Chronicling the greatest group of musicians you never heard of, 2008’s The Wrecking Crew is a an affectionate, in-depth portrait of the crack session musicians behind some of the biggest hits in Rock ‘n Roll history. This elite group of LA sidemen was anonymous to the general public but omnipresent during the 1960s and 70s on smash hits by Phil Spector, The Beach Boys, Herb Alpert, Sonny & Cher, The Byrds, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, the Mamas and the Poppas, The Righteous Brothers and Elvis Presley, to name just a few of the most prominent stars they recorded with. The Wrecking Crew also served as the real band behind ersatz music industry creations such as The Monkees and The Association, where the members did not actually play their own instruments on the records. Even on the first Byrds album, a real rock band that featured standout musicians like David Crosby and Gene Clark, it’s pretty much just Roger McGuinn and the Crew because producer Terry Melcher didn’t trust the others to play the session at first. As McGuinn slyly comments in the film, both “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” became Number 1 hits. But with just him and the Wrecking Crew, “Mr. Tambourine Man” and its B-side took about 3 hours. When all the Byrds got their chance to play on “Turn! Turn! Turn!”, that took about 77 takes.
If you’re at all interested in Rock folklore or have affection for the big pop hits of that ultra-well produced era, you’ve really got to check out this documentary. Directed by Danny Tedesco, the son of arguably the greatest and most versatile session guitarist of all time, the late Tommy Tedesco, and featuring interviews with the other greats of that exclusive club, The Wrecking Crew serves as a vital oral history of a pivotal era in American popular music. It also sheds an edifying light on a time where a handful of on call musicians worked 15-hour days and criss-crossed Los Angeles from studio to studio working one high powered session after another. Among the standouts profiled are the great electric bassist, Carol Kaye, who was groundbreaking not only because she was a woman but also because she was good enough to play an estimated 10,000 recording sessions in her career, contributing the bass hooks to pop culture artifacts like “The Beat Goes On”, “Windy” and the theme from “Mission: Impossible”. There’s a nice focus on the strong personalities of the impeccable drummers Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer, both Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Famers who helped form the thunderous backbeat of Spector’s immortal Wall of Sound and did less bombastic work on about a million other records. And then there are the Wrecking Crew alumni who graduated to front of the stage stardom, like Glenn Campbell, Leon Russel and Mack Rebennack aka Dr. John.
Ultimately a touching tribute and heartfelt salute to a fun-loving dad and his wonderfully individualistic collective of colleagues, Danny Tedesco’s affably personal piece highlights the very funny Tommy Tedesco’s wry humor and guitar genius but never at the expense of his equally talented and interesting peers. It also makes ample use of fantastic period footage and interviews with big time stars like Cher and Brian Wilson who the Wrecking Crew’s superlative talents helped make so successful. What comes across when those those big names reflect on that time is their heartfelt respect and appreciation for the invaluable musicianship and craft of the men and women who worked their sessions, made their hit records and more often than not didn’t even get an album credit. A must for the casual fan or hardcore Rock fanatic, The Wrecking Crew is both a delightful piece of nostalgia forever preserved in cinematic form and an important record of a vital but hidden behind-the-scenes part of the music industry that most of us never really knew existed. I can’t recommend it highly enough. And the best part is that it’s currently a free rental on Netflix so there’s no reason not to check it out. Chances are you’ll be blown away by the incredible number of Rock classics these session aces played on. I sure was.