With the release of The Beatles Get Back this week, (which I would definitely recommend so far), I thought it would be a good time to go over some of the best music documentaries for fans of all genres and all eras of music, and why they’re worth watching.
If you want something equally sad as it is celebratory: Amy (2015)
Amy is a phenomenal documentary about the fascinating but heartbreaking story of British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse. It goes into detail about her talent and success, but also about the impact fame, her relationships, the media, and addiction had on her.
It’s done in a way that simultaneously celebrates how gifted she was with music, but how troubled she was in her personal life.
TW: addiction, eating disorders, death
WHERE TO WATCH: Nowhere is currently offering Amy for free, but you can purchase it on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play and Youtube.
For a deep dive into black music history and how its overlooked in broader music history: Summer of Soul (...or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021)
Summer of Soul is no doubt one of the best documentaries I’ve watched for a long time.
The documentary tells the story of the Harlem Cultural Festival, which happened at the same time as Woodstock (Summer 1969), had some incredible artists performing, such as Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, and B.B. King, yet was completely obscured from music history.
This movie not only discusses and shows footage of the festival but investigates why it didn't have the winder cultural impact it probably should have.
It is as much about black history and the cultural divisions of the time, as it is about the incredible music that was performed.
WHERE TO WATCH: Disney+ in the UK, Hulu in the US.
For an insight into being a young woman at the forefront of the industry: Miss Americana (2020)
Miss Americana is a behind-the-scenes look at the life of the music industry household name Taylor Swift. The documentary came after years of Swift stepping back from the public eye, so acts as a genuine insight into someone the public may have once known well, but no longer do.
As well as showing Swift’s genuine passion for music, Miss Americana also documents as she moves from becoming a young woman completely influenced by the big bosses and media around her, and beginning to really stand up for herself and realising the true impact that years in the public eye have had on her.
TW: eating disorder, sexual assault
WHERE TO WATCH: Netflix
For a look into the reality of being a modern-day overnight success: The World’s A Little Blurry (2021)
The World’s A Little Blurry is a documentary all about the sudden success of Billie Eilish, which shows the creation of her now multi-grammy-winning debut album. At the time the documentary started to be created, Eilish’s career was just starting to blossom; yet by the time of its release she was the biggest star in the world.
It offers a one-of-a-kind look into the rise of a young music artist, the creation of an incredibly successful album, and the way this sudden rise has impacted Eilish’s entire family (including brother and producer Finneas) and her own mental health.
TW: Talks of self-harm, flashing images
WHERE TO WATCH: Apple TV
To gain an understanding of why 60s music culture came to an end: Gimme Shelter (1970)
Gimme Shelter sees an insight into the last week’s of The Rolling Stones 1969 tour of the US, but, arguably, more importantly, shows a behind the scenes look at the Altamont Free Festival, which was one of the most bloody in music history (a quick Google will tell you exactly why).
Gimme Shelter is not a lighthearted concert film as you could predict, but more a live showing of the end of the dreamy 60s culture that The Rolling Stones were at the forefront of.
It’s an interesting film that doesn’t really place blame on any party involved, but rather just shows how everything went down.
TW: Violence, it’s very much a documentary of its time from the 60s, so sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
To witness a music legend’s creative process: Homecoming - A Film By Beyoncé (2019)
Homecoming shows exactly why Beyoncé is as highly revered as she is both in the industry and amongst the general public. The documentary, produced and directed by Beyoncé herself, goes through how relentlessly prepares for her famous Coachella performance.
It’s interesting to see a look into Beyonce’s notoriously private life, but even more interesting to see how she and her team create this performance that will inevitably go down as a major pop-culture moment from the decade.
WHERE TO WATCH: Netflix
For a lighthearted look into the world of the biggest boyband on the planet: One Direction This Is Us (2013)
3 years into their career, One Direction were already big enough to create a documentary that reminisced on the trajectory of the career. The documentary offers a (well constructed) view into the world of the young British men that took the world by storm, and it takes you behind the scenes of their Take Me Home tour.
It’s important to bear in mind the movie was created for a teenage audience, but if you want to get the success of One Direction at its peak, then it’s definitely worth watching.
WHERE TO WATCH: Can be purchased on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.
If you want to watch one of the most critically acclaimed documentaries of all time: Dont Look Back (1967)
Many rock musicians have claimed that Dont Look Back is the best movie about rock and roll of all time.
It shows a behind-the-scenes look at Bob Dylan and his UK tour from 1965, which shows the gritty side of rock and roll in this era. It shows Dylan clearly at his best when writing songs, but also shows the side of him and his personality that isn’t as pretty.
TW: It’s very much a documentary of its time from the 60s, so sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
WHERE TO WATCH: Pretty much anywhere in the US, nowhere in the UK currently.