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Winner of the Oregon Book Award for General Nonfiction and Los Angeles Times bestseller

"It makes good music sound better."-Janet Maslin in The New York Times

"A fascinating look into the West Coast recording studio scene of the ''60s and the inside story of the music you heard on the radio. If you always assumed the musicians you listened to were the same people you saw onstage, you are in for a big surprise!"-Dusty Street, host of Classic Vinyl on Sirius XM Satellite Radio

If you were a fan of popular music in the 1960s and early ''70s, you were a fan of the Wrecking Crew-whether you knew it or not.

On hit record after hit record by everyone from the Byrds, the Beach Boys, and the Monkees to the Grass Roots, the 5th Dimension, Sonny & Cher, and Simon & Garfunkel, this collection of West Coast studio musicians from diverse backgrounds established themselves in Los Angeles, California as the driving sound of pop music-sometimes over the objection of actual band members forced to make way for Wrecking Crew members. Industry insider Kent Hartman tells the dramatic, definitive story of the musicians who forged a reputation throughout the business as the secret weapons behind the top recording stars.

Mining invaluable interviews, the author follows the careers of such session masters as drummer Hal Blaine and keyboardist Larry Knechtel, as well as trailblazing bassist Carol Kaye-the only female in the bunch-who went on to play in thousands of recording sessions in this rock history. Readers will discover the Wrecking Crew members who would forge careers in their own right, including Glen Campbell and Leon Russell, and learn of the relationship between the Crew and such legends as Phil Spector and Jimmy Webb. Hartman also takes us inside the studio for the legendary sessions that gave us Pet Sounds, Bridge Over Troubled Water, and the rock classic "Layla," which Wrecking Crew drummer Jim Gordon cowrote with Eric Clapton for Derek and the Dominos. And the author recounts priceless scenes such as Mike Nesmith of the Monkees facing off with studio head Don Kirshner, Grass Roots lead guitarist (and future star of The Office) Creed Bratton getting fired from the group, and Michel Rubini unseating Frank Sinatra''s pianist for the session in which the iconic singer improvised the hit-making ending to "Strangers in the Night."

The Wrecking Crew tells the collective, behind-the-scenes stories of the artists who dominated Top 40 radio during the most exciting time in American popular culture.

Review

“It makes good music sound better.” ―Janet Maslin in The New York Times

“Hartman''s book is a great tour through the California music scene of the 60s and 70s and a great introduction to how the music business functioned back then. This story has all the makings of a great HBO series.” ―The Hollywood Reporter

“A sweet and wistful meditation on the early days of the music business, full of little gems and wonders fit for serious music fans and a commendable, long-overdue tribute to the legendary Wrecking Crew - the ridiculously talented, go-to guys behind so many hits. This book will make your head spin.” ―Shirley Manson, lead singer, Garbage

“I''ve been in the music business for over forty years and I didn''t know any of this! The Wrecking Crew is a total page-turner. I couldn''t put it down. Kent Hartman is one gifted storyteller.” ―John Kosh, three-time Grammy-winning art director and legendary album cover designer of Abbey Road, Who''s Next, and Hotel California

“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.” ―Kirkus

“Is Larry Knechtel one of your favorite 1960s musicians? How about Hal Blaine? Carol Kaye? Oh yes they are. These three were part of The Wrecking Crew, a group of brilliant performers who supplied the music for many of the biggest hits during the blazing high noon of American rock. But nobody knew. Until now, that is, because Kent Hartman has at last written, with a verve and enthusiasm underpinned by scrupulous research, rock''s great missing chapter.” ―Richard Snow, former editor-in-chief of American Heritage, author of A Measureless Peril

“Turns out the heart of rock and roll isn''t Cleveland after all. It''s the Wrecking Crew. Kent Hartman''s behind the scenes look at the early days of rock turns much of what we thought we knew about popular music upside down. So many secrets revealed. You won''t think about artists such as The Beach Boys, The Mamas & the Papas, or Simon and Garfunkel quite the same. Mr. Hartman''s book should go platinum.” ―Larry Colton, author of No Ordinary Joes, Counting Coup and Goat Brothers, and founder of the Wordstock literary festival

