By Elford Alley
The greatest rock documentaries promise drugs, debauchery, clashing egos and raging neuroses of ordinary people becoming extraordinary icons. Some, like The Beatles' documentary Let It Be, even offer a glimpse into a band’s complete collapse.
There are tons of amazing rock documentaries that deliver more than promised and here are ten of Riffraf's favorites:
Released in 1970, Gimme Shelter covers the Stones' disastrous 1969 American Tour and the tragedy at the Altamont Free Concert. Management decided to hire the infamous biker gang Hells Angels as security, since they were willing to work for $500 worth of beer. Everything fell apart during the Stones’ performance of "Under My Thumb" when a Hells Angels member stabbed a rowdy concertgoer to death in front of the band.
In 2005, Brad Beesley directed a documentary that chronicles the life of the psychedelic Oklahoma outfit The Flaming Lips. Featuring footage of the band recording and touring behind the album At War With Mystics, the film features interviews with friends and family. It also shows the heavy affect drugs have had on the band and their family, including a disturbing shot of member Steven Drozd shooting heroin.
No Direction Home
Simply the definitive documentary on Bob Dylan. Dylan’s manager, Jeff Rosen, began gathering interviews and materials in 1995, bringing Martin Scorsese on in 2001 to turn hours of film into an amazing documentary that follows Bob Dylan’s beginnings as the “voice of his generation” to the controversy surrounding his going electric.
The Decline of Western Civilization: The Metal Years
From the director who brought you Wayne’s World comes the 1988 documentary chronicling the laughable rise of glam metal. It’s all here: the excess, the hair, the mediocre music. While director Penelope Spheeris admitted in 1999 to faking a scene about Ozzy Osbourne’s difficulties with sobriety, the film did accomplish one important thing: it has been blamed again and again for the death of glam metal and the rise of grunge rock.
The Kids Are Alright
This in depth documentary on The Who’s career is the work of one really, really dedicated fan. Jeff Stein had been a Who fanatic since he was a teenager, and in 1975 tried to convince the band to let him chronicle their career up to the late seventies. The band finally came around, and using fan footage, forgotten interviews, and getting The Who in the studio to record songs never captured live or fix faulty audio. Released shortly after the death of drummer Keith Moon, the film is both an comprehensive depiction their storied career, and a glimpse of the day to day life of one of the world’s greatest rock bands.
Check back tomorrow for part two.
(Elford Alley has written plays, sketch comedy, and short stories. He currently lives in Dallas with his wife and daughter. Follow Elford on Twitter.)