Friday, June 19, 2015

The Wrecking Crew

"The lesson to take away from this movie, kids," I said to The Flower and The Boy, "is that Rock 'n' Roll is an utter fraud."

The movie in question is The Wrecking Crew, a documentary about the wildly talented studio musicians who played on a vast number rock music's greatest hits from the '50s to the '70s. The Monkees and The Partridge Family, obviously. Sonny and Cher and Nancy Sinatra, yeah, why not. Also: The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, Phil Spector, Herb Alpert and on and on.

But it wasn't just rock music: They played on everything. They weren't rock musicians, actually, they were just musicians who didn't feel it was beneath them to play rock. (And I knew guys who felt it was, and ended up in computers.) And they contributed to whatever they were playing. One of the high points of the movie, musically, is when they have bass players playing the bass line they invented for a song, and then play the song over it and you're like "Holy cow! That makes that song!"

Carol Kaye, who was one of the few women in the crew, still handles the bass with world class professionalism, does an easy demo of "Let The Sun Shine In".

When the '70s gave way to the singer-songwriter and a demand for "authenticity", the jobs dried up, but for a while, these guys worked day-and-night, day-after-day, for big, big bucks. Even at high prices, the fact they could knock out a perfect track in one take made it economical to use them—and you got a better product—than a bunch of kids struggling for a hundred takes to get something usable out.

Much fun. The kids, who know almost nothing about this enjoyed it.

On the scale:

1. Good subject. If not staggeringly important, interesting and inspiring in its way, and chock full of great stories. I mean, you could probably get enough great stories out of a couple of dozen musicians who'd worked professionally for three decades.

2. Technique. Good, simple, respectful. The editing is reasonably tight, though the whole thing is rather unfocused. If I had to guess, I'd bet there's just a ton of material here, and this is almost a highlight reel.

3. Slant. The director is Danny Tedesco, son of one of the crew, Tommy Tedesco, who managed to find a balance between work and life, if the stories are to be believed. We get different life stories from different musicians, naturally reflecting a variety of career arcs and outcomes. So, no hard-hitting journalism, and maybe a bit of hagiography, but that doesn't particularly matter here.

So, yeah, unfocused, as I mentioned, and The Kids (and a bunch of other people I talked to about it) agreed about that, but also that it was fun enough on its own for that not to be too bad a thing. Definitely worth checking out.

Time-wise, it's interesting to note that some of the interviews here are quite old: I kept saying "Oh, that guy's dead" and "that guy has Alzheimer's now" and so on. Apparently, the movie was held in limbo while Tedesco struggled...to get all the rights to the music.

Which is how screwed up copyright is right now: A documentary using tiny snippets of 30-60 year old songs can be held up for a decade.

Fun correlation: The real people here are featured prominently in the Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy.

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