Ah, the songs of our youth. Well, if you grew up in the sixties, or have come to appreciate the rock and roll comin’ outta Los Angeles back then. The Wrecking Crew movie will dispel any romantic notions you may have of those bands, because the bands themselves often didn’t play their own instruments on their records. Instead, a tight group of unknown Los Angeles studio musicians did. There was an established group of older musicians, often highly talented jazz and orchestra musicians, who were less keen on a new form of music called rock, or the fledgling bunch of nameless, less than well dressed men (and one woman) who were eager to play this simpler, less dignified music. These newbies would wreck the music, or so it seemed, so they could have it. Eventually, the name of these upstarts became…
This film has been in the works for many years but until recently, there wasn’t enough money, until a Kickstarter campaign did the trick. Is it a top tier Hollywood production? Nope. Will it win an award for best editing? Doubtful. But is a great story? Yes. While dozens of musicians eventually contributed on one date or hundreds, a core eventually developed around guys such as guitarist Tommy Tedesco, drummer Hal Blaine, saxophonist Plas Johnson, bassist Carol Kaye and others. Tedesco’s son, Denny, decided to tell his father’s story, but in doing so, the connections to the other musicians and the music of the era had to be a huge part of the film. So the movie sequed to cover the larger story, of Tommy, the band and the music.
What songs, what bands? The list is pretty long. But it includes The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Richie Valens, Nat King Cole, The Mamas and the Papas, The Righteous Brothers, Sony and Cher, The Monkees, Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, The Association, The Fifth Dimension, The Carpenters, Tommy Roe, Gary Lewis and the Playboys and bands produced by Phil Spector.
That, my friends, is the short list.
I drove to Santa Cruz, California to see it, a 45 minute drive over the mountains…because the film is in such limited distribution you can’t just see it at your local theater, unless you’re lucky. I couldn’t see it in San Jose, or San Francisco, at least not yet. I bought my tix online for $10, a fair number of folks got theirs right before the 7pm Saturday night show. There was a line about 75 people long waiting to get in. I got there an hour early and was number three in line. It didn’t matter much, the Nickelodeon Theatre was not full, although it was close. A small place, there were plenty of locals. I might have driven the farthest but who knows.
Because much of the film was shot before HD was easily available, it is not the best quality image, but there’s nothing that can be done about that. There are cool interviews with many people, including Dick Clark and a pre-alzheimers Glen Campbell. Great stuff from the Beach Boy’s Brian Wilson, admitting that he needed the best he could get, so he chose The Wrecking Crew over his own bandmates. Amazing images of Phil Spector directing his girl groups while creating the Wall of Sound that he became famous for. No mention of his current troubles, of course. I really enjoyed hearing the musicians playing their signature lick of a famous song, then have the real song fade in.
I can’t judge the audio quality for you. The music only came out of the right channel speaker. Nothing in the middle or left. The interviews and voice overs were dead center as they should be and were quite clear and expansive. But the songs, the music was quite constrained, as if it was coming from a tiny speaker that was too old to handle it. I pointed this out via email with Marketing Director Lane Jouvet, and it turns out the Nick sound system had a problem that kept the songs from coming to life. Dang. At least the problem has since been corrected.
I found the film editing to be haphazard. I’d guess that because the film has been in production so long, it’s gone through years of editing, sitting around, starting up again… and is a little worse for it. It’s less a cohesive story than it is interview footage cut together, sort of like a book that isn’t always sure what chapter is next, although the chapters are good. During the Question & Answer session after the film, an audience member said he’d seen a version of the film several years earlier and it was quite different from the current one. He felt the current version was quite an improvement. A DVD is coming out later this year and who knows…it could be further edited. A download version is also available from The Wrecking Crew website.
That said, I still enjoyed this film quite a bit. Because I’m a media producer, I tend to take it apart that way. If you’re not, you probably won’t notice the things I did. So don’t take my criticisms to heart.
The reason I decided to come to the 7pm show was because Don Randi, a surviving member of The Wrecking Crew, spoke after the film was over. A tremendous pianist, Don has played on innumerable songs, for countless bands, like the Righteous Brother’s You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.* Born in 1937, Don was quite engaging and friendly. He easily recalled great stories and answered questions for quite a while. The Q&A really topped off the evening. He also signed autographs and gave away some CDs. He came across like your cool uncle who just happened to be famous, for not being famous. That’s the deal with the Crew. No one, almost, knows who they were and what they accomplished. The film attempts to correct that and does a wonderful job of taking you back in time. While I love the music of that period, I appreciate it even more now. Despite technical flaws, the film is absolutely worth seeing. Wanna hear Don Randi’s Q&A session? Sure you do! (sorry, it’s a little distorted…had the gain set too high!)
The film closes with a handful of the many tunes attributed to the band and photos of some of the band members who have passed away, some of whom are in the film. A damn shame, that. As the makers of the music of my youth are dying, it makes me feel as if I don’t have enough time to listen. I’m running out of time, too. So put that record on your turntable…and bring back to life the life of The Wrecking Crew!
*By the way, the original vinyl LP version of this song is in my opinion, better than the digital ones. It jumps out at you, the way Phil Spector meant it to. The digital versions I’ve heard lack that quality.
** Bassist Carol Kaye takes issue with the name, The Wrecking Crew and the movie itself, stating on her website that the film is not accurate and neither is a book about the band by author Kent Hartman. You might look into her site. Man, the truth is hard to come by!