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The Top 5 Music Documentaries of All Time

Many people see music documentaries as a 21st-century phenomenon, but they could not be more wrong! Fantastic, informative releases have been coming out for almost as long as the format has existed. These following projects have gone down in history as some of the most comprehensive and authentic reflections on their respective genres. From Hip Hop, Punk, Rave and Soul, here are five of the greatest music documentaries of all time.

Most of these documentaries are available to watch in full on YouTube, and we’ve included links to do so. But if you’re reading this in a country where that platform is blocked and aren’t already using a VPN, then you better install one before we get started. Check out this review by Secure Thoughts to choose the best for you.


Rhyme & Reason (1997)

This 1997 release is hailed by most hip-hop heads as the leading documentary on the genre. Produced as the golden era of rap was coming to its close, the film features appearances from many of the biggest names of the decade, including Chuck D, Dr Dre, the Pharcyde, Fugees, KRS-One, Ice T, Salt & Pepper, Redman & Method Man and even clips of the then recently deceased Biggie Smalls and Tupac, alongside many, many more.

The documentary uses archive footage to chronicle a fantastic candid camera history of the genre and how this quiet little revolution from the projects of New York has blown up to take over the mainstream entertainment industry and the world as a whole. The story of this triumph is narrated via interview clips from all the biggest players on the scene and provides a real and authentic re-telling of the hip-hop story from the people who witnessed it happen.


1991: The Year That Punk Broke (1991)

When Sonic Youth invited a film crew to take part in their 1991 tour, no one could have imagined the gravity of the movie that they would subsequently make. With footage of the alternative rock scene, long before it was brought to notoriety, the film truly witnesses the birth of a genre. The tour sees scenes from the then unknown support band, Nirvana, alongside the Ramones and Babes In Toyland.
The movie shows a young, innocent and hopeful Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love frolicking backstage alongside their eager contemporaries as they watch the music they’d loved and created explode onto the world’s stage. In retrospect, this movie is a harrowing tale; the story of gaining everything only to, as we now know, lose it all again equally as quickly. For punk lovers, it’s a piece of history, and for everyone else, it’s a must-see documentary.




Summer of Rave (2006)

EDM has exploded onto the world’s stage over recent years, but how many Coachella-goers and Skrillex fans would believe that their much-loved culture actually stemmed from the acid house parties of 1980s England. One particular year, the summer of 1989, saw what people called the “second summer of love,” as repercussions of Thatcher’s Britain created a sub-culture based on banging baselines, fist-pumping and chemical-fueled raves.

The smiley-face, glow stick and fluorescent colors all came from this era. The documentary explores the many social intricacies of that short period of revelry, and how it created a culture that is still thriving to this very day. With some carefully selected BBC archive footage, and interviews from the some of the biggest names of the day, this is an essential watch for all lovers of electronic music.



Amy (2015)


One of the greatest smash hit documentary of recent years, which has taken the world by storm, is this highly emotive, posthumous look at the life of controversial singer and songwriter—Amy Winehouse. Known for her turbulent relationships, media scandals and heavy drug-use, Asif Kapadia has done a brilliant job of directing a film that shows a side of this fantastic musician that the world has never been able to see before.

With rare footage from the early days of her career, Kapadia portrays Amy as her young, ambitious self—a slave to music and passionate singer who versed herself in almost every genre. It shows how her voice enchanted the entire industry and her to-the-point outlook meant she was loved by many. So, as the documentary draws to a close and we are presented with her demise, we see the end of Amy’s sad life in a whole new light.



Deep Blues: A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads (1991)


This essential narration of the importance and growth of Delta and North Mississippi hill country blues is a true testimony to a genre that changed the face of music forever. It’s an authentic look at the early musicians, playing in run down bars, street corners and barbershops, and speaks of a time before big record labels and media outlets got their hands on its unique and impacting sound.

This is blues before the Chicago influence, before the birth of rock and roll and the appropriation of a culture by White America. These videos are the real deal, and an essential watch for all blues fans or fans of the many successors of the genre. Before blues became a music of nostalgia, it was a trailblazer in the world of sound, and this documentary harks back to a time when this excitement was fresh and new.



Any more documentaries that deserve a spot on this list? Leave a comment below with your ideas!

About the Author: Isa is an entertainment blogger and life-long music lover. She enjoys delving into the colorful histories of all her favorite genres and hopes she can share all she’s found out with fellow music enthusiasts.

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