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Our favorite music documentaries on Netflix

 By Zach Goins

February 8, 2020

Listening to music is one thing, but witnessing how it’s made and what goes into the creative process is another– and Netflix gives music lovers plenty of opportunities to go behind the scenes with some of the world’s most popular artists. 

So, instead of rewatching “The Office” for the hundredth time or trying to solve another murder mystery, why not explore the music industry in one of Netflix’s hidden gems? There’s certainly no shortage of options to choose from.

Here’s a comprehensive look at all the best documentaries for music lovers available on Netflix:

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese

What happens when you combine one of the greatest living filmmakers with an all-time singer-songwriter? Well, you’ll have to watch and find out, while director Martin Scorsese explores Bob Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour. As Netflix says, this doc is “an alchemic mix of fact and fantasy,” as Scorsese blends archival concert and interview footage with artistic fabrication. Fact and fiction work together so seamlessly in this film that part of the fun is trying to determine what’s real and what’s not. 

Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation

Before there was the glitz and glam of Coachella or High-Five Fridays on the Farm at Bonnaroo, there was Woodstock. For three days in 1969, nearly 500,000 people descended on a dairy farm in Bethel, New York for a weekend that changed the music landscape forever. To celebrate the festival’s 50th anniversary, this PBS documentary chronicles how the event went from near disaster to running just about as smoothly as possible.

Hip-Hop Evolution 

Hosted by MC and journalist Shad Kabango, this Netflix docuseries profiles some of the biggest names in hip-hop and explores how the genre became the world’s most popular style of music. Hip-Hop Evolution takes viewers from the genre’s inception in the ‘70s through the 2000s and all the way into today, through the eyes of influential artists like Run-D.M.C., Def Jam, Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Kanye West, Pharrell, and many more.

Echos in the Canyon

What do the Beach Boys, The Mamas and the Papas, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Tom Petty all have in common? They all share roots in Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon, where the state’s signature sound was created back in the 1960s. The neighborhood became a hotbed of creativity as America searched for its answer to the Beatles and, as a result, the folk-rock genre was born. From legends of the past to modern artists like Beck, Norah Jones and Regina Spektor, Echos in the Canyon reflects on the genre’s early days and how far it’s come– plus, where it’s heading.

Miss Americana

After debuting to rave reviews at January’s Sundance Film Festival, Taylor Swift’s Miss Americana has garnered equally impressive acclaim from fans. Chronicling the production and release of Swift’s last two albums, the documentary pulls back the curtain on the less glamorous side of being America’s sweetheart. It would be easy to dismiss an artist-made documentary as just a puff piece or propaganda, but Miss Americana doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to addressing difficult topics. From her sexual assault trial to her struggle with an eating disorder and her decision to become a political activist, nothing is off limits with this unprecedented amount of behind the scenes access. 

HOMECOMING: A Film by Beyoncé

If you weren’t able to make it to Coachella 2018 (or should I say Beychella?), HOMECOMING has you covered. That year, Beyoncé brought culture to the Valley in a celebration of African American communities, HBCUs, feminism and activism. Now, Queen B’s critically acclaimed documentary takes viewers behind the scenes every step of the way, from the beginning of the creative process all the way to the show-stopping performances. The recognition for the film speaks for itself: HOMECOMING was nominated for six primetime Emmys and took home the Grammy for Best Music Film.

Chasing Trane

If you’re looking for something with a North Carolina tie, then look no further. High Point’s very own John Coltrane revolutionized jazz for over two decades in the mid-1900s, and this is his story. Narrated by Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington and featuring interviews with artists like Carlos Santana, Common, and even former president Bill Clinton, Chasing Trane provides an engrossing look at the beloved saxophonist.

ReMastered: Who Shot the Sheriff?

Part true-crime mystery, part music documentary, Who Shot the Sheriff? has something for everyone. In the 1970s, Bob Marley was on his way to becoming one of the biggest and most influential names in music, and by 1975 he was a star on the global scale. That’s what made the assassination attempt on the reggae icon the following year so shocking. This documentary explores the hunt for the shooter and the political motives behind the attack. 

20 Feet From Stardom

In 2006, Dreamgirls chronicled three Black female background singers’ journey from obscurity to taking center stage– but real life doesn’t always work that way. Just beyond the spotlight, these background performers are relatively unknown even as they bring harmonies to some of the biggest names in the world of music. Hear from background singers still searching for their big break and those who have given up the dream. Plus, stars like Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder pay tribute to some of the supporting acts who paved the way for their iconic hits. 

What Happened, Miss Simone?

Heralded as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Nina Simone was on top of the R&B and jazz world. Then, during the 1970s, she walked away from it all. But why? As not just an entertainer but also a political activist during the civil rights movement, Simone abandoned her performing career and moved to Liberia to escape the vitriol of America. The Oscar-nominated doc explores Simone’s upbringing and the events that led to her shocking decision.

Travis Scott: Look Mom I Can Fly

This one may not be the most profound documentary on the list, but that doesn’t mean it still isn’t fun. Whether it’s because of his insanely popular music or his connection to the Kardashian-Jenner family, Travis Scott is currently one of the biggest names in hip-hop, and really, of pop culture. Look Mom I Can Fly goes behind the scenes of Scott’s rise to fame, from his early days to the debut of his highly-touted album Astroworld in 2018. 

Oasis: Supersonic

Everybody knows the song “Wonderwall,” but do you know the story behind the band who made it? In just three years, the British pop rockers went from total anonymity to being one of the biggest bands in the world. Brought to you by the studio behind the Academy Award-winning documentary, Amy, Oasis: Supersonic takes you from the band’s meteoric rise through the height of its fame and, ultimately, to its legal troubles and break up. 

Quincy

This documentary details the extraordinary life of entertainment mogul Quincy Jones. Co-directed by his daughter, Rashida Jones of Parks and Recreation fame, this film covers the artists’ over 70-year career influencing the music and film industry.

Gaga: Five Foot Two

Speaking of A Star Is Born, take a look at what Lady Gaga was up to before she teamed up with Bradley Cooper. This documentary lets viewers see Gaga like never before, as she gets ready to release a new album and preps for her halftime performance at Super Bowl LI.

Amy

This documentary covers the tragic life and death of 27-year-old singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse. Featuring rare home video footage, interviews, and never-before heard songs, Amy offers an extensive inside look at the star’s troubled life.

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