Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Twenty Feet From Stardom review

Last night I went to the Bloor Cinema in downtown Toronto to see the documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom. Like the documentaries Standing In The Shadow Of Motown and Muscle Shoals, Twenty Feet From Stardom looks at unsung heroes of popular music, in this case backup singers. There are a couple of men but mostly we are talking about women. I can assure you that you have heard all these singers. You just don't know it. The film also talks about why none of these singers have been solo stars though it's very clear they all have the talent. And the film looks at one young backup singer who has the same issues as the pioneer backup singers. Darlene Love was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2011. Most fans have heard her voice on the 1962 classic He's A Rebel. But her name wasn't on the record. Legendary record producer and notorious nut case Phil Spector was going to have The Crystals record the song. But they were on tour and he had Darlene and her group The Blossoms record it so he could release it before someone else could release it. But he didn't give Darlene credit. He did this repeatedly to Darlene and that's why most folks don't know her name. Merry Clayton was a former member of Ray Charles' backup group The Raelettes. She became one of the top backup singers of the 60s. That is Merry on The Rolling Stones classic Gimme Shelter. Producer Lou Adler's attempts to turn Merry into a solo star fell flat. Adler still doesn't know what happened. But the suspicion is radio stations thought she was too similar to Aretha Franklin and one Aretha was enough for them. Lisa Fischer started out as a backup singer for Luther Vandross who started out as a backup singer himself. Lisa had a number one R & B hit and won a Grammy for the 1991 hit How Can I Ease The Pain. Lisa says in the film that it took too long to record a second album and the record company lost interest in her. Her friends say that Lisa didn't really want stardom and prefers being a backup singer. Judith Hill sang with Michael Jackson before his death. She was also on The Voice. Like her predecessors, she obviously has talent. But the music business doesn't seem to know what to do with her either. She has yet to release an album. I guess some things never change. Other singers featured in Twenty Feet From Stardom include Tata Vega, Gloria Jones, Claudia Lennear, Lynn Mabry and The Waters. And it also has interviews with Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Sting, Stevie Wonder and others expressing admiration for these singers. According to vocal contractor Bill Maxwell, auto tune has almost made backup singers obsolete. So not only is Twenty Feet From Stardom an excellent look at these unsung heroes. But the art of backup singing may be dying. Check out the trailer for Twenty Feet From Stardom.

No comments:

Post a Comment