Not all documentaries are created equal. Some are out to prove a point, others hope to make you think, and even more are out to entertain, uncover, or educate. Music documentaries do a lot of those things, except they obviously tend to have music.
In having said music, the talking heads are commonly musicians or fans, and even the most serious music documentary has some light moments of laughter.
Without going into far too much detail, here are five music documentaries that you should stream when you get the chance.
As many of these jump between streaming services, I’ve gone ahead and included the service where you can find them as of this writing. My apologies in advance if you must Google their current home.
Streaming on Hulu*
This documentary is the best of both worlds. If you already know Frank Zappa then you will see some never-before-seen footage from Zappa’s personal vault; if you don’t know Zappa at all, it offers a proper introduction to the man, the myth, and the legend.
It’s odd, it’s fun, it’s serious, and it’s weird. In essence, it is Zappa.
Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they’ve been known to pick a song or two (yes, they do)
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I’m feelin’ blue
Now how about you?
If that’s all you know, then you are missing out. This documentary covers the musical and mystical, and you’ll be surprised just how many songs you know that came out of the area. You’re sure to recognize a lot of the faces of the musicians who recorded there, and if you don’t know the faces, you’ll know the songs. In fact, this documentary might actually pick you up when you’re feelin’ blue!
The Rolling Thunder Revue, 2019
Streaming on Netflix*
This isn’t your average tour film. “The real story of what happened, with never before seen footage, from the most rebellious tour ever, between the myth and the truth is a journey like no other.”
Bob Dylan may have been the enigmatic soul of this tour, but he surrounded himself with such artists, in every sense of the world. Looking back from whenever the interviews and talking head segments were done, the truth of this ragtag tour is not just in watching the documentary, it’s still as much a part of the myth that continues to surround Dylan. So sit back, and enjoy, because despite myths, legends, facts, and fictions, it is full of great musical performances which are absolutely timeless.
Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind, 2019
Streaming on Amazon Prime*
If you don’t know Gordon, you know his songs. If you don’t like Gordon, you just might yet. He’s been covered by anyone and everyone, a prolific singer-songwriter if there ever was one. This documentary explores who he is, but it also shines a light on his process and how far reaching his influence really is.
Echo in the Canyon, 2018
Streaming on Netflix*
Follow Jakob Dylan, as a host, who sits down with legends and friends to talk about the mystical legend of Laurel Canyon which created the sound of the 1960s. While there are famous names in all of these documentaries, this one might be the most star-studded. It features Tom Petty, Brian Wilson, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Stephen Stills, Roger McGuinn, Michelle Phillips, Graham Nash, David Crosby, Beck, Fiona Apple, Norah Jones, Regina Spektor, Cat Power, Jade Castrinos, Jackson Browne, Lou Adler, and the timeless music of a generation that is still influencing artists today.
These are certainly not the only music documentaries that exist, but together they paint a picture of a wild era in popular music that spreads across genres. Pick any one of these titles, and you quite honestly can’t go wrong.
(*All links active at the time of publishing.)