30 Best Music Documentaries on Netflix Streaming This Instant - Rolling Stone
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30 Best Music Documentaries on Netflix Streaming This Instant

From the Beatles to Big Star, Philip Glass to Ice Cube, here’s 30 great docs you can watch right now


From Ken Burns' 10-volume jazz odyssey to Ice Cube's 51-minute meditation on the L.A. Raiders, Netflix offers no shortage of excellent music content to stream immediately. Most of the rock doc classics (Don't Look Back, Gimme Shelter, The Last Waltz, Wild Style) require you to utilize your DVD queue (or hit your local rental store), but here are the 30 best options if you need a fix right now.

By Reed Fischer, Caryn Ganz, Richard Gehr, Kory Grow, Keith Harris, Will Hermes, Daniel Kreps, James Montgomery, Jason Newman, Mosi Reeves, Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, Al Shipley and Christopher R. Weingarten

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5. ‘Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns’

This 19-hour mini-series is not without its problems. It's co-produced by jazz traditionalist Wynton Marsalis, so anything exciting that happened after 1970 (free-jazz, Afro-Cuban jazz, punk jazz, free improv) gets the short end of the drumstick. But no one tells America's story like Ken Burns, who treats our jazz heroes with the same loving hand he treated our Civil War vets, panning across archival photographs and letting people with first-hand experience tell the story. PBS' ability to use truckloads of actual jazz recordings is the real treat, so you get singer Jon Hendricks explaining Charlie Parker's phrasing while Charlie Parker plays; and tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves playing a 27-chorus solo at Newport Jazz Festival as photos show the audience in frenzy. An incomplete primer, but essential nonetheless.

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4. ‘A Band Called Death’

The proto-punk rockers in Death were so adamant about keeping the name of their band – which three African-American brothers implausibly formed in Detroit in 1971 – that they turned down record deals to preserve their integrity. A Band Called Death is less about a punk footnote that emerged when Joey Ramone was still Jeffrey Hyman, but of the importance of sticking to your beliefs and the power of family. In fact, the band didn't find an audience until 2008, when the bass player's three songs formed a band to cover their dad's music.

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3. ‘Marley’

Directed by Kevin McDonald (The Last King of Scotland), who took it on after Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme dropped out, this corn-free authorized assemblage of frank interviews and marvelous vintage footage paints the best A/V portrait to date of the non-Western world's most massive musical figure. With both Chris Blackwell and Bunny Wailer credited as producers, this 2012 release is a remarkably even-handed look at the reggae star who died of cancer in 1981 at 36. The early footage of the Wailers embodies cool as Platonic ideal, while the later Marley group's epic sound at the 1976 Smile Jamaica concert and 1979's Zimbabwe independence celebration capture fiery performances that seem larger than life.

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2. ‘Madonna: Truth or Dare’

In 1990, Madonna had her Gaultier-designed cone bra pointed in one direction: world domination. Her Blonde Ambition tour that year, timed to the release of Like a Prayer, was a sexy spectacle that inflamed the Vatican and "the facist state of Toronto" (which tried to get her to tone down her faux masturbation act during "Like a Virgin" for her show in the Canadian city). So of course she filmed it all for an arty doc that showed her crawling into bed with her dancers, sparring with her then-beau Warren Beatty and insulting Kevin Costner when he dared to describe her show as "neat." Ultimately, the film captures Madonna's fraught relationship with her family, her single-minded focus on her showmanship and her attempts to keep one foot in the seamy underground where her gay dancers live and one in the glossy Hollywood world she so desperately wants to conquer. It's a somewhat truthful, very daring and totally fascinating look at a pop superstar's continued rise.

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1. ‘Style Wars’

Produced for PBS television in 1983, the late director Tony Silver and photographer Henry Chalfant's Style Wars is the defining document of the graffiti artists that worked parallel with New York's fledging rap music– capturing hip-hop culture in all its unfiltered, grimy glory. There's Dez bragging about his "styyyyllle," Skeme arguing with his mother over his stated goal to "destroy all lines," Mayor Ed Koch unveiling his "Graffiti is for Chumps" ad campaign at a press conference and the Rock Steady Crew battling the Dynamic Rockers at Club USA. Vintage scenes of trains tagged with Vaughn Bode characters; teenage B-boys body-rocking in basketball courts; and a soundtrack featuring classic joints (Rammellzee and K-Rob, Trouble Funk, the Fearless Four) make this an essential period piece.

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