Good music documentaries?
June 26, 2020 2:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for documentaries I can stream about bands or artists that do a deep dive into their history or follow them for a period of time. Examples inside.

Lately I've been enjoying watching docs about established artists even if I'm not very familiar with them. I'm less interested in hearing the music and more into learning about their history, influence, or things they may have pioneered. Artists and bands that have a long history are preferred.

Not interested in "Behind the Music" sorts of things that focus only on band squabbles and drug addictions.

Some I've seen recently and what I liked about them:

That Little Ol' Band From Texas. About ZZ Top. I was only really familiar with their 1980s MTV hits so it was great to learn about their history. I also liked the current-day interviews with the band members talking honestly about mistakes they made.

Long Strange Trip. About The Grateful Dead. I like the Dead but didn't know a lot about them. Amount other things, I found the stuff about the advances they made in the world of live sound very interesting.

Between Me and My Mind About Trey Anastasio. I'm a big Phish fan and I know a lot about the band members but it was neat to see the process of such a hard working, well-adjusted, mostly-normal guy who doesn't seem to have a normal rock star life.

Flight 666. About Iron Maiden's 2008 tour where the tour and crew plane was flown by the lead singer. This was so good. I knew nothing about Maiden so I loved seeing all these aging rock stars just sort of doing their thing and having the time of their lives late in their careers.

I've also seen the Metallica docs, It Might Get Loud, that Motley Crew one that seemed like a Lifetime movie, a pretty recent one about Rush, and the new (and old) Woodstock one.

So you get the idea. Go.
posted by bondcliff to Media & Arts (40 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound Of My Voice
Be Here To Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt

posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:50 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]

The Wrecking Crew and Muscle Shoals if you're into session/studio lore.

The Decline of Western Civilization docs are more about fans and scenes, as is Hype! (Seattle grunge scene) but still might be worthwhile.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:52 PM on June 26 [3 favorites]

I really enjoyed, "What Happened, Miss Simone?"

(Also, the much more whimsical "Off the Carts: the Song Poem Story.")
posted by eotvos at 3:09 PM on June 26 [2 favorites]

George Harrison: Living in the Material World. Very deep dive. Lots of great interviews with people who knew him.
posted by FencingGal at 3:14 PM on June 26

I'll second Flight 666. The key to a good music documentary try is that it should be enjoyable even if you're not a huge fan of the group. I appreciate Iron Maiden, but it's not th kind of thing I'd seek out to listen to. But the documentary is super enjoyable.
posted by jonathanhughes at 4:27 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]

I never liked Eagles' music, but I was drawn in to their two-part documentary on Netflix. It was great and gave me a fresh appreciation of the band.
posted by AgentRocket at 4:32 PM on June 26

“Watch me Jumpstart” is a cool film about Guided By Voices.
posted by nikaspark at 4:45 PM on June 26 [2 favorites]

Two sorta ensemble pieces rather than deep dives into individual artists & bands, but both fascinating & instructive about how the music got made:

20 Feet From Stardom (2013 documentary about backup singers.)

Standing in the Shadows of Motown (The Funk Brothers, who played on most/all Motown songs. Not a concert movie, though it is framed by a reunion concert of sorts, interspersed with appreciations, historical bits, etc.)


We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen (Minutemen are much admired but maybe too weird to be that influential? I think this movie does a good job at showing how odd & eclectic they were. Lots of appreciative interviews with other punk types, and lots of Mike Watt talking while driving a van.)

