Top 5 Music Documentaries You Need To See

What are the best music documentaries?

We set out to answer that question by polling thousands of Gooseneck fans to pick their favorites from a list of 20 classic films. Without further ado, here are the top 5 music documentaries from that poll:

#5: The Wrecking Crew

Two of the top 5 are movies about studio bands, the Wrecking Crew in Los Angeles and The Swampers in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

The Wrecking Crew was a collection of amazing studio musicians that coalesced in the early '60s Los Angeles studio scene. They started out as Phil Spector's studio band, and became an essential element in his "wall of sound" production style. 

Drummer Hal Blaine was the backbone of this studio collective, and he coined the name "Wrecking Crew" in his 1990 memoir.

Other members of the Crew included:
  • Guitarist Tommy Tedesco (his son, Denny Tedesco, directed this movie as a love letter to his late father).
  • Carol Kaye on bass, the rare woman to be among the rarefied A-list of studio musicians.
  • Keyboardist Leon Russell and guitarist Glen Campbell, both of whom went on to have storied solo careers. 
They played on literally hundreds of hits -- from Ronnie Spector's "Be My Baby" to Nancy Sinatra's "Boots Are Made For Walking" to the Beach Boys "California Dreamin'" and "Good Vibrations."

Click on the image for a link to the DVD:


#4: Muscle Shoals

Something was in the water in Muscle Shoals, Alabama! That's where Rick Hall launched FAME studios and worked with a group of session musicians who became known as the Swampers to cut a string of hits with artists ranging from Aretha Franklin to Paul Simon and Bob Seger.

The Swampers got their nickname from producer Denny Cordell, who was working with them while recording Leon Russell. He coined the sobriquet for their "funky, soulful, Southern swamp sound." And you can hear a shout-out to the band in Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" when singer Ronnie Van Zant sings, Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers / they've been known to pick a song or two.

The Swampers went on to leave Hall's FAME studio and set up their own operation at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Tons of artists made the pilgrimage to this off-the-beaten-path locale to tap into the soul-drenched playing of these guys. In fact, more than a few artists were surprised to learn these guys were white!

Legendary Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler brought many artists to the studio to benefit from their distinctive magic. Here's just a partial list of all the great hits cut with the Swampers:
  • It all started with Percy Sledge's "When A Man Loves A Woman."
  • Go back and listen to the Staples Singers "I'll Take You There" and "Respect Yourself." Once you know the sound of the Swampers, you can immediately tell it's them on these classic tracks.
  • Aretha was there cutting and famously was having trouble getting the groove on "I Never Loved A Man." The band decided to take a break, but keyboardist Spooner Oldham stayed behind, noodling on the Wurlitzer electric piano. That's when he came up with the distinctive, rolling piano figure that opens the song.
  • And don't forget rockers like Bob Seger, who cut many hits here including "Old Time Rock N Roll." Also on the list: Paul Simon, even the Rolling Stones. 
​Click on the image for a link to the DVD:


#3: History Of The Eagles

Wow, what an epic story of the rise of this great band, then their acrimonious split and eventual reconciliation during the tongue-in-cheek "Hell Freezes Over" tour!

You might think this would be just a typical career retrospective, but it's actually a great movie. That's because Glen Frey insisted they work with top documentary filmmakers, rather than music video directors. So they hired Academy-award-winning documentarian Alex Gibney and director Allison Ellwood to helm the project and the resulting film has a quality above most doc's.

Some of the best parts of the movie are the stories behind the songs. Glenn Frey in particular had a great knack for song titles and storytelling, as we noted in this "Tribute to Glenn Frey the Songwriter."

One example is about the song "Lyin' Eyes." The Eagles spent many nights in the bar at Dan Tana's in Hollywood surrounded by beautiful women, many of whom were there with older, rich men. One night Glenn saw a particularly stunning lady with an older mana nd said to Don, "Look, she can't even hide her lying eyes." They quickly realized stay had a song-in-the-making and started grabbing napkins to scribble the rest of the verses.

