Bob Marley Performs On Stage (Getty)

    The best music documentaries to watch online

    23 April 2020


    Released on Netflix last year, Rolling Thunder Revue, a documentary about the multi-artist concert tour that barreled around the US in 1975 led by Bob Dylan, is an absolute joy. You don’t have to be a committed Dylan geek to enjoy this Martin Scorsese-directed film, although that will certainly help. Scorsese’s previous Dylan effort, No Direction Home, was a straightforward kind of music documentary, whereas this one (sub-titled ‘A Bob Dylan Story’) features playful misdirection and fakery aplenty. Dylan was on fine form at this point in his career – and the performances included here, particularly the fiery renditions of A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall and Isis, are quite something to behold.

    Even if, like me, you’re not overly familiar with Taylor Swift’s music, Miss Americana, is worth a look, if only to get a perspective on what being bullied by Kanye West must feel like. Supersonic is an entertaining account of the rise and rucks of Oasis, while 20 Feet from Stardom, which focuses on those unsung singing heroes, backing vocalists, is a good idea done pretty well.

    For those who want to binge on something, the HBO series The Defiant Ones, about the all-conquering partnership forged by Dr Dre and record exec Jimmy Iovine, is available to watch in full. As a big fan of Marlon James’s Booker Prize-winning novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, which centered on the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976, I’m also looking forward to catching up with the documentary account of the story, Who Shot the Sheriff?


    Amazing Grace came out last year to critical acclaim, and it deserves all the plaudits it has received. The film captures performances from two concerts given by Aretha Franklin at an LA Baptist church in 1972. The recordings of these shows were used on Franklin’s hugely successful Amazing Grace gospel album. Thankfully, the filming of these concerts, shot by legendary director Sidney Pollack, have at last seen the light of day – the Queen of Soul doing gospel is totally mesmerising.

    Searching for Sugarman won a Bafta in 2013 for best documentary, and it remains an enjoyable yarn to revisit, with two South African fans of the enigmatic singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez going on the hunt for their hero.  If watching The Defiant Ones hasn’t given you enough of a hip-hop fix, then try Biggie and Tupac, Nick Broomfield’s account of the killings of the two rap superstars.

    Finally, Let’s Get Lost, Bruce Weber’s portrait of Chet Baker, is completely unmissable. Framed beautifully in black and white, it juxtaposes the rise and subsequent struggles of the great jazz singer and trumpeter, whose performance of Almost Blue towards the end of the film is a heartbreaker (NB. You’ll need an extra subscription to a service called Stingray Qello to watch it – it’s available for free on a seven-day trial).


    iPlayer currently has a wonderful doc, Birth of the Cool, which tells the life story of Miles Davis, charting the spectacular evolution of the jazz genius’s career, while not shying away from the addictions and abhorrent behavior that came to cloud his personal life. It’s available to watch for the next sixth months.


    The ultimate rock doc (the fact that it’s fictional notwithstanding) is, of course, This Is Spinal Tap, and it can be rented or purchased via YouTube. There are other gems out there on this and other video-sharing sites, too. Not strictly above board, but a couple of quick Google searches will help you find a few classics of the genre, such as The Devil and Daniel Johnston and Dig!, the latter film charting the rivalry between US indie bands The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre that developed in the 90s. With lines like, ‘You broke my f****** sitar mother*****!’, it channels the spirit of Tap in style.