The 58 Best Music Documentaries to Watch During Lockdown

9th April 2020

As part of our new NoticeBORED series, we asked BIMM students and staff their favourite music documentaries to watch during these uncertain times and social distancing period. Some went niche, others went more mainstream, but one thing’s for sure: these 58 music documentaries are sure to keep you busy, entertained and maybe even a bit enlightened throughout this lockdown period.

We’ve broken them down into categories so you can choose depending on what’s taking your fancy. After an in-depth dive into the lives of some of music’s most iconic figures? That’s here. Want to know what happened in the leadup to some of the most famous festivals to have ever existed? Look no further. Keen to expand your mind when it comes to music genres, subgenres and industry tropes? We’ve got you covered.

Biographical Music Documentaries

1) A Band Called Death (2012)

Filmmakers Mark Covino and Jeff Howlett tell the story of the Hackney brothers, and how the discovery of their long-lost demo tape led to their band’s newfound popularity.

Available on YouTube

2) Amy (2015)

From BAFTA award-winning director Asif Kapadia (SENNA), AMY tells the incredible story of six-time Grammy-winner Amy Winehouse – in her own words.

Available on YouTube

3) Anvil!: The Story of Anvil (2008)

This rockumentary focuses on the Canadian heavy metal band Anvil as they set out to record their thirteenth album. This is a band who came within an inch of fame but never quite made it to the big-time. Watch as their reunion tour creates the real-life equivalent of Spinal Tap. Really. 

Available on DocumentaryTube

4) Charles Bradley: Soul Of America (2012)

Follow the nothing-but-impressive rise of 62-year-old aspiring soul singer Charles Bradley. His journey takes him from a hard life (one that involves homelessness and the murder of his brother) to Rolling Stone Magazine’s top 50 albums of 2011. 

Available on YouTube 

5) Daft Punk Unchained (2015)

Take a look at the lives and rise to fame of Daft Punk members Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter. This documentary takes you from the early ’90s to their Grammy Award wins in 2014 and explores their pioneering influence on the electronic music scene. 

Available on Netflix

6) David Bowie: The First Five Years (2019)

As part of the BBC’s Bowie music documentaries, The First Five Years uncovers the relatively unknown years of an industry icon. This 90-minute film starts in 1966 and explores Bowie before Ziggy. Expand your knowledge of the man behind the personas. 

7) Dig! (2004)

Rivalry and friendship are exposed in Dig! – a look at the difference between American rock bands The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols. You’ll have front-row seats to the collision between their two founders, Anton Newcombe and Courtney Taylor – and what happens when sabotage and luck come together under the watch of rock’n’roll. 

Available on Amazon Prime

8) End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones (2003)

Follow Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee from their earliest underground gigs in the 1970s to their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. With candid interviews and rare archive concert footage, this is the story of the band who changed the course of rock history forever. 

Available on Vimeo

9) Finding Fela (2014)

Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney portrays and analyses the life of pioneering Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti. It explores his musical brilliance alongside his social and political importance. This is one not to miss. 

Watch on YouTube 

10) Foo Fighters: Back and Forth (2011)

Explore the 16 years of Foo Fighters, from Dave Grohl writing from ashes of Nirvana to becoming Grammy-winning sensations. This rockumentary takes you on a journey from their first-ever demo tapes through to the creation of their 2011 album, Wasting Light

Watch on YouTube 

11) Gaga: Five Foot Two (2017) 

Take a look at the woman behind the costumes and glamour. This documentary focuses on Lady Gaga’s production and release of her fifth studio album, Joanne, and her halftime performance at Super Bowl LI. 

Watch on Netflix

12) Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten (2007)

This documentary film looks at the life of Joe Strummer, the lead singer of The Clash. Discover his early life, how he became such a prolific force and the influence he has around the world to this day. 

Available on Amazon Prime

13) Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015)

Take a deep dive into the life of the legend that is Kurt Cobain. Brett Moren uses material from the Cobains’ personal archives to build a picture of the Nirvana frontman’s childhood, career and untimely death.

Available on YouTube 

14) Lemmy (2010)

Follow Lemmy Kilmister – legendary Motorhead founder, bassist and frontman – around the globe for three years and have access to all aspects of his personal life. What makes Lemmy Lemmy? This documentary has the answers. 

