Skip to Content. Learn as you listen with these essential deep dives into music culture and history. Written by Phillip Williams Updated on You don't need to know the full context to a classic record to fall in love with it — but as any music geek will tell you, a bit of backstory certainly helps. That's why we've compiled a list of some of the finest music documentaries of the last few decades — from longform pieces shedding light on the defining artists, groups and labels of our time to fly-on-the-wall pieces capturing freaks, outsiders and wanabees clinging onto the rock'n'roll dream. What Happened, Miss Simone? Length : minutes.
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Not only do they offer a rare window into the lives of some of our favourite musicians, they bring the story of sound to life in a sensory experience unlike any other. Here are seven of the best. Part documentary, part history lesson, The Two Killings of Sam Cooke explores the life and death of the father of modern soul. This film is a visual exploration of her groundbreaking performances over both weekends, interwoven with gruelling behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage and clips from football games played at historically Black colleges and universities. Who knew a story soundtracked by EDM could be so heartbreaking? Directed by his close friend Levan Tsikurishvili, this doc features up close and personal footage of what life on the road was really like for the young artist who grappled with the pressures of fame, both physically and mentally. We all know how this story ends, but the film was actually released a few months before he took his own life, so every breakdown, hospitalisation, and cry for help takes on a whole new meaning when you watch it. An aptly irreverent tribute to the late and great Beastie Boy, Adam Yauch, surviving members Ad-Rock and Mike D take a rollercoaster ride down memory lane to relive the turbulent and triumphant career of one of the most unique hip hop groups to ever do it. So, yeah, as good as it sounds.
The 50 Best Jazz Saxophonists Of All Time
You don't need to know the difference between a flugelhorn and a flumpet to appreciate a good music documentary. With the right mix of charismatic, offbeat personalities; rigorous attention to detail; and a judicious limitation of outright hagiography, the result can be simply a great movie see: Dont Look Back. Want even MORE documentaries? Check out the best docs and docuseries available to stream on Netflix , and the best documentaries of John Scheinfeld's feature is as comprehensive look at the jazz icon's unfortunately short life that you'll find. Denzel Washington brings voice to the famed jazz saxophonist and composer, reciting his words from throughout his lifetime, giving a moving texture to the biographic piece as it explores his influence on music and culture. It may be a relatively straightforward documentary, but it's more than enough to tell Coltrane's story and let his music do the talking. Director Chris Perkel's documentary on Clive Davis is the equivalent of a greatest hits package. Literally: The music biz exec famously signed and brought success to some of the biggest acts in history, including Janis Joplin, Barry Manilow, Billy Joel, Whitney Houston, and many others.
The past few years have been something of a golden age for music documentaries, with the Oscar-winning success of Searching for Sugar Man and 20 Feet From Stardom opening up the field for films about less obvious stars. Lately there have been a flood of movies about cult bands, forgotten local acts, and background players — and even a few docs, like Amy and Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck , that have found new ways to approach some of the most popular musicians of the past half-century. Netflix has done so well with music-themed films that it commissioned some of its own, such as What Happened, Miss Simone? The list of 50 documentaries below features old classics, new favorites, and a few films that deserve a wider audience. Most important, these documentaries and exceptional concert films, in case you were wondering contain performances that are as essential to understanding these artists as any of their records. Think of these 50 titles as a time capsule, ready to be opened today, next year, or decades from now. It Might Get Loud Director Davis Guggenheim starts with a simple but profound idea for It Might Get Loud : assembling three guitarists from different backgrounds and generations, and getting them to talk about their influences, philosophies, and techniques. But gradually it becomes clearer that Page, Edge, and White are all perpetually chasing something ineffable.