Are you a music lover looking for some inspiration? Look no further than musical documentaries! These films offer a unique glimpse into the lives of musicians and the stories behind their music. From rock legends to classical virtuosos, there’s a musical documentary for every taste. But why are they worth watching? Musical documentaries provide an intimate look at the creative process and the personal struggles that often accompany it. They also offer a chance to learn about different genres of music and the cultural impact of some of the most influential musicians of our time. So grab some popcorn and get ready to be entertained, inspired, and maybe even educated. In this article, we’ll explore the top musical documentaries to consider, so you can start your musical journey today. And don’t worry, we’ve got something for everyone, from hip-hop to jazz to rock ‘n’ roll. So, let’s turn up the volume and dive in.
1.”Searching for Sugar Man” (2012)
Hey there music lovers! If you haven’t seen “Searching for Sugar Man” yet, you’re in for a treat! This musical documentary, directed by Malik Bendjelloul, follows the incredible story of Rodriguez, a Detroit-based musician who released two albums in the early 1970s, but failed to achieve commercial success in the United States.
Despite his lack of success, Rodriguez gained a cult following in South Africa, where his anti-establishment lyrics resonated with anti-apartheid activists. The documentary explores the efforts of two South African fans who set out to discover what happened to their hero, who they believed to be dead.
The impact of “Searching for Sugar Man” on the music industry cannot be understated. The documentary not only brought Rodriguez’s music to a new generation of fans but also helped to reinvigorate his career. After the release of the film, Rodriguez embarked on a successful tour, including sold-out shows at some of the world’s most prestigious venues.
The themes of the documentary are numerous, but one of the most prominent is the idea that great art can transcend borders and cultures. The film also explores the power of music to inspire political and social change, as well as the value of art and its ability to connect people across the globe.
“Searching for Sugar Man” is a must-watch for music fans and anyone interested in the power of art to inspire and transform. With its engaging story, stunning visuals, and beautiful soundtrack, this documentary is sure to leave a lasting impression on all who see it. Don’t miss out on this amazing documentary that puts Rodriguez and his incredible story on the map.
2.”What Happened, Miss Simone?” (2015)
“What Happened, Miss Simone?” (2015) is a Netflix original documentary directed by Liz Garbus that tells the story of the legendary musician, Nina Simone. The film explores Simone’s life and career, from her upbringing in a segregated community in North Carolina to her rise as a groundbreaking jazz and soul musician during the Civil Rights movement.
The documentary not only delves into Simone’s musical accomplishments, but also examines her struggles with mental health and the personal and societal challenges she faced as a Black woman in the music industry. Through interviews with family members, friends, and colleagues, as well as archival footage of Simone’s performances and interviews, the film paints a powerful and intimate portrait of an icon.
The themes and motifs explored in “What Happened, Miss Simone?” include race, gender, mental health, and activism. The film highlights Simone’s role as a trailblazer in music and culture, and how she used her platform to advocate for the Civil Rights movement and inspire change. The documentary also sheds light on Simone’s battles with depression and bipolar disorder, and the impact these struggles had on her life and music.
Nina Simone’s influence on music and culture cannot be overstated. Her unique blend of jazz, blues, and soul music set her apart from her contemporaries and paved the way for generations of musicians to come. Her songs, such as “Mississippi Goddam” and “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” are powerful anthems for the Civil Rights movement and continue to inspire activists today.
“What Happened, Miss Simone?” received critical acclaim upon its release, with particular praise for its honest portrayal of Simone’s life and the impact of her music. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special.
In conclusion, “What Happened, Miss Simone?” is a must-watch documentary for music fans and anyone interested in the intersection of art, culture, and activism. Through its exploration of Nina Simone’s life and music, the film offers insight into important societal issues and celebrates the enduring legacy of a true icon.
3.”20 Feet from Stardom” (2013)
Ah, backup singers – the unsung heroes of the music industry. Have you ever wondered who the voices are behind some of the most famous songs in history? Look no further than “20 Feet from Stardom,” the 2013 documentary that sheds light on the often-overlooked contributions of backup singers.