“A fascinating look into the West Coast recording studio scene of the 60s and the inside story of the music you heard on the radio. If you always assumed the musicians you listened to were the same people you saw on stage, you are in for a big surprise!” ―Dusty Street, legendary radio air talent (KMPX, KSAN, KROQ) and current host of "Classic Vinyl," broadcast live around the world from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Sirius/XM

“From 1962 to 1975, one group of studio players, the Wrecking Crew, provided the tracks for records as various as "He''s a Rebel," "Surfer Girl," "California Dreamin''," "MacArthur Park," "Classical Gas," and "Bridge over Troubled Water." Industry insider Hartman opens our eyes to this fascinating group of musicians, tracing the careers of three members of this group--Glen Campbell, Carol Smith, Hal Blaine--who shared little more than an innate inner drive, musical talent, and a work ethic shaped by grinding poverty. Campbell, for example, lit out on the road when he was 13 to play guitar. Eight years later, Campbell joined the Champs, whose "Limbo Rock" Chubby Checker would soon record as "The Twist." In 1962, Phil Spector gathered Campbell, Smith, Blaine, Billy Strange, Bill Pitman, and seven other highly skilled session musicians to lay down the tracks for "Zip-a-Dee-Do-Dah," added the voices of Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, and a #1 record and the Wrecking Crew were born. Hartman also traces the work of later members of the Crew such as Leon Russell, Larry Knechtel, and Jim Gordon, as well as the successful solo careers of Campbell and Russell. Hartman''s fast-paced tale offers dazzling insights into a little known chapter of rock and roll history.” ―Publishers Weekly

“In Los Angeles in 1960s-70s, if you wanted to record a chart-topping track or album, you called in the crack session musicians collectively known as the Wrecking Crew. Consisting of artists unknown outside the music industry, like drummer Hal Blaine and bass player Carol Kaye, as well as those who would go on to recording fame of their own, such as Glenn Campbell and Leon Russell, the Wrecking Crew was the West Coast''s cream of the crop of session players, backing top-notch hit makers Phil Spector, Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, and many more. Hartman (marketing, Portland State Univ.), who has worked with many well-known recording artists including Hall & Oates, Three Dog Night, and Lyle Lovett, tells the group''s definitive story with a music industry insider''s insight and enthusiasm. The only other work on these behind-the-scenes pros is Blaine''s Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew, which is more narrowly focused on the experiences of the stalwart drummer. Verdict: Recommended for readers interested in popular music and the music industry, particularly West Coast pop and classic rock.” ―Library Journal

“One of the key innovations of rock and roll was that it empowered young artists to not only write their own material but also play their own music. But in the music industry capital of L.A. in the sixties, even some of rock''s most innovative performers sometimes needed a helping hand in the studio. They got it from the assortment of L.A. session players collectively known as "The Wrecking Crew," who are, in many ways, the unsung heroes of the West Coast sound. Dan John Miller narrates the book with the sly tone of an L.A. hustler, chewing on the words, making sure they snap with the same vibrant resonance as a twangy guitar or shimmering cymbal, as befits this fascinating story of musical and cultural legend.” ―AudioFile

About the Author

KENT HARTMAN is a longtime music industry entrepreneur who has worked with dozens of well-known artists, including Three Dog Night, Steppenwolf, Hall & Oates, Counting Crows, and Lyle Lovett. He has written for American Heritage, The Oregonian, and Portland Tribune. Hartman teaches marketing at Portland State University and for several years produced The Classic Comedy Break, a nationwide radio feature. He lives in Portland.

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4.7 out of 54.7 out of 5
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Top reviews from the United States

MadmanR
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Wonderful "story"...but with a caveat
Reviewed in the United States on January 8, 2020
Learning as much as I could about the studio musicians, largely responsible for so MUCH of the riffs and hooks of 1960s popular music, I *devoured* this book -- and later watched the documentary. Absolutely fascinating in so many ways and yet... Carol Kaye''s... See more
Learning as much as I could about the studio musicians, largely responsible for so MUCH of the riffs and hooks of 1960s popular music, I *devoured* this book -- and later watched the documentary.
Absolutely fascinating in so many ways and yet...

