Friday, March 22, 2013

Twistin' the Night Away

The Wrecking Crew: Part 3

Alright, it's about time I get back to writin' and continuing our fabulous series on the Wrecking Crew musicians (which is not even close to over)! First off, we're featuring American country music singer Glen Campbell, who was actually a regular guitarist amongst the first-call "Wrecking Crew" studio musicians before embarking on a highly successful solo career (something like releasing over 70 albums and selling over 45 million records, no biggie). In the mid-60s, he filled in for Brian Wilson as a touring musician on Beach Boys tours, and played guitar on the revolutionary Pet Sounds album. After the success of "Wichita Lineman" (featured here during the Country Crossovers series), Campbell scored a big hit with another Jimmy Webb song, "Galveston," which reached #4 on the Billboard charts and #1 on the country chart. Although it's widely considered an anti-Vietnam protest song, Campbell (a Republican) performed it up-tempo, conveying a more general message in a patriotic way, and it's considered the official anthem of Galveston, Texas. Other Wrecking Crew musicians included in this recording are Hal Blaine on drums (as usual), Al Casey on acoustic guitar, and Joe Osborn on bass. Here's a live performance of "Galveston" (with a studio backing track) on Campbell's own series The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.
Joining the likes of The Beach Boys as vocal "surf music" pioneers, Los Angeles duo Jan & Dean used the Wrecking Crew musicians on their recordings too, and found peak success during the surf rock craze just prior to the British Invasion. Amongst their biggest songs like "Surf City" (featured way back here) and "Dead Man's Curve" was their #3 hit "Little Old Lady from Pasadena" released in June 1964. Based on a folk archetype of the widowed ladies in this East L.A. city, this comic song's twist was that not only did this little old lady drive a hot car, she was also a street racer. The top-notch WC musicians used on this recording are drummers Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer, pianist Leon Russell, guitarists Tommy Tedesco, Billy Strange, and Bill Pitman, and bassist Jimmy Bond, among a few others. The coolest part is that I found out this recording's personnel by looking at copies of actual contracts provided online by the Musician's Union (American Federation of Musicians; my husband was in that same union back in his professional musician days). You can check out some of these contracts for these legendary recording sessions on the official Wrecking Crew website here. Anyway, introduced by singer Lesley Gore, here's a live vocal performance by Jan & Dean.

You've probably heard of the popular New York girl group The Crystals (pictured left) who released huge hits in the early 1960s like "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Then He Kissed Me." But you may not know that their most-enduring success, "He's a Rebel," was only credited to The Crystals but was actually recorded by singer Darlene Love and her backing group The Blossoms (pictured right). Legend has it that when the real Crystals were unable to travel fast enough to L.A. from New York to record "He's a Rebel" (written by singer Gene Pitney), record producer Phil Spector had Love and her L.A.-based group record the single under the banner of The Crystals. The real Crystals had to add the song to their live repertoire, even though lead singer Barbara Alston's soft voice could not mimic Love's hearty deliver. While The Crystals are considered one of the defining acts of the girl group era of the first half of the '60s, this recording is among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and is considered one of the definitive examples of the Spector-produced girl group sound. Including all WC musicians on this song, here's a lip-synced performance by The Crystals of the original recording.
While the Wrecking Crew may have its origins with studio musicians dating back to the late 1950s, the Crew was definitely at work with hits in the early '60s, playing for stars like the King of Soul himself, Sam Cooke. With his distinctive vocal abilities, Cooke's "Twistin' the Night Away" is among his most popular songs, reaching #9 on the pop charts and #1 on the R&B chart after its release in January 1962. Written by Cooke, it was even successful overseas as well, reaching #6 in the UK. The recording includes WC members Tommy Tedesco and Clifton White on guitar, and Earl Palmer on drums, as well as a swingin' horn section. Haven't figured where this footage comes from, but here's a great performance by the extremely talented Sam Cooke with a live band in December 1963 (one year before his untimely death).

The WC didn't just play rock 'n' roll of the '60s but were also used for traditional pop standard recordings as well, like Wayne Newton's "Danke Schoen." First composed and recorded by Bert Kaempfert, the song was originally intended for singer Bobby Darin as a follow-up to "Mack the Knife." However, after seeing a 21-year-old Newton perform at the Copacabana, he decided to give it to Newton and transposed the key of the recording to fit Newton's high tenor voice (sometimes mistaken for a female!). Released in 1963, this recording reached #13 on the Billboard pop charts and #3 on the easy listening chart, becoming Newton's signature song. Before becoming one of the biggest (and longest-running) performers in Las Vegas, here's a very polished live performance by the young, self-assured Wayne Newton in 1968.


  1. Great coverage of Wrecking Crew hits! I'll only point out that the seemingly live Mason Williams TV performance with the orchestra is actually the Wrecking Crew studio version being "faked" by the orchestra. it's easy to tell from the Jim Gordon drums. That's even more evidence of the importance of the Wrecking Crew.

    1. Thanks for chiming in, Mark! My apologies for just getting around to replying to your comment from well over a year ago! Yes, you are totally correct about the orchestra miming their performance with Mason Williams. I revisited the video, and while the tuxedo-ed musicians look fantastic, it's definitely clear this is the studio recording playing over their "fake" performance. I'm impressed with the effort, even including a harpist, although I can't say I've actually heard a harp in the recording. Wonder how this large group of professionals felt about pretending to play? And like you said, pretty hard to re-create that Wrecking Crew sound outside of the studio. Thanks so much for your observation and comment!