Available on Netflix

15) Liam Gallagher: As It Was (2019)

From the dizzying heights of his `champagne supernova’ years, Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher fell into a wilderness of booze and legal battles, before making an attempt to stage the greatest comeback in rock history. It’s all here and ready for your viewing. 

Available on YouTube

16) Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004)

Hiring a group therapist and confronting 20 years of repressed anger is what had to happen when bassist Jason Newsted left Metallica in 2001. This documentary follows the remaining members of the band as they hunt for a replacement, record a new album and face their demons with nowhere to hide. 

Available on Amazon Prime

17) Miles Davis: Birth of Cool (2019)

Featuring never-before-seen archival footage, rare photos and studio outtakes, this looks at the story of Miles Davis: the legendary talent. Explore the myths and music of the innovator and horn player with rare footage and interviews with musicians such as Quincy Jones, Clive Davis and Ron Carter. 

Available on BBC iPlayer 

18) Miss Sharon Jones! (2015)

Academy award-winning Barbara Kopple follows rhythm and blues singer Sharon Jones as she tries to hold her band together (the Dap-Kings) at the same time as battling cancer. This is an emotional watch for sure. 

Available on Amazon Prime

19) New York Doll (2005)

This documentary looks at the history of both the New York Dolls and one of its members, Arthur “Killer” Kane, after his religious conversion as a result of alcoholism and drug abuse. The film features interviews with Morrissey, Chrissie Hynde and others.

Available on Amazon Prime

20) Oasis: Supersonic (2016)

Supersonic gives you a closer look at the incredible rise of this 90s rock band. It features never-before-seen concert footage, candid interviews and a firsthand account of THAT sibling rivalry. 

Available on Netflix

21) Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

The mysterious 1970s rock n roller Rodriguez rose to fame in South Africa…and then faded into obscurity. With so many rumours flying around as to how Rodriguez died, two fans set out to learn what happened to him – and whether he’s still alive. 

Available on Amazon Prime

22) Soaked in Bleach (2015)

In 1994, Courtney Love hired private investigator Tom Grant to look for her then missing husband, Kurt Cobain.  Love’s behaviour was so strange and erratic that Grant taped many of their conversations as reference for him to review.

Listening back to these recordings after the lead singer was found dead in his Seattle home was chilling: there were numerous inconsistencies in Love’s stories, the police ‘investigation’ and other circumstances that raised doubt around the actual cause of Cobain’s demise.  Make your own mind up watching this movie.

Available on Amazon Prime

23) The Defiant Ones (2017)

Filmed over a three-year period, this music series focuses on the bond, friendship and partnership between music legends Jimmy Lovaine ad Dr.Dre. A must-watch for sure. 

Available on Netflix

24) The Man From Mo’Wax (2016)

This documentary charts the extraordinary life and career of music producer, record label owner, electronic musician and all-round underground music icon, James Lavelle. 

Available on Amazon Prime

25) We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen (2005)

This is a look at the influential 1980s punk rock band Minutemen. Surviving band members Mike Watt and George Hurley offer a first-hand look into the band’s world, from their start in San Pedro, California, to their end after the death of singer D. Boon in 1985, aged just 27 years old.

Available on YouTube

26) What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)

Take a dive into the life of Nina Simone: the classically trained pianist, singer, black power icon and legendary recording artists. She had the fame, fortune and voice, but that wasn’t enough for Miss Simone. She wanted equality.

Available on Netflix

27) Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell (2008)

This documentary takes a look at the multitalented musician Arthur Russell: a man who leaves his home state, follows Allen Ginsberg from San Francisco to New York and dives headfirst into a career that peaks in the 1980s.

Available on Vimeo

Album-Focused Documentaries

1) Amazing Grace (2018)

This is the never-before-seen movie featuring Aretha Franklin recording the most successful gospel album of all time, Amazing Grace, captured in 1972. Be prepared for goosebumps and the hairs to stand up on the back of your neck. 

Available on YouTube

2) Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways (2014)

Directed by Dave Grohl himself, this miniseries was made in conjunction with Foo Flgithers’ eighth album, Sonic Highways. Grohl has produced “a love letter to the history of American music” as he and his band record a song in a different city for each episode. They’re joined by the likes of Dolly Parton, Chuck D and Gary Clark Jr to illustrate how surroundings can affect tonal/rhythmic traits – and how music legends impact their hometowns. 

