We know the song, album or musician, but music documentaries let us see what really happened. Our favourite artists’ music has the power to transform, uplift and unite people from all different backgrounds right across the world. We feel a personal connection with them, we protect and appreciate them, but we also want to know more about them as people. While there have been loads of good music documentaries over the last 10 years, we think these are five of the best (and possibly of all time…)!
1. The Beatles: Get Back (2021)
Here’s the thing – for five decades everyone assumed The Beatles’ 1969 ‘Let It Be’ album sessions were full of arguments, which ended in bitter acrimony before the band split. But this astonishing new documentary from Peter Jackson (The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings) now blows that narrative right out of history.
Jackson distilled over 60 hours of footage of the ‘fab four’ recording in January 1969 to create an enthralling deep dive into their raw, fun-loving, and, yes, sometimes temperamental creative process.
It’s an eight-hour love story to the band – and not just for Beatles fanatics, but for casual viewers too – culminating in their thrilling, last-ever live performance together on the roof of the Apple offices in London.
Director: Peter Jackson
2. Summer of Soul(…or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021)
You’ll probably best know Questlove as the drummer from The Roots, who are also the house band on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. This is his first foray into filmmaking, and it’s a triumph – a powerful documentary/music film that celebrates black history, culture and fashion.
Much has been documented about the famous Woodstock festival in 1969, Summer of Soul centres around events taking place in the same summer at the largely unknown Harlem Cultural Festival.
It captures a time of significant cultural change for African-Americans and features life-affirming, never-before-seen performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, B.B. King, Sly & the Family Stone and more.
Director: Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson
3. Amy (2015)
‘Back to Black’, ‘Valerie’, ’Rehab’ – anyone who’s ever heard these iconic songs knows Amy Winehouse had one of the most expressive and recognisable voices in the history of music. It’s incredible to realise she died 10 years ago aged just 27, but there was nothing glamorous about her entry into rock ’n’ roll’s ’27 Club’.
Kapadia’s riveting documentary weaves together rare archival footage and interviews with the people closest to her to paint an intimate portrait of a supremely talented, but deeply troubled artist. Ultimately, it’s a scathingly honest look at the warped relationship between talent, art, celebrity and drug addiction.
Director: Asif Kapadia
4. Searching for Sugar Man (2011)
Unless you’re South African, you’ve probably never heard of a musician called Sexto Rodriguez… but you’re going to love coming along on this mysterious trip to find him. Rodriguez faded into obscurity after pursuing a brief career in the USA in the 1970s, but years later he became a massive sensation in South Africa – despite no one knowing anything about him at all.
In fact, he was widely rumoured to have died, so in the late 1990s, two fans who had become obsessed with his beautiful music decided to go on an epic journey to find out what happened to him. It’s an incredible, heart-warming documentary that has won an unbelievable amount of awards for a music documentary.
Director: Malik Bendjelloul
5. 20 Feet From Stardom (2013)
We all have our favourite famous bands and artists, but can you name a famous backing singer? 20 Feet From Stardom is a joyous and illuminating music documentary that pays a long-overdue tribute to some of music’s best backing singers. Often overlooked, their talent, passion and above all hard work can be key to the success of the artist they are singing for.
But many have to give up their dreams of their own solo career, are manipulated by record companies, or unappreciated by the artists they work for. You’ll find yourself heartbroken while watching it, but at the same time enlightened and uplifted!
Director: Morgan Neville
We hope you’ve got some idea about which music documentaries you might watch next. If you’ve got any to recommend to us, please get in touch.
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