I’m partial to a good music documentary, so I thought it might be a good idea to list the 10 best docs currently available on Netflix. To paraphrase The Ramones - hey ho, lets go!

 

Searching for Sugar Man

Searching for Sugar Man is a journey to discover what became of the American/Mexican singer and songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, whose albums were lost without trace when released in his native country (and everywhere else for that matter) in the early 1970s, but for some inexplicable reason, became massive in South Africa during the repressive period of Apartheid years later. A bit like what happened to David Gray when he inexplicably became massive in Ireland during the repressive period of the Celtic Tiger, whilst his albums were lost without trace in his native England (and everywhere else for that matter)...

Of course, he then inexplicably became massive everywhere else also!

Allegedly not seen or heard since the early '70s, many urban legends existed as to his demise (Sixto’s, not David Gray’s), and the film charts Rodriguez's own journey to obscurity and back again over 30 years later. It’s a fine film, heart-warming and uplifting, if a little dubious as to the legitimacy of the narrative since we (SPOILER ALERT!) know now that he was also gigging in the Southern Hemisphere during the 80s!

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Anvil: The Story of Anvil

As a 41 year-old former full-time (on the dole) musician, I’m not sure whether this film inspires me to continue, or depresses me enough to quit!

The Story of Anvil is an unintentional tragicomedy featuring two fifty something year old men who refuse to give up on their musical dream, even after nearly 30 years together. And worse, they’re a metal band!

But the end justifies the means, and it leaves the viewer contemplating the philosophical debate it creates, i.e. is the band successful because of the movie, or because of the dedication? Is the dedication justified because it led to the movie?

Either way, it’s a brilliant watch and you should check it out. Maybe right after you’ve watched Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (see below).

Daft Punk: Unchained

A fascinating retrospective as to how two friends shared a mutual love walking around in space suits and shiny helmets... whilst also becoming one of the biggest musical acts in the world!

Watching it, the viewer gets a real sense of Daft Punk as individuals, particularly with regards to their ambition, drive and their nuanced ideas as to how to make this mad idea work.

And of course, the music is outstanding.

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What Happened, Miss Simone?

This movie asks a question that I’m not sure it answers. Make no mistake, there is a distinct ambiguity to the title, depending on how the poser in question is delivered: What Happened, Miss Simone?

When you watch this, you’ll know what I mean. And watch it you must, as it’s important that Nina Simone’s legacy is maintained. A spokesperson for her generation, she was a trained classical pianist, an incredible musician and singer, who excelled at using the stage to promote her own revolution.

But nobody was speaking for her when the show ended, and here is where the tragedy lies.

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Metallica: Some Kind of Monster

If Spinal Tap did a Behind The Music episode, this might be it! The documentary satirising the mockumentary, how Postmodern! It’s easy to laugh at Metallica... Without trivialising some of the more serious moments in the documentary - such as James Hetfield’s addiction problems - it really is an uproariously funny portrayal of a group of middle aged lads, rich and famous beyond their wildest dreams, trying to reconcile this with their image as Angry Rock Gods, whilst in pursuit of relevance as they record their new album.

Watch it alone for Lars Ulrich’s reaction as his very expensive collection of art makes him a ton of money at auction.

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Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin’ Down a Dream

Tom Petty is great. We sometimes forget this!

Directed by the often frustrating, but equally brilliant Peter Bogdanovich, Runnin’ Down a Dream is a very linear portrayal of a world-renowned band, and how they made it big.

The songs are great, the band is great and the artists that contribute to this are mind-blowing.

Coming in at over four hours, the movie is very long, and it exploits that age-old trope of starting off in the middle of nowhere and making it to the very top of the world. A classic American story and a brilliant watch.

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Hip Hop Evolution

I’ve been on a hip-hop buzz lately, and I’m cheating a little with his one as I’ve only seen the first two episodes of this four-part series.

Most of the key early players contribute, and it’s a fascinating exercise to watch, listen and understand how this genre of music was conceptualised and how it grew, incorporating many other creative mediums such as fashion and the graffiti art movement, to produce a mishmash of inspired creativity and invention, and something that can be legitimately called a ‘movement.’

But mostly, just sit back and listen to those drum samples.

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David Bowie: The Man Who Changed the World

This was released so close to his passing that you feel they were probably just waiting to press the distribution ‘send’ button! But it’s Bowie, so it’s always worth a watch, and this film begins in 1976 with Russell Harty questioning whether Bowie is au fait with the current British music scene as he advises him to move into Bay City Rollers territory - brilliant stuff.

Some great insights here into Bowie’s early influences - what drove him as a songwriter - but also some interesting observations as to what drove him as a performer. It concentrates heavily on the ‘talking heads’ style of documenting, but he’s such an interesting character that it deserves to be seen.

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Gimme Danger

Jim Jarmusch, Iggy Pop and The Stooges… Need I say more?

Granted, Gimme Danger is a fanboy representation of the legendary Stooges. Even so, it expertly underlines how important the band is to the history of rock’ n roll, whilst also highlighting how utterly at odds they were to the rest of the musical environment in the late 1960s.

The archive footage of the their formative years is breathtaking, and although the movie suffers a little production value-wise, and I'd question some of the editorial decisions, it’s still a fascinating glimpse into how a band finds its way, and how those things that limit us as individuals, can make us stronger as a unit.

Iggy doesn’t always come off looking great in this, especially some of his throwaway remarks around royalties, which arguably insinuate that he believes he gave the band too much. But we get his insights as to how he honed his onstage persona, and how he crafted those trademark poses. You know, the things that made him one of the all-time great car insurance salesmen… Sorry, I mean rock icons!

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We Are Twisted F**king Sister

OK, obviously it is without question, Twisted Sister are appalling! But I’ve always found frontman Dee Snider to be one of the funniest personalities in music; hence I decided to check this out. He’s not at his comedic best in this film, but the Twisted Sister story is pretty unique, and you cannot help but respect the band after watching We Are F**king Twisted Sister.

Beginning as a covers band in the early 70s, they eventually ventured into original music, and believed in themselves enough to wear full drag, done to the nines in make-up whilst playing biker bars and US military hang-outs. The band spent 10 years on the road, playing five nights a week, could fill 22,000 seater arenas, and all this without a record deal, as no label would touch them.

A fascinating and inspiring story, made compelling by the aforementioned Snider and his axe-wielding sidekick Jay Jay French.