In Brief: The year’s best documentary and if you grew up with this music, I guarantee lots of smiles and good memories.
Early in my radio career one of the formats heard a lot around the country was called the Music of Your Life. It consisted of music from the greats of the 1940s and 1950s. These are artists like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Perry Como, The McGuire Sisters, Mel Torme, Tony Bennett as well as big band stuff from Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey and others.
Exactly. The music of your life these days is the oldies played by FM stations and some AM stations. There are several in Portland, Oregon where I live, and no doubt they exist in your area as well.
Echo in the Canyon is oldies on film but done from a fresh perspective. Or at least it’s a documentary about Laurel Canyon near Los Angeles. It was one of the world’s hottest music scenes from 1965 through 1967 or 1968.
Or maybe a little beyond but not much.
The biggest stars from the era and the area were The Beach Boys, The Byrds, The Mamas and the Papas, Buffalo Springfield and a few others. Where The Byrds and The Buffalo Springfield are concerned, some members spun off into the super group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
Influential stuff, indeed. And what separated the Laurel Canyon hipsters from the rock of the British Invasion is an underlying folk music sound. Roger McGuire of The Byrds probably gave the style its identity more than the other artists with his beautifully done 12-string guitar riffs.
Of course, the music evolved from folk rock to straight rock and pop with each artist being inspired by the work of others.
This leads me back to the Music of Your Life comment. The music from Echo in the Canyon is the music of my life. I was 13 when The Beatles radically rebooted rock and roll. It had recently died a slow, horrible death when my mom and other mothers discovered that Elvis was a good singer and hummed along to tunes done by Bobby Vinton, Bobby Vee, Neil Sedaka, Paul Anka and others.
Rock and roll was — indeed — dead. I was crushed and clung to my treasured Chuck Berry, older Elvis, The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison and Little Richard records knowing the world had ended and that nothing that wonderful would ever come along again.
It did in the form of John, Paul, George and Ringo. Their music inspired so many others and that included a small band of very excellent and very creative artists in Laurel Canyon. They, like others from the British Invasion, did their best to reignite a form of music that resonates with so many of us today. Not even disco — a brand of music that temporarily killed rock a second time — could deter a brand of music that continues to this day to grow and inspire.
Oh. The movie. Yes. Echo in the Canyon is hosted by The Wallflowers front man Jacob Dylan whose dad Bob wrote Mr. Tamborine Man, the song that made The Byrds a household name through those incredible years.
Along with the film, Dylan put together a group of musicians that includes Beck, Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor, Cat Power, Norah Jones, Jade Castrinos and others and recorded an album featuring music from that era.
Cuts from the recording session and a subsequent concert are included in the movie.
Dylan interviews McGuire, Michelle Phillips from The Mamas and the Papas, David Crosby of The Byrds, Steven Stills from Buffalo Springfield and Graham Nash from The Hollies who became Crosby Stills and Nash, Jackson Browne, Eric Clapton, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Ringo, record producer Lou Adler, Tom Petty and a bunch of others. Their insight into the music, the personalities behind the music and the times is a fascinating historical study.
This, too, is the music of my life and the music of the lives of many of you. These are the songs and hits we heard on our lousy AM radios. They sent us scrambling to find pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, half-dollars and sometimes the rare whole dollar and had us scurrying for the few record stores that existed in those days to find and buy albums that contained those songs and even more treasures.
Dylan asks great questions and writer/director Andrew Slater — who is a music producer and music act manager — puts them together in a wonderfully fun documentary that is the perfect trip down the proverbial memory lane.
These are songs and artists I haven’t thought about in years and — in many cases — don’t really want to remember. But Slater, like director Dexter Fletcher did with the Elton John biopic, Rocketman, manages to make some old, and rather stale oldies sound fresh again.
Directors: Andrew Statler
Stars: Jacob Dylan, Tom Petty, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Lou Adler, Michelle Phillips, John Sebastian, Jackson Browne, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Mamas and the Papas, Buffalo Springfield, The Association, Fiona Apple, Beck, Regina Spektor, Cat Power, Norah Jones, Jade Castrinos
A wonderful trip down rock and roll memory lane. Give this one a smile inducing 5 on the Friday Flicks with Gary 0 to 5 scale.
Click here for theaters and show times.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.