Musically Inclined Documentaries for Popular Music Fans

AR-MusicMovies450.jpgLast week I got hit by a double-whammy of a shingles shot coupled with a mild migraine which had me confined to a dimly lit room for a while. After about ½ day during which I couldn't even look at a printed page without it being partially hidden by auras, my vision settled down, I decided to see what Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime had in the way of interesting documentaries on music and musicians that I could pass the time with.

I found ten that I think that everyone who is a passionate about modern music will enjoy. What follows is my short list with a brief description to entice you into watching...

SoundBreaking Series 

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This is a must-watch series for anyone who considers themselves knowledgeable when it comes to pop music. I'm that guy who always knows the answers to the music questions in trivial pursuit, but even I learned a lot from watching this series. I've watched it twice so far...in a year or so I'll probably watch it again. It is simply that good...

Bill Wyman - The Quiet One

 Bill Wyman was not only the least showy member (not counting bedroom antics) in the Rolling Stones, he was also the only one who was sober most of the time. Along with his sobriety came a love of all kinds of recording devices - film cameras, tape machines, and video cameras, along with access and ability to use them. The film explores his extensive archives and lays out Bill Wyman's own personal history...including the fact that Wyman was not his original surname.

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Bill Frissell - A Portrait 

Only a small minority of musicians have a sound that is unique enough that you can identify them after the first two bars of their opening solo. Bill Frissell is that kind of artist. In this documentary we get equal doses of his music and his personality. That combination of innovative playing style and easy-going and self-effacing personal manner made so Frissell can fit in with a wide variety of musicians and musical styles, which are on display here.

Fyre - The Greatest Party that Never Happened

I would recommend watching this after one of the Woodstock movies for contrast. "Hey kids! Let's put on a show!" only works if the creators are not slimeballs. Fascinating to see what was done with a big marketing budget and little concern for anything else.

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Clive Davis - The Soundtrack of Our Lives

Pop music sits at the junction between art and commerce. No one individual was more responsible for who made the transition from musical artist to pop star than Clive Davis. The list of artists he's signed and "blown up" into pop stars could take up most of the rest of this article. But this doc is far more than a list of his many accomplishments - we get an intimate picture of a guy who fell into the music biz due to the fact than one guy trusted him. The reuslt changed the course of modern music.

Classics that you should have seen by now...

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Don't Look Back 

When young folk look at Bob Dylan today they see wizened old guy who talks funny, but back in the 60's Bob Dylan was the epitome of cool. How cool? Watch his interaction with Donovan...and then there was Newport where he strapped on that Fender Stratocaster, and the whole world changed...

Woodstock - Three Days that Defined a Generation  -

This PBS-produced film works as a counterpoint to the original Woodstock film Woodstock - Three Days of Peace and Love. Interviews with the originators reveal that unlike Fyre, Woodstock's organizers spent time thinking about the logistics of a big festival, down to trying to judge how many porta-potties they would need.

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Woodstock -Three Days of Peace and Love - The Director's Cut 

Along with Monterey Pop this film defined the concert film genre. At 3 hours and 44 minutes, this delivers a big dose of '60's pop culture that gives you some insight into why some of the "boomer" musicians were so great. 

Monterey Pop

One of the classic rock and roll performance movies of all time. D.A. Pennebaker and his crew of photographers were the first to capture the energy and excitement of a festival and set a high bar for future concert films. You need to see this one if you haven't already.

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Gimmie Shelter - The Rolling Stones and Altamont

For every yin there is a yang. Altamont was a cold shower delivered abruptly to the inebriated hippie culture. The concert scenes are as terrifying as the ones from Woodstock were celebratory. Probably best not to watch right before the Fyre Fest flick...

If you sat down and binged on all these movies, back to back, it will take you almost a full day of screen time...but it's time that any true music fan will gladly surrender for the opportunity to learn more about music they love.

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