15 Great Movies For The Music Lover

I am a big fan of the music from the 20th century. From the swing era of the early years to the progressive rock of later years. It may be because I was born in the middle of the century (1954) and growing up with this music made me a bit biased. But for me, the 20th century was the golden era of music.

I have created a list with brief summaries called 15 Movies For The Music Lover. If you have favorite movies, books, or documentaries, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at brian@guitarlessonsbybrian.com. Enjoy!

1. The Wrecking Crew

“The Wrecking Crew” is a documentary film released in 2008 that explores the work of a group of session musicians in Los Angeles during the 1960s. These musicians, known as “The Wrecking Crew,” played on numerous hit songs and albums by popular artists of the time, including The Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, The Byrds, and many others. The documentary highlights their contribution to the music industry, shedding light on the uncredited studio musicians who played a significant role in shaping the sound of the era. The film features interviews with some of the original Wrecking Crew members and showcases their remarkable musical talents and impact on the music of the 1960s. There is also a book by the same name that is even better!

2. Standing In The Shadows Of Motown

“Standing in the Shadows of Motown” is a documentary film released in 2002. The film pays tribute to The Funk Brothers, a group of uncredited musicians who played the instrumental background music for most of Motown Records’ 1960s hits. The documentary combines interviews with surviving Funk Brothers, re-enactments, and archival footage to tell the story of these talented musicians. It explores their significant contributions to the Motown sound, highlighting their creativity and influence on popular music. The film also features contemporary artists performing classic Motown songs, showcasing the timeless appeal of the Funk Brothers’ music. “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” celebrates the unsung heroes behind some of the greatest hits in the history of soul and R&B music.

3. Muscle Shoals

“Muscle Shoals” is a documentary film released in 2013 that explores the rich musical history of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a small town on the banks of the Tennessee River. The film delves into the story of FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, two recording studios that became legendary for producing some of the most iconic songs and albums in the history of American music. The documentary features interviews with renowned artists, producers, and studio musicians, including Aretha Franklin, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Bono, among others. It highlights the unique sound and creative energy of Muscle Shoals that attracted musicians from various genres, including rock, soul, and country. “Muscle Shoals” showcases the cultural impact of the studios and their influence on shaping the sound of popular music during the 1960s and 1970s.

4. Jazz

Ken Burns’ documentary series on jazz, simply titled “Jazz,” is a comprehensive exploration of the history and evolution of this uniquely American musical genre. The series, which originally aired in 2001, spans 10 episodes and covers the origins of jazz in New Orleans, its migration to major cities like Chicago and New York, and its transformation through various styles and movements.

Through interviews, archival footage, photographs, and recordings, the documentary chronicles the lives of legendary jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. It delves into the social and cultural contexts in which jazz emerged, addressing issues such as racism, segregation, and the civil rights movement. The series also explores the fusion of jazz with other genres, including blues, swing, bebop, and fusion.

“Jazz” provides a comprehensive overview of the genre’s history, highlighting its impact on American culture and its enduring influence on music worldwide. The documentary offers viewers a deep understanding of the artistry, innovation, and cultural significance of jazz music. There is also a book by the same name that is even better!

 5. Riverdance

“Riverdance” is a theatrical show that originated as an interval performance during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. It quickly gained worldwide popularity and was later developed into a full-length stage production. The show is known for its mesmerizing fusion of Irish traditional dance and music with modern influences.

The story revolves around the journey of Irish dance and its evolution over time. Through a series of energetic dance routines and musical performances, the show celebrates Irish culture, showcasing the skill and precision of the performers. “Riverdance” has become famous for its synchronized dance sequences, vibrant costumes, and powerful music, captivating audiences around the globe. The production has contributed significantly to the popularization of Irish dance and music on the international stage. There are many versions available as the performers changed over the years. My favorite is  the 1995 version with Michael Flatley and Jean Butler. You can probably find it for free on YouTube.

6. Sweet And Lowdown
“Sweet and Lowdown” is a 1999 comedy-drama film directed by Woody Allen. The movie is set in the 1930s and tells the story of Emmet Ray, a talented but eccentric jazz guitarist played by Sean Penn. Despite his exceptional musical skills, Emmet is also deeply flawed, with a penchant for gambling and womanizing. The film explores his turbulent love life, particularly his complicated relationship with a mute woman named Hattie, played by Samantha Morton.

Throughout the film, Emmet grapples with his personal demons while striving to achieve greatness as a musician. The story combines elements of romance, comedy, and drama, offering a glimpse into the world of jazz music during the Great Depression era. “Sweet and Lowdown” is notable for its exploration of the complexities of artistic talent and the flawed nature of its protagonist. Although the movie is fiction, the soundtrack is wonderful and it pays homage to the legendary Django Reinhartd.

7. Oh Brother Where Art Thou?
“O Brother, Where Art Thou?” is a 2000 comedy film directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Loosely based on Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey,” the film is set in Mississippi during the Great Depression. It follows three escaped convicts, Ulysses Everett McGill (played by George Clooney), Pete Hogwallop (played by John Turturro), and Delmar O’Donnell (played by Tim Blake Nelson), as they embark on a journey to find hidden treasure.

