Last Updated: August 29th
Any music nerds or history junkies who are looking to hunker down and learn more about the bands behind some of the most well-known rock and pop songs and albums in the world will find plenty to entertain themselves on this often overlooked streaming service. Here are our picks for some of the best Amazon Prime has to offer in the realm of music documentaries.
Biggie & Tupac: The Story Behind The Murder Of Rap’s Biggest Superstars (2005)
When it comes to Biggie Smalls and Tupac, there’s a ton to unpack musically, but quite famously, there’s even more to discuss when it comes to how the two died. That doesn’t mean we know everything about the cases, which are still the subject of numerous conspiracy theories, but in this documentary, Director Nick Broomfield at least explores the questions everybody has. Although he doesn’t always have the answers (because nobody does), he’s clearly unafraid to ask. At the very least, Broomfield inspires queries that viewers may not have yet considered.
Brian Eno — 1971-1977: The Man Who Fell To Earth (2011)
Eno is mostly known today for his ambient work and production for other artists, but just as important to his career are his more rocking days, with his band Roxy Music and his early solo career, from about 1971 to 1977. That’s the window covered by this documentary, which features a ton of information about the man and his work, thanks to interviews with people close to him (and Eno himself). It might not be one to watch all in one sitting, since it runs two-and-a-half hours long, but you can’t say it’s not a comprehensive look at a particularly illustrious period of a particularly illustrious artist.
The Entertainers (2012)
The World Championship Of Old-Time Piano might just sound like some obscure event you’ve never heard of, but the event is ultimately one of the finer examples of a modern effort to keep one of the first pre-eminent American genres of music alive: ragtime. The movie follows six pianists all vying for the top spot in the competition — held annually in Peoria, Illinois for decades now — and explores their love of the genre, its importance, and its influence on modern music. While ragtime might not sound distinctly modern, its performers are some of the most technically skilled pianists out there, and for the speed and dexterity on display alone, The Entertainers is an interesting watch.
Freestyle: The Art Of Rhyme (2005)
The best look most people get at freestyle rap nowadays might be the “Freestylin’ With The Roots” segment on The Tonight Show, but there’s really much more to it than that: It’s an artform. Speaking of The Roots, group leader Black Thought is featured in this documentary about the art of freestyling, along with other legends like Mos Def and Jurassic 5. The movie features insider footage that helps to paint a comprehensive portrait of the world of improvisational rap, which should help even the stingiest of hip-hop haters at least realize that there’s an extraordinary level of talent and artistry at play here.
The Glamour & The Squalor (2017)
Seattle radio DJ Marco Collins was the first person to play Weezer’s “Undone (The Sweater Song)” on the radio. He was also an essential figure in the early careers of artists like Foo Fighters, Beck, and Presidents Of The United States. He was one of the finest rock DJs during one of the most iconic rock eras, and this film takes a look at the life of a man who is as influential as he is (to many) obscure (even if he can be found in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame). He’s a fascinating figure, especially for fans of grunge, since he was one of the genre’s earliest and loudest endorsers.
New York Doll (2005)
The New York Dolls’ peak was short but sweet: They were one of the most influential rock and glam bands of the ’70s, but creative differences and substance abuse issues were among contributing factors to the band’s breakup. This movie focuses specifically on Arthur Kane, who later converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and found himself with an opportunity to perform with the band again at a reunion show. Featuring interview with people like Morrissey, Chrissie Hynde, and Bob Geldof, the film offers an engaging look at the life of a man who, like many rock stars before and after him, was both tragic and fascinating.
Shut Up And Play The Hits (2012)
This documentary definitely reads differently now that LCD Soundsystem has reunited, as this film no longer chronicles the final days of one of the most influential indie bands of the 2000s. However, it still serves as a fascinating time capsule of the first era of one of the more impactful groups in recent memory. The movie is part concert film — thanks to footage of the band’s “final” concert at Madison Square Garden, which was positively packed and brimming with enthusiasm from both performer and audience — and part documentary, a look into the life of James Murphy and company as they reconcile the fact that something big is coming to an end (or so they thought at the time, anyway).
A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story (2018)
Austin City Limits has been on TV Itsa long time: It’s first season debuted in 1976, and between then and now, the program has hosted a bevy of legendary musicians, making it one of the longest-running and most entertaining music shows in television history. The film shows off concert footage (including the first episode, a performance from a much younger Willie Nelson) as well as other historical clips and behind-the-scenes footage. The show not only helped establish Austin, Texas as a premiere music city, but it became probably the best way to watch highly esteemed performers do their thing on TV for 40 years now.
One For The Money (2017)
For those who aren’t familiar with the beginnings of rock and roll, it was quite the wild ride. This hour-long doc charts the genre’s inception in southern rock, tracing it through the American phenomenon it became with commentary from figures who were there to witness it firsthand. Obviously, The King aka Elvis Presley himself isn’t around to discuss the era, but other hugely influential names like Bo Diddley, Little Richard, and Glen Campbell all appear here, telling the tales that helped make rock music into a national pastime.
Turn It Up! A Celebration Of The Electric Guitar (2013)
Aside from perhaps the piano/keyboard, no instrument has had a greater influence over modern music than the guitar. It’s a tool worth celebrating, and that’s just what this film does (as you may have gleaned from the title). The movie features conversations with guitar legends like B.B. King, Les Paul, Slash, and Robby Krieger, and in hearing these figures talk about their instrument, you get to experience their passion secondhand, which can be a moving thing. At the very least, Turn It Up makes the “Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon” game a lot easier, since he hosts the program.