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Showing 1-10 of 944 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 1,041 reviews
on July 20, 2014
An entity of the music industry/business is truly "unsung". And that is the contribution from background singers. While I love an array of Divas and male artists, often the accents that background singers add to the mix is undeniable. Though early on I knew I was a forever disciple of Diana Ross, the call and response harmony on something like "Come See About Me", reminds me of how exciting they once were in harmony as a trio. Watching and listening to Teddy Pendergrass and his background singers on "You're My Latest, My Greatest, Inspiration" is truly inspiring, Aretha without Carolyn or Erma Franklin singing "ree, ree, ree ,respect" in the background, Diana with The Jones Girls in the 70s, Ike & Tina Turner with the Ikettes, Ray Charles with The Raelettes, Stevie Wonder with Wonderlove, The Supremes/Diana with The Andantes, on and on, added that special ingredient to a great record into a classic.
"20 Feet from Stardom" goes a long way in underscoring the often neglected contribution of the background singers. (Really for the life of me, I cannot imagine remembering where the "oohs and a aahs" go without being tempted to sing the entire verse.....It is definitely an art form).
I distinctly remember how The Blossoms on Shindig seemed to add support to any number of guests appearing, however, though she had a distinctive face, I never knew how much was owed to Darlene Love. I was hard pressed to name a particular song by Ike & Tina Turner that made me love Tina so much....but, boy do I remember The Ikettes. (The rather crass, but, honest take that Ike Turner thought of himself as "a pimp" while the ladies, including his wife, Anna Mae Bullock, as his working girls, his hoes.......seemed to be not far off from how they translated visually. But out from the ladies, rose one, Claudia Linnear, who struck me as one of the toughest chics in the group).
And try as my may, I never connected with Merry Clayton as a solo artist (though I was quite aware of the critical acclaim she had in rock circles), "Gimme Shelter" would be lacking without her wild, gospel wailing. Though her solo albums never made much of an impact, her stardom in the 70s was undeniable. I read her name on the back of many of my album covers.
The goodie two shoes description of the exclusively white background singers in the 40s and 50s made no impact anywhere near the forthcoming inclusion of black female background singers.....because they just didn't seem very essential. I would yawn at The Lennon Sisters or couldn't wait until The King Sisters left the stage, or it was off to the kitchen for another snack.
Luther Vandross' love for The Supremes or The Sweet Inspirations backing Aretha, inspired him to have topnotch background singers like the great Lisa Fischer, Cindy Mizelle and Fonzi Thorton supporting him on his tours. The ladies often wore the ultra-elegant type gowns Diana Ross & The Supremes wore on their award winning television special, "G.I.T." or their final "Farewell Tour". In fact, on Wikipedia, the last photo pictured is Luther & Diana at the "Return to Love Tour" saluting the music of The Supremes which he attended on opening and closing night.
"20 Feet from Stardom" features none other than Bruce Springsteen, Sting and Bette Midler (who came from The Harlettes) paying homage to these ladies, 99% of them were black.
It is heartbreaking to hear Darlene Love sharing that at one point she "cleaned houses to make ends meet" or Claudia Linnear becoming a language teacher though she was not ready to give up performing.
Even more sobering is the fact that today, the huge recording sessions of yesteryear is all but a memory......removing an important opportunity for background singers to work, studio technology beginning with Marvin Gaye's admittedly beautiful multiple voice layering and further underscored by Michael Jackson's "Off the Wall" also replacing the need for background singers.......Darlene Love shared that at one point in the late 80s/early 90s, you would be hard pressed to find background singers employed to enrich recording sessions. Thankfully, most artists of integrity still utilizes background singers on tour. However, none other than Babyface, a once successful partner in making LaFace a close replica of Motown in the 90s, revealed on "The Braxton Family Values" that he pipes in pre-recorded background vocals on tour.
An interesting example of the distance of that virtual 20 feet on stage, can be found in the case of Lisa Fischer. After a gold debut album featuring a #1 single and two more Top 10 singles for a total of 4/Top 20 singles, never followed up on her solo success. Lisa revealed that she loves singing....period! and Merry Clayton states that Lisa doesn't possess the ego or desire to walk that 20 feet to headline. The praise she gets from Rolling Stones and the once great Luther Vandross' fans is quite fulfilling enough.....thank you.
"20 Feet from Stardom" focuses your attention on possibly taking background singers for granted. Thankfully, I never really have. I understood that it takes all the ingredients necessary to make a successful recording. The entree may well be the centerpiece, but, the vocal and visual acoutrements, make for a true feast.
In a talent like Judith Hill that realizes the danger in being typecast as a background singer, if you truly want to walk that distance. But a Stevvi Alexander reminds you of the wake-up call you get backing a non-talent like Britney Spears. These ladies could make a Britney Spears go home and hide under the sheets and "cry herself a river" once they displayed their talents......I would love to have a sequel to this award winning documentary.
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on March 4, 2015
'20 Feet From Stardom' is an amazing documentary which talks about music's unsung heroes - backup singers. The film details the story of several backup singers who likely will be unfamiliar to the viewer, but once you hear the songs, it will bring back memories. A good part of the film focuses on the career of Darlene Love, who was one of the Phil Spector artists and went on to be perhaps the most famous backup singer ever.

