The 25 Best Music Documentaries Streaming on Netflix

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The 25 Best Music Documentaries Streaming on Netflix

Paste recently ranked 50 of the best documentaries to stream on Netflix, but we also wanted to explore a subgenre that’s close to our hearts: Music.

Watching a music documentary is like opening that Christmas present you’ve been staring at for days—you think you know what it is, but, more often than not, when you tear off the paper there’s a surprise waiting. You can get an insider look at legends (PJ 20, Marley) or find out more about the musicians just outside of the spotlight (20 Feet From Stardom, Who is Harry Nilsson?). And there’s usually no time for the overly dramatized B.S. you sometimes get with a biopic. Once you pull away the stardom, guitar licks, rhymes, conflict, controversy and drum fills, there’s a story to be told.

Here are 25 of our favorites music docs currently streaming on Netflix:

leon.jpg 25. Talihina Sky: The Story of Kings of Leon
Year: 2011
Director: Stephen C. Mitchell
You don’t have to be a Kings of Leon fan to appreciate this documentary chronicling the boys’ humble Southern upbringing to superstardom. The doc revolves around a wild family reunion in Talihina, Okla., where the band—brothers Nathan, Caleb, Jared and cousin Matthew Followill—return to hang out with some crazy cool characters. Viewers even get to meet Leon, the boys’ grandpa who serves as the inspiration for the band’s name since they all share that familial origin. The film’s conflict stems from the three brothers’ departure from a strict, religious upbringing—their father, Ivan, was a preacher. The doc also shows a band in turmoil, with singer Caleb getting excessively drunk in a few interviews. It’s an insider look at a band reaching its breaking point—the band went on hiatus in 2011 before returning with 2013’s Mechanical Bull.—Shawn Christ

up.jpg 24. Upside Down: The Creation Records Story
Year: 2010
Director: Danny O’Connor
Creation Records took on the major labels from 1983 to 1999 before finally shutting its doors for good. This doc goes behind the scenes and highlights the brains of the operation—the eccentric Alan McGee. With interviews from members of pivotal bands who once belonged to the company’s roster like Oasis, Primal Scream, Jesus & Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, the doc is able to tell the label’s impressive story. Although it’s been gone for nearly 15 years, McGee, who went on to run the Poptones label, said in 2012 that he was considering revisiting Creation Records. If there’s anyone to do it, it’s Alan Mcgee.—Shawn Christ

record.jpg 23. I Need That Record!
Year: 2008
Director: Brendan Toller
It’s common knowledge that record stores around the world are seeing some of their darkest days. But instead of just saying, “Well, damn,” I Need That Record! investigates why. Brendan Toller originally created the film for his thesis project at Hampshire College, but it has since popped up at film festivals all across the country. Featuring interviews with everyone from Noam Chomsky to the Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz, I Need That Record! is a quietly passionate elegy for the archetypal American record store. Some of the interview subjects are funny and optimistic, others are beaten down and brutally realistic. It’s a story of business, music, and how the times, they are a-changing.—Emelia Fredlick

brad.jpg 22. Charles Bradley: Soul of America
Year: 2011
Director:Poull Brien
At 62 years old, Charles Bradley released his debut album, No Time for Dreaming. It’s a fitting title for an album by a man who has lived in subway cars, been on the brink of death and spent most of his musical career covering James Brown. There hasn’t been enough time for Bradley to dream about superstardom, so why not make it a reality. The epitome of a “it’s-never-too-late” story, Soul of America captures exactly what it means to be living the American Dream. Talent doesn’t fade with the years, and, in Bradley’s case, sometimes it just gets more refined.—Shawn Christ

word.jpg 21. The Other F Word
Year: 2011
Director: Andrea Blaugrund
“Sometimes you think about, ‘Oh, shit…should I have tattooed my forehead?” That’s Lars Frederiksen of Rancid talking about what it’s like to be a punk rock father. This stunningly insightful doc examines the paradox of parenthood in a genre that despises authority. Inspired by Pennywise frontman Jim Lindberg’s book Punk Rock Dad, The Other F Word features interviews with some big names like Mark Hoppus of Blink 182, Tony Hawk, Ron Reyes of Black Flag and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Many of the musicians interviewed did not have a good relationship with their fathers (or any relationship at all), and many of them ran away at a young age. The doc is equal parts humor, beauty and unrelenting sorrow (buckle up for the interviews with Art Alexakis of Everclear and Duane Peters of U.S. Bombs). The message: It’s not easy to uphold the punk ethos as a parent, but you find a way when you have children to raise.—Shawn Christ

30.jpg 20. 30 for 30: Straight Outta L.A.
Year: 2010
Director: Ice Cube
This tremendous doc in ESPN’s engaging 30 for 30 series highlights the influence that the Los Angeles Raiders had on the culture of South Central. Director Ice Cube is a perfect prime source for the subject since his seminal gangsta rap group N.W.A. repped the team pretty hard. The documentary opens with Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg (both are native to the surrounding L.A. area) talking about the Raiders and the L.A. hip hop scene. “What a lot of people don’t realize, Snoop, is the Raiders changed the rules of the game, and so did L.A. hip hop—hardcore, gangsta rap. We changed the rules of the game too,” Ice Cube says. The next hour of footage is a whirlwind of interviews and commentary about the marriage between the violent sport of football, the violent city of L.A., and the violent image of the gangsta rap movement.—Shawn Christ

