02nd Feb2017

Ten Best: Music Documentaries

by Phil Wheat

Music documentaries are a genre unto their own – sometimes they give you a glimpse behind the scenes of your favourite band, and sometimes they’re about someone you’ve never heard about who become your favourite band. With that in mind, here’s a rundown of the Top 10 Best Music Documentaries of all time:

Anvil! The Story Of Anvil

An opening of Heavy Metal icons such Slash, Lemmy and Lars Ulrich singing the praises of a band you’ve never heard of makes you think it’s all just a Spinal Tap style spoof. But no, after never quite hitting the big time in the early 80s, Canadian Metal band Anvil have still been plugging away despite the lack of success – at the beginning of the film frontman Steve “Lips” Kudlow is having to make a living delivering school dinners in Toronto! It’s a heart-warming underdog tale of never giving up your dream.


It doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard of The Dandy Warhols (who you might remember from a Vodafone advert a few years back) or The Brian Jonestown Massacre – the rivalry between them is a fascinating story of delusion and self-destruction. The small modicum of success the Warhols receive turns them into insufferable prima-donnas, and Massacre’s frontman Anton Newcombe seems to sabotage every opportunity his band gets.

Gimme Shelter

The film of the Rolling Stones infamous 1969 Altamont show is not only a great music doc but also an important historical document. The free show was intended to be the next Woodstock, but when a riot broken out and one of Hells Angles providing security stabbed a fan to death, it symbolised the death of the 60s peace and love dream.

Some Kind Of Monster

Intended to be a fluffy behind the scenes piece on the making of Metallica’s new album, Some Kind Of Monster turned into a sort of real life Spinal Tap when the band almost split up and ended up in group therapy. It starts off hilarious and ends up genuinely uplifting.

Don’t Look Back

Warts-and-all, fly-on-the-wall docs following around musicians are now ten a penny but in 1967 this Cinéma vérité style film following Bob Dylan’s UK tour was revolutionary. The opening scene, with Dylan holding big cue cards for the lyrics to Subterranean Homesick Blues has also become iconic in its own right.


Last King Of Scotland director Kevin MacDonald won an Oscar for One Day In September, his documentary about the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, and was selected to produce the definitive record of the life of reggae megastar Bob Marley. The epic two-and-a-half-hour running time leaves no stone unturned.

The Devil And Daniel Johnson

Cult singer-songwriter Daniel Johnson was beloved by Kurt Cobain, and has battled with schizophrenia and manic depression throughout his life. This sensitive documentary tells his fascinating story and is riveting viewing.

Kurt And Courtney

Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994 send shockwaves around the music world. Veteran documentary maker Nick Broomfield set out to investigate the claims that Cobain’s wife Courtney Love was involved in his death, and found himself in a legal minefeild and a cobweb of deception.

Beats, Rhymes And Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest

Hip-hop is a musical genre that really rather poorly represented in terms of good documentaries, but this biography of alternative rap legends A Tribe Called Quest goes a long way to rectifying this. Directed by Michael Rapaport (best known for playing Phoebe’s brother on Friends), the film tells the long complicated story of the band’s history.

Searching For Sugar Man

In the early 1970s, Detroit singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez was tipped to be the new Bob Dylan – but both his albums bombed and he went back to working in construction. Yet somehow – and no one really knows how – the record got bootlegged to South Africa and became the soundtrack to the anti-Apartheid movement, outselling the Rolling Stones and Elvis. The film follows two South African fans on the trail of their idol (who rumour has it committed suicide on stage) and their story is one so incredible you couldn’t make it up.


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