Have you heard of The Wrecking Crew? The musical geniuses behind “These Boots Are Made For Walking,” “California Dreamin’,” “Good Vibrations,” and more? No? Are you sure?
To be fair, Nancy Sinatra made “These Boots” famous, The Mamas and The Papas sang “California Dreamin’,” and The Beach Boys (well, Brian Wilson) gave us “Good Vibrations.” But The Wrecking Crew played an integral part in every one of those records. In the 1960s, they were the top studio band in Los Angeles, and they were the ones behind all those licks, harmonies, rhythms, and earworms.
The Wrecking Crew, a group of studio musicians anywhere between 12 and 30 players (no one really seems to know), came of age in the 1960s as rock ‘n’ roll was commercially breaking. Back then, rock ‘n’ roll records were cut in a matter of hours, making it necessary for record executives to employ studio musicians to record the music while the singers laid down the vocals. These talented and versatile studio musicians were compensated but received no credit in the writing process, leaving them virtually unknown, even as they recorded hit after hit after hit.
Taking place primarily in 1996, The Wrecking Crew is an oral history of the studio band as well as the mid-’60s Los Angeles music scene. Director Denny Tedesco assembles his father, Tommy Tedesco, and fellow musicians Carol Kaye, Hal Blaine, and Plas Johnson to join in a round table discussion of the good old days of rock ‘n’ roll and what it was like to be a studio musician. These discussions provide Tedesco a jumping-off point to segue into archival footage, musical montages, and interviews with musicians, producers, record executives, and home movies of his father.
The Wrecking Crew lacks certain sophistication in technique or aesthetics, but that’s just fine. This documentary is a love letter from a son to his father and from a fan to the music. Tedesco’s main accomplishment is providing a historical context for this legendary studio band while discussing the nuts and bolts of the record industry.
That is what makes The Wrecking Crew compelling viewing: the music and the musicians. Rock sold, and to sell it, you had to make it. And few made it better or faster than The Wrecking Crew. Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson describes them as “The focal point of the music. They were the ones with all of the spirit and all of the know-how.”
But as quick as it came for The Wrecking Crew, it went. Rock ‘n’ roll became much bigger than any could have fathomed, and the sea shifted. Suddenly, who was playing the music was just as important as what they were playing, and the audience no longer craved perfectly crafted pop confections. They wanted musicians with authenticity. They wanted to know that the group on the cover of a record played on the record, and the studio musicians were out. Singer/songwriters were in.
The Wrecking Crew (2008)
Directed by Denny Tedesco
Produced by Derek Casari, Chris Hope, Jon Leonoudakis, Mitchell Linden, Claire Scanlon, Denny Tedesco
Starring: Glen Campbell, Carol Kaye, Bones Howe, Al Casey, Earl Palmer, Hal Blaine, Tommy Tedesco, Larry Levine, Stan Ross, Dave Gold, Don Randi, Plas Johnson, Bill Pitman, Joe Osborn, Leon Russell, Lew McCreary, Julius Wechter
Magnolia Pictures, Rated PG, Running time 101 minutes, Premiered March 11, 2008 at the South By Southwest Film Festival.
The above review first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 22, No. 35, “Requiem for a studio musician.”