Last Updated: January 30th
For music fans, Netflix is a boon, hosting a wide range of different documentaries and concert films about a truly staggering array of different subjects from just about every single genre you can imagine. Classic rock, country, soul, R&B, EDM, jazz: you name it, and there’s probably something for you to find on the streaming service. To help ease the selection process, here are 20 of the best and most compelling music documentaries currently available to watch on Netflix right now.
Fyre: The Greatest Festival That Never Happened
Incidentally, one of two documentaries on the subject, the Netflix version is produced by Jerry Studios and Vice Media, which gives it a behind-the-scenes edge that the Hulu version lacks but also does its best to mitigate the culpability of Jerry Studios’ parent brand, the F*ck Jerry marketing agency. It’s a fascinating look behind the curtain of just how the Fyre Festival went so disastrously wrong, from logistical issues to the unrelenting excess of Fyre founder Billy McFarland.
20 Feet From Stardom
You never notice them but they’re always there. This documentary chronicles the stories of your favorite stars’ backup singers, the folks who touch some of the biggest stages in the world but remain just outside the spotlight. They’re often just as talented, but build careers out of anonymity and some of their stories are just as fascinating as the stars they support.
Anvil: The Story Of Anvil
Not every band “makes it.” That’s a simple yet brutal fact. For every Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stones, there are thousands, even millions of other groups that never get past the club stage. Anvil was just one of those groups. Directed by screenwriter Sacha Gervasi, Anvil: The Story Of Anvil tells the tale of an obscure Canadian heavy metal band who reached for the brass ring but never got a hold of it. It’s a tale rarely told, but one common to an untold number of artists over the last several decades.
This 2016 documentary directed by Salima Koroma follows four Korean-American rappers as they maneuver through the complexities of being minorities both in America and in hip-hop culture. Before Awkwafina was flying high with Crazy Rich Asians she was battling for rap clout alongside Dumbfoundead, Rekstizzy, and Lyricks, chasing a dream and trying to defy expectations as they searched for, and proudly displayed, their identity through hip-hop.
For many, John Coltrane remains an enigma. Having died at the all-too-early age of 40 back in 1967, he made a massive imprint in his lifetime through a genre-defining series of albums like Giant Steps and A Love Supreme, while working with the luminaries such as Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Dizzy Gillespie. Chasing Trane peels back some of the layers of mystery that surround the sax player and serves as a prime introduction for those unfamiliar with his music.
It’s very possible to tell the entire history of the rise of punk rock through the view of Danny Fields. The documentarians behind Danny Says intended to do just that. The legendary publicist was there during the heady days of the Velvet Underground at Andy Warhol’s Factory in New York City. He was eventually hired by Elektra Records where he worked with The Doors, The MC5, and the Stooges, before discovering the Ramones and helping them get a record deal of their own. It’s a fascinating tale of an incredible, musical life.
Gaga: 5 Foot 2
Documentaries about pop stars that go beyond fan service propaganda are exceedingly rare. It’s one of the reasons that Gaga 5 Foot 2 is so compelling. Rarely do we ever really get to see the physical and mental toll it takes to roll out a new album and prepare to perform in front of more than 100 million people at the halftime show at the Super Bowl. Lady Gaga allowed the cameras to film her every move as she did just that, for an unflinching and uncompromising look at what it’s really like to be an artist of the highest level in the 21st century.
George Harrison: Living In The Material World
What’s a list of music documentaries without at least one entry from Martin Scorsese? The legendary filmmaker has put together some of the greatest music docs and concert films of all-time — The Last Waltz anyone? — yet only one of his works is currently streaming on Netflix. It’s a doozie however, a three-hour long tale about the “Quiet Beatle” George Harrison. Come to learn more about Harrison’s days in the Fab Four, stay for Tom Petty’s hilarious ukuleles in the car trunk story.
I Called Him Morgan
Part-music documentary, part-true crime film, I Called Him Morgan recounts the life and murder of jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan, as told by the woman who shot him, his common-law wife Helen. Along with a who’s who of American jazz talent that includes Wayne Shorter, Jymie Merritt, and Billy Harper, the filmmakers also spoke at length with Helen Morgan, to give as complete a portrait possible of the couple’s tumultuous and ultimately deadly relationship.
