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Sound 80 added to National Register of Historic Places

The former Sound 80, photographed in August 2020. (photos by Jay Gabler/MPR)
The former Sound 80, photographed in August 2020. (photos by Jay Gabler/MPR)

by Jay Gabler

August 14, 2020

After a years-long effort, the Minneapolis recording studio formerly known as Sound 80 has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, joining the ranks of New Ulm's Hermann Monument, F. Scott Fitzgerald's row house in St. Paul, and the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth.

Located at 2709 E. 25th St., the studio was the site of recordings for Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks and "Funkytown" by Lipps, Inc., one of Minnesota's all-time bestselling singles and the first Hot 100 chart-topper to come out of the Gopher State. It's also where, in 1978, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra recorded music by composers Aaron Copland and Charles Ives, in what would become the first digital recording of any kind to win a Grammy.

The studio is best known, though, for its association with Prince: he recorded demo tapes for his debut album For You at Sound 80 in 1977. It's one of the many music-related sites documented by Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) historian Kristen Zschomler in an effort to secure recognition and protection for locations meaningful to Minnesota's musical heritage.

Of course, some of those locations don't exactly need recognition: First Avenue and Paisley Park are also on Zschomler's list, though Sound 80 was her first nomination to the National Park Service, who maintain the National Register.

Other locations on her wish list include the childhood home where Prince first devoted serious attention to music, and the former Kay Bank studio on Nicollet Avenue - the studio where classics like Bobby Vee's "Suzie Baby," the Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird," the Castaways' "Liar Liar," and the Jets' "Crush On You" were recorded.

(Although none of Prince's several childhood homes are listed on the National Register, the most significant of those homes, at 2620 8th Ave. N., has been deemed eligible for the National Register by MnDOT and the State Historic Preservation Office. The significance of that designation is that the structure is "afforded the same level of protection as those listed," Zschomler explained in an e-mail.)

While Sound 80 veteran Jan Erickson currently operates a studio by that name out of the Campbell Mithun Tower in downtown Minneapolis, the former Sound 80 is now home to Orfield Labs and contains an anechoic chamber that was, for a time, recognized by Guinness as the quietest place in the world (a distinction that now belongs to a chamber at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington).

Thickly covered in ivy, the former Sound 80 sits unassumingly on a corner in the Seward neighborhood, just a block away from the burned-out Hexagon Bar and across the street from an encampment of displaced persons in Matthews Park. In the neighborhood where Dylan sang "Tangled Up in Blue," history plays on.

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Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.