If you’ve been living under a rock for too long and feel left out of music’s monumental moments, you can quickly get caught up by studying some of rock 'n' roll’s greatest rockumentaries of the past few decades. Catch the greatest guitar licks and tearjerker ballads, and fine tune those musical taste buds of yours ... or suffer the consequence of being incredibly lame. Here are the ten best rockumentaries. Rock and learn.
Don’t Look Back
The 1967 documentary showcasing a 24-year-old rolling stone, Bob Dylan, on the rise to fame during his ’65 tour of England is at the top of everybody’s favorite rockumentary list. When it comes to Bob Dylan, most everyone either loves him or hates him, but you’re an idiot who hates good music if you hate him. Go knocking on heaven’s door with a black and white ‘60s show, directed by D.A. Pennebaker, about a man who has given so much to the singer/songwriter scene for five decades. Watch Bob, Joaz Baez and Donovan in this unique 96-minute run that transports us back to simpler times. Join the tambourine man as he learns to live the life of a rock star, stuns a few interviewers and smokes a couple hundred cigs.
The Last Waltz
Nothing will be as memorable as that glorious final performance of The Band captured by director Martin Scorsese. Bringing together all that was great in music at the time, the performance rolls through the final chapter of Robbie Robertson and the boys’ rock career together as they welcome plenty of greats to join them on stage — includinh the likes of Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and more.
Since the passing of drummer Levon Helm in 2012, you’ll notice “Ophelia” has never sounded better once you get there. And Neil Young’s nose can hardly handle the excitement as he sings the most remarkable version of “Helpless” with the help of his friends, along with some cocaine, which you can actually see blurred out if you look closely.
The Beatles Anthology
No rockumentary list is valid without "The Beatles Anthology,” a seemingly insurmountable collection of the inner workings of (hardly) arguably music’s greatest band of all time. For the crowd-pleasers, lesser-known rarities and a few full afternoons of live musical history, study up on the anthologies, as there are no cliff notes for such a mesmerizing stack of work.
Perfect for a hard day’s night, there are 600 minutes of Beatles moments everybody should bear witness to, especially if you’re the type who hasn’t delved deeper than the hit singles. Watch John, Paul and George change your life ... and Ringo will probably be there, too.
Lord Don’t Slow Me Down
Oasis, the '90s best interpretation of British rock 'n' roll since the end of The Beatles, offers one of its many final big stage performances. The band’s tour behind their 2005 “Don’t Believe the Truth” record was the last sold box set of the band before its 2008 demise. Set in its usual Manchester Stadium for DVD releases, the Gallagher brothers are featured in a double-disc documentary, one behind the scenes and one for the full-length show.
If you were a fan of “Familiar to Millions,” you’ll dig this, as the editing is quicker and better. The set list includes new singles like “Lyla,” along with the classics “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and “Wonderwall”, as well as a classic cover of The Who’s “My Generation,” and crude frontman Liam Gallagher occasionally cussing at the crowd here and there.
Led Zeppelin (2003)
No surround sound system is complete without the “Led Zeppelin” self-titled double disc set of the band’s live performances from 1969 to 1979, hitting the biggest of the big stages, including Madison Square Garden, Royal Albert Hall and Earls Court. The two-disc set combines a unique style of bootleg video intertwined with top-notch video (of its time), across all the big hits and soft ballads, from “Black Dog” to “Since I’ve Been Loving You.”
If you dig on this, you should continue the nostalgia with the band’s release in 2012, “Celebration Day,” a rejoining of the band sans drummer John Bonham in London. The band still looks as good as ever, even with a few extra rolls, wrinkles and white hairs.
George Harrison: Living in a Material World
Another Martin Scorsese-directed character piece, this one covers the underdog Beatle, George Harrison, a nearly four-hour spotlight of the early life and times of a talented young boy who eventually found his way to the center stage. Starting with his adolescence in Liverpool into Beatles stardom, then into India where he wrote some of his best work and out to his solo shows and tragic ending, the film has a very George Harrison vibe with guest appearances by longtime friends Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and Phil Spector.
If you want to continue the solo Beatles dance, check out John Lennon’s “Imagine” documentary, a personal scope of the late great Lennon.
The Kids Are Alright
This isn't the quintessential lesbian lovers film featuring Julianne Moore you were hoping for, but it's just as sexy. The Who documentary of 1979, featuring Roger Daltrey, Pete Townsend and the boys, along with special guest funny man Steve Martin, shows the band implode inside your TV screen with their energetic live performances, a few thousand smashed guitars and a whole bunch of hotel room vandalism.
The film has been remastered and offers loads of extras, including in-depth interviews with Daltrey, along with a refreshing reminder that these guys were once one of the world’s greatest, despite that Super Bowl performance a couple years back.
Riding in Vans with Boys
For all you punk lovers with your Dickie's pants and nose rings, this two-month co-headlined punk stint covers two of the ‘90s greatest pop punk bands, Blink-182 and Green Day, across America in the spring of 2002 on the Pop Disaster Tour.
Though back on the rock scene now, this tour came around right before American idiots were infamous and the “indefinite hiatus” of Blink-182 and their side projects were birthed. Featuring the typical antics of punk bands with lots of spare time between gigs and a full set list from each headliner, the rock show carries on a quasi-nostalgic stage presence of a pre-Bieber pop scene. Guest opening acts include Kut U Up and Jimmy Eat World, one of which is known for causing havoc, while the other writes beautiful works of clarity. Any fan of “The Urethra Chronicles II” will appreciate this offering by the same crazy folks.
Jack Johnson and Friends: A Weekend at the Greek
For a couple on-the-road snapshots of mellow man Jack Johnson and friends on their 2005 tour, tune in for a backstage look at Hawaii’s gifted songwriter as he hits Berkeley’s Greek Theatre and goes on to play live in Japan.
Zach Gill of Animal Liberation, G. Love and popular folk songwriter, Matt Costa — all of which are signed to Johnson’s Brushfire Records label — join the good times with a few songs of their own for a perfect rainy day afternoon of earthy music and easy lounging.
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Rust Never Sleeps
“Rust Never Sleeps” is the foreshadowing of the next 40 years of crazy horse Neil Young’s rock career. The film is easily one of the most unique and, at some points, the oddest music films to date. Wild–haired Neil takes the stage in 1978 at the Cow Palace, a rodeo stadium just outside San Francisco, for an evening of distorted rock 'n' roll mixed with a few acoustic anthems.
Neil might be completely out of his mind, but his vision for the show remains untouched by any musician type today. If you were expecting a Coldplay show with hipster glow sticks and tears of joy, you might be disappointed, but it’s for the best you tune in, anyway.