CRITIC'S CHOICE; on the Track of Popular Music

Article excerpt

WE tend to think of pop music as a modern phenomenon, but history shows that popular song has been on the go since the invention of recording technology itself.

Walk On By is a compelling new series charting the history of the popular music that has sound-tracked the last 100 years.

From old songs sold as sheet music on Tin Pan Alley over 100 years ago to the billion dollar non-stop pop industry of today, the series explores the development of the modern music industry on both sides of the Atlantic.

Some of the biggest names in popular music, including Larry Adler, Burt Bacharach and Paul McCartney, tell about their part in shaping a century of sound. Archive footage of performances from throughout the 20th century, together with excerpts from stage and screen productions vividly illustrate the evolution - and the endurance - of pop songs.

Paul McCartney says: "People may think the pop song started in 1957. It didn't. It began in Tin Pan Alley 50 years earlier."

The programme sweeps through the history of American music theatre, tracing the process by which Jewish and African-American traditions were transformed into the sophisticated soundtrack that cheered America through the depression.

Walk On By also explores the surprising influence of Tsarist Russia on the Broadway musical, for among the Jewish families who sought refuge in America were the Gershovitzes (George Gershwin), the Levy's (Richard Rogers) and the five-year-old Israel Baline (Irving Berlin).

Drawing on traditional music and fusing it with contemporary sounds, the sound of the '20s and '30s was born. Across America people were dancing and listening to jazz in speakeasy dives. On showboats, sailing up the Mississippi, came Louis Armstrong and the black jazz bands.

On Broadway, Showboat, with its black cast and black musical language, was a smash hit.

After the disastrous Wall Street Crash of 1929, however, the composers headed for Hollywood and the all-singing, all-dancing musical was born. There's interviews with Irving Berlin's daughter Mary Ellen, as well as his collaborator Irving Caesar.

Walk On By: The Story Of Popular Song

BBC2, 8.15pm

Don't Try This At Home!

ITV, 6.00pm

THOSE of a nervous disposition beware - Davina McCall and pals are back to send you diving behind that sofa.

Thrills and spills abound as ordinary folks and stunt experts stun viewers with their frightening idea of "extreme fun".

Tonight, audience member Suzy Kendell from Birmingham is stunned when Kate Thornton whisks her off to Suffolk, where she will be asked to do a car jump from one ramp to another over three cars - a distance of 40 feet. …