One of my favorite Presidential quotes of all time is from Harry Truman. He said,
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
Nonetheless, people deserve credit when they do important things, and trying to encourage the culture to not only give credit but also to remember and honor those deserving it across generations is a frequent theme of this blog. The Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Fame is one expression of this theme. This post is another.
I was reminded of The Wrecking Crew when Glen Campbell died, and recently, when I heard old Monkee Mickey Dolenz in a recent interview. Cambell was the most famous alumni of the studio band, which had many members over the years. Dolenz was a member of the group that was its most famous beneficiary, although The Byrds were also famously represented by The Wrecking Crew in their first hit record, “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
It has always amazed me how little this loosely organized band of brilliant studio musicians is known outside of the music business and the rock and pop trivia nerds. The Wrecking Crew was significantly involved in much of the greatest pop music recorded from the late 1950s to the mid 1970’s. Their musical contributions are indistinguishable and inseparable from the those of the famous singers and groups they backed, and yet fame and credit, as well as sufficient honors, have been elusive.
If people have heard of them at all, the Wrecking Crew is known for “ghosting” the accompaniments for the Monkees’ first two albums. However, its studio band work was far more extensive than that. They were, for example, the creators of Phil Specter’s “Wall of Sound”: in the early years, they were sometimes credited on Specter discs as occasionally credited as “the Phil Spector Wall of Sound Orchestra.” They played under other names too, or no names at all. The nickname “The Wrecking Crew” became public when it was used by drummer and member drummer and member Hal Blaine in his 1990 memoir, “Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew”; they also sometimes called themselves “The Clique.” Blaine, Campbell and keyboardist Leon Russell are the most famous members; some of the better known studio musicians that formed the backbone of the Crew’s ranks were drummer Earl Palmer, saxophonist Steve Douglas, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, and bassist Carol Kaye, as well as versatile Larry Knechtel, later a member of Bread.
I checked Wikipedia for a list of the hits The Wrecking Crew played on and made into the classics they are. Here were some of them.
“The Lonely Bull” Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
“He’s a Rebel” The Crystals
“Surfer Girl” The Beach Boys
“Surfin’ U.S.A.” The Beach Boys
“Da Doo Ron Ron” The Crystals
“Surf City” Jan and Dean
“Be My Baby” The Ronettes
“I Get Around” The Beach Boys
“Dead Man’s Curve” Jan and Dean
“Everybody Loves Somebody” Dean Martin
“Little Old Lady (from Pasadena)” Jan and Dean
“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” The Righteous Brothers
“Mountain of Love” Johnny Rivers
“Help Me, Rhonda” The Beach Boys
“Mr. Tambourine Man” The Byrds
“This Diamond Ring” Gary Lewis and the Playboys
“California Dreamin'” The Mamas & the Papas
“Eve of Destruction” Barry McGuire
“I Got You Babe” Sonny & Cher
“Good Vibrations” The Beach Boys
“Poor Side of Town” Johnny Rivers
“Monday Monday” The Mamas & the Papas
“River Deep – Mountain High” Ike and Tina Turner
“(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” The Righteous Brothers
“I Am a Rock” Simon and Garfunkel
“Strangers in the Night” Frank Sinatra
“These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” Nancy Sinatra
“Never My Love” The Association
“Up, Up and Away” The 5th Dimension
“San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” Scott McKenzie
“Somethin’ Stupid” Frank & Nancy Sinatra
“Woman, Woman” Gary Puckett and the Union Gap
“The Beat Goes On” Sonny & Cher
“Wichita Lineman” Glen Campbell
“Midnight Confessions” The Grass Roots
“MacArthur Park” Richard Harris
“Mrs. Robinson” Simon & Garfunkel
“Valleri” The Monkees
“Young Girl” Gary Puckett and the Union Gap
“Classical Gas” Mason Williams
“Galveston” Glen Campbell
“Holly Holy” Neil Diamond
“Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” The 5th Dimension
“Dizzy” Tommy Roe
“The Boxer” Simon & Garfunkel
” Close to You” The Carpenters
“Cracklin’ Rosie” Neil Diamond
“Arizona” Mark Lindsay
“I Think I Love You” The Partridge Family
“Bridge over Troubled Water” Simon & Garfunkel
“Rainy Days and Mondays” The Carpenters
“Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves” Cher
“Indian Reservation” Paul Revere and the Raiders
“(Last Night) I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All” The 5th Dimension
“It Never Rains in Southern California” Albert Hammond
“Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” Johnny Rivers
“Yesterday Once More” The Carpenters
“All I Know” Art Garfunkel
“The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” Vicki Lawrence
“Chevy Van” Sammy Johns
“The Way We Were” Barbra Streisand
“Rhinestone Cowboy” Glen Campbell
“Love Will Keep Us Together” Captain & Tennille
Like all studio musicians, the Wrecking Crew worked for cash, not credit. By all accounts they were very well paid to make the singing stars sound great, and to also make terrific music and indelible memories. That doesn’t mean their contributions shouldn’t be noted, respected and remembered.