Carol Kaye''s very recent (January 2020) comments on the appellation ''Wrecking Crew'' gave me pause.
She said:
"“We were never known as that pet name of Hal Blaine’s — our name has always been ‘studio musicians,’ ” she said of The Wrecking Crew, her voice rising. “[Viewers] were lied to.”

Additionally, from the news story:
Kaye considers the film one big ego trip with drummer Hal Blaine downplaying the work of his peers.
Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Blaine, who died at age 90 in March 2019, publicly trashed Kaye to veteran DJ Eddie Winters in 2015, claiming the session scene “only helped her out” because “she’s a woman, she’s got kids.”

-----

Now, all that said, it''s revelations very much ABOUT Ms. Kaye''s studio contributions that, for me, were the most important discovery from both this book and the documentary.
Consider these two hit-making seminal & essential components of her bass guitar studio work:
“These Boots Are Made for Walking”
"The Beat Goes On"

And these instantly-recognizable TV themes too:
“Mission: Impossible,”
“Hawaii Five-0”
"Batman"

There''s very much more, of course, to Ms Kaye''s career as well as so many of those musicians about whom little had been known prior to Mr. Tedesco''s tribute begun, in part, to salute and remember his father''s astonishing skills and marvelous work both in-studio and elsewhere.

Whatever name by which you choose to call them, their story is incredible!
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Neil Roberts
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Difficult story to tell...
Reviewed in the United States on May 11, 2019
An extra star for Hartman for tackling this story. Technically, "The Wrecking Crew" is an umbrella term for LA studio musicians who replaced the laced-up generation of studio players before them (1945 - 1958). Hartman focuses on the core members in LA who played on numerous... See more
An extra star for Hartman for tackling this story. Technically, "The Wrecking Crew" is an umbrella term for LA studio musicians who replaced the laced-up generation of studio players before them (1945 - 1958). Hartman focuses on the core members in LA who played on numerous Top 10 records during the 1960''s. He does an especially good job writing about Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Glen Campbell and a few others. Interesting anecodotes about various sessions, producers and new talent. A nice bonus with the inclusion of songwriter Jimmy Webb and placement of his songs. The story about Sinatra makes you feel like you were there. The moral to the story is: the talent who listened to the best advice of Wrecking Crew members - and who allowed them to use their creativity and insert their genius into the sessions - always came out with a far superior recording. The egotists, know-it-alls and control freaks who didn''t listen - missed out on the knowledge, experience and keen instincts of the best muscians on the West Coast. It''s nice that they''re finally getting the credit they deserve.
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Al
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Readable, interesting when it sticks to the sessions
Reviewed in the United States on September 15, 2019
I’m a latecomer to this book, in part because of Carol Kaye’s on the record skepticism - and from a bit of literary saturation on some of this era. This said, Hartman has put together a readable, interesting account, albeit with all the limitations of his sources and... See more
I’m a latecomer to this book, in part because of Carol Kaye’s on the record skepticism - and from a bit of literary saturation on some of this era. This said, Hartman has put together a readable, interesting account, albeit with all the limitations of his sources and resources, and some wonky versions of these musicians’ early roots and childhoods. First off, any post hoc assembly and naming of a ‘group’ of artists, whether musicians, writers, philosophers or whatever will include and omit some folks, and some versions of what went down. This just comes with the turf and is bound to anger some. In this case, just from the sheer volume of published work and interviews, Hal Blaine''s version of the world and events is bound to dominate. Second, any writer’s versions of people’s childhoods and influences can easily turn into maudlin mush, which the accounts of ‘Young Phil’ or ‘Young Carol’, or ''Glen'' and others verge on. If you’ve ever had anybody write or publicly reccount a version of your childhood, you’ll know what I mean... this stuff gets condescending, cliched and turns into Dr. Phil kitsch very quickly. The account of the tragic figure of Jim Gordon does that here, as do several others. Though avoiding the tabloid approach, some of these accounts just make sweeping assumptions and superficial claims about real families, cultures and lives, illnesses, psyches and relationships. That said, Hartman as journalist/historian has had to rely upon and triangulate his sources, who no doubt are of variable views of what went down, full of ego, scores to settle, selective memory etc. No wonder Carol and probably others are upset. The best bits in this book are the fly on the wall accounts of sessions from the well trodden Hal Blaine accounts of Spector, Beach Boys and Mamas and Papas to newer accounts of Jimmy Webb trying to convince Billy Davis, the Association and others to take on his tunes. The focus on musicianship is interesting (like Blaine telling Lonnie Shelton to get in the pocket and gently telling Richard Carpenter that he''s speeding up and needs a click track; or McGuinn''s nervousness as the only Byrd in the room; or a lovely vignette where Barney Kessel wryly declares to Sonny Bono that never have so many musicians been paid so much to play so little on the single chord riff of ''The Beat Goes On'' before Carole Kaye saves the day with an original doubled bass/guitar line). I actually enjoyed and appreciated the new work on secondary figures like the Grassroots'' Creed Bratton precisely because they’re about those who got excluded, pushed to the side or ignored by the whole wrecking crew system. The focus in lesser known players like Michel Rubini was interesting and idiosyncratic. It fills out the picture of an era in which lots of musicians and lives, young and old, were involved and didn’t lead to stardom, fame or wealth - or didn’t start at Fairfax, Hollywood or University High. I saw this in action one weekend as a 15 year old high school kid with his band making demos at Gold Star: this book, and the many others now out has helped me put names on some of the faces.
7 people found this helpful
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RGraves321
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A good place to start
Reviewed in the United States on July 15, 2019
This is by no means an exhaustive history of this extraordinary group of LA studio musicians. (Bassist Carol Kay is adamant that they were never referred to as the "Wrecking Crew.") Kent Hartman writes in a conversational style that''s well-suited to this casual overview of... See more
This is by no means an exhaustive history of this extraordinary group of LA studio musicians. (Bassist Carol Kay is adamant that they were never referred to as the "Wrecking Crew.") Kent Hartman writes in a conversational style that''s well-suited to this casual overview of the, um, Crew and their impact. I would have liked a more detailed listing of credits at the end.