Directed by Morgan Neville, the film follows the lives and careers of several backup singers, including Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, and Lisa Fischer. Through interviews, archival footage, and performances, “20 Feet from Stardom” explores the unique challenges and opportunities that come with being a backup singer in the music industry.
One of the main themes of the film is the concept of fame and recognition. Despite their incredible talents and contributions to some of the biggest hits in music history, many backup singers remain relatively unknown to the general public. The documentary challenges viewers to consider why certain individuals are elevated to stardom while others remain in the background.
Another important theme of the film is the power of collaboration and community. The backup singers featured in the documentary often work together on various projects, providing support and encouragement for one another. The film highlights the importance of these relationships and the impact they can have on one’s career and personal life.
Overall, “20 Feet from Stardom” is a poignant and entertaining exploration of the world of backup singers. It shines a light on the often-overlooked contributions of these talented musicians and the unique challenges they face in the music industry.
If you’re a fan of music history or simply enjoy a good documentary, “20 Feet from Stardom” is definitely worth checking out. You’ll come away with a newfound appreciation for the voices that have been standing just out of the spotlight for far too long.
4.”Muscle Shoals” (2013)
Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a tiny town that has had a massive impact on music history. The 2013 documentary “Muscle Shoals” dives deep into the history of this unlikely musical mecca and the incredible talent that emerged from its humble origins.
The film explores the themes of music as a universal language, overcoming racial barriers, and the power of collaboration. It highlights the contributions of the unsung heroes of music production, such as Rick Hall, who founded the FAME recording studio in Muscle Shoals, and the Swampers, a group of local musicians who became legendary session players.
Muscle Shoals was a magnet for iconic musicians such as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and the Rolling Stones, who flocked to FAME Studios to record some of their most memorable hits. The documentary shows how the town and its music scene played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement and how the music produced in Muscle Shoals continues to influence artists to this day.
In addition to the film’s themes, the documentary provides a fascinating glimpse into the behind-the-scenes workings of the music industry, from the technical aspects of recording to the challenges of getting a hit song. It also explores the relationship between musicians and their producers and the role that collaboration plays in creating a successful album.
For anyone interested in music history, Southern soul, or recording studios, “Muscle Shoals” is a must-see documentary. It’s a love letter to the power of music and the people who create it, and it will leave you humming a tune and tapping your toes for days.
So go ahead and give “Muscle Shoals” a watch, and experience the magic of this unassuming town that left a lasting impact on music history.
5.”The Wrecking Crew” (2008)
If you’re a fan of ’60s music, you might have heard of The Wrecking Crew, a group of elite studio musicians who played on some of the biggest hits of the era. But chances are you haven’t heard of them by name. That’s because they were the unsung heroes of the music industry, working behind the scenes to create the sounds that shaped a generation.
“The Wrecking Crew” is a documentary that sheds light on this group of musicians and their impact on the music of the 1960s. The film features interviews with surviving members of The Wrecking Crew, as well as producers, songwriters, and artists who worked with them.
One of the main themes of the film is the idea of collaboration. The Wrecking Crew worked closely with producers like Phil Spector and Brian Wilson to create the iconic sounds of the era. They were responsible for the signature guitar riffs, drum beats, and horn sections that made songs like “Be My Baby” and “Good Vibrations” so memorable.
The film also explores the often-unrecognized contributions of studio musicians in the music industry. Despite playing on countless hits, many members of The Wrecking Crew were never credited on the records they played on. This was in part due to the music industry’s emphasis on promoting artists as individual stars rather than acknowledging the team effort that went into creating their music.
Overall, “The Wrecking Crew” offers a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of the music industry during the 1960s. It highlights the incredible talent and creativity of The Wrecking Crew and the impact they had on shaping the sound of a generation. So if you’re a music lover or just curious about the history of popular music, this documentary is a must-watch.
6.”Gimme Shelter” (1970)
“Gimme Shelter” is a legendary music documentary that chronicles the final weeks of the Rolling Stones’ 1969 US tour, culminating in the infamous Altamont Free Concert. Directed by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, the film captures the counterculture of the era and the violence that erupted at the free concert in California.