Let’s hear it for The Wrecking Crew. As Harry might say, “It’s amazing how much they accomplished without caring about getting any credit.”
21 thoughts on “From The Ethics Alarms Harry Truman Files: Applause For “The Wrecking Crew””
But didn’t they own slaves?
I swear, I nearly put that gag at the end of the post, and deleted it. Bravo.
Hah! Well, I’m pretty darned sure Glen Campbell was from Tennessee. Clearly an unacceptable decision on his part.
Glen was born in Delight, Arkansas. They used to pronounce it with emphasis on the first syllable.
Like saying INsurance.
Glen Campbell lived in Phoenix for quite a bit of the end of his life. Certainly by the time he got there. I met him at an electronics repair shop one morning on my way to work. I said hi to him but didn’t engage him or bother him. I’ve always left celebrities alone whenever I meet them in public when they’re on their own time. Probably should have told him how much I admired his incredible musicianship. But he probably got enough cards and letters and plaudits from people he didn’t even know. He was an incredible guitar player and not just a singer. “The Glenn Campbell Show” was an amazing TV show. Tremendous live musical performances.
He died fairly recently of Alzheimers. He and his family announced the diagnosis a few years ago. He had a rough patch of alcohol-related events toward the end. Too bad he couldn’t go out on a high note. But I guess he’s still on the line.
Speaking of Glen Campbell and his importance to the music industry, you may appreciate this interview with Alice Cooper.
Thanks for that, Fred. Alice Cooper’s a pretty neat guy. Grew up with a very good friend of mine in the Scottsdale/Phoenix area. A real pro. Told my friend, “It’s great. Any time I want to, I can do a concert and make a hundred grand in a night!”
Holy shit! That’s like all of the pop music before I started listening to music. 🙂
Thanks for the post, now I know someone else to recognize for their silent contributions.
Maybe Truman should have said, “if you do not care if YOU get the credit.”
Looking over the list some of of the records The Wrecking Crew played on frankly sucked such as “Something Stupid” and “The Beat Goes On”. But these guys were top rate sessions players and they had to play mediocre pop tunes as well as ones that turned into classics. Glen Campbell was undoubtly the most talented singer/songwriter of the lot.
You certainly picked two of the worst.
I was happy to see “Everybody loves somebody” on the list. Dean Martin was with another old crooner who was bemoaning how the British invasion had knocked the balladeers off the charts. Dean said that good songs well sung would always sell, and claimed he could knock the Beatles out of #1 if he wanted to. Then he recorded that song, and sure enough, it went to #1, knocking off the Beatles.
Wow! Hard to believe S & G and GP & The Union Gap had studio musician writers.
Thanks Jack for a most enlightening post.
The Motown analogue became known as The Funk Brothers. There’s also a documentary about them, done around 2002.
OOOh. Gotta research them, too.
The documentary is “Standing in the Shadows of Motown.”
Minor note, Jack: it’s The Monkees
Right. Cyrkle. Byrds. The Anymalls…
My very first big name concert was Glen Campbell in Las Vegas in 1976. I was just an early teen then at 13 and on a family driving vacation from a small town near Toronto to Los Angeles and back to experience the US bicentennial. Vegas in the 70s was more Sin City than the family friendly (sort of) place that it is today. My father was so eager to get us to a live show but also concerned that my younger sister and I were a bit young for Vegas where nearly every act worked blue to be hip with the adult crowd. What a relief for him to find Glen playing. And from Jack’s list, the Righteous Brothers opened. Simply amazing for this small town boy.
I will never forget that show and Glen’s performance. My father passed away soon thereafter at a very young 48 when I was 14. Every time I here a song by Glen or read a fond tribute like those found hear I thank my father for that night and the special introduction to real live music and Glen Campbell.
While I was aware of the Wrecking Crew over the years since I did not appreciate the breadth of their work. No doubt a varied cast of characters allowed them to span the genres and decades. But in the end good musicians can play anything and cross over. Thanks for the memories Jack and sorry to get off topic.
Beyond my major nostalgia time. But a certain amount of it must have seeped in through the crevices between lobes — or else I wouldn’t have used “the beat goes on” in a recent post. Had I known where it came from — Sonny & Cher? ycch! — I might not have used it. Then again, maybe it stuck because the backup was so solid.