Five Essential Muscle Shoals Albums

Bassist and former owner David Hood reflects on five essential albums that came out of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios

Illustration: Tim Bower

Native Americans were the first to recognize the musical quality of the Tennessee River as it flows through the northwest corner of Alabama near Muscle Shoals. They called it the Singing River. Centuries later, Keith Richards christened the area simply “rock-and-roll heaven” after the Rolling Stones spent three days recording at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. The unassuming structure on Jackson Highway in Sheffield also hosted Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, and the Staple Singers, among many others, from its opening in 1969 until 1978, when the studio’s legendary producers moved across town into a newer, larger space. The old building gradually fell into disrepair. Today, it’s reached the end of a three-year restoration that has returned it to its midcentury glory—right down to the analog equipment inside the famous control room. The historic space will host tours by day and operate as a studio for a small number of artists by night. “After all these years, the room still has a certain vibe,” says Bonnie Bak of the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation, the organization responsible for the restoration. The group also purchased the land behind the studio in hopes of opening a performance venue in the future—introducing a whole new generation of music lovers to that Muscle Shoals magic.

Bassist and former owner David Hood reflects on his favorite Muscle Shoals Sound Studios albums:

  • Sticky Fingers

    The Rolling Stones
    “They say they never got so much done in three days.”

  • There Goes Rhymin’ Simon

    Paul Simon
    “Paul Simon booked several days to record one song, and we got it on the first or second take. That’s when he played some of his other songs for us, and that’s what led to this album.”

  • Be Altitude: Respect Yourself

    The Staple Singers
    “Al Bell at Stax Records knew there could be a fusion between rhythm and blues and gospel, which they were doing, and the pop stuff we were doing. On Be Altitude, it really worked.”

  • 3614 Jackson Highway

    “This was her first solo project, and the first act we recorded at the studio.”

  • Very Extremely Dangerous

    Eddie Hinton
    “Eddie had so much promise. Now there are a lot of young groups that try to copy him.”