The rockumentary: an underappreciated art form

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From rare concert footage to harrowing tour stories, these documentaries will make you obsessed with each of these artists.

#5 – Buena Vista Social Club

Artist: Ry Cooder and Buena Vista Social Club

Genre: International

Epic Moment: The concert at Carnegie Hall

Centered around amazing traditional Cuban musicians in the late ’90s, “Buena Vista Social Club” explores the connection between social surroundings and world music. Following overlooked musicians caught in the time warp of Cuban isolation, they tell riveting stories about their history and culture, playing captivating songs in the process. The documentary does a fantastic job of honoring and focusing on the Cuban lifestyle and performances, culminating in a now-famous Carnegie Hall performance. The highlight of the documentary is hearing live performances of songs like “Dos Gardenias” and “Chan Chan,” some of the most recognizable and beloved traditional Cuban tracks of the past 50 years. 

#4 – Mystify

Artist: INXS and Michael Hutchence

Genre: New Wave

Epic Moment: Discussing Michael’s accident that changed his life

“Mystify” paints a comprehensive portrait of INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence, showing his values and kind demeanor, both on and offstage. This documentary is heartbreaking – as it highlights what a fantastic musician and person Hutchence was and how the effect of the British media and an untimely accident, leaving his senses damaged, led to his death. However, curated performances that highlight Hutchence’s unique voice and lyric writing will leave you obsessed with INXS. Stripped back songs like “Mystify” and energetic ‘80s anthems like “Need You Tonight” and “This Time” are tied together by Hutchence’s passionate vocal style. Ending with the emotional “Never Tear Us Apart” and the beautiful story behind it, “Mystify” is a collection of intimate stories that will leave you in tears. 

#3 – 20 Feet from Stardom

Artist: Darlene Love, Judith Hill, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer and others

Genre: Classic Rock

Epic Moment: When Merry Clayton describes getting the phone call in the middle of the night to track on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”

Some of the best rock songs of the ‘60s and ‘70s are known for their catchy backing vocals. “20 Feet from Stardom” tells the stories behind these iconic voices on classic albums. Performing for years with artists like Sting, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, unbelievably talented black women like Darlene Love, Merry Clayton and Lisa Fischer never received the recognition or stardom they deserve. This documentary highlights their impressive body of work and their contributions to the genre, contrasting their immense talent with their modest lifestyles. Songs like The Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel” showcase the backup singers’ start to their career and the film shows their transition to backup work on iconic songs like the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”and David Bowie’s “Young Americans.” A jaw-dropping watch, “20 Feet from Stardom” illustrates all that is wrong with the music industry and changes your perspective on many classic hits. 

#2 – Supersonic

Artist: Oasis

Genre: Brit Pop

Epic Moment: The cartoon depiction of a chaotic fight breaking out on a ferry to Amsterdam

From smashing bandmates’ heads in with cricket bats to selling-out multiple nights in 1996 at The Knebworth Festival, this documentary is pure chaos. Somehow, the Gallagher brothers, Noel and Liam, come across as extremely likeable, despite their ever-present anger issues and unparalleled egos. The songs from the first two, and arguably only good two, Oasis albums are on display in this documentary. Highlights include an acoustic version of “Live Forever” and actual footage of their early performances in Glasgow’s King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut. With amazing footage of shows, practices and recording sessions, raw and beautifully mixed versions of Oasis hits are an exciting feature of “Supersonic.” While you may not be the biggest fan of the British soccer-bro vibes of Oasis, this documentary will have you humming “Shakermaker” for months and speeding to your nearest vintage store to buy a parka.

#1 – Amy  

Artist: Amy Winehouse

Genre: Pop

Epic Moment: Actual footage of Amy recording “Back to Black”

This documentary delicately balances the external factors that caused Amy Winehouse’s decline with showcasing her natural talent and charisma. Footage of Amy interacting with bandmates and other musicians, along with her early lyrics covered in heart doodles and pen edits, turns the focus onto her personality, which wasn’t visible during the frenzied British media coverage of her in the early 2000s. Flawless, early performances of Winehouse playing guitar and singing in clubs in Camden are absolutely breathtaking in “Amy.” Of course, the highlight of this documentary is the footage of her recording with Mark Ronson, also known for his work with artists like Lady Gaga, Adele and Bruno Mars, where she sings early takes of “Back to Black” in an eerily perfect manner. Whether you’re into Amy Winehouse’s combination of pop, jazz and R&B, you will walk away from “Amy” with an unbelievable amount of respect for her, as an artist and a genuinely wonderful person who tragically died too soon.

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