The Wrecking Crew

The Inside Story of Rock and Roll's Best-Kept Secret
Narrated by: Dan John Miller
Length: 9 hrs and 41 mins
4.4 out of 5 stars (751 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Audie Award Winner, History, 2013

If you were a fan of popular music in the 1960s and early '70s, you were a fan of the Wrecking Crew - whether you knew it or not.

On hit record after hit record, by everyone from the Byrds, the Beach Boys, and the Monkees to the Grass Roots, the 5th Dimension, Sonny & Cher, and Simon & Garfunkel, this collection of West Coast studio musicians from diverse backgrounds established themselves as the driving sound of pop music - sometimes over the objection of actual band members forced to make way for Wrecking Crew members.

Industry insider Kent Hartman tells the dramatic, definitive story of the musicians who forged a reputation throughout the business as the secret weapons behind the top recording stars. Mining invaluable interviews, the author follows the careers of such session masters as drummer Hal Blaine and keyboardist Larry Knechtel, as well as trailblazing bassist Carol Kaye, who went on to play in thousands of recording sessions. Listeners will discover the Wrecking Crew members who would forge careers in their own right, including Glen Campbell and Leon Russell, and learn of the relationship between the Crew and such legends as Phil Spector and Jimmy Webb.

Hartman also takes us inside the studio for the legendary sessions that gave us Pet Sounds, Bridge Over Troubled Water, and the rock classic “Layla”, which Wrecking Crew drummer Jim Gordon cowrote with Eric Clapton for Derek and the Dominos. And the author recounts priceless scenes, such as Mike Nesmith of the Monkees facing off with studio head Don Kirshner, Grass Roots lead guitarist (and future star of The Office) Creed Bratton getting fired from the group, and Michel Rubini unseating Frank Sinatra's pianist for the session in which the iconic singer improvised the hit-making ending to “Strangers in the Night”.

The Wrecking Crew tells the collective, behind-the-scenes stories of the artists who dominated Top-40 radio during the most exciting time in American popular culture.

©2012 Kent Hartman (P)2012 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"[ The Wrecking Crew] has the...potent excitement of a collection of greatest hits. It makes good music sound better." (Janet Maslin, The New York Times)

What listeners say about The Wrecking Crew

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Juke Box Documentary

The Wrecking Crew was a loosely affiliated collection of studio musicians based in L.A. in the 1960s, the people really playing on many of the great songs of that era -- songs by the Beach Boys, Byrds, Monkees, Mamas & Papas, Simon & Garfunkel, and lots of others. This book, like the loosely affiliated film documentary with the same title, pays tribute to these unsung (non-singing) heroes of 1960s rock-pop. Although the book is meant to be about the musicians, Kent Hartman did something really smart, organizing the chapters by song rather than by personality. When your subjects are anonymous studio musicians who are by definition devoid of the ego that drives their front men, their biographical back stories, while certainly interesting, do not burn down any barns.But those of us who grew up in that decade remember those songs quite well. While recounting how they were crafted, Hartman fills us in on individual members of the Wrecking Crew, how they grew into consummate studio professionals, how they came to play on these songs. It sticks so indelibly because you know the songs, but you are only now learning how the Crew members' contributed to them -- they didn't just play what was asked of them, they creatively contributed to the arrangements. Like Carol Kaye coming up with the bass line groove on the otherwise boring one-chord Sonny & Cher song The Beat Goes On. Or Hal Blaine placing his drums by an elevator shaft to create the booming sound in the chorus of The Boxer (the book actually gets a key detail wrong -- the drums were not at the bottom of the elevator shaft, but in the hallway next to it). In many cases, the stories behind how these huge hits of the 60s show how they came together in surprising ways -- that is the real attraction here. I never knew that Frank Sinatra improvised the fade out on the third take of Strangers in the Night, the dubi-dubi-do (check out my name -- I've had to live with this most of my life). And if you ever danced the limbo at a party, you might be surprised to hear the story of how the famous limbo song came to be -- how it was written, what the songwriter called it, and how it affected him. This book is full of those types of gems. This is pure gold for fans of the songs, and some wonderful musical history for those of us who want to take a deeper look at how hit songs are created -- or at least, how that one seminal era of hit songs were created, before the tide swung back to favor music written and played, in the studio and on the road, by the artists rather than by studio professionals.