And sometimes Hartman veers off in tangents that don''t add much to the story. For example, he goes into detail about Creed Batton, original bassist for the Grass Roots, who he interviewed for the book. Batton''s reactions to having studio musicians replace the Grass Roots for the instrumental tracks are informative. Spending the rest of the chapter detailing Batton''s chaning relationship with Grass Roots isn''t.

All in all, this book is an easy read and good for someone casually interested in the Wrecking Crew and their legacy.
7 people found this helpful
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JC Davenport
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The Beat Goes On
Reviewed in the United States on March 7, 2021
So I''ve been on a 60''s kick for a few months. As far as music goes, this book is a good piece of the puzzle. Lot''s of stories and surprises and unsung heroes. For me, when you are growing up, and even as an adult, you don''t think about everything that goes into a hit.... See more
So I''ve been on a 60''s kick for a few months. As far as music goes, this book is a good piece of the puzzle. Lot''s of stories and surprises and unsung heroes. For me, when you are growing up, and even as an adult, you don''t think about everything that goes into a hit. You either like it or not. Or you are tired of it, or not. It turns out a lot of what I and a ton of others liked, was played by dudes (and ladies) we didn''t know existed. Was that dishonest? Can''t say I''m really troubled by it, but it is eye opening. And so much of the business comes down to - business. And luck.
Many of these characters seem to be very likable, and it turns out that''s one trait that got them rehired a lot too.

I enjoyed this book and it is well written. My favorite of the many mini stories is of the band that had a big hit BEFORE the band was formed (The Grass Roots)! My one problem was that the number of "wrecking crew" characters was hard to follow, with none getting too much attention. Most annoying for me, the book kept jumping decades back and forth in time to introduce new crew members. So maybe the songs had flow. But the book didn''t for me.

