The Wrecking Crew (2008)

Poster for The Wrecking Crew

Well, I just downloaded a bunch of old songs. That’s the effect that The Wrecking Crew had on me. This is a documentary about the LA studio musicians who recorded a lot of the famous hits of the early to mid-’60s, including iconic songs by the Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas, Nancy Sinatra (and her father too!), the 5th Dimension, the Carpenters, the Monkees, Sonny and Cher, Tijuana Brass, and on and on. I was a little irritated by the opening movements of the film, which have a slightly overblown “and they invented sliced bread” quality to it, but once it settles into stories, mostly told by the musicians themselves, it’s hugely entertaining.

Probably the most interesting thing about it is the insight into the hit factory of the day, which had just moved to LA from NYC at the time these musicians found their niche. In a lot of ways this is also the story of the producers of the day, such as Phil Spector, and the packaging of the performers, most of whom weren’t able to play the music as well as the studio musicians. There’s some acknowledgement that a lot of the music created this way was crap, but there’s also a thread about how some of the most famous riffs in these songs were actually created by the Wrecking Crew rather than by the composers or producers. The one famous singer-songwriter who gets a tongue bath is Brian Wilson, whom everybody describes as a genius. Well, hey, I have always loved “Good Vibrations”.

It’s the kind of story that makes you wonder about some of the things they don’t get into. For example, the various Wrecking Crew musicians talk about how they were looked down upon by the older, NY-based studio musicians, and it makes you wonder about that older generation. The movie also concludes by saying that the Wrecking Crew basically lost their good-paying hit-making gig in the later part of the ’60s as more and more bands insisted on playing their own music, but didn’t this kind of hit factory approach continue despite the rise of real bands? Isn’t there still a strain of pop star who relies on studio musicians and perhaps even other songwriters to create their material? I dunno. This movie implies that it all changed in the late ’60s, but I’m dubious.

Another minor thing I was curious about is the way the film portrays Glen Campbell as the only member of the Wrecking Crew who made it as a star himself. One of the people interviewed is Leon Russell, and I seem to recall that he had a solo recording and performing career too. Maybe he never became a star, however. Still, it seems strange that his solo career is never mentioned, and it isn’t mentioned on the Wikipedia page about the Wrecking Crew either.

Anyway, it’s a really fun movie that provides a fascinating window on an era of pop music making. There are lots of surprising connections along the way (including an unexpected appearance by Frank Zappa) and lots of great music. Didn’t think I had it in me to feel nostalgic for the Captain and Tennille, that’s for sure.

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