22 people found this helpful

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The soundtrack of my life

I can remember when and where I heard all the songs mentioned in this book. What astounds and amazes me is the fact that they were all done by essentially the same band! The singers may have changed but the band remained the same.

I now have a folder of music on my MP3 players entitled "The Wrecking Crew" which contains songs I know they played on. Just about everyone who has listened to it loves it, including kids who were born a quarter century after the demise of The Wrecking Crew. I've had to compile a printed playlist of my folder because so many people ask me for one. I wish the author would compile a definitive list for us if he'd be so kind because he has access to contracts and other documents.

14 people found this helpful

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Fascinating Story Well Told

What made the experience of listening to The Wrecking Crew the most enjoyable?

Bought this book after watching the documentary and found that it contains many more stories and interesting details than the documentary (which was equally good). Who knew?

What other book might you compare The Wrecking Crew to and why?

I can't think of another book to compare this to - it is unique.

What about Dan John Miller???s performance did you like?

Good voice well paced.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

I wish.

Any additional comments?

Anyone who likes rock and roll would like this book.

13 people found this helpful

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Will change the way you listen to music

I am a fan of the music from the 60's and the 70's, heck truth told there is just about no music I do not enjoy. So as to not give the "plot Away" too badly it tells the history of how the in studio music was recorded during the heyday of Rock and roll. Touches on the Beach Boys, Phil Spector and an interesting story about Glenn Campbell. it's a must read if you enjoy the ins and outs of Rock and Roll.

12 people found this helpful

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A bit sing-songy

Very interesting material, but written and performed as though for sixth graders. A list of these musicians' works would be a welcome addition.

11 people found this helpful

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Familiar names to any 70's rock fan

The Beach Boys were always a mystery to me. I have gone to see them several times, each time they were worse than the last. The voices intermittently hit the mark, but the musicianship would embarrass a 3rd grade band. I wondered how the same people who recorded Pet Sounds could be in front of me with a minimal knowledge of their instruments. Now I know.
This book is good.

23 people found this helpful

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Fasinating history of 60 and 70 rock'n roll

What made the experience of listening to The Wrecking Crew the most enjoyable?

The information of the different bands was fascinating and a real eye opener to the music business in the 60's and 70's. Interesting to find out who controlled the business and the caliber of musicians at that time.

What other book might you compare The Wrecking Crew to and why?

Me the Mob and the music by Tommy James although a different story, studio muscicians played a huge roll in the outcome of the music.

Have you listened to any of Dan John Miller’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I will view all my rock idols differently after listening to this book. Especially the Beach Boys.

Any additional comments?

Great listen for anyone interested in rock history. I wish I could see the film that was made about the same group of musicians. Check out Carol Kaye on utube.

9 people found this helpful

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Left Guessing

Is there anything you would change about this book?

It seems as though Kent Hartman learned to write by composing blurbs for paperbacks. His alliterative metaphors double up on each other. This "look at me" style of writing is really annoying especially when you hear it read aloud. Just one typical example, he refers to Phil Spector as "The elfin emperor." Perhaps that doesn't sound like a big deal but four or five of these things per page it really begins to grate on the listener after a while.

Starting a book about several disparate people describing events that seemed important to them was I though very hokey and not at all enlightening: Hal Blaine caught in a circus fire, Glenn Campbell getting a whipping... come on!

The other thing is when you're writing a book about musicians who do you imagine is going to buy it and read it? People who are very interested in music and how musicians develop their chops, that's who and that's what they want to know. Most of us who read these books have inadvertently done as much research on this subject as the author has. Therefore we expect the author to know that Bertha Spector until the day she died referred to her son by his REAL name, Harvey, NEVER as Phil. If I know that and Mr. Hartman doesn't, what else did he get wrong? My guess is plenty.

