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Best Music Docs of 2017

From a primer on California punk to the definitive documentary on 50 years of Rolling Stone magazine

Best Music Documentary 2017 Stories from the Edge

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Deadheads, jazzbos and punk rockers unite! We’ve got our picks for the year’s best music documentaries – from a look at the Grateful Dead’s long, strange trip of a career to the four-hour, definitive portrait of 50 years of Rolling Stone.

Best Music Docs 2017

Baron Wolman/courtesy of HBO

Rolling Stone: Stories From the Edge

Filmmakers Alex Gibney and Blair Foster’s two-part look back at 50 years of Rolling Stone details the evolution of a magazine that shaped the culture it chronicled. The scenes of founder Jann Wenner and photographer Annie Leibovitz discussing the famous 1981 John Lennon cover are an incredible historic testament.

Jonathan Furmanski

May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers

Documentarian Michael Bonfiglio and famous Avetts fan Judd Apatow were on hand during the recording of the roots-pop band’s great 2016 album, True Sadness, and ended up chronicling a divorce, a birth and several existential crises. It’s a real-time depiction of personal struggle shaping artistic achievement.

Best Music Docs 2017

Jim Marshall/The Grateful Dead, via Amazon Prime Video

Long Strange Trip

A sprawling history of the Grateful Dead that mirrors their musical explorations, Amir Bar-Lev’s four-hour doc follows Jerry & Co.’s evolution from psychedelia radicals to corporate touring juggernaut. It’s a behemoth of a film that doesn’t shy away from the darkness that surrounded the Dead, especially their leader, and that makes it all the more powerful. 

Best Music Docs 2017

SkipJames Son House

Two Trains Runnin’

Weaving two narratives – one of blues rediscovery, one of civil-rights tragedy – this journey into the dark heart of Mississippi in the summer of 1964 is deeply resonant today. Featuring excellent musical performances by Buddy Guy, Lucinda Williams and Gary Clark Jr.

Best Music Docs 2017

Murray Bowles

Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk

Long before Green Day and Rancid became household names and 924 Gilman St. morphed into a West Coast CBGB’s, the Bay Area’s not-quiet-on-the-Eastern-front cities were churning out punk rock groups by the dozens. Corbett Redford’s surprisingly thorough doc traces the scene’s evolution from its early days crawling out of San Francisco’s shadow to being dubbed the Next Seattle. Worth its weight in tattered Xeroxed ‘zines.

I Called Him Morgan

Lee Morgan was a big deal in the 1960s NYC hard-bop scene; Helen More was a jazz fanatic who’d help the trumpeter get off drugs, become his common-law wife and, one night in between sets at an East Village nightclub, shoot him dead. Kasper Collin’s portrait of two mercurial music lovers is both a corrective to those who don’t know the former Jazz Messenger Ensemble player’s work and a painfully tragic amour fou story.