- Max Kuehn
This collection includes the best music documentaries, from drug-fuelled histories and rock biogs to underground accounts and concert movies. Many of these films are available as part of streaming service subscriptions. Check out the trailers and reviews below for all documentaries.
Best Music Documentaries Of All Time
Biggie: I Got a Story To Tell (2021)
The Notorious B.I.G.’s final studio album, Life After Death, has been known by rap fans for years that the legendary Brooklyn rapper had a story. But this Netflix documentary on the rapper reveals how much of that story has gone untold.
Thanks to rare footage captured by Biggie’s childhood friend Damion Butler, Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell offers a comprehensive look at Christopher Wallace’s rise to fame as a rapper and his changing psyche.
Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell is a comprehensive look at Christopher Wallace’s rise to fame as a rapper and his changing psyche. This must-see feature is not another documentary about the events leading up to his murder. It celebrates Wallace’s life and brings some light to the darkness surrounding his death.
Excuse Me, I Love You (2020)
Do you want to immerse yourself in the world of saccharine pop perfection and sexiness? Ariana Grande can help. You will be seated in the front row at the London stop on Ari’s Sweetener World Tour.
Here you can see her stunning performances of songs like “God Is a Woman,” “7 Rings”, and many more. Paul Dugdale, a long-time music documentaryarian, has directed the concert doc.
Grande is not credited as executive producer. However, you won’t see much about her personality and the music industry other than what’s in the spotlight. However, Grande’s appeal and talent are not denied. Popular music fans will be treated to a bubbly pop feast on a silver plate. Miss Americana 2020
Taylor Swift gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at her personal life, career highlights, and the writing process for her Reputation album and Lover album. Interviews with Swift are featured, as well as footage from concerts and shots of her cute cats.
Miss Americana (2020)
In Lana Wilson’s Miss Americana documentary about Taylor Swift, there is a scene where the pop star declares that “my entire moral code is a need for me to be considered as good.”
This is a striking line, as while everyone wants to be good, Swift’s obsession with the perceptions of goodness is something very jarring to hear so openly from a celebrity.
The film focuses on Swift’s relationship to the idea and rehashes many of her public blunders, making her a notorious pop-culture villain. Swift’s camp is the only source of information, so there is not much new.
The documentary features interviews with Swift as well as concert footage and home videos.
Zappa features never-before-seen archival footage. It also includes a deep dive into Frank Zappa’s private life, who is best known for his controversial and bold music.
Alex Winter’s film features Frank’s widow Gail Zappa and many of Frank’s collaborators including Mike Keneally and Ian Underwood as well as Pamela Des Barres.
While most of us were not at Coachella, Beyonce was there. But undoubtedly, you can recall the 2018 event when her fans changed the name to Beychella. Netflix users were able to see the concert film that the Lemonade singer released.
The documentary, which is two hours long, was directed by Ed Burke and the singer. It also includes clips from the hard rehearsals Beyonce had to endure.
The Black Godfather (2019)
Are you familiar with Clarence Avant’s name? You should. This film shows the influence Avant has had on the music business. He is often called “the godfather” of Black music. Avant was a music executive who managed record labels such as Venture Records, Sussex Records, and Motown Records.
He also served as a concert organizer and worked with artists like Little Willie John (R&B singer), Sarah Vaughan (jazz singer), and Tom Wilson, rock ‘n roll pioneer. Jesse Jackson, Sean Combs, and Bill Clinton are part of the cast.
Miles Davis: Birth of Cool (2019)
This documentary will help you get to know Miles Davis. This biographical documentary focuses on the life and achievements of Miles Davis, a legendary trumpet player, and leader of a band. Although Davis remains a mystery, the documentary tries to make him more human and bring it all back to his music.
ZZ Top: That Little OL’Band from Texas (2019)
Learn all about ZZ Top, the blues-rock band. Frank Beard, Dusty Hill, and Billy F. Gibbons will be on hand to discuss being in a band for 50+ years, their life on the road, and the moments that shaped their lives from the ’70s through the present.
