In recent years, music documentaries have been covering the unsung heroes of music, from the mysterious artists (Rodriguez in Searching for Sugar Man and Fantastic Man about Nigeria’s William Onyeabor), to the spaces and behind-the-scenes people that create classic sounds. There’s been a recent string of music studio documentaries about the magic of some famous studios, from Dave Grohl’s Sound City to the southern mysticism of Muscle Shoals. A couple years ago, 20 Feet from Stardom even won a “Best Documentary” Oscar for its tremendous history and day in the life of some of the greatest backup singers. The Wrecking Crew! Looks at the biggest hitmakers of all time, L.A.’s recording band The Wrecking Crew. On a larger scale, the documentary looks at the lost art of the session band: musicians that could by hired and relied on in an instant to play anything you dreamed up.
The Wrecking Crew was a loosely based studio band with generally 10-15 members, though Wikipedia lists as many as 65 people as members. Not all the members of the amorphous Wrecking Crew remained anonymous though, as 70’s singer/songwriter Leon Russell, “Rhinestone Cowboy” Glen Campbell, and also New Orlean’s legend Dr. John – then known as just Malcolm Rebennack – all started out in the Wrecking Crew.
One of the main settings for the documentary is a round table discussion of many of the Wrecking Crew members, sort of a long-awaited reunion reliving their favorite memories. The setup feels pretty stale and dated though, as it’s rarely interesting to hear a group of people reminisce together. The rest of the structure is a pretty straight forward footage/interview format, and it certainly doesn’t break any molds.
The main draw of The Wrecking Crew is certainly just running through the number of hits the members had a part in. The Wrecking Crew was certainly a hit assembly line. From playing in Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, to TV theme songs like Bonanza and The Pink Panther, to being the lifeblood to one of the greatest records of all-time in Pet Sounds, the amount of hits this group of musicians produced isn’t matched by anyone: not even the Beatles. They were even the real band that played all the Monkees tunes. Again, Wikipedia lists 70 hits which is just a small selection. The Ronettes “Be My Baby”, The Righteous Brothers “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin”, The Mamas and the Papas “California Dreamin’”, Simon and Garfunkel “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, and Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” is simply a taste of the endless hits they contributed to.
A few of the members and their personal histories in particular are worth learning about. Carol Kaye, the legendary bassist, is certainly one of them, a female bassist who grew up playing jazz and getting a couple lucky shots playing for Sam Cooke. Tommy Tedesco – whose son Denny directed the documentary – is often described as “the most recorded guitar player of all-time”, who even stretched out and played 28 different types of string instruments, including mandolin, ukele, and sitar.
While it comes together as a pretty standard documentary, The Wrecking Crew succeeds in explaining the old days of session musicians and all the magic they created.