The end left me sad. The work dried up, although it had a good run. The replacers got replaced. But the beat goes on. Somebody played it. Somebody keeps playing it. And I still like hearing it!
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Classics Collector
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The Wrecking Crew are given their just due but with lackluster writing.
Reviewed in the United States on June 1, 2015
Research and some (but not enough) first hand accounts by Wrecking Crew participants, with drummer Hal Blaine and bassist Carol Kaye (and many others including Glen Campbell) emerging (or reemerging for those who knew of their contributions) as great stars of the era. A... See more
Research and some (but not enough) first hand accounts by Wrecking Crew participants, with drummer Hal Blaine and bassist Carol Kaye (and many others including Glen Campbell) emerging (or reemerging for those who knew of their contributions) as great stars of the era. A good lead up to the documentary that will soon be released on dvd. But imagine the wealth of anecdotes, musical and otherwise, that Blaine and Kaye could provide if pressed. The author misses the boat here, a couple of humorous incidents about a studio full of musicians laughing reveals little in the way of content.

For all the biographical details, it feels like the author gets some of it wrong, with the chronology a bit askew. He glosses over the epic Good Vibrations sessions (even though entitling a chapter Good Vibrations) having written Brian Wilson off as a burnout immediately after Pet Sounds. He writes off By The Time I Get To Phoenix as a minor hit for Glen Campbell even after featuring it in a prior chapter as a multi-Grammy winner. Odd. Yet another bio with way too much unnecessary made-up banal dialogue ostensibly to move the story along. ("I''d like to talk to Phil Spector, please" he said. ''Who may I ask is calling?'' a female voice responded." is a scintillating example. Where are the editors?)

The Wrecking Crew are given their just due here, no complaints about the book''s intent. Well researched but not well written. Buy it for the short bios of the obscure but not for the prose.
11 people found this helpful
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Dave Curtis
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Sophomoric Writing
Reviewed in the United States on June 8, 2021
After watching The Wrecking Crew documentary, I looked forward to reading this book. And while most of the critical comments point out the inaccuracies in the book (including a self-promoting comment from Carol Kaye), my review is based on the author''s poor writing style... See more
After watching The Wrecking Crew documentary, I looked forward to reading this book. And while most of the critical comments point out the inaccuracies in the book (including a self-promoting comment from Carol Kaye), my review is based on the author''s poor writing style and his overuse of unnecessary adjectives. Ten pages in and I''m reading things like "the dank, welcoming darkness," "he let out a small sigh of relief," "the faint shafts of sunlight," the sounds cracked out in the hot summer air," "fought the fight of his life to extricate himself," "she suddenly felt the hair on her tiny arms stand straight up," "the aging, long-out-of-date production car," "the sounds of her father''s Dixieland band playing inside the large building." Poor writing. Worse editing. IMHO, Hartman should skip writing books and stick to his other marketing and management endeavors.
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Richard L. Holloway
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A GREAT ACCOUNT OF GREAT MUSICIANS
Reviewed in the United States on August 25, 2020
You''ve already heard that these are the musicians you listened to, but most were ones you never heard of. It was fascinating to me to hear the stories and learn the ways in which these talented musicians found their way into the top recording studios in L.A. The enormous... See more
You''ve already heard that these are the musicians you listened to, but most were ones you never heard of. It was fascinating to me to hear the stories and learn the ways in which these talented musicians found their way into the top recording studios in L.A. The enormous talent, coupled with some good luck, enabled these players to shape the sounds we all knew from the early days of pop and rock. particularly interesting to me was that many of the groups didn''t even know they wouldn''t be playing their own instruments! Some (not many) even got pissed and demanded a seat in the studio! These are great riveting stories that enter "music geek" territory, like how Glen Campbell got the distinctive sound for his solo on "Wichita Lineman" along with techniques used by Phil Spector and other producers.
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Top reviews from other countries

