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Review: ‘The Wrecking Crew’ reveals the musicians behind the curtain (Includes first-hand account)

When attending a live show, it’s usually rare to hear the performers replicate the studio or radio versions of their songs. The current and general consensus is that the music is polished during recording so it sounds its best possible, making improvements that are not necessarily natural to the musician or singer. But several decades ago, there was a good possibility that a group sounded different live because another ensemble of instrumentalists played on the album. The Wrecking Crew was the nickname of a collection of professional musicians that could be heard on many of the albums and hit singles produced in the ‘50s, ‘60s and early ‘70s.

Not every musician was marketable so it was unlikely they’d get a personal record deal. But if they were professional and talented, perhaps they could land a spot as a studio musician. It lacked the recognition and fame of an album cover, but it paid the bills and allowed the players to share their creativity. Eventually they’d begin to see the same faces at sessions and a little family was born of the best and most in-demand instrumentalists in Los Angeles. Not only did they play on the records, but contributing to the arrangement would supply them with a lifetime of royalties — even if no one outside the studios knew their names. Nonetheless, it’s a rarity to make a living playing music and The Wrecking Crew comprised an even smaller minority for having recorded as many hits as they did.

In one-on-one interviews and roundtables, guitarist Tommy Tedesco’s son Denny captures the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll’s heyday. Looking back at their experiences, laying down an album or more a day was the busiest and most rewarding times of their career. They can be heard on the records of the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, Sonny and Cher, Jan & Dean, The Monkees, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Mamas and Papas, Tijuana Brass, Ricky Nelson, Johnny Rivers and were Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. Even though the practice of using the studio musicians was standard for most bands, it wasn’t until The Monkees that fans realized their idols weren’t on the albums they were buying. Like most things, it couldn’t last forever. Unfortunately, it all came to a crashing halt when bands started to record their own albums.

The key takeaways from this picture are the fun the musicians describe having when they were in the studio, and the brilliant soundtrack that underlies their story and lives. Some of the key speakers are Tommy Tedesco, drummer Hal Blaine, bassist Carol Kaye and saxophonist Plas Johnson. Kaye was the only woman in their little group, but she explains that she never felt like an outcast and was able to play with the best of them. At one point she even illustrates how she made Sonny and Cher’s “The Beat Goes On” a better sounding song by adding a line to the intro. Dick Clark, Cher, Nancy Sinatra, Micky Dolenz (The Monkees) all attest to the talent of these individuals and their contributions to music history. And if that isn’t enough, the documentary is packed with samples from the songs that they made hits.

Even if director Denny Tedesco’s tribute to his father and his friends isn’t the best structured film, it still tells the fascinating story of a group of people that had a significant impact on the music industry — and it’s about time more fans knew their names.

Director: Denny Tedesco

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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