From Muscle Shoals

Over the past week I've been immersing myself in music documentaries, for no real reason—or maybe because I can't seem to get attached to any new music, and need to return to the times when music meant something (my dad says) and recording studios were special and concerts were a big deal and songwriting didn't involve Pharrell. Before Skrillex and EDM and Iggy Azalea. Why is it so loud in here? Anyway, there are currently a lot of worthwhile rock docs streaming on Netflix, most of which will transport you decades back in time—tune in before they disappear.


This one will drag you into the current life of former Cream drummer Ginger Baker, who has turned his world around more times than you would think is possible in one lifetime. Journey with him from South Africa to the polo fields of Colorado and into the darkness of his own mind. And BUCKLE UP.


One time John Lennon was asked who his favorite band was, and he replied, "Nilsson." That is, Harry Nilsson (who went by his last name). Even if you are familiar with the man who sang that Midnight Cowboy song, this is a film worth delving into. Like any good rock doc, it shows you the highs and lows of rock and roll, fame, and the human behind it all.


This one looks at the woman behind the music—Freda Kelly had been with The Beatles since the Cavern days, becoming their secretary, head of the fan club, and (unfortunately for the viewer) a keeper of secrets, even to this day. The film documents her ten years working alongside the most famous band on earth—just don't expect a Paul McCartney cameo, who is an odd missing voice in the film.


If you watch only one documentary about a legendary recording studio, make it this one. The fast world of rock n' roll meeting the slow pace of Sheffield, Alabama has created some real magic—this doc will tell you how those two worlds collided, and are still being brought together today. You'll also get old footage of the place, the musicians who gravitated towards it, and the Swampers. There's even some crossover with Gimme Shelter (which is not currently on Netflix), which features some of the same footage of the Stones in the famed studio.


Speaking of Gimme Shelter, Merry Clayton is one of the back-up singers whose life, then and now, is captured in this doc. You'll get goosebumps more than once hearing these women hit those high notes, but you may also tear up—the life of an aging back-up singer, even further from the spotlight, isn't an easy one, and they've gone criminally uncredited throughout their careers.


The title here says a lot—Bob Weir isn't Jerry Garcia, and will never reach the insane cult-god status that Jerry did, but he's worth getting to know a little better. While he'll tell you in this doc that he hasn't thought much about his legacy, he has lived a life worth leaving one. Come for the Weir Wisdom, and stay for the scuba diving scene.


This one brings us to the 1990s, and explores the life and career of the very excellent Kathleen Hanna, as well as the Riot Grrrl movement. I have watched this one about 7 times since 2013; it's that good, that empowering, and that worthwhile. Trigger warning: if you have battled Lyme Disease, as I have, note that a lot of the latter half of this movie deals with that. But in the end, you'll leave aspiring to be as brave and bad-ass as Hanna... and maybe you'll start a zine.

Honorable Mentions

These are all very well-reviewed music docs that are also currently on Netflix:

Another worthwhile doc that is sort of about music, is Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon. You'll be amazed at this guy's life, and some of the life (and career) lessons he delivers throughout are worth writing down.

Are you scrolling down to complain in the comments that your favorite rock doc wasn't mentioned? Please note that the terrific films are not currently on Netflix, but worth seeking out elsewhere: Searching for Sugar Man, Sound City, Pearl Jam 20, Gimme Shelter, Decline of Western Civilization, Mistaken For Strangers, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down A Dream, and The Kids Are Alright.