'Sound City' will rock music lovers
“Sound City” is a music geek's dream, a rollicking look at a dumpy California studio where a lot of musicians found magic.
It's also a bit of a mess, like all good rock 'n' roll ought to be. While Dave Grohl, the leader of Foo Fighters and former drummer for Nirvana, certainly directs with competency, it's clear that what he's really interested in is a sincere love of music, and both he and his film have plenty of it.
Sure, his organizational skills aren't that great, and the editing could have been tighter. Maybe that's why I didn't jump out of my chair and pump my fist till 24 minutes in.
But I did jump out of my chair and, not for nothing, pump my fist.
Sound City opened in Van Nuys in 1969, in a lousy building with squalid decorating and a general look of decay, even when it was new. Partners Tom Skeeter and Joe Gottfried wanted hits but weren't exactly sure how to get them. But they would find a secret ingredient: The Neve recording console, an analog behemoth of which only a handful were built, all custom-made.
It cost $76,000 (about $475,000 in today's dollars), or, as Skeeter points out, more than twice what he paid for his house.
Neil Young, one of many stars interviewed for the film, was going to finish “After the Gold Rush” there but liked the sound so much he rerecorded most of the album instead.
Fleetwood Mac recorded their breakthrough “Fleetwood Mac” album there, and soon a parade of stars followed, including Tom Petty, the Grateful Dead, Johnny Cash, Cheap Trick and REO Speedwagon.
The '80s led to mostly hair-metal bands recording there, many monstrously popular, along with some punk bands. But the conversion to digital recording wasn't kind to Sound City.
Then a trio drove down from Washington and, along with Butch Vig, recorded an album there. It turned out to be “Nevermind,” Nirvana's smash that changed the recording industry.
The studio finally closed, and Grohl bought the Neve and put it in his studio. He and Vig are putting together an album that's sort of a tribute to the recording console. It includes some of the people who made records at Sound City, such as Rick Springfield, who, because of a soap-opera life story that involves members of Sound City management, proves to have some of the most interesting tales of all.
The last third of the film is devoted to the making of the tribute record. That may sound a little cheesy, but a big chunk of it involves Grohl and the surviving members of Nirvana writing and playing a song with Paul McCartney. Grohl is over the moon, he explains, playing music with the guy who inspired him to play, being recorded on the console that helped get him where he is today.
The movie doesn't quite come as full circle as that, but it's sure an awesome effort.
Bill Goodykoontz is a film critic for The Arizona Republic.