Sorry that my blog has gotten off to such a slow beginning this year. Having your father in the hospital with COVID just takes up so much time. By the way, he is slowly improving, which is miraculous. For an 85-year-old man, he was in great shape, so maybe all those years of taking care of himself are paying off for him. And, maybe it is all the prayers and positive thoughts being sent his way. I prefer to think it is a combination of all of the above. Hopefully, he will continue to improve.
Now, back to my rockumentary list! I cannot lie! I LOVE a good rockumentary. There is nothing better than a great story about a musical artist bringing said artist to life. Let’s face it that there is nothing better in my book than a great biography being brought to life with music and visual. Rock music was meant to be documented in such a manner. By the way, I am still awaiting for a rockumentary based upon the terrific Ken Sharp series of books about power pop called Play On! Power Pop Heroes (There are four volumes, with one more promised that I have been anxiously awaiting Ken!). Additionally, I would love to see documentaries created about disco, new wave, a more in-depth MTV, John Mellencamp, a professional Cheap Trick, Wham!, The Time, to name a few subjects.
Yet, today, I am presenting my Top 25 rockumentaries. So, let’s get this thing going.
25. Echo in the Canyon (2019). During the Sixties, musicians felt the urge to move West, so they all seemed to settle outside of LA in Laurel Canyon. And, the congregation of so many outstanding songwriting talent led to what we now refer to as the California Sound, that laidback mixture of rock, folk, country and R&B, as popularized by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Joni Mitchel to Tom Petty and Fleetwood Mac. Directed by Jakob Dylan of The Wallflowers and son of Bob.
24. Joy Division (2007). This film gives brilliant insight into one of Britain’s greatest post-punk bands that eventually evolved into New Order.
23. Punk (2018). Showtime‘s brilliant series about one of rock’s more notorious genres and how it’s revolution is still affecting music today.
22. Airplay (2012). PBS did an excellent job documenting how radio and rock music both rose and fell together. This is great look at this symbiotic relationship.
21. Amy (2015). Sometimes, certain rock artists burst onto the scene like a hot-burning meteor, streaking across the sky before exploding before our eyes. Amy Winehouse was such a talent, who, in essence, set the stage for the arrival of Adele. Once again rock fans are left to play the “What If?” game.
20. The Go-Go’s (2020). This documentary may very well become a catalyst for The Go-Go’s to finally be inducted into the Rock Hall. Maybe Showtime could do something similar for Pat Benatar, The Shangri-La’s and Paul Weller/The Jam/The Style Council.
19. REMTV (2014). Two great tastes that taste great together: R.E.M. and MTV. What better way to document the rise of one of Gen X’s most beloved bands.
18. Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (2019). CNN pulled off a pitch-perfect documentary about the woman with a pitch-perfect voice.
17. CREEM: America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine (2020). CREEM magazine truly had the spirit of rock music in its pages. And this film shows us just how crazy this cast of characters really were. CREEM was my entry rag into the world of rock, and gonzo, journalism. And they were the reason I was always getting in trouble with my journalism teacher for constantly editorializing in my sports articles.
16. Gaga: Five Foot Two (2017). A behind-the-scenes look at Gaga getting prepared to knock us out during the Super Bowl. Gaga rules!
15. Bee Gees: How Do You Mend a Broken Heart (2020). The most recent documentary on this list, but there was no denying its greatness. My favorite section of the film occurs as the brothers were dominating the music world, the disco backlash was bubbling up into public view. So, the visual juxtaposition of the trio being joined onstage by their younger brother Andy Gibb in a triumphant concert as the Disco Demolition promotion was being played out in centerfield of Chicago’s Comiskey Park. That crescendo shows the Gibbs’ concert reaching its climax with the fake explosion during “Tragedy,” just as the Chicago DJ Steve Dahl blows up a huge box full of disco records that incited a riot. Simply a breath-taking sequence.
14. Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest (2011). Getting to watch the rise and fall of one of hip hop’s greatest artists is simply a privilege. Just a great film.
13. All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records (2015). A great story about arguably the greatest chain of record stores in the history of mankind reinforces how much we could use Tower Records today.
12. 20 Feet from Stardom (2013). This films tells us the story of how backup singers often have as good of or even voices than the singers for whom they work, but there is just something these people lack in the charisma department that keep them from becoming household names. Still, they press on. This is a more compelling story than Hired Guns.
11. Pearl Jam Twenty (2011). Former rock journalist-turned-successful film director Cameron Crow unfurls the dramatic story of the rise of Pearl Jan from the ashes of Mother Love Bone. Pearl Jam are rock & roll survivors.
10. Rush – Beyond the Lighted Stage (2010). Whenever a movie can make a notoriously off-stage boring band as Rush seem like the most compelling cast of characters, you have a brilliant film. And this documentary IS brilliant.
9. Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (2013). A fantastic look at one of rock’s greatest lost bands. Watch this and become an instant fan.
8. Madonna: Truth or Dare (1991). Any time you get a total access, behind-the-scenes look at one of rock most compelling figures, you know it’s going to be great. But when the subject is Madonna, the film become transcendent.
7. Naptown Radio Wars (2012). Naptown is the old nickname for Indianapolis, back when it was a very boring town. In the 60s, one radio station, WIBC-AM, ruled the airwaves of Central Indiana. Then, WIFE-AM burst onto the scene with some slick-talking DJs and a lively Top 40 playlist. So, the company that owned WIBC created a FM station on this fledgling radio band call WNAP to combat the success of WIFE and to protect WIBC. WNAP, or The Buzzard as the station was known to us fans, not only protected WIBC but also created a whole new format that was adopted by stations across the country. This is the local story about the local radio market yet is so compelling that I feel the message is universal.
6. I Need That Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store (2010). The story of record collecting and the independent record store.
5. Stop Making Sense (1984). One of the greatest in concert films ever by one of the most visually arresting bands in history. Visually compelling in the band’s presentation and fashion statement that is matched by the musicianship of one of rock’s most overlooked bands.
4. Runnin’ Down a Dream: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (2007). Some may say this film runs long, but fans will be left with the feeling that we want even more! This is a brilliant chronological ride to the top with one of America’s greatest rock bands. As a long-time Petty fan, this is perfect.
3. The Last Waltz (1978). What is a better way to celebrate the last concert of one of rock’s greatest bands? Of course, you invite your favorite musician-friends to play a song or two with you and hire one of film’s greatest directors (Martin Scorsese) to film the whole damn thing. This should be mandatory viewing for every household on every Thanksgiving (it was filmed on Thanksgiving 1976). This is most compelling concert film of all-time.
2. This Is Spinal Tap(1984). This film coined the term “rockumentary.” Now, is this about a real band or not? Since we all know this is a parody, the improved dialogue is just fantastic. I love to lump this both as a documentary and a scripted film. Either way, this is the most influential film, arguably, of all time (Think about it: Best in Show and A Mighty Wind were created in the same manner. Additionally, rock stars everywhere praise the accuracy of characters’ actions.).
1. Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002). Before this movie, who knew who the Funk Brothers were? Be honest. That’s what I thought, just a handful. Then you watch this joint, and you can’t believe that this group of otherworldly talented musicians who created the Motown Sound were totally left out of the financial pot of gold they made. This is a fantastic story about the brotherhood of a group of black and white men who were brothers in the truest sense. I must watch this documentary every three months, and I’d probably watch it more often if I could stream it for free.
And, that wraps it all up! I hope I have inspired you to watch something new. Peace.