Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Repost: The Wrecking Crew

By the late 60's, the rock auteur, an often overlooked evolution in popular music, changed the face of music forever.  Sinatra, the sole surviving American Standard Vocalist, ushered out the era of the songwriter as The Beatles and The Beach Boys took the reigns. Sinatra, of course, was a song stylist, and we indeed have those today, but the genre change led directly to rock's golden era, that decade from 1966 to 1976 (give or take a year). Nonetheless, the early 60s provided a wealth of songwriters, from Boyce and Hart to Carole King, whose contributions set the pace throughout the 60s.  While AOR (Album Oriented Rock) was rearing its head, AM radio continued nonplussed on a journey that began with Your Hit Parade in 1935.  The Monkees, Sonny and Cher and The Carpenters bombarded the airwaves with compositions written by someone else.  It was the last era when songwriter was a viable occupation.  The casual listener has never heard of Jimmy Webb, Tom Hardin or John Bettis, but has undeniably heard their songs (indeed, Hardin was a featured act at Woodstock).  The anonymity of the 60s songwriter is on a par with the anonymity of the session musician. 

When it comes to The Monkees, there was no Milli-Vanilli pretense, the pop-lite version of the Fab Four indeed sang their plethora of hits, a wealth of recognizable pop surpassed by few - from "I'm a Believer" to their "Day in a Life" moment, "Pleasant Valley Sunday" - yet it wasn't until Headquarters that the four elevated themselves from crooners to musicians; a common thread that was shared with radio's top hits throughout the golden years of pop/rock and countdown radio.

More often than not, the songs on the radio, the great riffs and licks that are indelibly etched in our minds, were the work of musicians of the highest caliber: The Wrecking Crew. From the unmistakable bass of Carol Kaye on "The Beat Goes On" to the infectious guitar theme from Bonanza (Tommy Tedesco), The Wrecking Crew was the most recognizable band you never knew. 

Many of us may find a surge of disappointment to learn that the great radio hits of the 60s weren't performed by the artists we admire. We don’t really care who played bass for Sonny and Cher, but cringe that there wasn't an intrinsic Sonny and Cher "band," or that it's not The Beach Boys (with the exception of Brian) who created the signature instrumental sound found in "Wouldn't It Be Nice" or "Good Vibrations." Oh well, get over it.  Instead, we should celebrate the genius that was initially and unofficially called "The First Call Gang" in the 1950s, of guitarist/bassist Ray Pohlman (Pohlman additionally was the musician who popularized the electric bass). Pohlman & Co. (Earl Palmer, Glen Campbell, Barney Kessel, etc.) played with artists as diverse as Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen and Pat Boone.

In 1962, Phil Spector would recruit Pohlman, along with studio regulars like Hal Blaine (Drums) and Tommy Tedesco (guitar), as the progenitors of The Wall of Sound, Spector’s trademark vibe on hits like "Be My Baby," "Then He Kissed Me" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling." During this period, Spector referred to the band as The Wall of Sound Orchestra.

In the mid-60s, the newly monikered Wrecking Crew represented a plurality of AM's hits.  The impact is best realized with a list, an exhaustive one: "California Dreamin'" "Monday Monday," "Windy," "California Girls," "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Dead Man’s Curve," "Aquarius," "Strangers in the Night," "These Boots Were Made for Walkin'" "I Got You, Babe," "MacArthur Park," "This Diamond Ring," "Eve of Destruction," "Bridge Over Troubled Water," "Cracklin' Rosie" and "Classical Gas" – these hardly scratch the surface.

Aside from those already mentioned, add on Leon Russell, Joe Osborne, Plas Johnson, Max Bennett and Don Randi, but that's not half the musicians who offered their talents.  The Wrecking Crew was the ultimate rock orchestra.