Sunday, September 01, 2013

20 Feet From Stardom (movie)

This documentary on backing vocalists (those who stand in the back, 20 feet from the stars) is a compelling and touching and sad story of some truly talented people (mostly women, though a gent or two makes an appearance) who never got the breaks to move into the spotlight.

One of the earlier tales is of Darlene Love, whose voice launched a number of Phil Spector hits that were credited to other artists for one reason or another. Her story is particularly heart wrenching as she should have been a star but Phil had her under contract and didn't want her to step out front for reasons only he knows. She has since received acclaim for her talents, but it has come late in her career.

Others never really got even this amount of recognition. The fabulously talented and lovely Claudia Lannear, who worked with Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, the Stones, sang on the Concert For Bangeldesh, and much more, and was the crush of just about every young male in the 70's (she even appeared in Playboy) is now retired from music and teaching Spanish! Merry Clayton, who is the mind boggling voice on "Gimme Shelter" (and who did this take while being pregnant and with her hair still in curlers after being woken up in the middle of the night), did some fine solo work, but again, it never clicked with the buying public. A lot of this, I feel, is due to the fact that most of these women were not songwriters so they were completely at the mercy of their producers - for material as well as for musical direction. There are a number of others, most lesser-known, who either eschewed the limelight or simply never had a chance at all.

Many stars were interviewed here - Mick Jagger, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder - who share their stories and their respect for these women. Since they are now older and not quite as beautiful as they once were (nearly everyone in this film were stunners in their younger days) it seems unlikely that this will restart their careers, but hopefully, they will garner some long-overdue recognition.