Anvil! The Story of Anvil is certainly a deep dive. I didn't know anything about them before & found it charming--though more for the drama & good storytelling than for anything pioneering about them. 
posted by miles per flower at 4:52 PM on June 26 [9 favorites]

Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey is about how Arnel Pineda was chosen as the singer in Journey after Steve Perry left.
posted by Lexica at 4:58 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]

There is a streaming service call Qello that works like Netflix but all of its titles are regarding music personalities. They have a ton of documentaries and concert footage and videos for ALL types of music. I'm sure you would be able to find a lot to watch there. It's very reasonably priced ($12/month or $99/year). First 7 days are free.
posted by ydaltak at 5:07 PM on June 26

I came to recommend 20 Feet from Stardom, Muscle Shoals, and What Happened Miss Simone. Amy was very good but might be too drug/sadness for you.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:11 PM on June 26 [3 favorites]

Seconding Anvil! The Story of Anvil. It is great.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 5:35 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed Ken Burns's Country Music series, and since you're a Phish fan already, some of the material on bluegrass will probably be of interest. Burns's Jazz series is also great. Not sure if movies like Stop Making Sense or The Last Waltz fit what you're looking for, but I figured I'd mention them. I'm not a huge Springsteen fan, but I know people who really like the film about the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town.

Hope this helps. Thanks for starting this thread! I'm looking forward to seeing what others suggest.
posted by 6and12 at 5:51 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]

I liked Beautiful Noise a lot, but I am a huge shoegaze fan. It's about the Cocteau Twins, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and My Bloody Valentine and their influences on several music genres and popular music as a whole.
posted by Stoof at 5:51 PM on June 26 [3 favorites]

A Band Called Death is excellent.
posted by porn in the woods at 6:08 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]

Echo in the Canyon, which is on Netflix, is about the music scene in LA's Laurel Canyon in the mid-60s. I think this would be more akin to the Woodstock documentary you watched (kind of a snapshot, but broad across different artists and placed within the greater context), but it's really very enjoyable.

Prime (at least in Canada) seems to have a lot of music documentaries on it. Among these, some of which may suit your fancy more than others, there is Jim Jarmusch's documentary on The Stooges, Gimme Danger. It also has the Amy Winehouse documentary, Amy. But there are a LOT on there, so there might be others that strike your fancy; I've found that the easiest way to see what is on there is to click on one music documentary then scroll through the recommendations and choose one, then scroll through its recommendations.
posted by urbanlenny at 6:16 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]

Sorry one more that I meant to include: New York Doll about Arthur (Killer) Kane from the New York Dolls is also on Prime and even if you're not familiar with the band you might enjoy it because it's a pretty different approach to a music documentary.
posted by urbanlenny at 6:17 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]

Not sure if movies like Stop Making Sense or The Last Waltz

Seen them both and loved them but I'm not really looking for concert films. The Last Waltz would work though, because in addition to the concert it's a documentary about the concert as well as a dive into the history of The Band.

Which reminds me, I also recently watched One Were Brothers, about The Band. It's excellent, though since it's mainly about Robbie it's a bit kinder to him than I think the other members would have liked. That's the sort of film I'm looking for though.

These are great, keep them coming!
posted by bondcliff at 6:17 PM on June 26

No Direction Home: Bob Dylan is also excellent.
posted by FencingGal at 6:21 PM on June 26

This is kiiiiinda an addiction and squabbles movie but Beware of Mister Baker (about Ginger Baker) covers nearly all of Ginger Baker's career and how he got that sound and some (but not all) of the weird parts of his life. I also liked the Anvil doc.
posted by jessamyn at 6:27 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]

Not exactly what you are looking for but maybe when you are done with the suggestions above you may enjoy a documentary on the making of Steely Dans album Aja
posted by jasondigitized at 6:33 PM on June 26

N-thing "We Jam Econo" (and the bonus disc from the DVD set with three live concerts) but adding X: The Unheard Music

I watched the L7 "Pretend Were Dead" doc on Prime a few weeks back and really enjoyed it.

I can also recommend "Filmage: the story of the Descedents/ALL", but it's not longer available on streaming that I can find, sadly.

Weirdly Prime (and yeah, I'm conflicted about Amazon in general too) seems to run a pretty good rotation of music docs. I haven't seen them yet but there are a few that I just noticed that I'll def. check out about Jawbreaker, The Gits, and Mudhoney.

