As much as music is about the songs, it’s also about narrative, and the people who make it. An album is only as good as how badly people want to listen to it, and it takes interesting stories to create that connection with an audience. Since the origins of modern music, there has been a myriad of interesting plots (and subplots) about heroes, villains, underappreciated visionaries, signature events, and other elements that have come together to make the music industry the exciting and ever-moving beast it is today. As this has been happening, filmmakers have been documenting it, so below, check out some of the best music documentaries that, if you haven’t seen, you should watch, and if you have seen them, dust them off and give them another look.
Amy Winehouse was both a triumphant and tragic figure: Even though she only had two albums to her name, Winehouse’s career yielded international hits like “Rehab” and established her as one of the most engaging singers on the planet. Despite her success, she was also a vessel of potential, having passed away at just 27 after years of dealing with substance abuse. Amy, the definitive documentary about her life and journey, gets are more than that, though: It paints a comprehensive and compelling portrait of an artist who was as full of life as she was of struggle.
Anvil! The Story Of Anvil (2009)
Toronto metal band Anvil is probably a group you haven’t heard of, unless you’re familiar with this documentary about them. It might seem to be a Spinal Tap-like mockumentary — after playing a show to an embarrassingly small crowd, the band’s Robb Reiner looks to the camera and says, “I can sum it up for you in three words: We have shit management” — but it’s all real. The group had fleeting success in the ’80s, even managing to influence and/or perform with the likes of Megadeth, Metallica, Bon Jovi, and others, but it didn’t last. Despite the huge drought the band fell into during the ’90s, they refused to stop, so while there are plenty of comedic moments, it’s also at times heartwarming to see how determined this group of struggling musicians is.
A Band Called Death (2013)
The punk spirit is defined by its rebellion against the established and expected, so what’s more punk than being the first punk band, subverting the norm in a way that hadn’t even been established yet? ’70s Detroit group Death was believed to be one of the first groups in the genre, which meant they were underappreciated in their time but revered after it, as visionaries often are. A Band Called Death effective paints a portrait of this band of black brothers, going against the prevalent Motown grain of the time and place they were in in order to forge their own path, one that didn’t yet exist. Now that’s punk.
Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest (2011)
Around the time this documentary came out, A Tribe Called Quest was actually disputing with director Michael Rappaport, with Q-Tip going as far as to tweet that he was “not in support” of the movie. That could mean either the film wasn’t done all that well, or it was a warts-and-all production that wasn’t meant solely to honor the subject, but to paint as accurate and complete a portrait of them as possible. A Tribe Called Quest was and remains important and successful, but they didn’t always get along with each other and had their struggles, and it’s this absolute vision of the group that Rappaport faithfully portrays as he goes with them on their 2008 reunion tour.