The singers are magnificent, the music memorable, and the stories heartwarming. At the end of the film, there is a very touching and memorable scene where many of the backup singers that have appeared in the movie perform an ensemble which is just spectacular and brings tears to your eyes. One great thing about the movie is how many mainstream stars - including Bruce Springsteen, Sting and Stevie Wonder - speak on behalf of the backup singers, talking about how great they are.

If you love music, and are interested in learning about its inner workings, then '20 Feet From Stardom' is the movie for you. It is well worth watching - you will enjoy it for years to come.
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on March 23, 2017
Done very well. I learned a lot about how "real" some of the recording sessions of some of the older LPs I have are. For example, I have a Johnny Rivers "Live at the Whiskey Ago-go." As I recall, it was a live recording done at the Whiskey Ago-go in New Orleans. It was was actually done in a recording studio in L.A. All the "live background bar sounds" were actually "live" sounds from the recording studio during the session.

Also, Darlene Love is a real character. Would "love" to be able to have a couple of beers with her sometime!
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on October 2, 2014
This movie was terrific; it won an academy award last year that Darlene Love (one of the featured singers in the movie) accepted. I knew this movie was never going to play in a theatre in my town so I bought the download, and am glad I did. I have already seen it a couple of times. The segment on Merry Clayton singing the beginning of the Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter (which also has comments from Mick Jagger) is just fantastic. Bruce Springsteen isn't a big presence in this movie but his comments about how hard it is to go from a backup singer to a star are moving. Loved the movie.
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on December 4, 2015
Great documentary. My family loved it. Lots of learning a few things about significant musicians that are unfortunately no longer/ever were directly in the spotlight. Can make you a little down by the end to be quite honest, but great view, great sound, and a real eye opener. Good stuff.
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on December 2, 2016
The movie explores the sounds we heard but never knew how they got there, behind all those famous artists. The voices are amazing, and the personalities behind each of those voices are compelling in their own special, individual way. There's also some great concert footage and insightful interviews with major rockers. Satisfying all around, it made me wish I had paid more attention to how the music was truly made. Merry Clayton is wonderful, yet I only knew her as that startling, haunting voice on "Gimme Shelter".
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on July 17, 2017
Had heard about this documentary and finally watched it yesterday. It was quite interesting actually. One comment that caught my mind was something along the lines that people tend to sing what the background singers sing. Yes, I realized that I'm doing that a lot :)
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on March 25, 2014
This movie is good if you like movies because it explores the subject matter in a thoughtful and artistic manner. This movie is great if you like music because you'll know the songs but you may be unaware of the part the men and women shown here played in your songs. Two poignant moments:
1-Hearing the back-up singer track from the Stones "Gimmie Shelter" in isolation and feeling the secondary chill that they must have felt firsthand that night.
2- Realizing that many of these artist unwillingness and sometimes inability to get "fame" becomes secondary to their absolute commitment to making songs and artist sound great. Consequently, I realized that a lot of what I sing in the soundtrack of my life is often the back-up part.
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on February 23, 2014
This film primarily focuses on four singers (Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Claudia Lennear, and Lisa Fischer) who through luck or circumstance spent most of their careers in backup roles though their contemporaries praise them as being as good or better than most successful solo artists. Love was hamstrung by a restrictive contract she signed with Phil Spector. For both Clayton and Lennear their solo careers never took off despite, or because of, the efforts of their record companies. After winning a Grammy for her debut effort Fischer couldn't get the creative juices going for a follow-up. Another singer, Judith Hill, is briefly profiled and the film relates how she was going to tour with Michael Jackson before he died unexpectedly. These women are real troopers and they relay their stories with a lot of humor. I found it ironic that Clayton sang backup on Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" and would later retort by covering Neil Young's "Southern Man". Regardless, Love's "Marshmallow World" is a Christmas staple in my home.
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on December 28, 2014
This is a study of those backup singers possessed of as much talent as the stars they work for, but who have somehow not managed to ascend to show business' top tier. Partly this is due to lack of will; partly due to luck; and partly due to the fact that perhaps talent is not enough to ensure one's name emblazoned on marquees outside theaters.

Among those interviewed include producer Lou Adler, singers Patti Austin, Merry Clayton, Amy Christian and Carole Childs (among others), Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder and Sheryl Crow. What emerges most tangibly from Morgan Neville's film is that there exists a definite pecking-order between stars and their backing singers; although Wonder and Jagger (especially) praise the efforts of those who have worked so hard to make their albums memorable, they regard the singers as secondary beings. In Jagger's case, there is a definite sense that he treats them as commodities, to be engaged by producers and to be available whenever the star requires.

The careers of these singers stretch way back to the mid-1960s; and some of them continue working to this day. For the most part they are philosophical about their careers; even to be a backing singer on some of the greatest hits of the last five decades is something memorable. But we cannot but help empathize with their underlying disappointment as they reflect on what might have been, had the breaks gone their way.

There are some memorable performances in 20 FEET FROM STARDOM, which make the film eminently watchable, but the overall mood is elegaic, a longing for what might have happened, even though most of the singers have enjoyed financially successful existences.
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