Coffee Time #5 – Binge Watching Music Documentaries

Like most people who run there own business there is very limited time to learn and experience new things. Whilst I’m sending e-mails, writing this blog and sorting out my books I like to have something interesting to watch. Thankfully Netflix has finally organised it’s films into categories so I’ve been trawling through the documentaries for the best music focused films. Whilst everything portrayed is subject to bias it allows for a snapshot into the lives of people that wrote and recorded some of the best music. After the last months binge I decided to list, in no particular order, 5 of the best I’ve found so far. Enjoy.

I Dream Of Wires (2014) – Synthesizers are a main stay in popular music and still offer some of the most cutting edge sounds. For many younger people who’ve never had access to an analogue synth they have almost a mythical quality. The film explores the evolution of synths from early electronic music to the modern modular synth revival via the invention of the Moog synthesizer, the San Francisco Tape Music Center, the 1980’s synth-pop movement and the rise of digital emulation. A must see for electronic music fans.

Muscle Shoals (2013) – For anyone that has an interest in how some of the best 60’s and 70’s recordings were achieved this is must. The film chronicles the life and work of FAME studios founder Rick Hall and the signature sound he developed in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The list of artists that passed through the studio is remarkable and this film spends plenty of time on the people behind the music both engineers, producers and the session bands. There is a good reason this film has been nominated for and won a number of awards.

What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015) – The music of Nina Simone is a fascinating journey and a hugely influential part of popular music and my own taste. This documentary explores the tragic and often violent life of Nina Simone within the context of the society she passed through and social movements she was a part of. And from these explorations it adds a greater understanding to the musical styles Nina employs and that distinct vocal delivery. After watching this it is well worth revisiting the album recordings and live performances as you’ll find subtle things that could be missed without context. Definitely one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen and very well rounded, often unflattering, look at an artist.

Kurt and Courtney (1998) – Something of a classic in the world of music documentaries. This documentary explores the various theories that surround the suicide of Kurt Cobain. Alongside the the exploration of these murder theories there is also a lot of background information on Kurt’s early life and the people of that knew him. A must for Nirvana fans but also an interesting look at how documentaries have changed in the past 17 years.

History of the Eagles Part One (2013) – I can still remember my father introducing me to the Eagles seminal album ‘Hotel California’ as a child. If you have an interest in how that distinct sound developed and the various musical phases and members the band went this film is great. There is a lot of background information on the bands that would spawn the The Eagles and the artists that surrounded them. As a guitarist the short clip of Joe Walsh playing ‘Life In The Fast Lane’ on an acoustic of the acapella harmony rehearsals is worth the admission fee.

There was a number of other films worth checking out if your appetite hasn’t been sated. Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (2011) is a excellent look at the influential cult band Big Star, with a side focus on Stax subsidiary Ardent Records and famed studios. Hip-Hop fans will appreciate Rubble Kings (2010) look at early New York hip-hop and Nas: Time is Illmatic (2014) is a great overview of the iconic album. For a slightly different take on the industry try Supermensch: The Legend Of Shep Gordon (2013) which explores the work of music and chef manager Shep Gordon, especially if your an Alice Cooper fan.

Any other documentaries worth watching? Leave a comment below and I’ll add them to the list for next month.

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