Blaine and simple: Celebrating the pulse behind The Wrecking Crew

Hal Blaine playing drums on a recording session at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood, CA

On March 11, drummer Hal Blaine – arguably the most indispensable cog in the studio musical machine known colloquially as “The Wrecking Crew” – passed away. He left behind a musical legacy that is untouchable for several reasons.

First, he helped create rhythmic landscapes for whole genres of music. Second, the studio system in which Blaine grew and gained massive success is a mere shadow of what it used to be. File transfers, remote recordings, and slashed budgets (all the while competing with digital compositions on devices and computers available to everyone) are the current realities. Third and lastly, just like the “Golden Ages” of other art forms (the Golden Age of Dutch Painting, the Golden Age of Russian Literature), Blaine’s musical contemporaries comprised a collection of personalities, perspectives, and artistic range that created a whole swath of modern popular music. The “kitchen” in which these musical dishes were created – a continually active and churning rotation of hired gunslingers running to and from Los Angeles record studios in the 1960’s and 1970’s – was one of the most prolific and productive in the 20th century. Music will continue to grow, and exciting horizons of creativity await us. But it will never be like that again.

Here are a few personal thoughts on just 10 of the hundreds of seminal recordings on which Blaine can be heard plying his trade.

Song: Can’t Help Falling In Love With You
Artist: Elvis Presley
Year: 1961
Chart Position:
Thoughts: When you’re behind Elvis, sometimes all you need is a snare drum and a pair of brushes to make a timeless hit.

Song: And Then He Kissed Me
Artist: The Crystals
Year: 1963
Chart Position: 6
Thoughts: A true Phil Spector sound here. Blaine sounds like he is off in the corner of a gymnasium. But the simple underpinning he provides for this great song is perfect and infectious.

Song: Everybody Loves Somebody
Artist: Dean Martin
Year: 1964
Chart Position: 1
Thoughts: A continuous pulse of 8th note triplets on the ride cymbal gives this signature Deano song the propulsion it needs to avoid being just another maudlin ballad.

Song: I Get Around
Artist: The Beach Boys
Year: 1964
Chart Position: 1
Thoughts: In addition to the incredible and infectious harmonies, Blaine puts in just the right amount of starts, stops, and solid rock drumming (although, ironically, not employing what would become the signature “surf” beat).

Song: Eve Of Destruction
Artist: Barry McGuire
Year: 1965
Chart Position: 1
Thoughts: A song that is – for better or worse – a crystalized distillation of the time it was written. I have a soft spot for it because we quoted it in a baby boomer musical I played in. Blaine here keeps it simple. 8th notes on the ride. Snare on 2 and 4. Bass drum on 1, the & of 2, and 3.

Song: Mr. Tambourine Man
Artist: The Birds
Year: 1965
Chart Position: 1
Thoughts: Appropriately, the drums take a back seat in the mix to the tambourine. It’s hard to discern where, or whether, he’s even employing a ride cymbal or hi hat. But frankly, I’d be content to play triangle on such an iconic song. A track like this is a great lesson in humility for drummers. There are times that a “felt” rhythm is as powerful as one that is forward in the mix.

Song: I Got You Babe
Artist: Sonny & Cher
Year: 1965
Chart Position: 1
Thoughts: I know “Groundhog Day” simultaneously revived this song while driving everyone nuts with it. Again the pulsing 8th note triplets – sometimes all played on bass drum and floor tom later in the song – keep the intensity going and the listener engaged.

Song: Sloop John B
Artist: The Beach Boys
Year: 1966
Chart Position: 3
Thoughts: I had no idea what this song was about when I was a kid. But it doesn’t really matter, does it? It’s such a wonderful and evocative tune. Sometimes pulsating straight 8th notes, sometimes easing into a backbeat, sometimes out altogether, Blaine is so tasteful on this one.

Song: Bridge Over Troubled Water
Artist: Simon & Garfunkel
Year: 1970
Chart Position: 1
Thoughts: The drums don’t even come in until about 3 minutes in, and when they do, you sometimes here a very reverb-y sound. He does use a real snare. But to augment, he overdubbed slamming a tire chain on the floor sometimes on 2 and 4. Some on-the-fly creativity there (he had grabbed the tire chain out of his parked car while inspired at the studio).

Song: We’ve Only Just Begun
Artist: The Carpenters
Year: 1970
Chart Position: 2
Thoughts: Sometimes aggressive choruses. Sometimes just quiet cross stick during the verses. Blaine puts in the secret sauce that’s perfect for this tune, that was to become a staple at weddings across the nation.

Note: For more information about Hal Blaine and The Wrecking Crew, we recommend reading “The Wrecking Crew” by Kent Hartman , watching the “The Wrecking Crew” documentary from Magnolia Pictures, or following The Wrecking Crew Facebook page.

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