Kenneth Barrett
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Premier Crew
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 4, 2020
It is the detail in this book that fascinates. Glen Campbell calling Jimmy Webb in the middle of a recording session to ask if he has any new songs, and Webb hammering out Wichita Lineman and taking it, incomplete, down to the studio two hours later. Hal Blaine hitting a...See more
It is the detail in this book that fascinates. Glen Campbell calling Jimmy Webb in the middle of a recording session to ask if he has any new songs, and Webb hammering out Wichita Lineman and taking it, incomplete, down to the studio two hours later. Hal Blaine hitting a snare drum at the bottom of a lift shaft to get the crashing percussion sound in The Boxer. Frank Sinatra filling out the lyric shortfall in Strangers in the Night with an extempore, "Ooby dooby doo, doo doo dah dee dah." It is also the way in which author Hartman interviews the leading members of the Wrecking Crew, telling their individual stories, which are usually from humble beginnings, and describing how they became a so solid crew in the studio, often driven by the brutal dictates of three-hour recording sessions with producers striving to avoid the crippling costs of overtime. The Sixties were my era, and so I read this book entranced, as the old names and the old songs hove into view. The sadness comes at the end. Into the studios came 48-track recording machines, computerised drumbeats, and synthesisers. Producers no longer needed to assemble a crew. They could overdub or erase single musicians as and when they wished. The creativity and hot-house atmosphere of an ensemble was lost. As was the soul of that most beautiful recording era.
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Wayne Arleigh
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Too much padding, not enough music
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 14, 2012
The music of the Sixties is one of my interests. I bought this book because it was advertised alongside the (hopefully) forthcoming DVD about The Wrecking Crew. Unfortunately there''s not much about the sessions, and not much about the musicians. What we have is a...See more
The music of the Sixties is one of my interests. I bought this book because it was advertised alongside the (hopefully) forthcoming DVD about The Wrecking Crew. Unfortunately there''s not much about the sessions, and not much about the musicians. What we have is a novelisation of some interviews with some of these people but it''s very heavy on the early background of the players (where they came from, what their family was like, etc.). When we get to the studio we then have a story about the artists (how they needed a hit, the state of their career, etc.) the same kind of thing about the producer and maybe one or two anecdotes about the music. For example, there''s loads about Phil Spector''s career, a potted history of The Monkees, a potted history of The Beach Boys but unfuriatingly little about the title matter of the book. The story elements are also written in the style of band dialogue from Fame which is very wearing by about halfway through. Finally, the dates are often vague when it really matters. The story of Carol Kaye switching from lead to bass is mentioned but there''s no detail about which session it was or even what year it was. (Carol Kaye herself is often mentioned and there''s a lot about her family background but there are probably only 3 or 4 stories from her session work.) If you''re looking for a book about the music side of The Wrecking Crew this is not it.
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Harry Boxx
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Best record producer book yet.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 4, 2021
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. It follows the history of the Wrecking Crew from its roots, to its ultimate demise, each step of the way giving a story about all the main musicians as they entered the band. Highly recommended for music lovers of those times from the early 60s...See more
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. It follows the history of the Wrecking Crew from its roots, to its ultimate demise, each step of the way giving a story about all the main musicians as they entered the band. Highly recommended for music lovers of those times from the early 60s to the millenium. Everyone''s here: Phil Spector, Byrds, Sonny & Cher, Simon & Garfunkel, etc. A page turner as the years and methods progressed.
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MR R M TEW
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
An invaluable book for those famous hits you know so well, or do you.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 17, 2021
What a superb book. If you love your music from 60s, 70s and 80s and about the songs, artists and players then this book is for you. Expand your knowledge of who, what and how some of those incredible hits came to be. It''s hard to put down. Those session players brought...See more
What a superb book. If you love your music from 60s, 70s and 80s and about the songs, artists and players then this book is for you. Expand your knowledge of who, what and how some of those incredible hits came to be. It''s hard to put down. Those session players brought them all to life.
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T.C.
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Wonderful American Music History From The Golden Years
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 2, 2021
A Superb account of these brilliant artists. Including Hal Blaine, Glen Campbell and Carol Kaye. If you love the 60''s music this is for you. It would actually be worth 10 stars.
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