10 Must-See Music Documentaries You Should Watch Now

Some music documentaries reinforce or dispel the mythos around our most beloved musicians, some are tragic, some mysterious, some down right hilarious. Here's some you need to see:
Posted: 18 June 2021 Words: Tom Curtis-Horsfall

We all love a music documentary. A glimpse into the moments of music history we weren't privy too, music documentaries can reinforce or dispel the mythos around our most beloved musicians. 

For instance, how many documentaries of The Beatles can you count (Peter Jackson's upcoming three-parter The Beatles: Get Back included), yet the documentaries keep coming, and we keep coming back. 

Some are bitesize history lessons, some reframe perspectives of our heroes, some unearth new icons that perhaps weren't garnered with the credit they deserved during their peak, some stories are tragic, some mysterious, some down right hilarious. 

That said, here's 10 must-see music documentaries you need to watch, right now:

Supersonic (2016)

Oasis need no introduction (it’s better to leave brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher to that), but it makes their story no less absorbing. Documenting their rise from rock star wannabes to Britain’s biggest band during the Britpop era which culminated in two sold out shows at Knebworth, Supersonic details the highs, the highs, and then some more highs, as the explosive relationship between two working class siblings showed early signs of strain amidst their rise to greatness.

The Filth and the Fury (2000)

Finally getting the opportunity to ‘set the record straight’, UK punk’s most notorious ‘enfants terribles’ The Sex Pistols recall their swift rise and fall in this no holds-barred account from the surviving band members themselves. 

The Julien Temple-directed documentary was seen as his follow-up to The Great Rock and Roll Swindle  (which leaned heavily on the perspective of Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren), and ties in the birth of punk in the UK with the band’s formation - John Lydon and co’s typically scathing views of their former manager ensures the fury is still aflame.

Searching For Sugar Man (2012)

This Academy and BAFTA Award-winning documentary emphasises people’s connection to certain music irregardless of its era. A South African cultural phenomenon, and oddity in many ways, Sixto Rodriguez was a mysterious and widely unknown South American artist that faded into obscurity and gave up music almost-entirely. That’s until two Cape Town fans decide to track him down, revitalising his career and reinforcing the notion that success comes in many forms.

What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)

A fascinating insight to an uncompromising artist who balanced her glittering career with her staunch advocacy for the civil rights movement throughout the turbulence of the 1960s. A famously fiery attitude and unearthly voice, Nina Simone forced us to analyse the relationship between race and music throughout the past fifty years, all the while cementing her status as a jazz music icon.

Message To Love: The Isle Of Wight Festival (1995) 

Filmed throughout the UK’s answer to Woodstock, Murray Lerner’s documentary captured the demise of the countercultural movement during 1970’s Isle Of Wight Festival but wasn’t completed until 25 years after the 600,000 people-strong event took place. 

Though not quite as an unmitigated disaster as say, Fyre Fest, the festival was mired with bad will, bad acid trips, and destruction from the get-go, with continued rows over paying artists and punters not paying ticket fees which resulted in the fences being torn down. All to catch a glimpse of legends like Joni Mitchell, The Doors, The Who, Miles Davis, Leonard Cohen, and Jimi Hendrix, in what would famously be his final ever live performance.

Dig! (2004)

Filmed over the course of seven years following two budding rock bands, The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Dig! hilariously and heartbreakingly recounts the faltering, love-hate relationship between the band’s frontmen that were once creative confidants who are then later divided by the pressures of success - or lack of. Coupled with rampant drug addiction and self-sabotage, it details how the most ardent of artists can fall afoul of the pitfalls of the music industry, despite The Brian Jonestown Massacre becoming a cult favourite since its release.

Rolling Thunder Revue (2019) 

There’s plenty of noteworthy documentaries for Dylan aficionados (DA Pennebaker’s Dont Look Back, Murray Lerner’s The Other Side Of The Mirror, Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home for instance) but it’s Scorsese’s second Dylan-focused docu' that pips them all to the post because it’s just downright bizarre. 

Rolling Thunder Revue sees Dylan - arguably at his creative zenith and at his most elusive - performing in more intimate venues across the US for the course of a year alongside the likes of Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell which resulted in a circus-like, fever dream of a tour. It’s both alienating and utterly engrossing, irrespective of your affection for Bob Dylan.

Do You Own The Dancefloor? (2015)

Club culture as we know it today wouldn’t have existed without the Hacienda, the famed venue and nightclub that quickly became a part of Manchester’s cultural fabric. Do You Own The Dancefloor? gathers stories from local talking heads like Liam Gallagher, as well as punters who lived and breathed nightlife in its heyday, many of which literally own pieces of the nightclub after it was auctioned off earlier this century.

Glastonbury (2006) 

Another Julien Temple effort, Glastonbury was only made after Michael Eavis hinted at the festival coming to an end, which thankfully never came to fruition. A tapestry made up of original on-site footage and coverage from the festival’s previous 35 years, the documentary crystallised Glastonbury Festival’s mythos of music, mayhem, and mud (plenty of mud, that is), though it had already firmly achieved its status as the world’s greatest music festival by then.

Amy (2015) 

The tragic depiction of a modern great, destined for fame but inextricably tied to misfortune. Amy Winehouse was undoubtedly one of the 20th century’s most recognisable and distinguished talents, whose relationship with substance abuse became as well-documented as her artistry. A cautionary tale of a gifted but vulnerable performer pushed into the spotlight, punished by the media, and caught in the trappings of the music industry, Amy details the life and death of a bonafide musical genius whose light dimmed far too soon. 

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