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BBC PRIME MUSIC DOCUMENTARIES (article first published : 2003-07-27)

BBC Prime will host a range of fascinating music documentaries dealing with The Story of Pop on the DStv pay channel in August.

August 2: This week deals with the 1960s - arguably pop's greatest decade. Walk on By: Atlantic Crossing at 19h30 deals with British bands - The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks and more who invaded the USA, but the Americans - The Beach Boys, Byrds, Four Seasons and other leading acts of the day - raised their game. This will be followed by Rock Family Trees: The Mersey Sound which visits the Mersey Beat scene of the early 1960s, an era synonymous with the band that changed the face of pop music - the Beatles. In the mid-60s, band after band coming out of Liverpool dominated the charts in an unprecedented way. For a while, it looked as if the hits would never stop, but it was all over in just a few years. This is the story of those bands: The Searchers, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J Kramer, The Swinging Blue Jeans and The Merseybeats.

Next up is Rock Family Trees: California Dreamin’ which explores the golden age of American pop in the mid-1960s, with two groups in particular standing out. The Mamas and the Papas and Lovin' Spoonful produced a cluster of perfect pop records but divisions within the bands meant that they self-destructed within a few years. The final item in the programme is Reputations: Janis Joplin. The undisputed queen of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll was discovered at the Monterrey International Pop Festival in 1967 and her first album went gold in 1968. She seized fame by the throat but two years later she was dead. This programme provides an intimate portrait of the star with recollections from her contemporaries.

August 9: the week’s programme starts with Walk on By: After the Gold Rush which charts the change from the late 60s psychedelic burn-out to the folk and country-influenced music of artists like The Byrds, The Band & Neil Young. Following this is Rock Family Trees: The Prog Rock Years which looks at the late '60s when a new type of music, dubbed Progressive Rock, sprang up in the UK. This episode looks at how groups such as Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer had become huge attractions, noted for their grand concepts and even grander stage shows. The “prog rock” bubble burst in the late 1970s when these bands were accused of being out of touch, but they survived and were given a new lease of life in the '80s and '90s.

This will be followed by Rock Family Trees: Black Sabbath. In the history of rock and roll, Black Sabbath are legendary. Along with Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, they are members of a select club credited with creating Heavy Metal. This programme is devoted to their story, from the time they came together in the late '60s right up to the present. The last item will be Cracked Actor: David Bowie. Two years after the demise of Ziggy Stardust, David Bowie discusses his work as an actor and musician, revealing much about himself and the drugs and rock 'n' roll scene in the 1970's. Recorded in 1975, Bowie was living in Hollywood and in the process of inventing his Thin White Duke persona.

August 16: This begins with Walk on By: Soundtrack which examines the history of the show tune, from Cole Porter and Rogers and Hammerstein to Tim Rice, Andrew Lloyd-Webber, and finally, Disney. Follwing this item will be a tribute to MGM's legendary producer Arthur Freed with Musicals Great Musicals. Arthur Freed began his career as a singer/songwriter and then went on to produce virtually every great Hollywood musical of the 1940's and 1950's. Director David Thompson examines his work, including the classics Singin' in the Rain and The Wizard of Oz. Other contributors include Liza Minnelli, Gene Kelly and Mickey Rooney.

Next up is Movers and Shakers, a behind-the-scenes look at the hit musical Chicago during its transition from Broadway to the West End. The programme captures the atmosphere from the first day preparations through to the tensions of opening night. The week’s final programme is Walk on By: Pure Pop documenting the role of manufactured bands, from the Monkees through Abba, up to groups like the Spice Girls and Hear Say.

August 23: The first item, David Cassidy: Teenage Dream charts the fortunes of US singer and teen heartthrob David Cassidy. He was one of the early seventies' major pop icons, whose success with the Partridge Family and as a solo artist propelled him to superstardom. In Blondie: Beneath the Bleach, Debbie Harry speaks candidly of the challenges involved in being a sex symbol at the age of 54, and discusses whether the stresses and strains, which caused the band to break up the first time, can be conquered. Chris Stein, Clem Burke, and Jimmy Destri remember the years out of the limelight, during which they all confronted their own personal demons, winning through to enjoy a return to the top with the band that made their names. What emerges is a picture of four talented, funny and energetic individuals who describe themselves candidly as "a family - but a dysfunctional family at best".

The programme’s final item is Robbie Williams: Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. 1998 was one of the most turbulent years of Robbie Williams' life; he overcame alcohol addiction, released his second solo album, performed across Britain, fell in love, and got engaged. Robbie talks about dealing with the pressure of fame, his relationship with his parents and fans, and his plans for the future. A unique fly-on-the-wall celebrity portrait filmed with unprecedented access, following Britain's biggest and brightest young star through his hectic 1998 schedule.

August 30: The last programme of the month kicks off with I Knew John Lennon. The year 2000 marked an array of remarkable anniversaries relating to the life and death of John Lennon – twenty years since his murder, thirty years since the Beatles split up and 40 years since the Beatles started. This programme celebrates the man who is not widely known, through rare archive footage and stills, interviews and with early band member Pete Best and former manager Allan Williams along with a host of friends and fellow musicians who knew Lennon as a schoolboy, art student and budding musician.

This documentary naturally flows into the next item The Brian Epstein Story. In 1962, Brian Epstein was managing the record department of his family’s store in Liverpool. By 1963, he had become the most successful pop manager in history, shaping the careers of The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Cilla Black and Billy J Kramer. By 1966, The Beatles were a global phenomenon and Epstein was almost as famous as they were, with an estimated fortune of 7 million pounds. A year later, he was dead. This fascinating documentary traces the rise and fall of the man behind the biggest Cultural Revolution of our times.

The final item is Robbie Williams In America: It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum which follows pop star Robbie Williams on his debut American tour, showing the highs and lows of being young and rich in America.




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