13 must-see music documentaries
From the Hard Knock Life Tour to Woodstock, Jimi Hendrix to Organized Noize, these films chronicle it all.
Here at REVOLT, we like to create the content our followers, listeners, and viewers ask for. When our Instagram post that asked you guys to suggest dope music-related documentaries started to catch fire, we knew we’d have to compile a list for you in return. So here it is, 13 must-sees:
Woodstock is a 1970 American documentary on the watershed counterculture Woodstock Festival that took place in August 1969 near Bethel, New York. Entertainment Weekly called it the benchmark of concert movies and one of the most entertaining documentaries ever made. Directed by Michael Wadleigh, along with editors like Thelma Schoomaker and Martin Scorsese, it saw amazing success as it received the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Dan Wallin and L.A. Johnson were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Sound and, to top it off, the film was screened at the 1970 Cannes Film Festival.
As pioneers of the Dirty South music movement, Organized Noize is responsible for Outkast, Cee-Lo, the Goodie Mob and the Dungeon Family. Their production shaped the landscape of hip-hop with their own distinctive sound, created in the confines of a dungeon. Featuring interviews with Andre 3000, Big Boi, Puff Daddy, Future, Ludacris, L.A. Reid, 2 Chainz, Cee-Lo and more, The Art of Organized Noise is the story of the rise and fall of music’s most prolific unsung heroes.
Nina Simone was a legendary recording artist and black power icon. A classically trained pianist, Simone lived a life of brutal honesty and musical genius. They didn’t call her the “High Priestess of Soul” for nothing. What Happened, Miss Simone documents her life story.
Backstage is a 2000 documentary film, directed by Chris Fiore, that chronicles the 1999 Hard Knock Life Tour that featured several of hip hop’s top acts, including Jay-Z, DMX, Method Man and Redman. Produced by Damon Dash, Backstage featured live performances by several members of Def Jam’s roster and gave an in-depth look at what happened behind the scenes. It was the first ever all hip-hop tour.
Director Morgan Neville takes on a journey through the world of backup singers. Their voices bring harmony to the biggest bands in popular music, but we’ve had no idea who these singers are or what lives they lead. 20 Feet From Stardom invites viewers into the world just beyond the spotlight.
Featuring footage of some of his classic performances, Jimi Hendrix offers a look at one of the greatest guitarists the world has ever known. Three years after his death, Hendrix’s family, friends and fellow musicians — including Pete Townsend, Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton and Lou Reed — commented on the rocker’s life and influence.
Filmmaker Nelson George traces the history of funk music from the 1960s to the present. Starting with Funk’s roots in Jazz and the James Brown bands of the 60s, we travel to the Bay Area to celebrate Sly & the Family Stone, then to Dayton (the birthplace of so many of Funk’s originators), then Detroit where, from the ashes of Motown, P-Funk’s Mothership arose, and onto L.A. where a new crop of musicians are creating their own Funk history. Finding the Funk takes viewers on a true journey to talk with legends Sly Stone, Bootsy Collins, George Clinton, Nona Hendryx, Maceo Parker, Bernie Worrell, and Steve Arrington, and their descendants Mike D, D’Angelo, Sheila E and Shock G. Plus, it’s narrated by Questlove of the Roots.
In Janis, Little Girl Blue, an insightful portrait of 1960s rock legend Janis Joplin, private letters and interviews with her family, friends and colleagues reveal a fragile soul whose overpowering voice made her a superstar before her death from a drug overdose at age 27.
Fresh Dressed is a fascinating, fun-to-watch chronicle of hip-hop, urban fashion and the hustle that brought oversized pants and graffiti-drenched jackets from Orchard Street to high fashion’s catwalks and Middle America shopping malls. Director Sacha Jenkis reaches deep into Southern plantation culture, the Black church, and Little Richard, for a music-drenched history lesson drawing from in-depth interviews with rappers, designers and other industry insiders, such as Pharrell Williams, Damon Dash, Karl Kani, Kanye West, Nas, and André Leon Talley.
The Stax Records family atmosphere and the challenges it faced in a turbulent era of social revolution and Black empowerment are illustrated by the label’s great music, from Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, and The Staple Singers, to Booker T and the MGs, Sam and Dave, etc. Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story takes viewers through the rise & collapse of Memphis’ socially-conscious, neighborhood-based Stax Records, which spawned many of the best soul sounds of the 60s and 70s.
Maestro tells the story of how a group of people found refuge and a call for life outside the mainstream. This film serves as a rare insight into the underground world that evolved, a scene that set the groundwork for what was to come in dance music culture worldwide.
In Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap, Ice-T travels coast to coast interviewing rap performers such as Q-Tip, Common, and Kanye West to pay tribute to the musical art form.
Soundbreaking covers a century’s worth of music, featuring more than 160 original interviews with some of the most celebrated recording artists, producers, and music industry pioneers. The film digs deep into innovation and experimentation, offering a behind-the-scenes look at the birth of brand new sounds. From the Beatles’ groundbreaking use of multi-track technology to the synthesized stylings of Stevie Wonder, from disco-era drum machines to the modern art of sampling, Soundbreaking is a window into the growth of music.