The Hit Factory recorded some of the most important music of our generation. Stevie Wonder’s seminal Songs In The Key Of Life was the first album to be recorded there in 1975. Dream Theater’s Octavarium was the last before it finally closed the doors on its famous freight elevator in 2005. In the years in between, it played host to the world’s music greats – people like Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand, Madonna and John Lennon.
While The Hit Factory’s studios may now have been turned into luxury condos, it lives on music industry legend “It was recognized as one of the premier studios in the world,” says Zoe Thrall, former studio manager. “They had nine studios and five mastering rooms and it certainly made its mark in its time.”
As legendary, perhaps, as its famous clients was its creator, Eddie Germano, a onetime singer and A&R man, who bought the studio in 1975 and moved it into W54th St, turning it into a state-of-the-art six-story, 100,000 sq ft complex complete with gym, steam room and swanky apartments for visiting stars.
“He was a force of nature, that guy. He was a big, big personality,” says Zoe. “He was very savvy in terms of business, and would bend over backwards for the clients. He really knew how to treat the clients very well.”
There are tales of him ripping up the carpets because they offended one artist, and filling a studio with 40 bales of hay to make a country musician feel more at home. Urban myths? “No, those stories are all true,” laughs Zoe.
Luther Vandross was a client for many years – he recorded, among several other albums, Dance With My Father there – and remains one of her favorites. “He was such a great person and an enormous talent,” says Zoe. “All the people that worked around him were great, so he’s one I would point to as one of the best and really missed.”
There were challenging clients too, of course. But it was up to her to make sure all whims were catered for.
“There were many times when, just by the nature of where the rooms were located, artists would rub elbows with each other. I’m sure collaborations would have come out of that. Other times, if artists asked us to maintain their privacy, it was our job to make sure that happened.”
One of the building’s unique features was a freight elevator big enough to drive a car in. “Some artists would literally drive into the building,” she recalls.
“Mick Jagger was coming in one time and we told him we would meet him on the street with the elevator. We sent one of the production assistants down and one of the techs happened to be there too. The kid goes down, picks up Mick, and they’re in the elevator, and the tech told me later the kid started air guitaring and singing Satisfaction to him. I was horrified!”
The Rolling Stone’s reaction, sadly, was not recorded for posterity.
“I wish!” laughs Zoe. “Those were the days before cameras on phones.”
For all the showbiz glamor, however, it was a demanding environment with demanding clients. “It could be stressful at times. Because it was such a big facility there was a lot going on. There was a competitive nature among the staff in terms of everyone had to be on their game, but not to the point where there was any backstabbing. It was more that everyone supported each other just to make the whole thing better.”
Germano died in 2003, and two years later it was announced that all operations would move to Miami.
It was claimed The Hit Factory had become a victim of technology that enabled anyone to make professional-sounding recordings cheaply from their own bedrooms. But Zoe refutes that. “We always stayed on the cutting edge of technology, it was nothing to do with that. I don’t want to talk about why but it was just more that the owners decided to close. But the reasons weren’t because of advances in technology.”
The closure hit the team hard. “It was horrible, it was heartbreaking, it was shocking,” she says. “But good things must come to an end, I guess.”
Now director of the Studio at the Palms, Las Vegas, she says The Hit Factory will be remembered because of the thousands of gold and platinum records recorded there. “That’s its legacy,” she says. “Beautiful memories. I think the artists would say the same thing.”
The Hit Factory’s Greatest Hits
Dangerously In Love (2003)
Standout tracks: Crazy In Love, Naughty Girl, Baby Boy
Born In The USA (1984)
Standout tracks: Born In The USA, Glory Days, Dancing In The Dark, I’m On Fire
Double Fantasy (1980)
John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Standout tracks: (Just Like) Starting Over, Woman, Beautiful Boy
Standout tracks: Graceland, Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes, You Can Call Me Al
This Is Me … Then (2002)
Standout tracks: Jenny From The Block, You Belong To Me
Standout tracks: Scream, Earth Song, Smile
Dream Of Life (1988)
Standout tracks: People Have The Power, Looking For You (I Was)
Standout tracks: Addicted To Love, I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On
Songs In The Key Of Life (1976)
Standout tracks: As, Sir Duke, I Wish, Knocks Me Off My Feet
The Bodyguard (1992)
Standout tracks: I Will Always Love You, I Have Nothing, I’m Every Woman
This story originally appeared in issue 7 of W42ST magazine in June 2015 as “The Vinyl Countdown”.