This Is Soundbreaking: Best Reveals in the PBS Series

Christina Knight | November 16, 2016

Every stripe of music fan is going to find surprises in the new eight-part series Soundbreaking on PBS. Here are some of the best reveals and break-through moments in Soundbreaking, all told by an all-star lineup of musicians, producers, and go-to music journalists. We’ll be updating this page as episodes roll out through November 23. See the schedule to be aware of broadcast dates and watch Soundbreaking videos here.

Episode One: The Art of Recording

Don Was

Producer Don Was is one of the many music legends who tell Soundbreaking the behind-the-scenes stories of the making iconic records and albums. Photograph courtesy Gabi Porter.

How does a music producer turn an artist’s vision into a hit?

1) Producer Don Was with the Rolling Stones: “Mick was suggesting things that a producer could do for the Stones, and Keith was telling me why he didn’t need a producer. Keith said, ‘You sure you want to be the meat in this sandwich?'”

2) Sam Phillips, founder Sun Records and Sun Studio on the then unknown Elvis: “I knew when he walked in the door, baby, if anybody can do this, I believe this is the person who can do it.”

3) Joni Mitchell: “I had to put in my contract that I never had to have a producer.”

4) “Eleanor Rigby” is the first time that The Beatles weren’t playing any instruments on their song.

Episode Two: Painting with Sound

A rich dive into multi-tracking.

1) The Beatles'”Tomorrow Never Knows”:

“John [Lennon] wanted to sound like the Dalai Lama chanting from the top of a mountain, and he suggested that the way that they record that would be to put him in a harness, to hoist him high above the studio, give him a shove, and, eh… he’d… he’d sing every time he came around.” – Bob Spitz, author The Beatles: The Biography

“The actual mix of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ is a performance. It can’t be recreated.” – Giles Martin (son of George Martin, The Beatles’ producer)

2) The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds:

“He [Brian Wilson] and Carl used to pray before each session that they would make a record that would be warmer and more inspirational than Rubber Soul [by The Beatles]. – Don Was

“When they did Pet Sounds, I played it to everyone, and said, ‘Ah. Listen. Listen to what they’re doing here!’ you know. So, we did Sgt. Pepper. – Paul McCartney

3) The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band:

“It’s the birth of a new art form. They were starting to make music that you couldn’t actually play. It couldn’t exist outside of a recording studio.” – Brian Eno

“That album opened Pandora’s box for everybody” – Roger Waters

4) Boston’s “More Than a Feeling”: In 1976, even the record company didn’t know Boston wasn’t a band. It was one guy multi-tracking in his basement: guitarist Tom Scholz.

5) Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago: “When I made For Emma, this was up at my dad’s hunting lodge. All I had was my old big block G4 computer and a ProTools interface.” – Justin Vernon

Episode Three: The Human Instrument


Adele is one of more than 150 artists featured in the SOUNDBREAKING series airing on PBS starting November 14. Photo courtesy © of Sony Music Archives.

Featuring rare studio footage of some the world’s most renowned vocalists.

1) Producer Paul Epworth’s reveals on Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”:

“This is the session that hasn’t been opened since, until today, since, since we did it!…She did [Stomping sound] – a whole track of stamping on this wooden step, and then we sort of multi-tracked it. So, it was about eight of her.”

2) Producer Mark Ronson on the making of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab”:

“We’d been walking down the street, and she was telling me a story about her family, and she said, ‘They tried to make me go to rehab.’ And, she’s, like, ‘Fff! No! No! No!’ And, I was, like, ‘I hate to, like, turn your tragedy into a song, Amy, but that’s pretty catchy. We should go back to the studio and maybe write a song about it.’

Grammy nominated rock singer-songwriter and record producer Linda Perry describes recording the song she wrote,

Grammy nominated rock singer-songwriter and record producer Linda Perry describes recording the song she wrote, “Beautiful,” with singer Christina Aguilera in Soundbreaking Episode 3: The Human Instrument. Photo Courtesy of © Colin Finlay.

3) “One of the truisms of most of the singers I know — and the great singers, too — none of them like their voice. The only singer, I think likes his voice is Rod Stewart.” – Roger Daltrey

4) Cher’s “Believe”: An engineer left the auto-tune on for Cher’s entire vocals by mistake. Cher loved how it sounded and said, no, leave it in. “Believe” became the auto-tune template for future recording artists.

