20 Feet from Stardom ★★★★½

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Hearing Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones is nothing earth-shattering. Martin Scorsese alone has embedded the songs so deeply into our collective, cinematic consciousness that even if Mick Jagger isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll know the song. Listening to Gimme Shelter in Twenty Feet from Stardom, on the other hand, brings a tear to your eye – if not, it’ll have you weeping into buckets at the sheer talent and force of the vocals. And not Mick Jagger’s vocal either.

The vocals are by Merry Clayton. Her agent, waking her in the evening, calls her to the studio, telling her “The Rolling … something … need you”. Mick Jagger recalls the moment too – warmly describing how Merry was in her silk pyjamas when recording the vocals. Another backing vocalist Darlene Love recalls her hiring under Phil Spector whereby she recorded, what was to become her first solo record, He’s a Rebel – only to hear the full version she sang on the radio and credited to The Crystals. The same Crystals who herself, alongside her group The Blossoms, provided backing vocals for previously for hits including Da Doo Ron Ron and Then He Kissed Me. They also provided the backing vocals for Frank Sinatra, Elvis and The Supremes. The list goes on and on.

Morgan Neville directs this fascinating documentary (the first to document the history of backing vocalists) focusing primarily on singers from different generations from the 1960’s through to modern...

Read the full review here: screeninsight.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/twenty-feet-from-stardom-morgan-neville.html