Available on Amazon Prime

3) From The Sky Down (2011)

Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim chronicles the production and release of Irish legends U2’s album Achtung Baby, which was released in 1991. It also explores how the band have endured and thrived for so many years. And what nearly broke them. 

Watch on YouTube

4) I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco (2002)

Gain behind-the-scenes access to the tumultuous recording and release of Wilco’s 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It’s an album that nearly led the brand to part ways for good and their label to refuse its release.

Available on Vimeo

5) One More Time with Feeling (2016)

This truly raw documentary follows the recording of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ album Skeleton Tree in the aftermath of Nick Cave’s 15-year-old son Arthur’s tragic and untimely death. 

Available on Amazon Prime

6) Strong Enough to Break (2006)

What ever happened to Hanson, the band responsible for MMMBop? This documentary film follows Hanson’s struggle to record and release their third studio album, Underneath. It also shows the challenges they faced creating their independent record label 3CG Records. 

Watch on YouTube

Concert and Tour-Focused Documentaries

1) Eight Days a Week (2016)

Hollywood director Ron Howard explores the touring years of The Beatles – from their humble beginnings in Liverpool clubs to the concert tours and infamous ‘Beatle Mania’ years. Follow John, Paul, George and Ringo from 1962 at the Cavern Club to 1966 in San Francisco through electrifying footage and digitally-restored film. 

Available on YouTube 

2) Homecoming: A Film by Beyoné (2019)

Written, directed and executive produced by Beyoncé herself (you can never have too much Queen B), this documentary focuses on the rehearsal and now-iconic performance at the 2018 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

Watch on Netflix

3) Gimmie Shelter (1970)

Albert and David Maysles show the events surrounding a free concert by the Rolling Stones at the Altamont Speedway outside San Francisco in 1969. This now-infamous concert saw four births, four deaths and a stabbing in front of the stage by a Hell’s Angels, who the Stones asked to be their security. 

Available on YouTube

4) Iron Maiden: Flight 666 (2009)

Join Iron Maiden on their 2008 world tour through India, Australia, Japan, USA, Canada. Mexico and South America. Oh, and it’s all jet piloted by the band’s frontman, Bruce Dickinson. 

Watch on YouTube

5) Madonna: Truth or Dare (1991) 

Even if you are still scarred by Madge’s horrifying impromptu Covid-19 bathroom videos, this ‘on the road with’ film is genre-defining, as it brings the singer’s (mostly) gay back up dancers into the foreground. Following Madonna during her 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour, it humanises a then often unspoken community.

Available on Prime

Music Genre/Sub-Genre Documentaries

1) American Hardcore (2006)

Director Paul Rachman and Writer Steven Blush recall the history of the 1980s American hardcore punk-rock movement. The documentary includes interviews with members of seminal bands including Black Flag, Minor Threat and Bad Brains.

Available on YouTube

2) It Might Get Loud (2008)

The second documentary on our list by Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim, It Might Get Loud looks at the careers and musical styles of legendary guitarists and rock icons Jimmy Page, Jack White and the Edge. The three generations come together to talk about guitar and who’s inspired them. Plus, there’s an iconic jam session that’s sure to stick in your memory for a while. 

Available on Amazon Prime

3) Metal Evolution (2011-2014)

This documentary series looks into heavy metal subgenres. Director, anthropologist and filmmaker Sam Dunn and director, producer and music supervisor Scot McFadyen interview the likes of Slash, Alice Cooper, Lemmy, Slipknot, Def Leppard, Black Sabbath, Van Halen and more. 

Episode One Available on YouTube

4) Money for Nothing: Behind the Business of Pop Music (2001)

Narrated by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, this documentary explores popular music and its transformation from being an independent platform to integrating into the broader advertising and commercial aspects of the market. The documentary features interviews with the likes of Chuck D, ex-Rolling Stone editor Dave Marsh and political economist Robert W. McChesney. 

Available on YouTube

5) Slave to the Grind (2018)

Grindcore is the world’s fastest most aggressively intense music. Filmmaker Doug Brown uses interviews, performances and animated sequences to dig deep into the roots of this genre. 

Available on YouTube

6) Style Wars (1983)

You are dead inside if this film does not move you to the core. Shot in the VERY early 1980s, this documentary follows several young graffiti artists as the art form and the culture it emerges from – hip-hop clashes against politicians, adults and commercialism.

