Juan Barle sent me a text on Friday night asking if I’ve seen the documentary The Wrecking Crew. “What’s it about?” I asked. “It’s a history lesson in making gold records,” he said.
I immediately rented it from iTunes.
The Wrecking Crew were a group of Los Angeles studio musicians who played on a staggering number of hit songs from the late 50s to the early 70s including The Mamas & The Papas “California Dreamin‘”, The Righteous Brothers “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling“, Richie Valens “La Bamba“, The Byrds “Mr. Tambourine Man“, and The Ronnette’s “Be My Baby.” In fact, The Wrecking Crew were Phil Spector’s legendary Wall of Sound.
Here’s a clip of Wrecking Crew bassist Carol Kaye discussing the recording of The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” with Brian Wilson.
The Wrecking Crew weren’t a set group of players. Their membership ranged from 15 – 35 musicians, depending on who you ask. Most were jazz or classically-trained pros (including pre-fame Glen Campbell and Leon Russell) brought in to augment or entirely replace a band for studio sessions. This was before the popularity of the singer-songwriter and more self-sufficient groups of the 1970s. The public weren’t (and still aren’t) aware that many of their favorite bands didn’t even play on their own recordings.
In fact, this was my biggest issue with this movie. It basically shattered my illusion of all of this magical music from the 1960s. For example, not a single member of The Association played any instruments on either of their best known hits “Windy” and “Never My Love“. For me, this was almost as bad as learning the ugly truth about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
Aside from the life-wrecking sadness of the film, it’s a pretty great documentary for any fan of rock music or anyone who’s ever, say, listened to recorded music at any time in the last 60 years. And if you like this sort of thing, you should definitely check out the inferior Motown version of this movie, Standing In The Shadows Of Motown, and the far superior Muscle Shoals Studios documentary, aptly named Muscle Shoals. Both tell similar stories of unknown backing musicians who played on countless studio hits.
The Wrecking Crew is currently available on iTunes. Here’s the official trailer: