You might not be familiar with The Wrecking Crew. But you’ve definitely heard them playing many, many times.
The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds? That was The Wrecking Crew. Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water? That was also The Wrecking Crew. The Byrds’ Mr. Tambourine Man? Yep, The Wrecking Crew again. So, who were The Wrecking Crew?
In LA, during the 1960s, a bunch of freakishly talented session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew played anonymously on a bunch of now classic records. They dutifully laid flawless track after flawless track. Musicians like Brian Wilson admired their handywork and their contributions to Phil Spector's celebrated "wall of sound". Big artists subsequently put them to work, and soon, to musicians and industry types at least, The Wrecking Crew became known as the real geniuses behind all the best-selling records of the time. In short, they were the unsung heroes behind all your favourite 60s pop records.
As with the infamous Milli Vanilli story, the general public didn’t have a clue. They would listen to The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” and The Ronnettes’ “Be My Baby” thinking the artists on the cover were the ones playing the music. Not so. But far from being the robotic session musicians you might be imagining, simply reading and playing the music handed to them, these virtuosos were contributing their own ideas, improving songs and, yes, getting a tune in the can with significantly less takes and costly studio time.
In The Wrecking Crew, the 2014 documentary directed by Denny Tedesco, son of Wrecking Crew guitarist Tommy Tedesco, a welcome spotlight falls squarely on these twenty or so musicians (nobody really knows how many of them there were). It seeks to unmask the talented players behind the music in a way similar to Morgan Neville’s Twenty Feet from Stardom. We hear from notable musicians whose music was polished by the group, like Brian Wilson and Cher, and we hear from the key players themselves about life as a session musician with little time to raise a family.
The musicians were, of course, paid handsomely for their contributions. But just as the Hollywood studio system’s golden era came to an end, the curtains closed on the heyday of manufactured pop. And many musicians who had previously been swimming in wads of cash now found themselves struggling in new creatively-stifling jobs.
It’s a fascinating story, and certainly one that will be appreciated by muso geeks keen to learn more making-of stories surrounding their favourite golden oldies. There are some great nuggets of knowledge served up throughout the film, and viewers will be amazed to hear the amount of classics that The Wrecking Crew contributed to. If you're a fan of Pet Sounds and other old school pop records, The Wrecking Crew is utterly enthralling viewing.