Keith Richards: Under The Influence
Keith Richards is basically synonymous with the phrase “rock star.” The man has led a singular life, filled with enough drugs, women, and acts of violence to kill any normal human being. The fact that he’s still around, blasting stadiums around the world with his signature, blues-derived riffs is simply incredible. Under The Influence goes deep beyond the legend of Keef, showing you the man himself at his most unguarded as he crafts his first solo album in decades.
Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster
What was intended to be a simple behind-the-scenes chronicle of Metallica putting together their most recent album, the critically maligned St. Anger, turned instead into a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of the biggest band in metal history as it was coming apart at the seams. Emotions run high as bassist Jason Newstead leaves the group, making way for the introduction of Robert Trujillo. Singer James Hetfield checks into rehab during recording, and the entire band signs up for group therapy when he comes back. It’s easily one of the most enthralling docs on this entire list.
Miss Sharon Jones!
A year in the life of Sharon Jones, and what a year it was, finding the soul singer working on her new album with the help of the Dap-Kings, while also battling against a grim pancreatic cancer diagnosis. It’s an inspiring film about persevering in the face of the longest odds imaginable and the power of music itself. Sadly, Jones succumbed in her battle with cancer just last year.
Mr. Dynamite: The Rise Of James Brown
Every modern frontman in the worlds of rock, soul, pop, and R&B owes a debt of gratitude to James Brown. The Georgia-born singer set the mold for what a leading man should do to capture a crowds attention while onstage. In this documentary directed by Alex Gibney and produced by the guy that James Brown blew off the stage at the famous T.A.M.I. Show concert in the 1960s, Mick Jagger, you’ll learn exactly how a young boy went from a forgotten child living in a brothel to becoming the greatest showman in the history of modern music.
More than just a single film, Rapture is a Netflix original documentary series, that profiles the lives, careers, and artistry of some of the biggest rap stars to ever pick up a microphone. Those profiled in the eight installments include Nas, Dave East, Logic, T.I., G-Eazy, 2 Chainz, Just Blaze, Rapsody, and Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. If you’re a fan of hip-hop from ’94 on, this is a can’t-miss.
Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage
Beyond The Lighted Stage is the story, well-told, of what many consider to be the greatest prog rock band of all-time: Rush. You’ll learn about their rise from cold confines of Ontario, Canada to the biggest stages on the planet, told by the band members themselves as well as some of their most famous fans, including Trent Reznor, Billy Corgan, Jack, Black Tool’s drummer Danny Carey — as big a Neil Pert disciple as anyone — and Kirk Hammett to name just a few.
Springsteen & I
So many music documentaries and book-length biographies try to center themselves around the view from the performer’s side of the railing. Springsteen & I flips that script entirely. Having spent decades fostering one of the most pathologically devoted fanbases in all of music, the filmmakers behind this documentary decided to cultivate the Boss’s tale from the view of the people. You’ll get a sense as you watch of what makes Springsteen such a compelling figure in American musical history, but you’ll also come away with an interesting take on what it means to be a fan as well.
Taylor Swift Reputation Stadium Tour
Following Taylor’s Reputation tour stop in Dallas, this film features backstage footage and show-stopping performances from one of pop music’s biggest acts.
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Nina Simone is one of the most mysterious, ethereal singers of all-time. Her music has an almost spiritual quality, especially some of the early ’60s recordings like “Sinnerman” and “Strange Fruit.” As talented as she was, Simone was also beset by demons, that left her alienated from friends and family as she moved from America to Europe, while also battling an abusive spouse and the crackdown against African-Americans in America in the face of the civil rights movement. What Happened, Miss Simone? is a film that captures a full portrait of this one-of-a-kind human being.
When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors
The goal of the film When You’re Strange was simple: To counteract many of the myths surrounding The Doors that had cropped up in the wake of the release of Oliver Stone’s dramatic film about the band starring Val Kilmer. As noble as that pursuit is, I’m not quite sure it succeeds, however, the use of footage taken from lead singer Jim Morrison’s short film HWY: An American Pastoral, which was seen here publicly for the first time is certainly pretty cool.