Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Hey, Hey We’re the Studio Cats

I recently watched an interesting and entertaining video called "The Wrecking Crew". It's the story -- with lots of interviews -- about the coven of ace studio musicians who created almost all of the pop and rock music that came out of California in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

One item that piqued my interest was the Crew's involvement with The Monkees. So I got hold of a “Monkees Greatest Hits” album and listened. The Monkees themselves sang all the songs -- with some success -- but the arrangements and bed tracks were all by the Crew. With only one or two exceptions, the tracks are fabulous and well worth a listen.

These tunes were recorded in a different time in musical history. For the most part, bands back then had no control over song writing (and often song selection), arranging, recording or producing. That was all left to 'professionals'. True, many of the early rock musicians didn't have the training and experience to do the necessary job under the circumstances. Studio time was very expensive, and record executives didn't want to pay for that new band to learn the ropes. Better to go with what you know will work.

So a writing team wrote the tunes, often specifically for the artists. The musical director and producer called in their 'go to' arrangers and players -- the people they knew could create a sellable track in a couple of hours. It wasn't unusual for such a crew to churn out as many as three finished songs before lunch.

The result of this intensive work was a golden age of pop music, when top studio crews created hit after hit. While the industry has changed dramatically in the intervening 50+ years, the practice is still preferred for a lot of studio work.

In the late 1960s, bands with clout, bands  like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones and others, were able to take ownership of the recording process. While the Wrecking Crew turned out hits ranging from You've Lost That Loving Feeling to Daydream Believer to Good Vibrations, the other method gave us A Day In The Life, Sympathy For The Devil, and Tommy. 

Obviously there is room, and a need, for both approaches.

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