Favorite Documentary: Music

OK, music and film (and films about music) buffs … I know there are somewhere between two and a hundred and seventy-three music documentaries that are near and dear to your hearts. Tell us about 'em!

A few from my short list:

The Wrecking Crew — An obvious choice, but only because it deserves it. You’ve probably seen it, possibly many times, but if you haven’t and don’t know who these people were and what they did, go check it out.

Tom Dowd & the Language of Music — You know how Forrest Gump was always in the right place at the right time to be a part of everything and meet everyone? That, but real and in the recording business. A college physics major recruited into the Manhattan Project, Tom Dowd couldn’t go back to school because what he knew wasn’t in the textbooks yet … so he got into the music business and was responsible for more stuff than you’re likely to believe.

Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey — This one goes some places you won’t expect. Plus, you’re MSTies … it’s about the theremin … it’s a moral imperative.

There are so many others, but I’ll stop there. Whatch’allgot?


I LOVED The Wrecking Crew!

I also loved It Might Get Loud. The Edge, Robert Plant, and Jack White discuss guitar playing. The scene where they realize they’ve been playing something in the wrong key is hilarious!

Everyone Stares, featuring The Police, is also interesting. Most of the footage was shot by their drummer Stewart Copeland, and it has a banger of a commentary track.


The Last Waltz, for me, hands down.

There have been so many hyper-focused documentaries on the likes of Alban Berg, Sviatoslav Richter, Nicolas Slonimsky, Glenn Gould (pianists and composers) that I can’t keep track.

The Universal Mind of Bill Evans

Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser

ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band from Texas

That’s all I can think of at the moment.


Those are both great choices.


I don’t know why, but (ducks behind nearest heavy furniture) I’ve never seen Last Waltz. I know, I know … I’ll fix it. The Monk and ZZ Top documentaries are fantastic, and I’m adding that Bill Evans one to my watch list now.


Ooooh!! Let’s begin:

Standing in the Shadows of Motown - Similar to Wrecking Crew, but focusing on the Funk Brothers of Motown. Bonus, all the living members get together to play a live show collaborating with newer artists.

Rush - Beyond the Lighted Stage. One of my favorite Canadian imports.

Woohoo, wife brought lunch, I’ll finish later!


Devil at the Crossroads: A Robert Johnson Story - The quintessential bluesman and his legend.

Home Of The Brave - Technically more of a concert film / instillation art piece, but Laurie Anderson is great.

Sisters With Transistors - I’ve not seen it yet, but once it hits Blu-ray it’s mine.


Yeah, The Last Waltz is kind of a mix between a filmed concert and a true documentary. I watch it at least once a year, for some reason. But not all of the performances with their “friends”/guests are equally good, and if one isn’t a fan of The Band, it’s probably not that interesting.


@MisterScott Oh yeah, great choices. Standing in the Shadows is a winner, and that Rush documentary amazes me every time I watch it. I mean … who has footage of another documentary from when they were 16 to draw from? That’s just nuts!

@SandyFrank I love the Robert Johnson one. His story has always fascinated me. Believe the myth or not, something definitely clicked with that guy at some point. I need to dig out that box set and give it a fresh listen … it’s been a while. The others I know nothing about, so thanks for the heads-up.


Absolutely agree on Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey (I play a Moog/Big Briar Etherwave), and The Last Waltz, which should have earned Scorsese a Best Documentary Oscar.

Grateful Dawg is a wonderful portrait of the collaboration between Jerry Garcia and Dave “Dawg” Grisman. And of course, The Grateful Dead Movie.

Urgh! A Music War is an incredible collection of punk, post-punk and new wave acts from 1980 ranging from The Cramps and The Dead Kennedys through The Police and The Go-Gos to DEVO, Pere Ubu and Klaus Nomi.

Speaking of Nomi, I have to mention The Nomi Song, about the late vocalist’s brief career.


I need to see Grateful Dawg … I’ve seen Grisman several times, but was never a Jerry fan so that whole thing just sort of stayed out of my sphere. I should absolutely fix that.

I sought out Urgh! years ago as a huge XTC fan—there’s precious little to see of them since they retired from the road so early. That Klaus Nomi segment is bonkers in the best way.


Anvil: The Story of Anvil is a fantastic film that seems to be sadly overlooked. It follows the ageing band on one last tour and the making of a new album. This is one of those films where it’s irrelevant whether or not you like or even know the band or their type of music because Lips’ boundless optimism and enthusiasm will draw you in and by the end I guarantee you will be willing them to succeed. It’s hilarious and a wonderful feel good film and I cannot recommend it highly enough.


Speaking of the Police, another good one is Can’t Stand Losing You. This was guitarist Andy Summer’s project, obviously focused around him, but also features a lot of video and photography he recorded too.

Johnny Winter: Down and Dirty. I’m a blues hound too, and this is a great movie about getting him out of a bad situation, and restoring him to blues legend status before his passing, RIP. Was available on Amazon Prime.

Last but not least - Lemmy. RIP


@Serein I had completely forgotten about Anvil and honestly, I’m not sure if I’ve seen it or not. I certainly meant to, and I know the story so well that I may have … but maybe not. Adding it back to the list just in case.

@MisterScott My favorite thing about those two Police documentaries is seeing the same well-known arc of a band from two angles. Plus, even though the rhythm section is my world Andy was always the guy I would have wanted to hang out with.


The Punk Singer - While it’s mainly a look at Kathleen Hanna’s career, it also explores the riot grrrl scene and third-wave feminism.

Fad Gadget by Frank Tovey - We lost him too soon. An essential element of the post-punk era and one of electronic music’s trailblazers.

Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records - What started as a record shop wound up being the cornerstone for the underground.


I didn’t know there was a Wax Trax documentary. I need to see that. The others are totally off my radar, so thanks for the recommendations!

Tangential to Wax Trax: Part documentary, part performance, part travel film, part BTS, 100% Foo-licious, I highly recommend HBO’s Sonic Highways. And Sound City while I’m thinking about it.


I backed that on Kickstarter. Wax Trax was a such a window into music in my college years, still love a lot of bands from those days.


I got to see Grisman a couple years ago when he was touring with Tommy Emmanuel – two bucket list concerts in one! :smiley:


Wow—that must have been incredible. The first time I saw Tommy Emmanuel I knew nothing about him, in a tiny bluegrass venue in Nashville. I was sitting about 10’ away from him as he opened with the Beatles medley and then “Classical Gas.”

I learned who he was very quickly.


Well, my Letterboxd watchlist just expanded… thanks for putting these on my radar.

I’ve seen and enjoyed Anvil and The Wrecking Crew and The Last Waltz, wow, I don’t know that I knew much about The Band, other than their connection to Bob Dylan. But when it aired on HBO in the late 70s/early 80s I watched it over and over and over. I couldn’t get enough of it.

I don’t know if TV miniseries count, but as a Beatles nut, Anthology was enthralling… I owned first the VHS, then the DVDs, and even though it’s long, it’s not long enough for me.

Lastly, The Gits, though it will make you cry. My brief write-up…

I know there are so, so many more. But that’s what sprung to mind,