The documentary features classic footage of the Rolling Stones, including performances of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Sympathy for the Devil,” as well as interviews with Mick Jagger and other members of the band. The film also showcases the Hells Angels, who were hired to provide security for the concert but ended up becoming a violent presence.
One of the main themes of the film is the tension between the idealistic vision of the 1960s counterculture and the harsh reality of violence and chaos that emerged at the Altamont concert. The film captures the mood of the era and the shift from the free-spirited optimism of the 1960s to the darker, more cynical mood of the early 1970s.
“Gimme Shelter” is an important document of the cultural significance of the Altamont Free Concert and its aftermath. The film is also notable for its use of innovative techniques, such as split-screen editing and intercutting of footage from different sources.
The relevance of “Gimme Shelter” has only increased over time, as it provides a unique window into the tumultuous cultural and political climate of the late 1960s. The film remains a must-watch for any music lover or anyone interested in the counterculture of the era.
7. “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” (2002)
Have you ever heard a Motown song and wondered who the musicians were behind those catchy beats and soulful melodies? Well, wonder no more because “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” has got you covered.
Released in 2002, this documentary pays tribute to the unsung heroes of Motown: the session musicians known as the Funk Brothers. Through interviews, reenactments, and of course, music, the film tells the story of these talented musicians who played on countless hits from the 1960s and 70s.
One of the main themes of the documentary is the idea of “standing in the shadows.” The Funk Brothers were often overshadowed by the Motown artists they played for, but without them, those iconic songs wouldn’t be the same. The film sheds light on the immense talent and hard work that went into creating the Motown sound.
The influence of the Funk Brothers is undeniable. They played on hits like “My Girl,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and “Dancing in the Street,” just to name a few. They were the backbone of Motown’s success, yet many people didn’t even know their names.
But thanks to “Standing in the Shadows of Motown,” the Funk Brothers finally got the recognition they deserved. The film has brought attention to their legacy and even led to a reunion concert with surviving members in 2002.
In a world where artists are often given all the credit, “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” reminds us that behind every great song, there’s a team of talented musicians. So the next time you listen to a Motown classic, take a moment to appreciate the Funk Brothers and their contribution to soul music.
8.”Don’t Look Back” (1967)
Oh boy, are we in for a treat with this one. “Don’t Look Back” is a classic music documentary that follows the iconic Bob Dylan on his 1965 tour of England. The film captures Dylan at the height of his fame, showcasing his music and enigmatic personality.
At its core, “Don’t Look Back” is a character study of Dylan. The film captures his aloofness and penchant for mystery, as well as his humor and charm. It also highlights his unique artistic sensibility, showcasing his songwriting process and his ability to craft memorable melodies.
One of the main themes of the film is the tension between Dylan and the media. Throughout the tour, Dylan is constantly bombarded by reporters and photographers, who try to get a glimpse into his private life. Dylan responds with wit and sarcasm, refusing to play into their narrative. The film also features an iconic scene in which Dylan holds up cue cards with the lyrics to “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” which has since become one of the most recognizable moments in music history.
Beyond its focus on Dylan, “Don’t Look Back” also provides a glimpse into the cultural zeitgeist of the 1960s. The film captures the burgeoning counterculture movement, which Dylan was a key figure of. It also showcases the political unrest of the time, with scenes of protests and demonstrations.
Bob Dylan’s influence on music and culture cannot be overstated. He is a cultural icon, and his impact on folk music and rock and roll is immeasurable. His poetic lyrics and unique voice set him apart from his contemporaries, and his influence can still be felt today.
In conclusion, “Don’t Look Back” is a must-see documentary for any music lover or cultural historian. It captures a moment in time, and provides insight into one of the most enigmatic figures in music history. Bob Dylan’s legacy continues to inspire generations of musicians and artists, and this film is a testament to his enduring impact.
9.”The Last Waltz” (1978)
“The Last Waltz.” It’s a classic documentary film that captures The Band’s final concert performance at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day in 1976. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film features interviews and performances by some of the biggest names in music at the time, including Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, and Neil Young.