Along the way, the trio encounters a series of peculiar characters and faces various challenges, mirroring the adventures of Odysseus in the ancient Greek epic. The film incorporates elements of Southern folklore, bluegrass music, and surreal comedy, creating a unique and visually striking cinematic experience. The soundtrack, featuring traditional folk and bluegrass music, became particularly popular and contributed to the film’s cultural impact. “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” is known for its witty dialogue, memorable characters, and distinctive blend of humor and mythology.

8. Respect Yourself

Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion is a book written by Robert Gordon, published in 2013. The movie version can be found on YouTube. The book chronicles the history of Stax Records, a renowned soul music label based in Memphis, Tennessee. Gordon explores the rise of Stax during the 1960s and 1970s, focusing on the artists, producers, and staff members who contributed to its success.

The book delves into the social and cultural context of the time, highlighting the racial tensions and challenges faced by African American musicians and entrepreneurs. It also provides in-depth profiles of Stax artists like Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MG’s, and Isaac Hayes, shedding light on their musical contributions and the impact of their work on the soul music genre.

“Respect Yourself” captures the spirit of the civil rights era and the power of music in bringing people together. It celebrates the legacy of Stax Records and its role in shaping the sound of soul music during a transformative period in American history.

9. This Might Get Loud

“This Might Get Loud” is a documentary film released in 2008, directed by Davis Guggenheim. The movie brings together three iconic guitarists from different generations and musical backgrounds: Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, The Edge of U2, and Jack White of The White Stripes.

The film explores the artists’ personal musical journeys, their unique approaches to playing the guitar, and the impact of their music on popular culture. It delves into their individual creative processes, showcasing their passion for the instrument and the ways in which they developed their distinctive styles. Through interviews, discussions, and jam sessions, “This Might Get Loud” offers viewers a deep insight into the artistry and innovation behind these legendary musicians, making it a must-watch for music enthusiasts and fans of these iconic guitarists.

10. Crossroads

“Crossroads” is a 1986 musical drama film directed by Walter Hill. The story revolves around Eugene Martone, a young and talented classical guitarist played by Ralph Macchio. Eugene is obsessed with mastering the blues guitar and embarks on a journey to find his idol, blues musician Willie Brown (played by Joe Seneca).On his journey, Eugene encounters a former blues guitarist named Jack Butler (played by Steve Vai), and they engage in a musical duel, with Eugene’s soul and talent at stake. The movie combines elements of music, drama, and coming-of-age themes as Eugene faces challenges, learns valuable life lessons, and discovers the true essence of music.

“Crossroads” is notable for its captivating guitar performances and the exploration of the blues genre’s significance in American musical history.

11. Cadillac Records

“Cadillac Records” is a 2008 musical biographical film that chronicles the rise of Chess Records, a Chicago-based record label, in the 1950s and 1960s. The movie focuses on the lives of several iconic musicians, including Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Chuck Berry, Etta James, and Howlin’ Wolf, who were signed to the label. It explores their individual struggles, successes, and the impact they had on the music industry during that era. The film delves into the challenges faced by these artists, including racism, exploitation, and personal demons, while highlighting their contributions to the evolution of rock and roll and blues music.

12. La Bamba

“La Bamba” is a 1987 biographical film that tells the story of Ritchie Valens, a young Chicano rock ‘n’ roll musician who rose to fame in the late 1950s. The film follows Ritchie’s humble beginnings in a Mexican-American family, his passion for music, and his journey to stardom. Despite facing various challenges, including racial discrimination and poverty, Ritchie’s talent and determination lead him to record hit songs like “La Bamba” and “Donna.” The movie also explores his complex relationship with his brother Bob and his romance with Donna Ludwig. Tragically, Ritchie’s promising career is cut short when he dies in a plane crash at the age of 17, along with Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper, in 1959. “La Bamba” celebrates Ritchie Valens’ musical legacy and the impact he made on the rock ‘n’ roll genre.

13. Get Back

“Get Back” is a documentary series directed by Peter Jackson. The series, released in November 2021, chronicles the making of The Beatles’ final studio album, “Let It Be,” in 1969. It provides an intimate and in-depth look at the band’s creative process, capturing their recording sessions, rehearsals, and conversations in the studio. The documentary showcases the challenges and tensions within the band during that period, as well as moments of camaraderie and musical brilliance. Through previously unreleased footage and audio recordings, “Get Back” offers fans a unique insight into The Beatles’ dynamic and the making of one of their most iconic albums.

14. Across The Universe

“Across the Universe” is a 2007 musical film directed by Julie Taymor. Set in the 1960s, the movie is a romantic musical that uses The Beatles’ songs to tell the story of a young British man named Jude and an American girl named Lucy. Jude travels to the United States to find his estranged father and becomes friends with Lucy and her brother Max. The film explores their experiences and relationships against the backdrop of the turbulent 1960s, touching on themes such as love, friendship, social and political unrest, and the Vietnam War. The characters’ journeys are interwoven with imaginative musical sequences featuring iconic Beatles songs, creating a visually stunning and emotionally charged cinematic experience.

15. West Side Story

“West Side Story,” released in 1961, is a musical film directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, based on the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name by Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim. The story is a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet,” set in the 1950s in New York City. The film is celebrated for its compelling story, memorable musical numbers, and impressive choreography.




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