The eight-part docuseries follows the lives and careers of eight rising hip-hop artists. Viewers can watch them live in the studio as they tour A-Boogie Wit D Hoodie and Nas. Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton creator, and T.I., 2 Chainz, Lin-Manuel Miranda are other stars.
Echo in the Canyon (2018)
This documentary captures the beauty and emotion of a particular moment like few others. Echo in the Canyon explores the short period between 1965 and 1967 when many musicians rushed to Laurel Canyon.
It also examines the impact of artists such as The Mamas and the Papas and other folk-rockers who transformed poetry into enduring popular music.
It features interviews with artists who created the Cali sound as well as contemporary names who were influenced. The soundtrack takes you back to that era and is a must-see for rock doc lovers.
Quincy Jones was a record producer who recorded more than 2,900 songs and 300 albums over his career. He also produced 51 television and film scores and more than 1,000 original compositions.
He was also nominated for 79 Grammys and received 27 Grammy awards. Hee. These staggering figures, shown in this documentary of two hours (directed by Rashida Jones’s daughter), show how significant Jones’s influence was on the music industry.
Gaga: Five foot two (2017)
This documentary shows the extent to which Lady Gaga went (physically and emotionally) to create Joanne and prepare for her most significant performance: the Super Bowl halftime. Chris Moukarbel directed this film. It gives fans an intimate, raw look at the star’s life.
Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives (2017)
Chris Perkel’s documentary about Clive Davis, directed by Chris Perkel, is like a greatest hits album. Literally: Clive Davis, a music business exec, signed and brought fame to many of the greatest acts in history, such as Janis Joplin and Billy Joel.
The book is a loving, sweeping overview of the life of the former Columbia and Arista Records president and RCA chair. Many famous talking heads sing his praises. Although the documentary is more about hagiography than information, it’s still a great look at how Davis influenced popular music for decades.
HIP-HOP EVOLUTION (2016)
This Canadian documentary features some of the most famous faces, including Ice-T, Public Enemy, Lil’ Kim, and LL Cool J. The documentary explores the history and influential artists of hip-hop.
The episodes feature interviews with producers, DJs, promoters, and artists. They take viewers on a journey that explains the origins of hip-hop and how it has influenced culture today.
He Called Him Morgan (2016)
If you haven’t heard it before, we are asking you to stop. His common-law spouse kills a gifted jazz musician. She was convicted of murder and then paroled after moving to North Carolina.
She gave an interview to her night-school teacher two decades later. Then she dies one year later. A documentary is released two decades later, based upon her interviews and the recollections from jazz musicians of her time. Do you sound familiar? You are not. It is.
I’ll Sleep When My Dade (2016)
EDM star Steve Aoki is the child of Hiroaki “Rocky,” Benihana founder. He is well-known for his crazed and acrobatic live shows, where he is known for throwing cookies in the faces of audience members.
These facts may confirm any preconceived notions about EDM fans, but looking at Aoki’s career and approach towards music will also reveal a scene often stereotyped as a bunch of molly-dancing kids. But that’s not all.
Rolling Stones Ole, Ole, Ole!: A Trip Across Latin America (2016)
Ever wanted to ride on the Rolling Stones tour bus? This film will allow you to experience what it’s like. The iconic band takes you through South America and Mexico as part of their 2016 tour. They then travel to Cuba, where they perform for over 500,000 concertgoers.
It was tough to see the peaks and valleys in Amy Winehouse’s life. The documentary focuses on her rise to fame and the tragic end of her life. The star’s friends and family recall her life while previously unseen footage, songs, and other material help tell her story.
Critically acclaimed, the film received 33 nominations and won thirty film awards, including Academy Award for Great Music Documentary Feature.
Keith Richards: Under Influence (2015)
Keith Richards is the rock star that everyone remembers. Although the Rolling Stones guitarist was a rock n roll star in the sex-enforced ’60s and 1970s, drug- and sex-infested ’70s, this documentary shows that he is just as fascinating and on an emotional high today.
