Reviews

'The Wrecking Crew' Celebrates One of the Music Industry's Best Kept Secrets

By showing the range and the influence these session musicians had on the hits from the '50s to the '70s, The Wrecking Crew proves their place in rock 'n' roll history.


The Wrecking Crew

Director: Denny Tedesco
Cast: Tommy Tedesco, Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Brian Wilson, Glen Campbell, Jimmy Webb
MPAA Rating: PG
Studio: Lunch Box Entertainment
Year: 2008
US Release Date: 2015-03-13
Website
Trailer

From the beginning, it was always there. In the kick drum intro of "Be My Baby". In the swirl of heavenly accompaniment to the Beach Boys' masterpiece "God Only Knows". From the Monkees to the Partridge Family, the Mamas and the Papas and the Byrds (and many more), the Wrecking Crew provided the foundation for hit after hit after hit.

Before the concept of a singer/songwriter/performer or a musical artist playing on their own records, the biz was awash in acts with names like the Funk Brothers (Motown), Booker T. and the MGs (Stax), and the Nashville A-Team. Even when a group could play their own instruments (like Brian Wilson and his band mates), the Crew was brought in to make sure that the sound was as sweet as the breeze wafting over a SoCal beach scene.

They were the "Wall" in Phil Specter's "Sound", the aural genius as imagined by a Pet Sounds-era Wilson. They gave everyone from Frank Sinatra to his novelty daughter, Elvis and a few of the Fab Four their solo outing shimmer. By the time the mid '70s rolled around, however, their services were no longer needed, and they faded into obscurity -- well, most did. Some, like Glen Campbell, Leon Russell, and Dr. John, pooled their obvious talents into careers as name acts. Others, such as Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, and Tommy Tedesco became the bearers of early recording history, dug up and dragged out whenever someone wanted to discuss Specter's echo-heavy symphonies for the kids, or something similar.

Luckily, Tommy's son Denny saw that his father and friends weren't getting all the respect they were do and put together this terrific documentary, The Wrecking Crew. Like Standing in the Shadows of Motown or 20 Feet From Stardom, this is a look at session players as people, their instrument and their talent taking a backseat to stories about their introduction to the group, the various artists they worked with, and the experience of being a highly paid musician one moment, a broke security guard the next (as happened to Hal Blaine, thanks to several marriages and divorces). It's not a documentary about enlightening the masses so much as shining a light on a well known industry secret.

Tedesco began his first attempt at an overview via a sitdown with four of the most famous members of the "group": his father, drummer Blaine, bassist Kaye, and saxophonist Plas Johnson (who, famously, provided the familiar hook to Henry Mancini's Oscar-nominated theme to The Pink Panther). At a roundtable discussion, they talked about getting started, being recommended, going from one or two sessions a week to five or six a day, and what it was like to sit in the studio while Sinatra argued over timing or Specter did dozens of takes of the same thing. Tedesco then went out and found many of the surviving members -- Leon Russell, Bill Pitman, Earl Palmer, Glen Campbell, and several more -- and gave them a chance to add their insights. .

He also interviewed many who worked with the group, including Wilson, Cher, Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork, Jimmy Webb, and Nancy Sinatra. Even Frank Zappa makes an appearance, speaking about how special the Wrecking Crew's combined efforts really were. Indeed, when you think that these are the same people who played on "Strangers in the Night" and "Mr. Tambourine Man", the mind boggles. As Blaine explains, however, it was just a job. Only with certain artists and producers did the gig turn into something truly special. Along the way, we hear clips of all these songs, and each time one is played, the trademark talent is wholly on display.

There was a downside, however, one scoffed at by most in the movie. Fathers rarely saw families, and the single stayed that way because there was no time to date. Carol Kaye made sure to be home for her kids as much as possible, but Tedesco speaks for most when he describes leaving the house before his children were awake and coming home long after they were in bed. Blaine's personal aside is also very sad. As mentioned before, he married and divorced several times, explaining how he lost a mansion, a yacht, and his livelihood in one stroke of a lawyer's pen. Before becoming a backing musician for touring acts, he was living in what he called a "closet".

If there is a fundamental flaw to this film, it's that it is so fascinating that all we want is more. We want to hear Campbell talk about going from sessions to touring with the Beach Boys to his own stardom. We're entranced by Nancy Sinatra's sense of self. We enjoy Cher's initial naiveté, the then-16 year old sitting with her boyfriend Sonny as Phil Specter raced around the studio, running charts. One of the most intriguing stories centers on Brian Wilson. Since he could not read music, he would simply start on one side of the room and recite the player's part to them. Of course, by the time he got back to the beginning, the first musician would have forgotten what he was supposed to do, forcing the boy wonder to do it all over again -- flawlessly.

Sure, there is stuff missing. We would love to hear about the time Specter brought back some of the Crew to work on the Ramones' End of the Century. We'd also like to hear about the aborted (and then recovered) Smile sessions. We get little of the music made before the dawn of rock 'n' roll and clearly, the less said about the end of the Wrecking Crew's reign as studio aces supreme, the better. Still, for the brief time that its onscreen, we are struck by how all encompassing their influence was, and how fleeting fame can be in our current social media mania clime. Hopefully, The Wrecking Crew will introduce these mythic musicians to a new audience. On the other hand, almost everyone has already "heard" of them.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.

Music

Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.

Music

Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."

Music

David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.

Music

On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.

Music

Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.

Music

Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.

Music

Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."

Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.