They say that behind every great man, there's a great woman. And while that quote doesn't exactly sit well with me, it's definitely true in the case of the women profiled in the new documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom.
The film chronicles some of the most frequently heard women in the music industry, though there's a solid chance you don't know their names or have ever seen their faces. Director Morgan Neville profiles the backup singers who've enhanced the work of countless major artists in the biz: the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, and Bruce Springsteen. And there's much more to these singers than the "ooh ooh"s and "oh yeah"s they've lent to so many hit records.
Twenty Feet From Stardom is equally heartbreaking and inspiring. While many of those who've made a living as backup singers are thrilled to have done so, others are understandably disappointed by the fact that they've never had a turn in the spotlight. Merry Clayton, who provided the female backing vocals on the classic Stones tune "Gimme Shelter," had several solo albums that failed to sell. Darlene Love, who was a feature on countless Phil Spector songs in the 1960s, saw her career stagnate for decades because of some complicated machinations by that diabolical producer.
It's impossible to say whether these background singers are better or worse off than they would've been if they'd become megastars in their own right (and been plagued by the drug abuse and mental issues that come along with that job title). But music geeks will thrill to learn the stories behind some of their favorite songs, and fans of women's history will relish the inside look at some lesser-known female icons. Life at center stage can be fun, but after watching Twenty Feet From Stardom, you may just find yourself envying those standing in the shadows.
The movie's out in theaters now, so check out the trailer and then head to your multiplex, stat: