Music lovers will be thunderstruck by the immense roster of talent in Morgan Neville's salute to background singers called 20 Feet From Stardom. It's a jubilant, rich and moving portrait of the vocalists who indelibly put their stamp on classic songs while finding a place for themselves front and center just out of reach.
Perhaps the best known is Darlene Love, whose lead vocals on The Crystal's "He's a Rebel" and other 1960s girl group songs were not credited to her. This cruelty of anonymity that she suffered from the industry - especially Phil Spector, who misjudged her lightning in a bottle personality - caused her to doubt herself so strongly that she took a job cleaning houses in Los Angeles, Ca.
After Love heard herself on the radio at one of those houses, she took it as a message to get back to New York and take another stab at it. Her recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was sweet vindication, as is her 25-year stint singing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on David Letterman’s show. Neville also profiles others of Love's ilk like Merry Clayton, who is the voice in the chorus of the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" – that almost primal blare of "Rape/Murder/It's just a shot away."
Among the newer batch is the gifted and Grammy-winning Lisa Fischer, who has been ripping into those lyrics on Stones' tours since 1989. Of those who’ve passed away, Luther Vandross made the most successful transition after singing back-up for David Bowie on his white soul record "Young Americans."
If national attention has been just a hit away, the singers’ major contributions are discussed in the film by Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen and Bette Midler, whose stage shows for most of her career have been accessorized by her ever-changing trio of girls, The Harlettes. These bigger names can’t laud their background vocalists enough, offering the due praise that will also come from anyone who puts 20 Feet From Stardom on their playlist.