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April 12, 2017

Movie Review: The Wrecking Crew [Warden]

Those of you who grew up listening to pop and rock and roll in the mid 60's through the 70's might be surprised to know that almost none of the artists you followed played on their own albums.

Just about every popular musical group back then, from the Beach Boys to Elvis, relied on session musicians for their song recordings, the best of which was a group of 10-20 (depending on who you ask) session players known as The Wrecking Crew.

This band of industry legends was led by guitarist, Tommy Tedesco. His son, Denny, produced and directed the 2015 documentary, The Wrecking Crew, based mostly on past and recent interviews from its members. He began work on the film in 1995 after his father was diagnosed with cancer. It was a struggle for Denny Tedesco to secure the necessary music licensing for his film, but with help from a Kickstarter campaign, he was finally able to release it.

Denny Tedesco is not an experienced filmmaker, but his project is clearly a work of love. The musicians he interviews are almost unknown to the public--most of their work was never credited--but collectively they influenced the industry more than any single famous musical artist or group of the period.

Prior to The Wrecking Crew's emergence, albums were primarily recorded in New York City. Once rock and roll came along, the landscape shifted and the scene moved to California. The older session players hated rock and roll and refused to play it, as they considered it beneath their ability. The younger musicians who would eventually make up the Wrecking Crew saw the new genre as an opportunity and a foothold into a hyper competitive industry. In the course of the documentary you can tell that none of them really love the style--one mentions he could play that stuff at 16 years old without much of a challenge--but they seem more amused by it than resentful of it.

One theme that runs throughout the film is how much these artists shaped the music the public came to love. All of them could sight read and knock out albums of any style in just a few hours of recording time, but their real genius was in helping to produce the sound. Sometimes the studio would just give the session musicians a rough idea of what they wanted and left it to the guys to sort out the intros, hooks and arrangements.

An artist that you will recognize in this documentary is the Beach Boys', Brian Wilson. He worked extensively with The Wrecking Crew in recording in the highly acclaimed and revolutionary album, Pet Sounds.

Personally, I've never been a fan of the Beach Boys. God only knows why Paul McCartney claimed that "God Only Knows" is the greatest song ever written. To me, it's the auditory equivalent of pouring a cup of honey covered sugar into your mouth, then chasing it with a shot of maple syrup.

At any rate, Wilson is a worthwhile addition to an enjoyable film. Cher is also featured. I wish Tedesco had found a few more well known artists and producers to help balance the film, but that's just nitpicking. Overall it's a solid ride.

For those who are interested in this topic, there's an entire museum in Nashville that's dedicated to session musicians.

The Wrecking Crew can be found on Netflix.

Correction: I am told that the lead singer of the Beach Boys was, in fact, Brian Wilson and not Brian Williams as previously stated. We apologize for the error. Brian Williams, of course, was the lead vocalist for the Beatles up until joining the Green Berets to serve in Vietnam.


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posted by Open Blogger at 08:55 PM

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