Available on Amazon Prime

7) Synth Britannia (2011)

This BBC documentary takes a look at a generation of post-punk musicians, from The Human League to Gary Numan. It charts the rise of synth pop from suburban England to the world’s dance floors. 

Available on YouTube

8) The Decline Of Western Civilization (1981)

Filmed through 1979 and 1980, this documentary film looks at the LA punk rock scene. It features the likes of Alice Bag Band, Black Flag, Catholic Discipline, Circle Jerks, Fear and X. There’s also an appearance by Germs, who’s frontman Darby Crash used to cover himself in peanut butter and dive head-first through broken glass. The usual stuff, then. 

Available on YouTube 

8) The Importance of Yo! MTV Raps 

If you wanted to catch up on the latest hip-hop news from 1988-1995, Yo! MTV Raps was THE place to go. Stüssy has produced a two-part documentary on Yo! MTV Raps called ‘We Were All Watching.’

Available on YouTube

9) The Story of Funk: One Nation Under a Groove (2014)

This BBC documentary tells the story of funk and P-funk. It shines a light on the artists and bands who made it all happen, such as James Brown, George Clinton, Sly Stone and lots more.  

Available on YouTube

Music Festivals and Events Documentaries

1) City of Dust: Evolution of Burning Man (2017)

Explore how this world-famous desert convergence came to be what it is today. What was it that turned its humble beginnings into a desert city that people head to from all over the world? Never-before-seen notebooks, photograph sand sketches help to piece the story together. 

Available on YouTube

2) Record Store Day: The Documentary(2013)

This modern holiday for audiophiles and their love of vinyl is explored through archival footage and new interviews with industry insiders, musicians and fans. 

Available on YouTube

3) Woodstock: Three days that defined a generation (2019)

This documentary tells the story of how half a million people headed to a small dairy farm in upstate New York in 1969 to create a moment that defined a cultural revolution. With never-before-seen footage, this shows the political and social upheaval leading to those three days, as well as the unbelievable events of the concert itself. 

Available on Amazon Prime

Music Industry Documentaries

1) 20 Feet From Stardom (2013)

This Academy Award-winning documentary explores the world of backing vocalists, their lives and their relationships with the stars they support. 

Available on Netflix and YouTube

2) Good Copy Bad Copy (2007)

This documentary explores copyright and culture in the context of the internet, technological advances and peer-to-peer file sharing. 

Available on YouTube

3) Hired Gun (2016)

Ever wondered about the session and touring musicians hired by bands like KISS, Billy Joel and Metallica? Now’s your chance to find out who they are and why they’re masters of their craft. You’ll hear behind-the-scene touring stories and just what it takes to perform with the world’s most famous bands. 

Available on Amazon Prime

4) Hits, Hype and Hustle: An Insider’s Guide to the Music Business (2018)

This BBC series looks at how the business works, as told through industry insiders. The likes of music publicist Alan Edwards, music promoter John Giddings and music agent Emma Banks give you an inside look into how and why the business is the way it is. 

Available on iPlayer 

5) Plaster Caster (2001)

What? You don’t know who Cynthia Plaster Caster is? Fix that foible immediately by checking out this fun documentary. Cynthia became notorious in the 1960s for making moulds from plastic of famous rock star penii, including Jimi Hendrix. A fascinating look at gender, ageism and how we define art.

6) RiP!: A Remix Manifesto (2008)

This open-source documentary film explores the changing concept of copyright and content creation in the digital age. In the process, filmmaker Brett Gaylor and mashup artist Girl Talk dissect the media landscape of the 21st century and break down the wall between users and producers. 

Available on YouTube

7) Sound City (2013)

The second documentary on our list directed by Dave Grohl, Sound City is all about the history of this iconic recording studio in Los Angeles. This is where some of the greatest rock albums were perfect and recorded, such as Nirvana’s Nevermind, Fleetwood Mac by Fleetwood Mac, Unchained by Johnny Cash and countless others. 

Available on Amazon Prime

8) The Music Industry and the Digital Revolution (2016)

This documentary from The Economist looks at how far the music industry has come – and the continuing digital disruption. 

Available on YouTube

Have a burning recommendation for music books, films, podcasts or online radio stations? Keep an eye on our social channels for your favourites to be included in our upcoming NoticeBORED lockdown lists.


Nic Ledger