These gifted players sadly remain too faceless.

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THE WRECKING CREW

THE INSIDE STORY OF ROCK AND ROLL'S BEST KEPT SECRET

The saga of the first-call Los Angeles session musicians who powered some of the biggest hits of the 1960s and ’70s.

In truth, the Wrecking Crew isn’t the secret it once was: Drummers Hal Blaine and the late Earl Palmer penned books about their lives in the studio, and a documentary about the unit by Denny Tedesco, son of Crew guitarist Tommy Tedesco, has made film festival rounds. It’s nonetheless a fascinating story, albeit one not always well served by Hartman’s approach. After kicking off with background on three key players—Blaine, bassist Carol Kaye and guitarist/pop star-to-be Glen Campbell—the author delineates the group’s genesis as top-paid hired guns on producer Phil Spector’s elaborate “Wall of Sound” sessions. Subsequently, a core unit of adept but uncredited pros became go-to backup musicians for a seemingly endless round of L.A. record dates, playing behind acts ranging from the Beach Boys to Simon & Garfunkel. Hartman notes that in the Crew’s heyday, record labels called the shots, and groups like the Byrds, the Monkees, the Union Gap and the Association were compelled to reluctantly drop their instruments in favor of the anonymous studio aces’ polished work. Only after the wind shifted in the ’70s in favor of self-contained bands did the Crew’s impact wane, and its members moved on to film and TV gigs. Hartman makes a compelling case for the skill of his subjects, who often fabricated the crucial hooks that brought their clients fame. Some chapters, such as one about the recording of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” are rich in fly-on-the-wall detail. However, the musicians frequently disappear within their own story, as Hartman chooses to focus on others, like producer Jimmy Bowen and songwriter Jimmy Webb, who played major roles in hits they worked on. Some Crewmen, like drummer Jim Gordon, a schizophrenic who murdered his mother, receive in-depth treatment, but too many are names merely mentioned in passing. The book’s greatest failure is the format, which weaves interview and source material into a novelistic structure with re-created dialogue that often falls flat.

These gifted players sadly remain too faceless.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-61974-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2011

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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