The film features original interviews with the musician and footage from Crosseyed Heart’s recording. There are also some Stones anecdotes from the past. Richards is the main character in the film and shows that the older man still has it.
The other one: The Long Strange Trip of Bob Weir (2015)
The documentary features Bob Weir, the Grateful Dead guitarist, and talks about what it was like being part of America’s most famous rock band. Interviews with members of the band, including Weir, allow viewers to learn more about the Grateful Dead as well as the 1960s.
WHAT HAPPENED MISS SIMONE? (2015)
This documentary is a biographical one that follows Nina Simone, an American singer, and civil rights activist. “What happened Miss Simone?” tells the story of Nina Simone through previously archival footage and interviews with Simone’s friends and family.
“What happened Miss Simone?” featured John Legend’s tribute performance and was nominated at the 88th Academy Awards for Best Documentary Feature.
20,000 Days on Earth (2014)
Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth won two awards at the 2014 Sundance festival. Jane Pollard’s 20,000 Days On Earth featured a fictional day in Nick Cave’s life while working on 2013’s Push The Sky Away.
It features scenes from therapy sessions and studio recording, as well as performance and in-car conversations. This is the antithesis of Carpool Karaoke, but Cave’s scripted structure doesn’t prevent it from being an artistic and revealing glimpse into Cave’s life.
20 Feet from Stardom (2013)
As Morgan Neville’s film explores, backing singers can have as much of a rollercoaster life as the stars they are harmonizing with. Darlene Love and Judith Hill are just a few of the backing singers who get the spotlight.
Their stories can be funny, touching, and sometimes sad, as they have to deal with their status as permanent bridesmaids. This show is dominated by Clayton’s outstanding vocal performance on the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” song.
20 Feet From Stardom won Best Documentary Feature Oscar at the 2014 Academy Awards
The Band Called Death (2012)
If David Hackney, the prime mover in the trio of Detroit rock brothers credited with being the first to create the genre, hadn’t succumbed to label pressures and changed the name of his band from Death to something more appealing, Punk might have been around sooner.
Instead, obscurity, alcoholism, and next-gen rediscovery beckoned. Jeff Howlett and Mark Christopher Covino explore this in a documentary equal parts tragedy, redemption, and even humor.
Sample This (2012)
Although Michael Viner is a relatively unknown music producer, you have probably heard of his work. Watch how the Incredible Bongo band’s failed album was the catalyst for many hip-hop tracks by Jay-Z, Will Smith, and Missy Elliot while creating an anthem to the Bronx.
Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) (2010)
Harry Nilsson was both a party animal and a music genius. He had an angelic voice and devilish nature. Many critics and the music industry viewed him as someone who seldom realized his full potential.
John Scheinfeld, director, and scriptwriter said that while Harry Nilsson was a huge fan in college, he didn’t know much about his story. “When Harry Nilsson’s estate approached me, asking if I would be interested in making a documentary about him,” John Scheinfeld said.
This music doc is a masterpiece. It introduces you to a phenomenal singer whose private life, aside from his bizarre friendship with John Lennon, was rarely in the public eye. It is both a fascinating portrait and an eye-opening look at the dark side of success.
Interviews with Randy Newman and Jimmy Webb are included in the film. It was nominated by the Writers Guild of America for Best Documentary Screenplay. Martin Chilton
Beyond The Lighted Stage (2010)
The prog-rock legends Rush have been adored by their Canadian fans for over five decades. Their back catalog includes seismic LPs like 2112, Permanent Waves, and Moving Pictures.
This book includes a wealth of backstage footage and personal footage, and enthusiastic testimonials from stars such as Gene Simmons, Trent Reznor, and Billy Corgan.
Oil City Confidential (2009)
Their glory days were short-lived by internal squabbling, line-up changes, and internal squabbling. However, Dr. Feelgood’s Canvey Island R&B band was arguably the most popular thing to hit eight feet in Britain’s pre-punk pub rock era.