One of the key themes of the film is the idea of a musical community coming together to celebrate the end of an era. The Band had been together for over 16 years and had been at the forefront of the rock music scene since the late 1960s. Their farewell concert was seen as a significant moment in music history, and the film captures the emotions and excitement of the event.
Throughout the film, we see The Band performing some of their most beloved songs, including “The Weight,” “Up on Cripple Creek,” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” But it’s not just The Band’s performance that makes the film special. The guest appearances by legendary musicians and the collaborations between them and The Band are some of the film’s most memorable moments.
The film also captures the spirit of the 1970s, a decade marked by social and political upheaval, and showcases the influence that The Band had on the rock music scene of the time. The Band’s fusion of rock, country, and folk music helped pave the way for the Americana movement, which would become increasingly popular in the decades that followed.
In discussing the influence of The Band, it’s important to acknowledge their contributions to rock music as a whole. The Band’s unique sound and songwriting style, which incorporated elements of traditional American music, helped to redefine what was possible within the genre. Their influence can still be heard in the work of contemporary artists today.
Overall, “The Last Waltz” is a film that celebrates the end of an era while showcasing the talent and creativity of some of the most iconic musicians of the time. The film remains a beloved classic and a must-watch for anyone interested in the history of rock music.
“Amy” (2015) is a powerful documentary that explores the life and legacy of the late Amy Winehouse, a British singer-songwriter who rose to fame in the mid-2000s with her unique blend of jazz, soul, and R&B music. The film, directed by Asif Kapadia, delves deep into Winehouse’s personal struggles with addiction and fame, and examines the cultural and societal forces that contributed to her tragic death at the age of 27.
One of the most striking themes in the film is the idea of personal agency, and the ways in which Winehouse struggled to maintain control over her own life and career in the face of intense scrutiny and pressure from the media, the music industry, and her own personal demons. From her early days as a struggling artist in London to her meteoric rise to fame and eventual decline, the film shows how Winehouse’s talent and creativity were often overshadowed by her struggles with addiction, mental illness, and the constant demands of the music industry.
Despite these challenges, however, Winehouse remained a beloved and influential figure in the world of music, with a distinctive voice and a gift for songwriting that continues to resonate with audiences around the world. Through interviews with her friends, family, and colleagues, as well as rare footage of her performances and personal life, the film paints a vivid portrait of a complex and deeply talented artist who left an indelible mark on the world of music.
The legacy of Amy Winehouse is one that continues to fascinate and inspire fans and musicians alike, and “Amy” is a testament to her enduring impact on the world of jazz, soul, and R&B music. By shining a light on the struggles and triumphs of this remarkable artist, the film reminds us of the power of music to bring us together, to lift us up, and to help us connect with each other on a deep and profound level.
In conclusion, “Amy” is a must-see documentary for anyone who loves music, or who is interested in the complex and often difficult lives of artists in the public eye. Through its powerful themes and poignant storytelling, the film offers a compelling and compassionate portrait of a singular talent who left us far too soon, but whose music and legacy continue to resonate with us to this day.
In conclusion, the documentaries we have explored offer a fascinating insight into the world of music and the individuals who create it. Each film showcases the importance of music not only as an art form but as a tool for social change and personal expression. “The Wrecking Crew” highlights the often-overlooked studio musicians who contributed to some of the biggest hits of the 1960s, while “Gimme Shelter” delves into the dark side of the counterculture movement of the same era. “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” celebrates the unsung heroes of Motown’s session musicians, and “Don’t Look Back” captures the enigmatic persona of Bob Dylan during a pivotal moment in his career. Finally, “The Last Waltz” documents The Band’s final concert and their enduring legacy in the world of rock music.
We encourage music lovers and documentary enthusiasts alike to experience these films for themselves. Whether you are a die-hard fan of a particular artist or genre, or simply interested in the history and cultural significance of music, these documentaries offer a captivating and entertaining glimpse into the world of music and the people who make it.
So grab some popcorn, turn up the volume, and let yourself be transported through time and space by the power of music. Let these documentaries rock your world and inspire you to explore the rich and diverse world of music that surrounds us.
One thought on “Lights, Camera, Music: 10 Must-See Music Documentaries”
very interesting article I really like it, thanks for sharing