The 31 Best Music Documentaries Of All Time

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Hands down, above all of these following music documentaries, Craig's Hlist's two favorite of all-time are The Decline of Western Civilization Part 2: The Metal Years, and The Beatles Anthology. We can watch both on repeat for days and not complain.

That will probably all change once we see Lemmy, the film about Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmister in a few weeks, though. Fingers crossed they use some footage from the last Houston show. You may probably see CHL in the back somewhere screaming our fool head off like we're at a Justin Bieber show.

The Metal Years is just a big, stupid chronicle of hair metal in Los Angeles in the late '80s. The interviews are gold, especially the paint-huffing fans and Chris Holmes from W.A.S.P., who comes off as more animal than man. Plus, it has Aerosmith and Ozzy Osbourne talking straight about their drug use. We bought it as a bootleg DVD and it hardly leaves our player for weeks on end.

The Beatles Anthology maybe did more to fuel the fire that led to our current profession than any other film. We bought it on DVD a few years ago and fell into a Beatles spiral all over again.

Here is a list of the best rock documentaries out there for you to see. Be sure to check the last Craig's Hlist we did on rock concert films before you complain we left anything out. More than likely it is on that hlist, or we forgot it altogether because we aren't Wikipedia.

American Hardcore

This hardcore chronicle is great, covering all the cities with scenes of fans and bands, interviewing the men and women who were on the frontlines of the genres birthing, including godfathers Henry Rollins, Keith Morris, and Ian MacKaye. Read the book too, it's got plenty about Houston's hardcore history as well.


This Ondi Timoner film made Brian Jonestown Massacre frontman Anton Newcombe an instant batshit rock and roll legend and painted The Dandy Warhols as a Pollyanna-ish pack of kids in over their heads.

The Devil & Daniel Johnston

The best thing about this Daniel Johnston flick is that it does not shy away from explaining his mental illness, showing how DJ's fight effected his family and friends. The home footage and recordings are a great look into his jagged creative process.


This 1988 film and 2006's The U.S. Vs. John Lennon are looks into what made J-Yo tick. The scenes dealing with Lennon's "lost weekend" in the former are excellent.

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco

Over the course of two hours, Wilco is seen recording Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and then getting shafted by Reprise . We love the part where a harried Jeff Tweedy and family are at a fast food place trying to stay sane.

The Decline of Western Civilization

This Penelope Spheeris documentary, plus her Roger Corman-produced punksploitation Suburbia, no doubt turn countless kids into punk rockers after one viewing, if not by the halfway point.

Mayor of the Sunset Strip

Rodney Bingenheimer was a sort of Andy Warhol for the L.A. music scene, touching most every genre from the mid-'60s until today. He gets exalted by every who comes in his path, but finds that big business isn't as receptive to him along the way. Bonus points for appearances by the greasy yet influential Kim Fowley.

Madonna: Truth or Dare

The chick who made Lady Gaga possible takes us into her world with Truth Or Dare, and manages to humanize herself in the midst of one of the most vanity-laced periods in her career.

Don't Look Back

You don't realize how much of am insufferable smart-ass Bob Dylan was in the beginnings of his fame until you see D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back, which follows him on his 1965 UK tour. The opening scene is the most iconic part, with Dylan famously rolling through the lyrics of "Subterranean Homesick Blues" on large cards as Allen Ginsberg hangs around behind him.

Gimme Shelter & Cocksucker Blues

Shelter follows the Rolling Stones as they march towards Altamont at the end of 1969. The band is seen recording "Wild Horses" and traveling across the country. Watch Cocksucker Blues to get the most vivid account of what it was like to be on tour with the band in 1972. You can almost smell the groupie sweat.

We Jam Econo

The Minutemen toured relentlessly until leader singer D. Boon was killed in a car crash 25 years ago.

Joy Division

Before you watch Anton Corbijn's feature film about Joy Division and Ian Curtis, Control, be sure to check out this Grant Gee film on the band.

Anvil: The Story of Anvil

You will laugh and you will cry with Lips and Robb as they search for metal stardom into middle age. You will also find that metal hearts can't be stopped, no matter what stands in their way.

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster

See Metallica nearly kill each other in the studio while they spend two years to record an album that ended up being one of the most notoriously confused of their career.

Fearless Freaks

This Flaming Lips documentary will instantly turn you into a fan. Before we saw this film we weren't a convert, but after Freaks we were hooked for life. Be sure to watch for Wayne Coyne's Long John Silver's horror story. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxVOuvq9MSA

End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones

The Ramones made great music together, but they seemed to hate the shit out of each other while they were together. For a band as documented as the Ramones, this film actually manages to shed new light on the band, even for the devotees out there.


Fugazi is broken down into film mode. Check out the "Ice Cream Eating Motherfucker" scene.

You're Gonna Miss Me

This look into Texas garage legend Roky Erickson's life isn't so much different than the Daniel Johnston flick, with both dealing in the family drama behind mental illness. Now we just have to wait for the big budget biopic.


If you ever wanted to see GG Allin throw feces and piss on his fans, Hated is your chance. The 1994 doc was directed by Todd Phillips, who would go on to also make Road Trip, Old School, and The Hangover.

It Might Get Loud

Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White join forces to show us how they each make their signature sounds. White builds a guitar on a back porch, and Page is generally a badass. The Edge shows us his array of pedals and how he makes the "U2" sound.

The Filth & The Fury

The Sex Pistols get the documentary they always deserved, with director Julien Temple looking back with the band using footage he shot during their short reign of terror. Watching John Lydon get misty-eyed when he recounts Sid Vicious' death is heartbreaking.

Westway To the World

The best film about the Clash, so far, takes you from the band's fitful beginnings to pop semi-stardom and finally their slow-motion collapse. which the late Joe Strummer is seen choking up even speaking about.

Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten

Following the same course as Westway, The Future Is Unwritten jumps into the life at the heart of the Clash, Strummer, and the meandering turns his life took from his birth to death in 2002.

Radiohead: Meeting People Is Easy

Radiohead goes insane on tour as they overtake Oasis as the biggest band from the UK in the last years of the '90s.

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

If you aren't a fan of these prog gods from the Great White North, you will at least have a respect for them after checking out this star-studded doc. Trent Reznor and Billy Corgan are just some of the followers who weigh in on the power trio.

Until The Light Takes Us

This is one of the best, if not only, documentary on black metal that adequately explains the bands and their ethos. It's harrowing and sad at parts.


Grunge hit Seattle like an atom bomb, and this 1996 doc talks to locals who were the most effected, from zine publishers, the bands, to the folks at Sub Pop Records who sat on top of it all. It gets sanctimonious at times, but it's a great grunge primer. Hell, we discovered Pierced Arrows because of it.

Kurt & Courtney

British filmmaker Nick Broomfield investigates the death of Kurt Cobain and tries to determine if his widow Courtney Love was behind it all.


Standing In the Shadows of Motown Loud Quiet Loud No Direction Home Tupac & Biggie Jandek on Corwood I'm Your Man New York Doll The Kids Are Alright X : The Unheard Music

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