5) Producer, singer-songwriter Linda Perry and Christina Aguilera on recording the vocals for “Beautiful” on the first take:

“The beautiful thing about that version is when Christina sang it, it was just, it was emotional. That was the take that I knew was the master take. I added the drums and everything after the fact. And, Christina kept on coming to me, ‘I gotta re-sing that. When can I re-sing that?’ I’m, like, ‘Re-sing it? Are you crazy? This is magical. Like, people would die for this emotion.” – Linda Perry

“I finally realized there is no perfection. It’s about finding the beauty in the cracks, and the holes, and the imperfections that’s so perfect, and beautiful, and I didn’t really get that.” – Christina Aguilera 

Episode Four: Going Electric

The chain reaction unleashed by the invention of the electric guitar and the evolution of synthesized music.

1. Charlie Christian (July 29, 1916 – March 2, 1942) — the pioneer of the electric guitar, who played with the Benny Goodman sextet.

2. Jimi Hendrix archival footage and admiration.

“I don’t think there was any artist exactly like Jimi Hendrix who could use his guitar to mold and sculpt time and space, and just through his guitar performance, could give you a complete essay on what the sixties were like, on what it was like to be an African-American man who was working in multiple genres.” – Jason King, journalist

3. Commentary on Moog synthesizers and working with Stevie Wonder by Bob Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil, who built the wall of synths called “Tonto”.

“Stevie Wonder heard it [the album Zero Time], and the next thing we know there’s a knocking at the door, and there’s Stevie in a chartreuse jumpsuit, 5 or 6 o’clock at night, with our album under his arm, and he wanted to know how we were making this kind of music.” -Bob Margouleff

“We recorded well in excess of two-hundred and fifty songs [with Stevie Wonder]” – Malcom Cecil

“When we finally got to making an album, we said, “Oh, we’ll take this one and that one,” and somehow, for five years, we could do nothing wrong. Every record we touched turned to gold.” – Bob Margouleff

4. Hans Zimmer’s low-tech way of creating award-winning soundtracks to blockbuster films.

“The way Hollywood operates is they make these movies, and they cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and basically, at the end of the day, they’re waiting for me to complete the music, and I’m doing it on any old PC that you can buy for, like, ten dollars, fifty and on a piece of software, you know, that’s probably another twenty dollars. So kids, if you want to try this at home, knock yourselves out.” – Hans Zimmer (composer of 150 films, including The Lion King, Gladiator, The Dark Knight)

Episode Five: Four on The Floor

The beat is the sonic element that taps into the most primal part of us and makes us want to move.

1. On creating the beats with The-Dream for Beyonce’s hit, “All the Single Ladies”: “I’m like, how do I get this Southern girl on the dance floor?” – Tricky Stewart, producer

2. James Brown, became king of rhythm with his 1965 record “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”: “He wanted to make a record where the guitar sounded like drums, where the the bass guitar sounded like drums, where the horn sounded like drums. This kind of symphony of percussion. – Jody Rosen, journalist

3. Carlos Santana on his Woodstock performance: “Woodstock was probably the biggest door I ever I ever walked into. I remember that I was under the influence of LSD. Damn, why did I take LSD before I went on you know? The guitar neck it felt like an electric snake that wouldn’t stay still, that’s why I’m making ugly faces, trying to make the snake stand still so I can like play it you know. I remember saying over and over, god I’ll never do this again, ever if you can just keep me in time and in tune, that’s all I ask. That was my first mantra.”

4. The Bee Gees had never heard of disco when they wrote their songs for Saturday Night Fever. They thought of the songs as R&B.

5. Nile Rodgers on groove: “I’ve played with an extraordinary amount of people in my life. And the ones I always love the best are the groovers. I describe it as a flock of birds. You ever watch a flock of birds fly and they all know when to turn and they do that thing together? And it’d be hundreds of them, but they all do that together. It’s almost telepathic, it’s magical.”

Soundbreaking on Twitter

With the Soundbreaking production team and musicians like Elton John, Tom Petty and Dead & Company (Grateful Dead) tweeting during the November 14 series debut, the hashtag #Soundbreaking trended nationally on Twitter. @ThirteenWNET and @Soundbreaking tweet during each broadcast, sharing quotes, gifs and reactions. Add your voice by including #Soundbreaking with your tweets, or just liking and retweeting what you see and hear!