after just two albums, which, let's face it: chutzpah. Let's also face it: shameless).
Most importantly, he recorded one of those albums at Hyde Street. Which one, I really don't know. Perhaps it was Shaq Diesel. Perhaps Shaq-Fu: Da Return. Perhaps it was the gloriously punned "You Can't Stop the Reign." It doesn't matter. What does matter is that if it's good enough for a seven foot cultural behemoth, well, it's good enough for me.
So Shaq, here's to you. I know you're not having your best season and your team is one of the five worst in the league, but when you're a multi-platinum-genie-obese-child-personal-trainer-video-game-protagonist-
Yao-Ming-insulter, you've got nothing to worry about.
* I'm looking at you Tony Parker. Yes, you.