The film Oil City Confidential, which Julien Temple directed, was warmly received by critics in 2010. It focuses on the lives and times of two key players in the band: Lee Brilleaux, the guitarist with the harmonica, and Wilko Johnson, the English literature teacher who became a manic guitar player.
It Might Get Loud (2008)
Davis Guggenheim, a filmmaker, said that he wanted to create a music documentary about Jimmy Page and Jack White. This would highlight their three stories and the similarities that brought them closer.
Guggenheim said that all three of them are searchers. “These guys aren’t just great guitarists; they are artists who are trying to find themselves.” It Might Get Loud was premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.
It was not scripted and allowed the guitarists to talk openly and spontaneously. You never knew what was coming next or how it would evolve. That was the beauty of it,” Page, founder of Led Zeppelin, said.
One of the most enriching moments in this film is when the three best musicians learn to play “The Weight” by The Band. Martin Chilton
Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008)
British screenwriter-turned-director Sacha Gervasi was only 17 when he introduced himself to Canadian heavy metal band Anvil in London in 1982, telling them he was “England’s number-one Anvil fan.”
He later became a roadie for the band – they nicknamed him “Teabag” – and reunited with them two decades later to make a charming, affectionate music documentary about their failed attempts to hit the big time.
Anvil won the Emmy Award for “outstanding artistic and cultural programming” in 2010. They are now in their forties and are preparing to record their thirteenth album; This is Thirteen. It’s a touching, funny tale. Martin Chilton
Scott Walker: 30 Century Man (2007)
Scott Walker, a naturally quiet artist, was one of pop’s most fascinating enigmas. He recorded a series of beautiful, orchestrally-inclined pop albums in the late 60s before being forced into exile. He returned to pop with 1984’s Climate Of Hunter and recorded several avant-garde-inclined, radical albums at a snail’s pace.
To showcase Walker’s anticipated 2006 opus, The Drift (Director Stephen Kijak), 30 Century Man, was released. It remains an informative overview of Walker’s elusive career with input from high-profile interviewees like Brian Eno and David Bowie, the film’s executive producer.
The Devil And Daniel Johnston (2006)
Outsider artist Daniel Johnston was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. His lo-fi, home-recorded music and highly valued drawings earned him praise from well-known names like Kurt Cobain and Tom Waits.
Later, Jeff Feuerzeig’s highly acclaimed but intimate subject was The Devil and Daniel Johnston. It won the Documentary Directing Award at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival 2005.
American Hardcore: The History Of American Punk Rock 1980-86 (2006)
Paul Rachman directed the film, and it is based on Steven Blush’s book American Hardcore. A Tribal History. This engaging rockumentary does exactly the job that it says on its tin.
It examines the history and development of hardcore music in major cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Chicago in the late 70s and early days of the 1980s.
The film features exclusive interviews with key figures such as Henry Rollins from Black Flag and Ian MacKaye of Fugazi/Minor Threat. It also includes vintage footage that was often provided by the bands.
No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (2005)
Martin Scorsese loves a long-ass rock doc. Scorsese is also a huge Bob Dylan fan. More recently, he released Rolling Thunder Revue.
Still, his first Dylan documentary is 2005’s sprawling, three-and-a-half-hour-long No Direction Home, which chronicles the musical legend’s life from growing up as Robert Zimmerman in Minnesota to becoming a folk legend.
The film is primarily about his rise to stardom in Greenwich Village and his controversial move towards rock music shortly afterward between 1961-1966. This is Dylan’s classic text, perfect for obsessives.
It features stunning archival footage, rare interviews, and a fascinating watch as Scorsese paints an accurate picture of the artist, famously shrouded by mystery.
We Jam Econo: The Story Of The Minutemen (2005)
The Minutemen, a pioneer in punk-funk, was often cited by every US punk band of the 1980s. However, their career was ended when D Boon, a young frontman, was killed in a car accident in December 1985.
