Rock Docs | 5 of Netflix’s Best Rockumentaries

Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue featured an ad-hoc accidental masterpiece of a band, which played rousing, irreverent versions of songs from his catalog

With the ever-increasing amount of streaming services available like Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, Disney+ and Mubi, Netflix still manages to stand shoulders above the rest due to a key weapon of engagement: documentaries. From establishing successes like Making A Murderer to the most recent adventures of Joe Exotic in Tiger King, Netflix are delivering unique entertainment.

However, it is not only their true crime documentaries that are absorbing. Netflix has also got plenty for music fans. For instance, their ReMastered series, although at times more crime-based than music, delves into myths surrounding the murder and legend of some illustrious figures from the past. These include Johnny Cash, Bob Marley, Sam Cooke and The Miami Showband.

Also on the streaming service is plenty of engaging rockumentaries, one’s that lift the lid on misconceptions regarding how rock stars live, presenting them as human. After all, these are often people with the same struggles as anyone in society, perhaps though at times with an added self-destructive edge that can be almost impossible to comprehend. With that in mind, here are five of the best rock docs on offer on Netflix right now.

ZZ Top: The Little ‘Ol Band From Texas

Created by Canadian music fanatic and award winning filmmaker Sam Dunn, The Little ‘Ol Band From Texas is a triumph. It documents the early years of ZZ Top, the band which became a household name in 1983 when their eighth album Eliminator exploded and the outfit went stratospheric.

This rockumentary highlights the careers of the three talented hard-working original band members. It follows them from their beginnings in Texas shit-kicker-garage-blues to a journey playing every dive imaginable. Billy Gibbons (beard), Dusty Hill (beard), and Frank Beard (no beard), have stayed together for over 50 years. Here, they talk candidly: at times it is too direct, but that’s what makes it entertaining. It finishes just after that aforementioned Eliminator album and the MTV fame that came with it. But that’s okay. The job of this documentary is the journey to the top, not what they did when they arrived.

2. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story

“Life isn’t about finding yourself… it’s about creating yourself.” – Bob Dylan

Martin Scorsese has created some of the best rockumentaries of the past 45 years, starting with The Last Waltz in 1978. His latest is both passionate and compelling, as the director pieces together the legendary Bob Dylan tour The Rolling Thunder.

The documentary features archive footage of the infamous 1975 tour while acting as a time capsule for mid-70s America. With half of the documentary featuring concert footage, the rest follows the trail of the rock carnival that Dylan created. This was not just a watershed moment in the career of Bob Dylan, but a reinvention of what we knew as a concert tour.

3. What Happened, Miss Simone?

This powerful outing from the acclaimed Liz Garbus (Bobby Fischer Against the World) is the pinnacle of how to bring to life a character, warts-and-all, with style – all without diminishing the legend they were.

Nina Simone was and, despite her passing in 2003, remains an influential artist and a cultural icon. She is known for her activism as much as her music, both of which intertwined, making What Happened, Miss Simone? riveting. The late songstress was filled with rage, and had no problem turning up the heat. Here, the private Nina Simone is as much under the microscope as the public persona. Archive footage and interviews with those close to her, including her daughter Lisa Simone Kelly, combine to paint the picture of one of the most important musical figures of the 20th century.

4. Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

Rush may not a household name this side of the world, but it is no exaggeration to point out that across the Atlantic they are up in Beatles territory. If you could harness the best bits of The Who and Pink Floyd, and then weld them together, you’d have Rush.

Beyond the Lighted Stage charts the rise of rock’s most unlikely heroes. The rockumentary’s archive footage is interspersed with live performances and interviews with all band members and other musicians inspired by the outfit, such as Billy Corgan from The Smashing Pumpkins and Kirk Hammett from Metallica.

Beyond is a document of the biggest cult band in history. The backstory of their struggle and rise to the top is riveting and you root for them to succeed, and celebrate when they do. The whole endeavour has been made even more poignant due to the recent passing of drummer Neil Peart, one third of this stellar multi-selling act.

5. Lemmy

“That was a great time, the summer of ’71 – I can’t remember it, but I’ll never forget it!” – Lemmy Kilmister

Surprisingly heartfelt, touching and hilarious, this 2010 documentary by Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski focuses on the late Motörhead legend Lemmy Kilmister. It is deliciously entertaining, and portrays the damage case rocker as a likable, down-to-earth guy who has lived an exceptional life.

Yes, he talks honestly about his excessive lifestyle of drugs, alcohol and women. Yet, at the same time, there is simply no pretentiousness. While there is input from leading figures in the music world including Metallica, Slash and Nikki Sixx, none paint a better picture of who Lemmy was than he does as you witness him converse with the public. When you see the affectionate character he was, Lemmy transcends far beyond the status of a typical rock doc.

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