The Wrecking Crew by Kent Hartman

The Wrecking Crew (2012, Thomas Dunne Books) chronicles the obscure history of Los Angeles studio aces from the late 50s to their dissolution in the 70s. If we tend to think of popular music as being crafted by autonomous bands of talented musicians this book will expose the almost factory-like production philosophy behind the early rock and roll catalog. A cadre of professional song-writers, a handful of producers, and a few dozen skilled musicians backing an endless procession of singers produced a major proportion top-tier excitement heard on radios forty and fifty years ago. It was the era of the sequestered 'professionals' in contrast to the image of amateur bands rising from grass roots, writing their own material, honing skills night after night, and clawing their way to the top. 

TWC reminds us that music really is business. When you get right down to it we're dealing with industrial product. The ideal-type is represented by The Monkees, a.k.a., the Pre-Fab Four, a made-for TV band where rock star appearance trumped the need for musical abilities.

Things are not quite as assembly line today, perhaps, but still the majority of musical acts out there can't play their way out of a wet paper bag and producers rely on a collection of studio aces to create marketable product in a timely and efficient manner. The subject is so compelling that even Hartman's somewhat pedestrian literary skills do little to drag the book down. 

The major flaws of The Wrecking Crew consist of a very choppy or granular narrative (every few paragraphs the book veers off prematurely to cover another character such that the reader can never get into a sustained groove); there must be 4,000 excess adjectives -- it's not a crisp read by any means; and TWC ends abruptly. Sorely needed is a panoramic afterword that summarizes the scope and achievements of these musicians within the musical context and their legacy.

Even though the book is the literary equivalent of stop and go traffic Hartman seems to have done his research well, including a raft of new interviews. If you want a good view of the inner workings of the LA studio scene during this remarkable period in American musical history then The Wrecking Crew will satisfy.