If you ever have listened to a hit song or album recorded in the 1960’s or 1970’s, then you have listened to The Wrecking Crew. Their names aren’t on the record or song, but they played all the instruments. If you have ever heard theme songs like from Batman, Pink Panther, Bonanza, Hawaii 5-0, you’ve heard The Wrecking Crew.
Who were The Wrecking Crew? As the 1950’s ended, musicians began migrating to Los Angeles and soon the industry was recording big hits there. Prior, all the action had been in New York. The Wrecking Crew was a group of studio musicians, around two dozen strong, that were used on practically every record made in Los Angeles.
This documentary was made by the son of Tommy Tedesco, considered one of the greatest guitar players around. He spoke to several members of The Wrecking Crew for the film including the likes of Carol Kaye (a female who was at one point making more money than the President, which back in those days said something) and Glenn Campbell, who was a member before he made it big as a singer.
The musicians lived their music. They literally went from one studio to the next. They would often start at like 8 a.m. and finish at 4 a.m. every single day. In the film, you hear producer after producer state how they would wait until they could book The Wrecking Crew for their session. The musicians were in such demand that for nearly two decades they appeared on practically every album that charted.
And those albums were music history. Beach Boys albums, done not by the Beach Boys but The Wrecking Crew. Brian Wilson who is in the film states flatly he wouldn’t have had it any other way. Everyone pretty much agreed in the film that Brian Wilson was one of the great musical genius’ of our time.
Phil Spector and the great ‘Wall Of Sound Era’, with songs like ‘You Lost That Loving Feeling’ or ‘Be My, Be My Baby’ – The Wrecking Crew. They gave Frank Sinatra his first number one hit as well as wrote the riff for ‘These Boots Were Made For Walking’ by his daughter Nancy. Elvis used them. Sonny and Cher. The Mamas And The Papas.The Byrds.
When they weren’t doing music they were doing television and movie scores. There is a funny story in the film about the first time Disney used them and apparently underestimated their skills.
This movie has a loose feel to it, much like The Wrecking Crew itself. There are some sad, and cautionary tales as well. The stories are entertaining. I liked the credits when the film began sampling all the different hit songs recorded. It was like someone jammed a jukebox full of quarters.
There is one story worth recalling. Herb Albert was wanting to record an album, he was just starting out, and so a producer called some of The Wrecking Crew and asked if they would play as a personal favor to the producer. So they were agreed to help out. The guys joked that they got only $15 a song or two for $25.
The album became a hit and launched Herb Albert and The Tijuana Brass. When Albert became famous, made his fortune with their work, what did he do? He went to the musicians union, paid the fine for not paying the guys scale at the initial recording, then cut checks for all The Wrecking Crew involved for the money they normally would’ve gotten. Now that is remembering who did you a favor.
The Wrecking Crew was an era. That era is gone now. But it is a sweet success that is pleasant to look back on. If you are interested in music, show business, how American culture evolved, then this movie is for you. And next time you hear ‘Good Vibrations’ , remember that vibe came from a bunch of unknown musicians who were the most successful in music history. The movie is 5 of 5 on anyone’s scale.