We Jam Econo takes its name from SoCal slang featuring interviews of the band’s surviving members Mike Watt, George Hurley and the premiere in 2005 in San Pedro, California.
Be Here to Love Me: A Film about Townes Van Zandt (2004)
Townes Van Zandt, a late Texan singer-songwriter, was undoubtedly one of the most important country folk artists of all time. But he was also a distraught soul. Margaret Brown’s documentary, Be Here To Love Me, is a compassionate portrait of a sensitive artist.
It draws on intimate home videos, old TV performances, and detailed interviews from contemporaries like Guy Clark and Steve Earle. Although his tragic, poetic songs often stemmed from his struggles with alcohol, drugs, and bipolar disorder, Margaret Brown’s film portrays an empathetic portrait.
Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster (2004)
Metal kings Metallica offered to let directors Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, and others film a documentary. They got a lot more than they expected. Some Kind Of Monster, one of the fascinating music documentaries of all time, documents the band’s turbulent era.
It includes the departure of Jason Newsted, the entry of James Hetfield into rehab, and the escalating power struggle between Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, which results in a flood of emotions. It won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2005.
Ondi Timoner, a filmmaker, shot 1,500 hours over seven years for Dig! This documentary examines the rivalry of two American bands: The Dandy Warhols & The Brian Jonestown Massacre.
Courtney Taylor’s Dandy Warhols were successful in filling stadiums with their music and making money through advertisements.
Anton Newcombe’s BJMs, however, paved the way for destruction. This film gives a fascinating insight into alternative music and how friendships can crumble under pressure to make it big while maintaining artistic integrity. Dig! You will also find some genuinely bizarre backstage shenanigans.
This film was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival 2004 and is considered one of the greatest music documentaries ever made. Martin Chilton
Made In Sheffield: The Birth Of Electronic Pop (2002)
Punk’s groundbreaking DIY ethos may have sparked a chain reaction in the UK. But Eve Wood’s provocative Made In Sheffield argues that the hipster scenesters of this Yorkshire steel town knew that guitars were obsolete and that synthesizers would reshape the musical landscape post-punk.
They were right, too, as the transcendent Sheffield scene produced electro-pop stars such as Heaven 17 and Cabaret Voltaire. All of them reflect on that intense period, when, as Heaven 17’s Ian Craig Marsh aptly put it, “We thought rock’n’roll was dying.”
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco (2002)
Many often cite Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as the landmark album of Chicagoan Americana pioneers and alt. rockers Wilco. Its creation, however, was fraught with difficulties.
Sam Jones’ engrossing black-and-white film I Am Trying To Break Your Heart consequently documents the internal tensions which resulted in the departure of multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett and the events which led to Wilco recording Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for one Warner Bros imprint (Reprise) and eventually releasing it through another (Nonesuch).
The Filth and the Fury (2000)
All serious punk fans will know that The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle was, and still is, great fun. But ultimately, it was Malcolm McLaren’s fantasized version of Sex Pistols’ past, and hard facts seldom entered into it.
Julien Temple, the director, allowed the band to correct the record after two decades. They did this in full during The Filth And The Fury.
The band members are shown in silhouette and candidly recount their history. John Lydon, who usually is quite sarcastic, even breaks down at the senseless murder of Sid Vicious.
Buena Vista Social Club (1999)
Buena Vista Social Club, directed by Wim Wenders, was a critically acclaimed film. It follows Ry Cooder’s journey to gather a group of legendary, octogenarian Cuban musicians and record an album. Then, they perform the music in Europe and a historic concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall.
Wenders’ cinematography has a lush, beautiful style. The Cuban musicians are undeniable in their roguish charm. It was fully deserving of its Academy Award nomination in 2000. This film remains one of the best music documentaries ever made.
Meeting People Is Easy (1998)
Radiohead’s third album, OK Computer (1997), was critically acclaimed and launched onto the international scene. The subsequent tour, which saw over 100 gigs, almost ended the band’s career.