rhyme1.jpg 19. Rhyme & Reason
Director:Peter Spirer
This rap documentary goes inside the genre’s popularity during the ’90s and features some famous names in rare interviews. More than 80 artists were interviewed for the film, including Kurtis Blow, Chuck D, Wu-Tang Clan and Method Man. Footage from talks with late, legendary artists Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. are also included. Like other docs on the list, Rhyme & Reason serves as a timepiece to an era long-gone. This is one for the younger rap fans who weren’t there to experience the genre’s tremendous growth in the ’90s.—Shawn Christ

hit.jpg 18. Hit So Hard
Year: 2011
Director: P. David Ebersole
Drummer Patty Schemel might not be the most recognizable name from the ’90s alternative punk band Hole—that award would go to Courtney Love—but her story is just as intriguing. Schemel is revered by other influential female drummers in the doc as one of the best, with a heavy-handed style that helped catapult Hole to success. Much of the story is told through personal footage of Schemel’s, which gives an insider look into the band and her relationship with Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain (Schemel was Cobain’s top choice to join Nirvana until Dave Grohl auditioned. He ended up recommending her for the Hole position, though). Her departure from the band was attributed to a drug problem, which is highlighted in the doc, but Schemel seems to remember things differently. Turns out the producer who replaced her drum parts on the band’s commercially successful album Celebrity Skin is actually to blame. And that’s just one part of an already riveting doc about a woman who just wants to bang on the drum all day.—Shawn Christ

down.jpg 17.Downloaded
Year: 2013
Director: Alex Winter
Remember Napster? Well, if you used it at all during it’s initial, short-lived glory days from 1999 to 2001, odds are you remember it just fine. But for those of you who missed it, director Alex Winter (yes, he of Bill and Ted fame) offers you this nostalgic piece of film that chronicles the digital music revolution and it’s main player, Napster. Downloaded goes inside the story of a file-sharing service that began as a way to share music and eventually brought the music industry to its knees. Napster led the way for other free peer-to-peer music services, most of which have ceased to exist after facing litigation, and despite it moving to a pay model—the name and iconic animal logo live on.—Shawn Christ

big star.jpg 16. Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
Year: 2012
Directors: Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori
Outside of the Velvet Underground, Big Star are probably the one American band whose towering influence stands in such stark contrast to their meager commercial success. Over the course of three albums in the early-to-mid 1970s, this Memphis group helped give birth to power-pop. Whether you’re discussing Big Star’s poignant music or the fate of some of the band’s members, sadness suffuses their story, and so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me has a melancholy tinge to it. Directors Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori follow a pretty typical rock-doc structure—oral-history biography mixed with rare footage and testimonials from high-profile fans—but what’s striking is how few highs there are in comparison to the many lows. With a breezy confidence, the documentary lays out all the important information about Big Star early on. Unfortunately, Nothing Can Hurt Me suffers because it features little of either man’s voice in the movie. (Bell died in 1978, while Chilton passed away in 2010.) But, in a way, Bell and Chilton’s absence works for a portrait of a band whose lack of popularity in their era always made them seem somewhat invisible. And it adds to their bittersweet mystique: Even now, when Big Star are rightly celebrated, their creative architects aren’t here to fully appreciate it.—Tim Grierson

kurt.jpg 15. Kurt and Courtney
Year: 1998
Director: Nick Broomfield
With equal parts conspiracy theory and Courtney Love, Broomfield’s documentary is an aggressive look into one of the most famous relationships in alternative music since Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. The doc kicks off with media coverage surrounding Cobain’s untimely demise, and explores the possibility of Love’s involvement in the singer’s death. Not all the sources seem credible (see El Duce), but it’s enough to satisfy any conspiracy theorist’s itch. The doc shifts gears and becomes more about an assertion that Love is in favor of suppressing free speech. It’s a quick watch and very entertaining. Well worth the time for any fans interested in a ’90s take on what happened to grunge’s reluctant poster child.—Shawn Christ

rap.jpg 14. Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap
Director: Ice-T
“This movie is about the craft,” Director Ice-T says about his love-letter doc to rap. The rapper travels around the country, meeting up with the likes of B-Real of Cypress Hill, Doug E. Fresh, Dr. Dre, Kanye West and everyone in between. Some interviews are just about personal style and others go into freestyle exhibitions that serve as proof that rap is a true artform. The chats range from somber to celebrated (like when Ice-T and DMC nerd out on the brilliance of the latter’s former trio). “Hip-hop didn’t invent anything. Hip-hop reinvented everything,” Grandmaster Caz explains. And no matter how famous the artist is, they instantly become giddy fans when pressed about the craft they love.—Shawn Christ

punk.jpg 13. The Punk Singer
Year: 2013
Director: Siri Anderson
Kathleen Hanna often found herself at the forefront of ideological shifts in music. She came onto the scene as the laid-bare singer of Bikini Kill in the early ’90s, which led to her being the de-facto spokesperson for the entire riot grrrl movement and contemporary feminism. As Sini Anderson’s invaluable rock documentary shows, Hanna’s role as feminist icon was often unwitting. The Punk Singer contextualizes Hanna within rock history, but also works as a character study of an endlessly fascinating and complex person, chronicling the singer’s ostensibly paradoxical marriage to Beastie Boy Adam Horowitz and recent battle with late-stage Lyme disease. Hanna’s insights easily carry Anderson’s plainly composed homage; a distinction altogether deserved.—John Oursler

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