So much is glossed over. He tells a very interesting story about how Don Peake conned his way into an important gig by being able to play Be Bop A Lula, one of three songs he knew on guitar. The thing is, after it was discovered that he really couldn't play guitar, he was kept on and the other band members PAID FOR HIS GUITAR LESSONS! Hartman acts as though this is typical musician behavior. It is not. Why did they do this for Peake? This is the story we'd like to know and he writes as though it was self-explanatory. There are many of these instances in this book.

If you’ve listened to books by Kent Hartman before, how does this one compare?

As far as I know The Wrecking Crew is the only book Kent Hartman has ever written.

Which scene was your favorite?

I thought the tragic story of Jim Gordon was well-told and of great interest.

I thought the angst of the Monkeys, the Byrds, etc not being allowed to play their own instruments on recordings attributed to them was interesting and ironic. They were getting paid, weren't they? Would they rather drive a taxi?

Mr. Hartman seems to think that fans were fooled by these prefabricated groups. We were not. One of the most impressive things about the Beatles was that they played their own instruments. We were used to "singing" groups and the Beach Boys, for example, was a singing group. When they became competitive with the Beatles and started claiming they too played their own instruments, they fooled no one. Many of us knew the names, Glenn Campbell, Hal Blaine, Barney Kessel, James Burton etc. If they were a 'secret,' they were a poorly kept secret.

Do you think The Wrecking Crew needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

There is much that is interesting in The Wrecking Crew. There is a continent of information however that is glossed over and left out. The evolution of Barney Kessel is never described nor his mentoring of young Phil Spector. Mac Rebennack I don't think is mentioned once. Leon Russell is glossed over. James Burton, Nino Tempo are footnotes. Much more could be written on this subject in greater detail.

The Swamp Birds are never mentioned as such. Steve Cropper and Duane Allman are name drops.

Any additional comments?

More in-depth Audible books on this subject are, Mick Brown's Tearing Down the Wall of Sound, Tommy James and Martin Fitzpatrick's Me, The Mob and the Music, Life by Keith Richards, and Peter Ames Carlin's Bruce.

53 people found this helpful

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A little corny but OK.

This book reminded me of the Casey Kasem Top 40 count down. In Casey's count down he would introduce an up coming song with a cheesy story - the small town kid that finally made it big or the girl that defied the odds and finally launched a hit after so many rejections. The sappy stories never lasted long and a good song always followed so they were palatable. This book, unfortunately, has none of those redeeming qualities, it is not completely unentertaining, however - especially if you know and like the music described.

16 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Awful! Great story, but awful writing@

Would you try another book from Kent Hartman and/or Dan John Miller?

Absolutely not. The writing is lazy, unimaginative, and just poor. Phrases like "Don Peak found the guitar, or did the guitar find him?" are literally in this book. I may be more used to academic writing when it comes to music, but this goes far beyond lazy and terrible.

Would you recommend The Wrecking Crew to your friends? Why or why not?

For the writing and performance - NEVER.
For the actual story being told - yes.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

His Phil Hartman-like voice makes every statement sound like the most important thing that happens in this book. But the voices...? Are you kidding? Not only does EVERY young member of the wrecking crew sound like a timid teenager lucky to own an instrument, but notice Phil Spector go from timid teen (a la above) to totally disinterested New Yorker. And please do not do women's voices. Please don't.

What character would you cut from The Wrecking Crew?

The narrator and writer.

Any additional comments?

This is an incredible story. I'm about halfway finished with it and really want to finish it, but oh my gosh it is so bad. The only thing keeping me is my fascination with Los Angeles and the music. I really wish this was a better researched book. I would much prefer research over completely made up, over the top, narratives that have no grounding whatsover. It's ridiculous. This reads like a Sports Illustrated for Kids (remember that magazine??) article from 1990. It's just plain bad. The topic really deserves a robust, well researched look. This absolutely is not it.

5 people found this helpful