Thom Yorke was on the brink of panic. Grant Gee’s Grammy Award-winning Meeting People Is Easy captures the drama of the trek. It is a disorienting cinematic method that includes slow tracking shots and time-lapse photography.
Rhyme & Reason (1997)
Peter Spirer’s extensive film examines the history and rise of hip-hop culture. Rhyme & Reason takes you from the Bronx to Hollywood, where many prominent hip-hop artists have moved to become multi-millionaires.
The film lets the artists speak for themselves with veteran rappers (KRS-One and Chuck D) and contemporary hitmakers (Wu-Tang Clan and Dr. Dre) sharing their opinions on everything, including sex, crime, and drugs, and the future.
Let’s Get Lost (1988)
Chet Baker, brilliant and mercurial jazz trumpeter, was worthy of James Dean’s admiration. His talent also led him to record with jazz legends Charlie Parker, Gerry Mulligan, and others. After decades of heroin addiction and hard life, he was killed from an Amsterdam hotel window in a fall.
Bruce Weber’s novelistic, critically acclaimed Let’s Get Lost captures Baker’s life and career in a beautiful way. It features insight from Baker’s ex-wives and former associates and vintage footage of Baker at his best on the late 50s’ US TV’s The Steve Allen Show.
Rattle And Hum (1988)
Rattle and Hum, U2’s sixth album, was a huge commercial success. It sold 14 million copies. However, critics were split over the exploration of American roots music by the Dublin quartet.
Phil Joanou’s emotional companion music documentary captures U2 as they reach full-fledged superstar status. Rattle and Hum are worth the admission price simply for its stunning live footage taken in Arizona’s Sun Devil Stadium.
Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense (1984)
Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense concert film, directed by Talking Heads, has been widely acclaimed as one of the greatest concert/music documentaries ever made. This film won the 1984 National Society of Film Critics Award for best non-fiction film.
It was shot over four nights at Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre. The film pioneered 24-track digital sound and was shot in 24 tracks. The film featured stunning music that began with a boombox rendition of “Psycho Killer” and incorporated Demme’s cinematographic style with David Byrne’s vision for visual stagecraft.
He was at the time of his famous giant suit an interest in traditional Japanese theatre. Jurgen Lehl, his friend and fashion designer, inspired him to make the giant suit. Byrne said he was referring to gestures, but I applied the idea for a businessman’s outfit. Martin Chilton
The Decline Of Western Civilization (1981)
While she has overseen many hit movies like Wayne’s World and The Metal Years, Penelope Spheeris’ masterpiece is undoubtedly her three-part documentary, The Decline Of Western Civilization.
The Metal Years was finally released as a 3DVD set in 2015. The entertaining, preposterous, second volume depicted LA’s late 80s and early days of the 90s metal scene. ’98’s third volume focused on LA’s newer, more savage Mohican-wearing “gutter punks,” while ’98’s third featured the city’s newest breed of Mohican-sporting “gutters.”
It’s Spheeris’ 1981 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization – a warts’n’all depiction of the LA punk scene with riveting footage of The Germs and Circle Jerks – which is still the iconic flick of the trilogy.
Cracked Actor (1974)
Ziggy acolytes have DA Pennebaker’s concert film Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars. But Alan Yentob’s BBC-sponsored documentary Cracked Actor, also sponsored by the BBC, is equally mandatory.
It was shot in 1974 while David Bowie was on tour with Diamond Dogs. The film depicts Bowie in a fragile mental state. It’s even more striking when you consider Bowie’s star in The Man Who Fell To Earth and complete Young Americans over the next twelve months.
The Last Waltz (1978)
The Last Waltz is a good music documentary that captures a spectacular concert with daring cinematography. Robbie Robertson led The Band for their unforgettable final performances at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom, November 1976.
The entire thing was captured by Martin Scorsese, a renowned director who later released it as an animated movie. Scorsese used multiple cameras and 35mm film to manage a complicated challenge.
