There have been many music docs emerging in recent years that have their roots in both the Buena Vista Social Club and Standing in the Shadows of Motown, two documentaries that enjoyed awards success and hit status in cinemas.
They’re also both films about previously unheralded musicians finally getting their recognition and dues. 20 Feet from Stardom did it for backing singers a couple of years ago as did Muscle Shoals about the Alabama recording studio as well as Dave Grohl’s Sound City.
So The Wrecking Crew has a template, to which it sticks, but I suppose what really makes this sort of film is the quality of the music, and in this regard, The Wrecking Crew can boast an eye and ear opening roster of hit songs.
The film is named after the session musicians who congregated in LA in the late 1950s, sparking a shift in the recording industry. It’s directed and put together by Denny Tedesco, son of the late guitarist Tommy Tedesco, whom we see in interview reminiscing with his old session mates, as if gathered around a gambling table, or like the comedians in the Carnegie Deli in Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose.
These guys, it turns out, played on some of the most enduring hits in popular music, helping define a certain West Coast Sound. Most obviously, we have The Beach Boys’s Brian Wilson telling how this bunch boosted Don’t Worry Baby and God Only Knows.
But there was also The Righteous Brothers’ Lost that Loving Feelin’, hits for Nancy Sinatra and The Byrds’ trippy Mr Tambourine Man, the Mammas and the Papas’ California Dreamin’ as well as Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs Robinson.
Tommy Tedesco and his colleagues could turn their hands (and lips) to any style and any beat, ultimate professionals all of them, including one lone woman, the extraordinary bassist Carole Kaye, whose distinctive lines on River Deep Mountain High for Ike and Tina Turner helped cement the Wall of Sound for Phil Spector. I know this isn’t her movie, but I’d have liked a bit more about her fascinating life as the only girl.
These guys did everything, including film themes and TV shows – Plas Johnson, for example, was the original saxophonist on the Pink Panther theme, laying down one of the most distinctive and famous sax lines of all time.
Tedesco does probe the life of a musician and the sacrifices made. It’s a film about working artists, doing their thing professionally. While that’s fascinating up to a point, it does mean the film lacks a bit of tension – these guys mightn’t have been well-known, but they were well payed for the long hours and tight work they invariably did.
Talking head contributions come from an impressive line-up, including Brian Wilson, Cher, Nancy Sinatra and Glen Campbell, as well as the alleged most-recorded drummer in music history Hal Blaine. They do a get bit muso on us, but the film deserves credit for its energy and determination to get all those rights cleared and to capture a golden period of music history.
And it’s nevertheless a pleasure to watch the old footage, unearth a few anecdotes and hear some of the best music ever. If I have one favourite in the film, it’s Be My Baby by the Ronettes – I’d do anything to have played on that genius piece of pop. I’ve even got my backing singer dance routine figured out…