I was old enough to remember when it was “shocking” news that the singing Monkees were not really playing their instruments on those first couple albums, and in fact, weren’t even allowed to. The music was provided by a fairly regular crew of session musicians. They may have been known as The Wrecking Crew, though some dispute the label. It was said the mostly men who had played on sessions in earlier times wore suits and ties, and it was feared that these more casually dressed crew was going to wreck the industry.
In fact, in many ways, they enhanced it. Bassist Carol Kaye sees the written bass line from Sonny and Cher’s And The Beat Goes On and changed it to what we heard on the record. They WERE Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass and Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. They interpreted Brian Wilson’s thoughts, not just on Pet Sounds but on a few earlier albums.
The movie The Wrecking Crew was a labor of love for director Denny Tedesco, whose dad, Tommy, was one of the great Crew guitarists. The first day of shooting brought drummer Hal Blaine (member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), bassist Carol Kaye, saxophonist Plas Johnson and Tommy Tedesco (all of whom should be) together.
Whatever the movie’s value for 90 minutes, and it is considerable, the EXTRAS on the Wrecking Crew DVD, which run over five hours, was often more useful.
There are stories about the legendary Gold Star Studios, the Franks Sinatra and Zappa, and much more. The repeated “I saw her” at the beginning of a chorus of the Mamas and the Papas’ I Saw Her Again was a mistake. Guitarist Don Peake explains how he was saved by Ray Charles in the Deep South. Cher tells about a drunk Leon Russell at a Phil Spector session, a story Leon acknowledges.
Other interviews, some of which made it into the film, included Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers, Barry McGuire, Jackie DeShannon, the three surviving Monkees, Richard Carpenter of Carpenters, Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean, Petula Clark, plus a lot of musicians, engineers, producers and the like.
The reviews were generally favorable. One critic wondered if all the love Danny Tedesco was hearing about his late father was a result of people telling him to want they want to hear. I can’t answer that, but in the scenes with his colleagues, and by himself, Tommy Tedesco (d. 1997) was a very engaging fellow.
Another critic suggested that this was a rush job; it was anything but that, taking over a decade to finish. It was completed in 2008 but had “been screened only at film festivals, where clearance rights were not required. The film finally saw theatrical release in 2015, after musical rights were cleared.” Some of the extra material was clearly done after 2008; Bill Medley just turned 75, but was 71 at the time of his interview.
Any fan of this era – this means you, Dustbury – should watch this, including the extra material.
Here are links to just a few of the songs that featured The Wrecking Crew.
The Lonely Bull – Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. Herb then went out to find guys to emulate them for the road. This is often the case.
He’s a Rebel – The Crystals. Cher was only 16 when she became a background singer for Phil Spector.
Mr. Tambourine Man – The Byrds. Roger McGuinn got to play on the record, but the other band members were furious to be left out. When the band did record, it often took dozens of takes, whereas the Wrecking Crew only needed a handful.
This Diamond Ring – Gary Lewis and the Playboys. The vocals were also doubled by a session singer.
California Dreamin’ – The Mamas & the Papas. This was going to be a Barry McGuire song, but when he heard their background vocals, he changed his mind. Much later, he realized his voice is on the recording.
Eve of Destruction – Barry McGuire
I Got You Babe – Sonny & Cher
No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In) – The T-Bones
Strangers in the Night – Frank Sinatra. Many times, the Crew took only one or two takes to satisfy the Chairman of the Board.
These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ – Nancy Sinatra. The descending line hook was created by a Wrecking Crew member.
Wichita Lineman – Glen Campbell. He was a member of the Crew before he became a successful solo artist.
Midnight Confessions – The Grass Roots
Valleri – The Monkees
Classical Gas – Mason Williams