Or the time when Glenn recounts the story about speeding down the Pacific Coast Highway with his, ahem, drug dealer. They were going way too fast for Glenn's comfort, especially since he didn't want to get pulled over by the cops. Glenn told the guy to slow down, and the dealer replied, "Life in the fast lane, baby!"

Click on the image for a link to the DVD:


#2: Woodstock

OK, this is the granddaddy of both concert movies and big festival events, so it makes sense that this film is near the top of the list. It also happens to be a great piece of filmmaking, and it has an Academy Award for Best Documentary to prove it.

What makes the movie great is its unflinching portrait of Woodstock in all its chaotic glory. There's the utopian ideals of the event mixed with the gritty realities of disorganized promoters, not to mention bad weather and too many people out in the muddy fields of Yasgur's Farm.

Some of the highlights are of course Jimi Hendrix's guitar-burning set, the amazing debut of Crosby, Stills and Nash, a triumphant set by Sly and the Family Stone and mind-blowing blues form Janis Joplin. 

One person who was missing was Joni Mitchell. But the silver lining is that while she watched the proceedings from far away and regretted not being there, it inspired her to pen her classic song "Woodstock" to capture the event forever.

Click the image below for a link to the DVD:


#1: The Last Waltz

We're happy to see The Last Waltz ranked #1 in this poll, because it's our favorite too (and we wrote about it in this post).

It's hard to believe it's been 40 years since The Band brought together a bunch of their musician friends on Thanksgiving night 1976 to throw one of the greatest rock n roll parties of all time! 

There are so many highlights from that show. From their first guest Ronnie Hawkins to Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Dr. John and Eric Clapton, the incredible artists just kept coming throughout the night.

Apart from the music itself, one of our favorite moments is when Neil Young is on stage and Robbie Robertson points out the copious amount of cocaine clearly visible on Neil's nose. Whoops!

Not everyone in The Band was happy about getting off the road and making this their last concert. But Robbie Robertson said they needed to get off the road to save themselves from the lifestyle that was causing some band members to fall to temptation -- the late nights, the constant partying, the drugs and grueling travel. 

By the way, Robbie Robertson has a great new book called Testimony, chronicling the early years of the Band when they started with Ronnie Hawkins, then went on to play with Dylan as he made his famous transition from acoustic folkie to electric rocker (and got booed by audiences from England to America and Australia).

Click the image below for a link to the DVD:


Comment and Share

What's your favorite music doc? Does this Top 5 list match your own favorites? Leave a comment and let us know!

And if you like this post, share it with friends by clicking on the share button on the bottom right side of this page!

5 comments

  • Bobby T
    Bobby T San Carlos
    There are 2 I just found out about, 1st is Sidemen, and 2nd is the Mike Bloomfield both are DVD's but the Bloomfield is only available through the box set!

    There are 2 I just found out about, 1st is Sidemen, and 2nd is the Mike Bloomfield both are DVD's but the Bloomfield is only available through the box set!

  • Martin Weeks
    Martin Weeks Melbourne FL.
    Wow, Mike Bloomfield? That name almost never comes up in most mainstream music media. People have no idea how important he was/is in the development of modern blues/rock. Cool, wish that video would come to Netflix. I'd love to see that one

    Wow, Mike Bloomfield? That name almost never comes up in most mainstream music media.
    People have no idea how important he was/is in the development of modern blues/rock. Cool, wish that video would come to Netflix. I'd love to see that one

  • Dan
    Dan Boston
    I know that it would be technically DQ'd since it was a mocumentary about a fictional band, but can we at least get an honorable mention for This is Spinal Tap?

    I know that it would be technically DQ'd since it was a mocumentary about a fictional band, but can we at least get an honorable mention for This is Spinal Tap?

  • Joey
    Joey Philadelphia
    I know that your list is only five deep, but how could you have forgotten Standing in the Shadows of Motown?

    I know that your list is only five deep, but how could you have forgotten Standing in the Shadows of Motown?

  • Becky
    Becky Kansas City, MO
    Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story

    Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story

Add comment