Chances are, you’ve never heard of the greatest, most successful band of the rock era. But if you listened to music at all from the late 1950s through the mid-70s, you heard them; if you were a fan at all, you bought their records. They played the soundtrack of your life. They were The Wrecking Crew. And at last, their story is going public, thanks to a marvelous documentary created by the son of one of the members of the band.
The Wrecking Crew were a group of studio musicians in Los Angeles, but to call them “studio musicians” is to simplify their accomplishments. To say that they “played on everything” is much less of a simplification, and while it’s certainly not true, the fact is that they were the musicians on countless albums… including some of the most well-known and revered releases in music history.
For example, they WERE The Beach Boys on “Pet Sounds.” Though the Boys did all of the vocals, of course, and though Brian Wilson controlled almost every aspect of the recording studio, every note of that album—usually ranked as one of the top two albums in rock history—was played by The Wrecking Crew.
They were The Tijuana Brass. They were The Grassroots. They were Gary Lewis & the Playboys. They were The Mamas & the Papas. They were The Association. They were the recorded music for so many groups that to list them would be futile; readers would quit reading before they got to the end. (In fact, the reason that this documentary was decades in the making was because it took that long to get permission—and the necessary money—for the original music to be featured… and the 110 songs that made it into the final cut are just a fraction of the hits that The Wrecking Crew played on.)
They were even the musicians behind Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound.
Their influence extended beyond albums and singles. The Wrecking Crew was also the band that created some of the most enduring TV and movie theme songs: Bonanza, Batman, The Pink Panther, Hawaii 5-0, Mission: Impossible, and more…
Despite the remarkable body of work they created, only two regular members of The Wrecking Crew went on to achieve fame: Glen Campbell and Leon Russell, and both did so only after striking out on their own. For the most part the players stayed in the background, making timeless music, watching their tunes top the charts, and taking home Grammy Awards.
That such an incredible group of musicians could create such a body of work while remaining almost completely anonymous is a big part of the story, a story best told by the film itself. But a short story is a good illustration: when The Byrds were first in the studio, the producers wouldn’t let them play any of the instruments, except for Roger McGuinn, who had been a studio musician early in his career. It was The Wrecking Crew, along with McGuinn, who played every note of “Mr. Tambourine Man”… and they recorded it in three takes. By contrast, it was The Byrds themselves– McGuinn along with David Crosby, Chris Hillman, Gene Clark and Michael Clarke—who then recorded “Turn! Turn! Turn!”… in 77 takes. The musicians of The Wrecking Crew were simply too good NOT to use.
The story of The Wrecking Crew is also too good: too good to remain unknown. And now, thanks to the release of the DVD (produced and directed by Denny Tedesco, whose father Tommy was a Wrecking Crew guitarist) their story is finally being told.
“Muscle Shoals” has been one of the most acclaimed music documentaries in history, and the accolades are well-deserved. But “The Wrecking Crew” deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. Give it a watch and see for yourself. (“The Wrecking Crew” can be seen on AXS Television, and in screenings around the country, but the best way to see it is to own your own copy of the DVD; that can be ordered from http://www.wreckingcrewfilm.com.) We give it five stars… out of four. No, that’s not a misprint.