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Review: The Wrecking Crew

Unless you’re a well versed musical historian or aficionado, you’ve probably never properly had an introduction to The Wrecking Crew despite their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. But even if you haven’t heard of them, you’ve definitely heard their sound. Have you heard the songs “Only You,” “These Boots Are Made for Walkin,” “California Dreaming,” “Love Will Keep Us Together,” “Then He Kissed Me,” or anything that was done by The Monkees during the initial heights of their popularity? Have you heard the themes to The Pink Panther, Mission: Impossible, or Bonanza? If you answered yes to any of the above, you’re familiar with what this cadre of California studio musicians were capable of accomplishing without getting very much credit for their efforts.

First time feature director and long time producer Denny Tedesco – son of The Wrecking Crew’s high profile guitarist Tommy Tedesco – takes a look at the unsung men and women who crafted the feel of some of the catchiest tracks ever recorded, redefined the role of studio musicians in rock and roll, and who pretty much caused the entire record industry to move from New York to Southern California thanks to their sought after successes.

To put into proper perspective just how sought after these musicians – many of whom had no previous rock and roll experience whatsoever – managed to be, let’s look at Pharrell Williams and The Neptunes as musical producers. At the absolute peak of their power in the early 2000s, they were responsible (separately, together, or as part of N.E.R.D.) for an average of 56 individual tracks and five full albums of material a year. While that’s impressive by today’s standards, members of The Wrecking Crew (who worked with various producers and artists from Brian Wilson to Lou Adler to Frank Sinatra) can’t possibly remember all the songs they worked on. They made so much money for their work that one band member unironically recalls making more money than the president.

These were the people you brought in during the recording boom to craft up to four entire songs from scratch in only three hours. These were the people you called when you needed an entire album produced and mixed by the end of the day. At the same time, they were the only people patient enough to deal with Brian Wilson at the height of his ego and estrangement from the rest of The Beach Boys. When it came to studio musicians, they were the beginning and the end of every sentence spoken by record executives. They were so good, some bands they worked for (like The Association, who had a number one hit song with “Windy”) never played a note of their own music on their albums.

The Wrecking Crew is a pretty bare bones looking, but factually dense documentary that culls together amiable roundtable and one on one interviews with former band members (including its most notable graduate Glen Campbell) with archival footage designed to give a sense of time, place, and context. Tedesco grew up around these people, so he knows exactly what to ask his subjects about their time together, and which industry professionals to talk to. There’s also a good balance between the professional anecdotes and the personal stories that seek to highlight the private price these musicians paid in the pursuit of steady, (sometimes) excellent paying work.

It’s the latest in a long line of documentaries that seek to pull back the curtain on lost eras in rock history, and it would make a great double bill with the similarly minded, but more polished Muscle Shoals. You’ll certainly learn a lot of secrets about some of the most recognizable songs of all time.

[star v=35]

Andrew Parker

Andrew Parker is a freelance film critic in Toronto. You can follow him on twitter @andrewjparker.