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'The Wrecking Crew' review: Pop's classic players

George Harrison and Joe Osborn in

George Harrison and Joe Osborn in "The Wrecking Crew." Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures

PLOT

PLOT Documentary about the Los Angeles studio musicians who, while playing behind on the biggest records of the '60s and '70s, remained virtual unknowns to the general public. Rated PG.

BOTTOM LINE

Good-natured look at the virtuoso workhorses of classic rock and pop.

LENGTH

1:41

The whiplash-inducing shifts in music formats over the last 30 years have meant the virtual disappearance of liner notes -- the credits on the back of an album that used to tell you who was playing on the record you were hearing. (Yes, CDs had them -- in 6 pt. type; try to figure out who's on your last iTunes purchase.) Even so, what a listener would never have found on a release by Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, the Monkees, or any of Phil Spector's "wall-of-sound" hits were the stars of "The Wrecking Crew," who dwelt in forced anonymity, while being instrumental in the construction of rock and roll history.

As one of director Denny Tedesco's many talking heads explains, the men (plus bassist Carol Kaye) weren't given credit because it probably would have been embarrassing: An amorphous community of only about 30 players and producers were behind virtually everything coming out of Los Angeles during the heyday of Top 40 pop. Musicians such as guitarist Tommy Tedesco (the director's father), drummer Hal Blaine, saxman Plas Johnson, bassists Kaye and Bill Pitman and guitarist Glen Campbell were the versatile technicians behind the "signature" sounds of almost all the major American acts who recorded at places like Capitol Record or Gold Star studios. The stories are great; the surprises are many.

"The Wrecking Crew" is, by intent, a nostalgia trip and this quality is embellished by the fact that Tedesco's film made its festival debut in 2008 and was held up until now by copyright disputes. At least seven of the players have passed away since the film was made; Campbell, now confined to a long-term care facility for Alzheimer's patients, appears both lucid and charming. Quite obviously, it took director Tedesco, who embarked on the project as a tribute to his father, a long time to get this movie made, and a long time to get it shown. But the results are both revelatory and moving, especially for the viewer with some of this music still rolling around in his or her bloodstream.

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