So with live music temporarily shelved, you can figure out why our weekly Live Music Picks feature is on hiatus. Instead, I’ll deliver Music Notes, a bi-weekly column that will focus on music-related activities and people (on alternate weeks, AJC contributor Suzanne Van Atten will share the Book Shelf, a look at some worthwhile literary offerings).
At the start of our hunkering-down movement, a friend mentioned that she was spending her time watching music documentaries and John Hughes films. That inspired me to tackle at least one of those topics this inaugural week, so here's a nod to a few of the many, many, many music documentaries — most of them recent — to occupy your valuable couch time. (FYI, the $ indicates a download fee; most titles are also available on DVD.)
“20 Feet From Stardom” (2013, Netflix)
They're the voices that you know yet with names few recognize. The saga of Darlene Love – she of the mighty vocals that brought hurricane-force to "(Christmas) Baby Please Come Home" on David Letterman's show every year – is the cornerstone of the Oscar-winning documentary. But Merry Clayton (Ray Charles, the Rolling Stones), Lisa Fischer (Luther Vandross, Sting, the Rolling Stones), Claudia Lennear (Ike and Tina Turner, Joe Cocker) and Judith Hill (Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder) all receive their (long over) due.
Oasis, “Supersonic” (2016, Netflix)
The irascible Gallagher brothers – Liam and Noel – became notorious for their constant sniping (and for physically destroying things such as studios and instruments) so much that it almost overshadowed the muddy majesty of their music. But the guys always carried a heavy emotional load. Even the sight of 250,000 people packed into a concert at Knebworth – a signal of their mid-'90s dominance — prompted Liam to muse, "It felt like the end of something instead of the beginning."
Taylor Swift, “Miss Americana” (2020, Netflix)
In an early scene, Swift’s response to not receiving an album of the year Grammy nomination for “Reputation” isn’t to pout or curse the Recording Academy. “I just need to make a better record,” she says. And that’s all you need to know about the intense drive and ambition couched in a vulnerable human being. And bonus! Lots of adorable cat cameos.
“Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church” (2015, Amazon $)
Though the focus is on the Seattle guitar wizard and the cultural revolution that paralleled his career, Hendrix’s performance at the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival – his largest-ever U.S. audience – is the cornerstone of the film. Atlanta’s Alex Cooley, the promoter behind the 1969 and 1970 Atlanta Pop Festivals, is featured, as well as Atlanta musician Glenn Phillips, formerly of the Hampton Grease Band, which performed at the massive gathering in Byron.
Duran Duran, “There’s Something You Should Know” (2019, Showtime)
While not as invigorating as 1984’s now-tough-to-find “Sing Blue Silver” doc (there are no “Gimme a wristband!” moments with the older Durans), this is still a brisk and enjoyable hour spent with Simon LeBon, John and Roger Taylor and Nick Rhodes. While nostalgia reigns, we also receive a notable reminder of the band’s vibrancy.
“Searching for Sugar Man” (2012, Netflix)
A sharp-eared musician with a knack for writing incisive roots-pop songs shoots for stardom in the early ‘70s with a couple of virtually ignored albums. Legend has it that the singer killed himself on stage one night, and that was the beginning and the end of the man known as Sixto Rodriguez. Except Rodriguez wasn’t dead. He had disappeared to live an unassuming family life in Detroit, working as a demolition man. He also had no idea that he was a hero to the masses in South Africa. Such is the mystery of Rodriguez – one we never knew we needed an answer to so much.
Michael Hutchence, “Mystify” (2019, Amazon/Vudu $)
The leonine frontman of INXS was adored for his MTV-friendly charisma and for powering hits such as “Need You Tonight” and “New Sensation” with a swivel of his hips as much as his seductive voice. Director Richard Lowenstein uses archival footage, private home videos and interviews with bandmates and friends, including Bono and former paramour Kylie Minogue, to showcase the multi-faceted performer who killed himself in 1997.
“Miss Sharon Jones” (2015, Vudu/iTunes $)
Knowing that cancer killed Jones in 2016, it's tough to watch portions of the film when she realizes, in 2015, that the health demon from two years earlier had returned. But this was a triumphant swan song for the feisty, Augusta-born soul dynamo, who, with her Dap-Kings, ignited every stage her diminutive frame ever graced.
David Crosby, “Remember My Name” (2019, Hulu/Sling TV)
Directed by A.J. Eaton and produced by Cameron Crowe, this unflinching examination of the folk-pop hero is unvarnished, melancholy and, for better or worse, deeply honest. Which is exactly what Crosby wanted.
“Gaga: Five Foot Two” (2017, Netflix)
While most of the film centers on the creation of Gaga’s 2016 album, “Joanne,” and her sparkling 2017 Super Bowl Halftime performance, fans will be more engrossed by Gaga’s tender encounters with her grandmother and the physical burdens Gaga carries with fibromyalgia.
“Echo in the Canyon” (2018, Netflix)
Directed by former Atlantan Andy Slater (and former music critic for the then-Atlanta Journal in the late-'70s), this is a loving reminiscence of the creative hotbed of the Los Angeles music landscape in the 1960s – Laurel Canyon. Jakob Dylan is a narrator of sorts, and Tom Petty fans will want to see what turned out to be his last appearance on film.
Other suggestions: The Talking Heads' "Stop Making Sense" (1984, Tubi/Vudu); ZZ Top, "That Little Ol' Band from Texas (2019, Netflix); New Order, "Decades" (2019, Showtime); Wu-Tang Clan, "Of Mics and Men" (2019, Hulu/Amazon/Showtime); Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, "The Defiant Ones" (2017, Hulu/HBO); Amy Winehouse, "Amy" (2015, Netflix); Quincy Jones, "Quincy" (2018, Netflix); Beyonce, "Homecoming" (Netflix); The Band, "The Last Waltz" (1978, Amazon, iTunes $); "Sound City" (2013, Tubi/Vudu); Aretha Franklin, "Amazing Grace" (2019, Hulu); Rush, "Beyond the Lighted Stage" (2010, Netflix); A Tribe Called Quest, "Beats, Rhymes and Life" (2011, Vudu/Amazon); Rick Rubin, "Shangri-La" (2019, Showtime); Lynyrd Skynyrd, "If I Leave Here Tomorrow" (2018, Showtime/Hulu/Amazon); Eric Clapton, "Life in 12 Bars" (2017, Showtime/Hulu); Bruce Springsteen, "Western Stars" (2019, Vudu/Amazon $); and Madonna, "Truth or Dare" (1991, Vudu/iTunes $).
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