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film review

The film is based on a roster of stone-cold rock-and-roll professionals who played anonymously on the sessions that provided the soundtrack to an era.

A generation picked up on their excitations and good vibrations.

In the 1960s, the West Coast pop music scene dreamed of beaches, smelled of jasmine and swung to the groove of the Wrecking Crew, a roster of stone-cold rock-and-roll professionals who played anonymously on the sessions that provided the soundtrack to an era. They were drummer Hal Blaine, bassist-guitarist Carol Kaye, guitarist Tommy Tedesco and a score of other players (including a prefame Glen Campbell).

They facilitated the lavish sonic notions of Brian Wilson, whose Beach Boys weren't up to the chore. And they provided the musicianship for the hit songs of the Monkees (Last Train to Clarksville), Nancy Sinatra (These Boots Are Made For Walkin' ), Herb Alpert (A Taste of Honey), the Mamas and the Papas (California Dreamin') and Sonny and Cher (Bang Bang).

They were unofficially dubbed the Wrecking Crew by the older, blazer-wearing session players in Los Angeles who thought the rock-pop upstarts would wreck the music business. And while they weren't properly credited on album jackets at the time, the crew was well paid and is now getting recognition in the form of a long-in-the-making documentary by Denny Tedesco. His dad, Tommy, was described by Guitar Player magazine as the most recorded guitarist in history.

The enlightening and necessary film, narrated by an adoring Denny, is very much in the vein of 2002's Standing in the Shadows of Motown, a documentary that celebrated the Funk Brothers, the criminally unheralded house band at Berry Gordy Jr.'s hit-making studio in Detroit. But where Standing in the Shadows of Motown used re-enactments and new live performances, The Wrecking Crew is composed mostly of archival footage and newish interviews.

We do receive a few musical demonstrations, often with the lone female player, Kaye, explaining a riff, such as the core motif to The Beat Goes On. The enchanting Kaye – "I was making more money than the President" – probably deserves her own film.

The film's making began in the mid-1990s as a passion project of Denny's. Tommy, a charismatic figure given to extreme moments of comical self-deprecation, was ill; the son wanted to honour the father's legacy. Tommy, who died of cancer in 1997, is the soul (if not the centre) of the film.

Finally completed in 2008, The Wrecking Crew's production was plagued by money issues. The reason? The cost of licensing fees to use the stunning number of hits in the film was prohibitive, and kept it out of commercial distribution until very recently. It eventually took a 2013 Kickstarter fundraising campaign to pay for the music.

Due to the film's elongated gestation, it is a relatively young Cher we see as one of the enthusiastic interviewees. Notice how she refers to the eccentric hit-maker (since convicted of murder) Phil Spector reverentially, always as "Phillip."

Spector's "wall of sound" run of success somewhat ended with his making of Ike and Tina Turner's River Deep-Mountain High. After the single flopped initially in the United States, Spector was no longer the pop machine's darling.

That's the way it goes. The Wrecking Crew's own phenomenal run lasted about a decade before a younger generation took over. Unlike the Monkees, for example, the rock artists and singer-songwriters of the 1970s could competently play their own instruments.

And so the session players sold their gold records to survive, and Tommy Tedesco appeared on the Gong Show, dressed in a ballerina's tutu, singing poignantly (in hindsight) about his lost status.

The beat goes on, as Sonny and Cher told us, leaving styles and people behind. That's a hard reality, but it's the rhythm of The Wrecking Crew, too. "la de da de de, la de da de da."

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