Doug Coutts’ TV Preview: Soundbreaking



Prime, 9.30 Tuesday


By Doug Coutts

Soundbreaking – a musical journey into the savage heart of the American dream… no, sorry, that should be stories from the cutting edge of recorded music.

Shows like this are a dime a dozen, but not all shows like this start with the dreariest song by the most pompous band of all time – that famous tune that Bono and his pre-hipsterite chums recorded in a stately home somewhere that had me reaching for the remote after three notes.

Luckily U2 stopped and the show got going for real. This week’s cutting edge story is about record producers. Plenty of great songs have got lost in bad production, one producer tells us, but neglects to mention admit that the reverse is also true: plenty of awful songs have become hits thanks to producers – Kylie Minogue’s entire catalogue, for example.

They take themselves quite seriously, these producers, as in ,“I think we’ve touched on something here that’s never been heard before …” Maybe, but it’s still a two-and-a-half minute pop song.

One of music’s biggest mysteries, another producer suggests, “is the role of the producer”. Not really – the entire music industry is an open book, thanks largely to the many programmes of this genre. Classic album after classic album has been dissected ad absurdum until they ran out of classic albums and had to start on records by Led Zeppelin and the Beach Boys.

And I’m pretty sure there’s a studio somewhere where any celebrity short of a few bucks can go in, sit in front of a camera and wax lyrical about other celebrities, then collect a cheque. Anyone can sort through the clips and choose a few for the documentary they’re currently making – maybe on Great British Rock Stars of 12-17 August 1987 – and the celebs collect royalties. 

That’d explain why Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters turned up and gave his 2 cents’ (plus residuals and VAT) worth on what producers do, although he neglected to mention the ones that died of old age while he pissed about arguing over guitar sounds with David Gilmour.

Sir George Martin got trotted out again, reprising the same disingenuous lines about him merely being a conduit for the Beatles. Sam Phillips was a little more forthright about his contribution to Elvis Presley, and although Phil Spector was acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest the man himself wasn’t interviewed, him being unavoidably though justifiably detained.

However … there were some good bits. Hip Hop gets a look in, as the music of “a generation of people who don’t have access to musical instruments or have musical training” and Yusef/Cat Stevens discusses why he gave up on producers after they made him rich with songs like Matthew & Son to concentrate on paring his music back to basics on the Tea for the Tillerman album, which also made him rich. Rich enough to declare a fatwah on Salman Rushdie, just quietly.

Soundbreaking, therefore, is a bit like a Greatest Hits record – most of it you’ve heard already, some of it’s still good, some bits you skip through, and there are a couple of tracks you’d forgotten or, better, you haven’t heard before – the bonus tracks if you will.

Doug Coutts has had a career in and around television for close to 40 years. He spent 13 years as a floor manager at Avalon Studios before going freelance and never earning as much again. His writing has spanned TV genres — from Shortland Street dialoguery and quiz shows to documentaries and comedy — while a lengthy stint as TV reviewer in the Auckland Star earned him two mentions in Metro magazine’s Hot List and an angry letter from Jon Gadsby. You can read more of Doug (the satirist) at:
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