The A-List of Bay Area Counterculture
I recently had the chance to attend a Bay Area screening of the phenomenal feature documentary, ‘20 Feet From Stardom‘ — hosted by the Bay Area chapter of NARAS — before it opened in local theaters. The film, most definitely a top favorite of films I’ve watched over time, tells the story of music’s unsung players: the background vocalists. The film does a phenomenal job of bringing these vocalists — whose stories are mostly not known to us — to center stage. The film is very open and honest, and gives credit where it is due. I feel that a similar story could also be told of music’s sidemen (the band members) who I feel also don’t get enough credit for their contributions to song. Perhaps the filmmakers (Tremolo Productions) will tell this important story that urgently needs to be told. If anything, this film will inspire people to truly appreciate and recognize all players on the stage and spark an interest in music lovers to support their musical efforts be it an independent album release or live show. The info is out there. You just need their name to find out who they are.
The film opens is Bay Area theaters today. Visit ‘20 Feet From Stardom‘ to see when the film screens in your city. The film’s soundtrack is out on Columbia Records. Stream ’20 Feet From Stardom’ on Spotify.
ALSO READ: ’20 Feet From’ The Spotlight, There’s Singing Worthy Of One (NPR Fresh Air)
What would a pop song be without the riffs, refrains, and harmonies of its backup vocalists? Although these singers are usually relegated to the margins, and few, if any, become household names, their work has defined countless songs that remain in our hearts and collective consciousness. Twenty Feet from Stardom juxtaposes interviews with industry legends (Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, and others) and the relative unknowns who support them like Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, and Judith Hill as they illuminate the art of melding their own distinct voices with lead vocals and reveal their desires for careers as solo artists.
Twenty Feet from Stardom traces the backup singers’ history—from those Phil Spector–produced pop tunes and soul-inspired British Explosion acts (Joe Cocker, the Rolling Stones) of the 1960s, to their reversal of fortune when the recording industry changed in the 1990s, and into today. Filmmaker Morgan Neville’s unprecedented look at the moving personal journeys of these normally uncelebrated artists pays tribute to their indelible role in popular music. (Written by K.Y. / Sundance Film Guide)