The Wrecking Crew

The Wrecking Crew

***

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

The Wrecking Crew opens with an out-take from the recording of the Pet Sounds album, Brian Wilson's masterwork. It segues into a succession of songs that are landmarks, the sounds of the age, and as it does so it starts to become clear just how integral The Wrecking Crew were to, well, the history of music.

As someone who watches films and reads English, it is almost impossible that you will not have heard the work of The Wrecking Crew. That said, unless you have a good knowledge in the mechanisms of the recording industry of the 1960s and those employed by it in California, it's correspondingly unlikely that you'll have heard of them.

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Use of session musicians was widespread in the Sixties, though until The Monkees the practise was almost invisible, even to those in the middle of it, like Casey Kasem. When Pet Sounds was recorded, the only Beach Boy involved was Brian Wilson, every other instrument brought to life by The Wrecking Crew. They were Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound", they were The Byrds, backing for Crosby, Sinatra.

They came about with the decline of the studio system, the birth of the star record producer, technological limitations. Four studio tracks meant you needed musicians who could play at the same time, if you were to fulfill a creative vision for the sound of a record, and balding men in matching blazers didn't cut it. Enter The Wrecking Crew, to usher in the sounds of an age, and what sounds they are!

More than half of the film's credits are for music. That degree of clearance, for the literally hundreds of songs involved would have been an impossible licensing task, were it not for the regard in which The Wrecking Crew are held. Listening to them in a series of interviews, in clips of various performances, and hearing the records they played on, it's easy to see why.

By its very nature it is episodic; assembled from years of footage, from a few sets of interviews, from the Tedesco's films of their father's performances, it could not help but be. The contributions of The Wrecking Crew are so huge that it's inevitable things will be missed, leaps will be made. The drummer Hal Blaine is present on tens of thousands of tracks, playing on more than 40 number one records, and more than 300 more that got into the top ten. Carol Kaye, the only woman in The Crew came out of jazz to provide the bass lines to any number of songs. So many of The Crew are guitarists that alumni like Glen Campbell nearly don't stand out.

Then there's Tommy Tedesco, to whom this film is dedicated. As the role of session musicians changed, he found himself looking for new work. A goodly section of the film is devoted to the difficulties of working in the session system, to the need to keep working, the pressures of being 'first call'. Footage of Tommy's later performances, particularly his skit about "the creative session guitarist", are genuinely funny. For director Denny Tedesco this is clearly a labour of love, an attempt to tell his father's story and that of his colleagues, "unsung heroes", if you will.

It's true that some of them have now been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, that many are famous within the industry, but these men and women deserve more than that. This film clearly sets out to address that imbalance, and, ultimately, succeeds. That said, it may not be for everyone. While the songs are almost all familiar, they were mostly long ago; if one's tastes are more Radio 1 than 2 the film may well not appeal. Then there's the fact that it's a documentary, one on a topic that is not controversial. This is a statement of thanks, an attempt to address an imbalance of credit for work done; while it's genuine, deserved, and entertaining, not all audiences will want to watch the recording industry taking the belated opportunity to thank some of its own.

Reviewed on: 18 Feb 2009
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Examination of the influential group of LA-based session musicians who worked alongside many of the greats, including Elvis Presley and The Byrds.

Director: Denny Tedesco

Year: 2008

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: US


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