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"Twenty Feet from Stardom": Life in the Shadows for Background Singers 

Wednesday, Jun 26 2013
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Morgan Neville's Twenty Feet from Stardom — which is a documentary, but should nonetheless be played at maximum volume — looks at several highly accomplished background singers, including but not limited to Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, and the Waters Family. The film is a joyous celebration of their work (and you know their work, unless you've somehow never heard songs like "What'd I Say," "Gimme Shelter," or even "The Monster Mash"), but it's also a sometimes-heartbreaking examination of how the youth-and-image-conscious entertainment industry makes it difficult for them to move to the foreground, be it Phil Spector releasing what was supposed to be Darlene Love's solo debut of "He's Sure the Boy I Love" as just another Crystals single, or an overall lack of support by the record companies for their attempted solo careers. Not only is Twenty Feet From Stardom a wonderful addition to the sub-genre of documentaries that deconstruct '60s and '70s pop music (see also Sound City and especially The Wrecking Crew), there may not be a more emotionally charged moment in the movies this year than present-day Merry Clayton listening to her isolated vocal from "Gimme Shelter," sitting alone in the studio she recorded it in late one night back in '69. In that moment, she is very much the star.

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Sherilyn Connelly

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