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“The Wrecking Crew” Movie Review by Daniel Barnes

The Wrecking Crew documentary

The Wrecking Crew (1996/2008/2015; Denny Tedesco)


By Daniel Barnes

In case you didn’t know a loosely knit group of roughly two dozen Southern California session musicians played on almost every classic pop song and TV theme you ever loved. Dubbed The Wrecking Crew, they were Phil Spector’s wall of sound, the Tijuana Brass and the backing band for The Mamas and the Papas and Elvis Presley.  They also replaced entire groups on classic albums from The Beach Boys, The Association, and The Monkees, almost always without credit.

The “members” included eventual frontmen Glen Campbell and Leon Russell, as well as workaholic session players like drummer Hal Blaine, guitarist Tommy Tedesco and bassist/single mother Carole Kaye. In their prime, the musicians turned out roughly an album a day. One of the great recurring gags in The Wrecking Crew, an engaging documentary from Tedesco’s son Danny, is watching vintage television footage of studio-promoted rock stars performing on stage without a backing band while lip-synching to a track played by The Wrecking Crew.

“Secret Star-Maker Machinery”

There is some grousing from the musicians about the “secret star-maker machinery” that forced their brilliance into the dark. Meanwhile, Tedesco doesn’t shy from the harsh realities of the session player’s life.  Still, this isn’t an angry or bitter film by any means. The goal, almost to a fault, is to celebrate these musicians and the songs they created. This is where the torturous backstory of the movie The Wrecking Crew comes into play.

Tedesco started filming in 1996, premiered the movie at South by Southwest in 2008, and only recently received a crowd-sourced infusion of cash to pay for the myriad musical rights. However, hearing that music, from Phil Spector to Pet Sounds to The Pink Panther, makes all the difference. The Wrecking Crew may not be profound, but it is glorious.

Read more of Daniel’s reviews at Dare Daniel and Rotten Tomatoes, and listen to Daniel on the Dare Daniel podcast.