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Rock and roll may not be the massive phenomena it once was, as there are simply more types of popular music than there were when rock was in its infancy. That said, rock was and is still important, even if you don’t listen to it. There is no better way to find that out than watching some documentaries about the past and present of the genre.
I could have kept this list solely focused on what we now think of as classic rock, but instead I opted to cover a wide swath of musical history. If a particular era or type of music interests you, dive in and see what else you can find, as there is plenty more where these came from.
If you’ve never seen Woodstock: The Movie, you probably should, just because of the legacy of this monumental music festival. It’s also a fascinating glimpse into a world that no longer exists, which you’ll find either a relief or incredibly sad.
2. Monterey Pop
Not as well known as Woodstock: The Movie but arguably a better watch, Monterey Pop is a documentary about the festival of the same name. There is some great concert footage here and it actually preceded Woodstock, both as a festival and as a movie.
If This is Spinal Tap was an actual documentary instead of a mockumentary, Anvil! The Story of Anvil is what you would get. Anvil is an actual band and has been since the 1980s, but they seem to run into every possible bit of bad luck possible in this hilarious but also surprisingly heartwarming documentary.
Set in the parking lot outside of a Judas Priest concert, Heavy Metal Parking Lot delivers on its name. This short film features interviews of the various people waiting to see the show, and that’s it. That might sound boring, but this laugh-out-loud film is anything but. Even better, it’s available in its entirety on YouTube.
Before Death was the name of the Florida band that heavily influenced death metal, it was the name of a proto-punk band from Detroit that was once lost to time. Thanks to intrepid record collectors, the bands’ early demos propelled them into a level of popularity that the band never had when it originally formed, and A Band Called Death tells this story.
6. Sound City
This is essentially two films in one. One part is a story of the Sound City recording studio in Van Nuys, California. The other part is about Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl buying the console that sat at the heart of the legendary studio and recording with it alongside a number of artists including Paul McCartney and Stevie Nicks.
Tom Dowd brought about a number of innovations in the world of audio recording, which makes sense as before this he literally worked on the Manhattan Project. Tom Dowd and the Language of Music follows his career as a legendary audio engineer and record producer.
If you feel like rock and roll exists entirely in the past, this movie will show you otherwise. Following a number of modern bands who draw their roots back to the 1970s, Such Hawks Such Hounds shows that learning from the past is important, especially when it comes to music.
Whether you like the band Motörhead or not, if you have a passing familiarity with rock and roll, you probably know who the band’s leader Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister was. This documentary covers the man and how the band came to be, and is one of the more entertaining watches on this list for a variety of reasons.
More Music Documentaries
As I said at the top of the article, there are plenty more where these documentaries came from. Some are easier to find streaming than others as well, since not every movie on this list is easily streamable.
If you’re looking for movies you can stream over the weekend, we can help you there, and I can guarantee it doesn’t include paying for another streaming service. Take a look at our roundup of music documentaries you can stream for free right now.