It’s that time of year!
Hopefully by now you have at least heard about the informative and interesting-to-watch documentary called The Wrecking Crew, a movie about the unsung musical heroes behind an enormous number of pop and rock recordings made in the 1960s. If not, you should first read my review of the Blu-ray Disc version of the film here on Audiophilereview.com at this link.
Coincident with the movie being issued on Blu-ray Disc and DVD, the producers have issued a simple but wonderful four CD set original soundtrack. Well, actually, “soundtrack” is not really best word to describe this set since it includes a lot of music that is not in the movie and is missing some key tracks that did make it into the film.
No, The Wrecking Crew soundtrack is a pretty nifty assemblage that stands on its own right as something of an audio documentary. On each disc between several of the tracks are snippets of audio interviews with various Wrecking Crew members, presenting enlightening and often funny anecdotes about what went into the making of some of the hit records they worked on.
This is commentary that, as far as I can remember, doesn’t come up in the film including from the likes of Dean Torrance of Jan & Dean fame talking about how they recorded parts of their early hit “Baby Talk” in Jan Berry’s home studio — astonishing that he had a home studio at that time, actually! Barry McGuire talks about the creation of his influential hit “Eve of Destrucdtion.” Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., of The Fifth Dimension, reminisce about their earliest meeting with once-and-future record industry uber-magnate David Geffen when he was a publishing rep for artists including a then-unknown Laura Nyro.
And then there are the jokes… from the musicians, especially drummer Hal Blaine who has a legendary reputation for his wit and pun-man-ship (if you will). It makes the listen to what would other wise be on the surface just another oldies but goodies collection much more entertaining and engaging. And if that were not enough, the booklet in the set is chockful of yet more anecdotes and reminiscing from the people who were there on the front lines of the Wrecking Crew, from Cher and Dick Clark to Herb Alpert and, of course, the great Tommy Tedesco, the guitarist who was the initial inspiration for the creation of this documentary made by his son Denny Tedesco.
Of course there are the songs and music is not all the usual suspects. I was surprised, for example, that Nancy Sinatra’s smash hit “These Boots Were Made For Walking” was not on the set as it appears prominently in the film (and there are no tracks from her famous Father, either).
But instead we get other fascinating tracks that were not in the film such as tracks from ex-Monkee Mike Nesmith’s infamous all-instrumental first solo album (The Witchita Train Whistle Sings, from 1967). Arranger, composer and former Phil Spector wall-of-sound audio architect Jack Nitzsche’s wonderful 1963 solo track “The Lonely Surfer” appears as does a more electrified version of The Rooftop Singers’ #1 hit “Walk Right In” as done by a group called The Moments (which I am guessing was an assemblage of Wrecking Crew players and arranger / producers doing current hits to cash in on the wave of the song’s popularity, a common phenomenon back in the day).
Overall the sound quality on The Wrecking Crew soundtrack is excellent. I’m not going to even attempt to split hairs comparing tracks to LPs and question sources — with 110 different songs referenced in the movie, I’m sure they had to get the actual tracks for this set from a variety of sources across many different labels, from Capitol to Warner Brothers and beyond.
I will say that overall the fidelity is good, a remarkable feat given the diversity of tracks tracing from the early ’60s through to the mid-’70s. Even I was surprised to hear details like a heavy kick drum on The Grass Roots’ “Midnight Confession,” a hit I remember only hearing on AM radio when I was a little kid (clearly, I need to get a good Grass Roots hits collection!). Certain tracks which have attained legendary status on their own right — such as Herb Alpert’s classic “Whipped Cream” sound as if they had been taken from a source that has been (so called) “digitally remastered” (and I point out this track only because the day before I wrote this review I happened to come across a fairly pristine original stereo LP pressing of the album, so I am presently familiar with the warm-as-custard sound that album has vs. the sunglasses-bright version on this set. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds good! Just a bit shinier than on the LP version, which I guess was the intention.
One of the more fascinating features of the set is the fourth disc called Crew Cuts which, true to its name, features music put out by various Wrecking Crew members under their own names. This is very useful as some of these recordings are very hard to find and this provides a wonderful overview, from Hal Blaine’s drum-driven instrumental cover of Sonny & Cher’s “The Beat Goes On” to percussionist Emil Richards’ lovely swinging pop jazz tune “Ciao Bella.” Tracks from Tommy Tedesco, Plas Johnson, Mike Deasy, Buddy Collette, Al Casey and others take you from guitar-freak-out early 70s styled metal-boogie rock ‘n roll (“Lost in the Shuffle by Mike Deasy) to the Latin-Jazz Salsa swing of “Fioreando” (by Al Delory).
So much talent was bursting forth from The Wrecking Crew players that even with all the recording they did for others, time was made to create their own records too! Its a fun listen!
One of the most charming and surprising tracks is from Ray Charles doing a cover of Kermit the Frog’s Sesame Street torch song “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green” (with Tommy Tedesco on guitar). Another surprise is in the liner notes for one of my favorite Wrecking Crew productions, Bobby Sherman’s big big hit “Julie Do Ya Love Me” which has no details on exactly who was playing on it! Producer Denny Tedesco admits at the start of the booklet there might be discrepancies as to who played on which track and — reading between the lines — I’m guessing that this is one of those instances where it was easier to credit the track to “unknown” rather than speculate.
Leave that speculating to the fans like me: I’m willing to bet that Hal Blaine is playing drums on that track!
Anyhow, you can get The Wrecking Crew soundtrack at your favorite stores (any shop worth its salt would be carrying this) or the Internet from places like Amazon or direct from The Wrecking Crew film’s website.
Essential and educational listening.