Scorsese was a lot helped by The Band, who called up many of the most famous acts of the 1960s and 70s, such as Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan.
Cameras often ran out of the film, and the synch motors would fail. He also employed innovative shooting angles and considerable cranes to capture the shots he desired.
To ensure that his vision was realized, he brought in a top-flight cinematographer team, including Michael Chapman (Easy Rider), Vilmos Zsigmond(McCabe & Mrs. Miller), and Laszlo Kovacs (“Easy Rider”) to help him.
Scorsese was the executive producer of Once Were Brothers, a fine documentary about The Band. Martin Chilton
Gimme Shelter (1970)
The death of the idealistic 60s is often seen as mirroring the death of The Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones’ free concert at California’s Altamont Speedway on December 6, 1969, was tagged onto their triumphant US tour. It was intended to be a celebration night for fans.
Gimme Shelter, which the Maysles brothers made that fateful night, captures one of rock’s most tragic tragedies. Meredith Hunter, a fan, was stabbed by Hell’s Angel Alan Passaro as the Stones performed.
It has not lost its dark power five decades later; a sense of dread still hangs above this post-apocalyptic music documentary.
Elvis: That’s The Way It Is (1970)
The critically acclaimed ’68 Comeback Special arguably reintroduced Elvis Presley into serious rock’n’roll audiences. However, Denis Sanders’ Elvis. The Way It is was The King’s first movie that wasn’t dramatic since 1956 when his film career began.
Although it is a recording of Presley’s Las Vegas residency in 1970, there is plenty of captivating backstage footage and off-duty footage. The electrifying live performances show Elvis in his lean, vital best.
Amazing Grace (1972)
Amazing Grace, Sydney Pollack’s Aretha-Franklin concert film, was shot in 1972. However, it ended up languishing behind bars due to legal and technical issues. Alan Elliott, a producer, acquired the rights to the film. However, the film was restored and released in August 2018 following Franklin’s passing.
Amazing Grace, a remarkable concert film, documents the Queen Of Soul’s return in 1972 to gospel music with the New Bethel Baptist Church, Watts, Los Angeles. Variety stated that her performance on screen “sounds like a holy trumpet, with every note strikingly bright but as soft as velvet.”
We agree. It’s one of the greatest music documentaries ever made.
Sound City: Reel to Reel (2013)
Dave Grohl was the drummer for Nirvana, and later the founder of Foo Fighters. He once joked that he was stunned at how “dumpy” Sound City Studios had become after its opening in 1969.
Grohl purchased the Neve 8028 analog mixing console in 2011 and decided to make and direct a documentary to honor the studio. Grohl is a great guide to the studio, and the soundtrack is superb. Martin Chilton
Honorable Mentions for The Best Music Documentaries of All Time
Even with the runners-up, it’s difficult not to mention several more that all merit a shout-out. There are many more, but we must draw a line somewhere. If you are still hungry, dive in to these.
- Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World, a 2017 documentary, examines the contributions of Native Americans (Indigenous), musicians to rock music in America and Canada.
- Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck 2015 is all about the life and times of Nirvana’s singer.
- I am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco is a 2002 documentary about Wilco and the creation and distribution their Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Album.
- The Black Godfather, a 2019 documentary about Clarence Avant, a music executive who has a great influence on the music industry but is not well-known to the general public.
- Beware Of Mr. Baker This 2012 movie is about Ginger Baker, who was widely regarded as the greatest drummer of all time and the drummer for Cream.
- Beats, Rhymes, & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest, a 2011 documentary, is about the life of hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest.
- Amy (2015) is a documentary about Amy Winehouse’s life and meteoric career.
- No Direction Home: Bob Dylan is Martin Scorsese’s 2005 film that documents Bob Dylan’s entire life, from his birth to his retirement.
These may seem like obvious choices, but they are a great way to start musicals. Fidlar has a list with the Best Music Documentaries that you can browse if you’re interested in taking that journey. We’d love to hear your suggestions for improving this list of the greatest music documentaries. Thank you for your reading!