I'd have a ton more recs if you were asking about scenes and not individual bands, but that's the best I can do for now.
posted by Ufez Jones at 6:42 PM on June 26 [2 favorites]

when you are done with the suggestions above you may enjoy a documentary on the making of Steely Dans album Aja

Making of an album docs are perfect!
posted by bondcliff at 6:43 PM on June 26

Beastie Boys Story is basically the only thing you will ever watch on Apple TV + , and is essentially an Ad Rock/MikeD TED talk, but is compelling enough its worth your time to set up the free trial/get the free year that comes with an Apple device.
posted by Artw at 6:46 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if you can find it, the PBS American Masters Doc on Phil Ochs from 2012 "There But For Fortune" is fantastic. Maybe a local library has a DVD copy?
posted by Ufez Jones at 7:05 PM on June 26

Bill Wyman The Quiet One, very nice, deep dive.
posted by Freedomboy at 7:07 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]

I can't believe no one has mentioned these yet:

- DiG!
- Mistaken for Strangers
- Dont Look Back
posted by JPowers at 7:14 PM on June 26

Beyond the Lighted Stage is a deep dive into the history of Rush and I found it fascinating and sort of weirdly charming - they basically started being Rush in (right after?) high school and have done pretty much nothing else.
posted by skycrashesdown at 7:48 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]

Oh also: LoudQUIETloud: A Film About the Pixies.
posted by JPowers at 8:07 PM on June 26

"Making of an album docs are perfect!"

A whole bunch of the "Classic Albums" series in on Amazon Prime. The aforementioned "Aja" one is fantastic, as is the one about Peter Gabriel's "So." All of them feature band members era in the studio at the mixing board with the original tapes from the album, and they bring up various individual tracks (bass, vocals, drums, etc.) and talk about them. That stuff is gold.
posted by jonathanhughes at 8:55 PM on June 26 [2 favorites]

I found Quiet Riot: Well Now You're Here, There's No Way Back (2014) pretty enjoyable.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:15 PM on June 26

Seconding Standing in the Shadows of Motown and 20 Feet From Stardom, and adding Genghis Blues. It’s about American blues musician Paul Peña and his journey to the Republic of Tuva to learn Tuvan throat singing and participate in the national competition.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:33 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]

Oh I forgot: Searching for Sugar Man, where the filmmakers try to track down the mysterious 1970s singer Rodriguez who was extremely popular in South Africa in the 1970s.

The Devil and Daniel Johnson, about singer/songwriter Daniel Johnson.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:38 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]

Citizens of Boomtown - The Story of the Boomtown Rats
The Rock Family Trees series
The All You Need is Love series
Girl Groups The Story of a Sound
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Runnin' Down a Dream
posted by TheRaven at 2:06 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]

It was only recommended to me out of the blue last night, so I'm not through it yet but The Ballad of Mott the Hoople is looking good.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:50 AM on June 27

Weird to see almost no Beatles stuff coming up (except that really good George Harrison doc). I just finished a deep dive into the history of both the band and the solo-careers.

Of course there's Anthology (6 eps).
If you can find it, Made On Merseyside is very good, telling the story of before they were famous.
Imagine: John Lennon.
Eight Days a Week has some stunning footage.

I'm sure there's more but I've read a couple of books and watched a lot of YouTube clips and now I can't really remember if what I liked was a specific docu or book or behind the scenes album thingy.
posted by Kosmob0t at 6:03 AM on June 27

Brainiac: Transmissions After Zero is good. It’s on Prime, but isn’t free.
posted by outfielder at 7:42 AM on June 27

I can't remember how much of this was "behind the music" and that, but I really enjoyed The Defiant Ones.

Rattle & Hum is somewhat a documentary.

I've only seen a few minutes of it, but what I saw of Live Forever was pretty cool, about the Stone Roses and maybe some of the Manchester scene and what turned into 90s Britpop I think?

24 Hour Party People is NOT a documentary, but a somewhat truthful account of the Manchester scene.

This is Spinal Tap?
posted by Snowishberlin at 1:39 PM on June 27

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