Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Wrecking Crew [2008]

MPAA (PG)  ChicagoTribune (4 Stars) (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune (K. Turan) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (J. Heller) review  

The Wrecking Crew [2008] (directed by Danny Tedesco) is a lovely pop/rock documentary that like 20 feet from Stardom [2013] (reviewed on this blog) and Standing in the Shadows of Motown [2002] (which came-out before I started this blog) seeks to finally "sing the praises" of many of the "unsung heroes" ;-) of American pop-music of late 50s to the early-70s.  That is, the documentary seeks to recognize the talents / contributions of the singers / musicians who "backed-up" (generally ANONYMOUSLY) the signature bands of that era.  Director Danny Tedesco seems perfectly positioned to make this documentary, as he was the son of Tommy Tedesco [IMDb], one of the legendary musicians that made up the amorphous clique of studio musicians out in Los Angeles that came to be known by the Hollywood's "old time" studio musicians as "the wrecking crew."

The documentary is currently playing the "art house" circuit in the United States but it is also available for streaming for a reasonable price on Amazon Instant Video.

It should also be noted that this documentary has taken a long time to find the light of day.  Danny Tedesco began filming the interviews for the documentary in the late 1990s a year or two before his father had debilitating stroke.  The film then aired on the festival circuit in 2008, but required the intervening years, as well as a "kickstarter" campaign to collect the money required to pay for the licensing fees for all the songs featured in the documentary. 

Also, to be honest, my guess is that a lot record companies were not necessarily excited about this documentary being released, because it was about some of the manipulations (arguably making better, even signature products) that took place behind the scenes in the record industry at the time. 

But I believe that most viewers will probably be simply awed (and supremely appreciative) of the talents of the background people featured in this film.

And the list of pop-bands of the late 1950s to early 1970s that depended on this ad hoc group of "studio musicians" to make their hits is really stunning:

For instance, with the exception of Brian Wilson [IMDb] who wrote / arranged the music, most of the later work of the Beach Boys was actually recorded using these studio musicians from "the wrecking crew." 

Similarly the studio version of The Byrds' version of Tambourine Man [YouTube] [Amzn] actually featured ONLY "one Byrd" (Roger McGuinn ;-) which actually p-ed off a fair number of the remaining Byrds.  Yet, the song BECAME their break-through hit ;-).  So does one complain OR just "be grateful?" ;-) ;-).  And then in concert, they played the song there.

There's even the suggestion in the documentary that "the wrecking crew" all but INVENTED "The Mamas and the Papas." The story was that the four were singing backup in Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" studio, and somebody said, "Hey those four can really sing!"  John and Michelle Phillips had their song California Dreamin' [YouTube] [Amzn], the studio musicians took the song, played it, played with it and ... liked it ;-).  Then they put a couple of mikes in front of the two Philips' along with the other two, Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty, and "the rest is history ..." ;-)

Then among the _many joys_ of this movie are extensive interviews with two women who were part of this "wrecking crew" milieu:

The first was CHER [IMDb] who became one of the most accomplished performers (both in the realm of pop music and even acting) of her time.  Yet, it turns out that SHE STARTED as a backup singer in Phil Spector's studio for The Ronettes including in their hit song Be My Baby [YouTube] [Amzn].  And I FOUND IT AN ABSOLUTE JOY watching her talk about those early days and the OBVIOUS even STARRY EYED RESPECT that she had TO THIS DAY for those studio musicians that filled Spector's studio at the time. 

The other women extensively featured was bass guitarist, Carol Kaye [IMDb], who pretty much EVERYONE of the reviewers above (and I CERTAINLY AGREE) argued deserves a book / documentary or movie of her own.  She was pretty much the only woman among the musicians of the "wrecking crew." Yet it was clear as day in the interviews both, solo and with others from the group, that she was a respected "one of the boys." Further, in one of the clips she effortlessly showed the camera crew how she would "improve on" the baselines given to her by the various song-writers. 

Viewers also get to see director Danny Tedesco's father, Tommy Tedesco [IMDb] (before his stroke) gleefully play the opening bars of the theme from the TV show Bonanza (which were his creation).  He was also involved in the creation of many other television theme songs.  We also get to watch saxophonist Plas Johnson [IMDb] play the opening bars of the iconic theme song for The Pink Panther, again recorded using the musicians of the "wrecking crew."

There were also interviews with wrecking crew regular then alumni GLEN CAMPBELL [IMDb] as well as Hal Blaine [IMDb]Nancy Sinatra [IMDb] talked about the wrecking-crew's role in her big hit These Boots are Made for Walking [YouTube] [Amzn]

Dick Clark [IMDb] of the iconic TV show of the time American Bandstand [IMDb] and interviewed for the documentary while he too was still healthy, provided insight into the time, and how it was possible that so many of the hits of that period were actually recorded by largely anonymous studio musicians.  He explained that it was "just the time," that the "singer, songwriter model" only became dominant in the 1970s.  Hence, Glen Campbell [IMDb] eventually went off on his own to a career in country music and even as a television personality, while Hal Blaine's [IMDb] (and the others') studio gigs first changed and then slowly yet steadily dried-up. 

All in all, this is music documentary that pretty much all pop-music lovers of the Baby-boom generation would probably appreciate.  The film's a stroll down memory lane, it helps us to appreciate just how the songs that we grew up with were made, and gives due recognition to those studio musicians who did, in fact, make the music that we remember to this day.

So good job folks!  Good job!

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