REVIEW: PBS’s Soundbreaking is sensational

Been on the road a lot this past month so way behind in giving this programming heads up: check out Soundbreaking, the best documentary of the fall.

Already half way through a run of eight amazing episodes on PBS, the ambitious series charts the history of recorded music. It was the last thing Sir George Martin worked on, and he started promoting it five years ago at a TCA session. Martin barely had a handle on what he had been hired to do back then (and was pissy about all the TV critics quizzing him about The Beatles).

Martin and The Beatles are very much featured in Part One’s “The Art of Recording,” but this series is way bigger than one band.

Night Five on Friday is headlined “Four on the Floor” and looks at the drum beat behind the vocals. The hour veers, as the press notes suggest, from “beatbox to beyond — from Little Richard and James Brown to disco and EDM.”

The series features so many musicians and producers and others in music it is almost pointless to name them all. You hear directly from The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Bee Gees, Beyoncé, The Black Keys, Blondie… and these are just some of the B’s. There are over 160 original  interviews over the eight episodes.

It’s especially cool to see just how giddy and excited many of the principals are in talking about the craft of composing and recording. Instead of jaded rockers, we see how even the biggest stars started out as fans.

How the series flows and is edited is as impressive and original as a well-written melody. Soundbreaking is not linear and certainly not chronological. The ideas flow like cuts from a CD burned by Elton John, Chuck Berry and Jack White. Everything moves at such a pace you’ll want to PVR and re-trace.

Bing Crosby or Al Jolson fans might sing the blues. There is a bias towards the past 50 years, especially the rock era of the ’60s and ’70s. You can find episodes that have already aired here and I urge you to do so.

Episode Four: “Going Electric,” was a trip, exploring how electric guitars revolutionized modern music, especially in the hands of Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix and Keith Richards. The rise of Moog synthesizers is especially riveting. Seen by some instrumental purists as the death of real music, it is an eye opener to see how electronic innovations arrived just in time for Stevie Wonder to re-wire funk, pop and soul. A few years later, Giorgio Moroder fuses R&B with electronica and the dance floors everywhere are energized.

Episodes Six (“The World is Yours”), Seven (“Sound and Vision”) and Eight (“I Am My Music”) air next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Dig it.

 

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