The Wrecking Crew were a group of uncredited Los Angeles studio musicians who played on and created hundreds of hit records that became the soundtrack to our lives in the ’60s and ’70s — and are still on the radio today.
The amount of work the group was involved in was remarkable and breathtaking in its versatility.
These unsung heroes ― and one remarkable heroine ― who played anonymously on stacks of wax during the pop-soul-rock formative era, are finally celebrated in a hugely entertaining documentary, The Wrecking Crew.
Director Denny Tedesco began work on the project shortly before the 1997 death of his father, the legendary guitarist Tommy Tedesco, one of the two dozen or so exceptionally versatile session musicians known collectively as the Wrecking Crew.
Most of them came from jazz or classical backgrounds ― a few made the transition reluctantly ― before they started playing for rock, pop and R&B artists.
And judging from the testimonies of the elder Tedesco and other Crew members, they had the time of their lives while enjoying steady employment ― and often making musical history in the process.
Tedesco brought his father along with drummer Hal Blaine, bassist Carol Kaye and saxophonist Plas Johnson together to talk about their days as the Wrecking Crew ― and it is pure joy listening to them offering nostalgia-drenched anecdotes about enduringly potent ’60s and ’70s pop-rock-soul hits.
Glen Campbell and Leon Russell are probably two of the best known musicians, who subsequently went on to enormous solo success and are featured throughout the film, relating their stories about their tenure as members of the Crew.
The only female of the set, bassist Carol Kaye, emerges as the most entertaining of the group and vets in terms of animated storytelling, proudly reporting that, when she was at the peak of her game, she made more money than the president of the United States.
The film also includes wonderful interviews with Dick Clark, Cher, Jimmy Webb, Brian Wilson, Nancy Sinatra, Herb Alpert, Roger McGuinn, Snuff Garrett and Gary Lewis, who offer their first-hand anecdotes to help flesh out stories and add to the authenticity.
“They were the ones with all the spirit and all the know-how,” admiringly recalls Brian Wilson, who admits using Wrecking Crew members instead of fellow Beach Boys on his seminal “Pet Sounds” album and other key recordings.
“The musicians were really the unsung heroes of all those hit records,” explains Nancy Sinatra.
“The reason they were the unsung heroes, if those were playing sessions today, they would be like the front four of any football team, those guys would be known, people would know about them. It would be something more than just session players,” says Cher.
Phil Spector used the Crew to create his much-vaunted “Wall of Sound,” giving birth to “Be My Baby,” “He’s a Rebel,” “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” and “River Deep, Mountain High,” to name merely a few.
Herb Alpert employed what he refers to as the “established groove machine” to formulate the trademark sound of his Tijuana Brass.
The film was shot over a period of almost two decades, assembled and edited skillfully despite image quality, recording formats and technical expertise that vary throughout. But these minor inconsistencies afford the footage a period authenticity that is definitely in sync with the era.
The Wrecking Crew reportedly incorporates more than 100 historic songs, which resulted in a long lapse before its release, as director Denny Tedesco raised funds via individual donations and a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign to pay thousands of dollars in licensing fees.
And they will be releasing a four-CD soundtrack as a result ― including one CD dedicated to the Wrecking Crew’s members’ solo work ― to coincide with the documentary being made available for puchase next month.
For seven years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Grammy for “Record of the Year” went to Wrecking Crew member recordings: “Up, Up and Away,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “A Taste of Honey,” “Strangers in the Night,” “Love Will Keep Us Together,” “Close to You,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In”
Can I drop just a few names?
The Beach Boys. Sonny & Cher. The Byrds. The Association. Simon & Garfunkel. Frank Sinatra. The Righteous Brothers. Sammy Davis, Jr. Cher. The Association. Gary Lewis & the Playboys. The Ronettes. Ike & Tina Turner. Elvis Presley. Glen Campbell. The Monkees. The Carpenters. Nat “King” Cole. The 5th Dimension. The Mamas & the Papas. Dean Martin. Rickey Nelson. Jan & Dean. The Tijuana Brass. Johnny Rivers.
Okay…how about some song titles?
“MacArthur Park,” “Viva Las Vegas” “Stoned Soul Picnic,” “Good Vibrations,” “California Dreamin’,” “Poor Side of Town,” “Turn, Turn, Turn,” “Everybody Loves Somebody,” “You Send Me,” “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Everybody’s Talkin’,” “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Unchained Melody,” “Classical Gas,” “Ramblin’ Rose,” “The Beat Goes On,” “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” “No Matter What Shape Your Stomach’s In,” “The Pink Panther Theme,” “Hawaii 5-0,” “Eve of Destruction,” Johnny Angel” ― again, just to name only a few.
Sadly, at least seven of The Wrecking Crew players have passed away since the film was made. Glen Campbell is now confined to a long-term care facility for Alzheimer’s patients, but he appears both lucid and charming in the documentary, and it is quite a testament to his boundless talents as a musician.
Just as Standing in the Shadows of Motown paid tribute to the massive and kinetic work of the previously unknown Funk Brothers, and their extraordinary, anonymous catalogue from “What’s Going On,” “You Keep Me Hanging On,” “I Can’t Help Myself,” “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” “Dancing in the Street,” to “Ooo Baby, Baby” ― among so many others ― “The Wrecking Crew” adds another volume to the previously unheralded musicians who played an important role in our musical development.
And like the wonderful documentary Muscle Shoals finally brought the Swampers and Fame Studios to the forefront for their extraordinary contributions in the rebranding of Aretha Franklin as the Queen of Soul, and igniting the classic careers of Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, the Rolling Stones, the Staple Singers, Paul Simon and countless others, The Wrecking Crew fills in more of the musical puzzle before, during and after that watershed era.
As 20 Feet From Stardom cast a welome light on the anonymous background singers like Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer and many others as the driving force of so many records ― and earned an Oscar in the process for Best Documentary ― The Wrecking Crew is in esteemed company, indeed.
Quite obviously, it took director Tedesco, who embarked on the project as a tribute to his father, a long time to get this movie made, and a long time to get it shown.
But the results are both revelatory and moving, especially for the viewer with this music perennially rolling around in their own life’s soundtracks.
“A wonderful, touching and hilarious film about the unsung stars of so many records that you carry in your heart” says Elvis Costello.
The Wrecking Crew is a nostalgia-drenched rockumentary that remains a hugely entertaining treasure trove of witness-at-creation anecdotes and enduringly potent pop hits that is a must-see, over and over, for any lover of pop-R&B-rock music ― which is just about everyone.
For more information on The Wrecking Crew click HERE.