An Important Education About Pop Music from an Aficionado
I had a young guest named Amber stay at my home for a bit during an internship and upon meeting, we discussed a lot of stuff, including pop music as she saw all my Beatles memorabilia around my home.
I told her how I was a pop music aficionado and gave her a brief education on the Beatles and some other pop music trivia. She admitted she did not know hardly anything about the music of the sixties, but told me that pop culture is important enough to be one of the test units on the exam that embassy workers abroad need to pass. We both agreed it should be a required college course and probably is somewhere. (Readers don’t let me down here.)
My husband and many other people do not know nearly as much as I know about rock and roll history and pop music history. I slurp up information on it whenever I can, have read books and books, and am a bit of an expert. Don’t even go near me in a trivia contest with pop music as the topic.
This point was driven home recently because I saw two important pieces on pop music history: Beautiful, The Carole King Musical on Broadway; and “The Wrecking Crew” – a movie documentary about Los Angeles based studio musicians in the sixties.
As I sat in Beautiful, which is as much about those talented pop music writers in the New York pop music writing factories as it is about Carole King, I was giving details to my dear friend Pattie who went with me. She wondered how I knew so much having never seen the show. (I couldn’t help myself!)
And then, immediately after the movie The Wrecking Crew, friends of ours that are our age – a couple, were exclaiming how much of a surprise it was that most of the sixties music was played by studio/session musicians and not actual bands.
The Wrecking Crew is a fabulous documentary feature about the twenty or so regular musicians who played all those great guitar licks and drum beats in all that fabulous 60’s pop music coming out of L.A.
I remember what a huge scandal it was in 1967 when it came out that the Monkees did not play their own music on their records. HELLO! No one in a band at that time in L.A. was playing their own music while recording. Yet the Monkees were scandalized by doing the same exact thing the Byrds, and the Association did and even the Beach Boys – on their incredible and cricially acclaimed album Pet Sounds most importantly. Any L.A. based pop band of the early to late sixties that you can name, The Grass Roots, Gary Lewis and the Playboys etc all used these same studio musicians led by Tommie Tedesco. (RIP) That famous Phil Spector “Wall of Sound?” Yep, those twenty or so musicians played on all of those records – most of the time without being credited. Lou Adler too, who produced Carole King’s Tapestry as well as many of the rock albums of the sixties and who was also mentioned in both the Carole King musical and the movie documenatry. Producers were reluctant to admit the groups weren’t playing instruments on records so they didn’t list the musicians for the most part.
I am glad word is out now via this documentary and those talented musicians now have a face and some of the credit they deserve. They worked night and day for years making the great music that was the landscape to our youth and was the foundation for contemporary music going forward.
Back to the Monkees – they came up in both the Carole King story and in The Wrecking Crew. Yes, they are that important and yet, they will never make the R&R Hall of Fame (A total joke by the way and read this blog on it.) Because the Monkees played a band on TV, it was a scandal that would not die down. They did not play their own instruments on their first albums. The dirty little secret that Brian Wilson and so many others carried around, was that he and they did the same thing as the Monkees. Of course at that time in the sixties, being a diehard Monkees fan (that still exists within me) I wondered why Motown groups weren’t criticized for not writing or playing their own music. (As long as they could mesmerize us with their dance moves, no one cared who played the instruments.)
As a matter of fact, sometimes studio/session singers sang the songs, and then if the record became a hit, producers would scramble around putting together an actual group to make appearances. (The Archies!!)
Even the Beatles used studio musicians – ask George Martin if you don’t believe me. (Hello Billy Preston)
No matter what anyone thinks, with the best writers, musicians, and producers (Don Kirshner who along with Lou Adler came up in both the musical and the documentary) — the Monkees music —-was timeless pop perfection. (Both of the linked ones are Carole King songs but also Neil Diamond and the best writers wrote much of their early stuff) Listen to it critically and see why it still holds up today, and why they still have so many fans and fan clubs, including young people – really people of all ages because my 88 year old dad is a fan.
All of the above does not deter my passion for music of that era. I knew it for many years and now with this documentary, others will know the facts behind the music.