I’ve always been fascinated by popular music culture, how music and style defined an era whether it’s the suede flares of the 1970s or frills of the 80s new romantics. A dream job for me would be to work alongside a record company sourcing new talent and producing records. Sadly, the days of traditional A+R are gone and the Stock, Aiken and Waterman style of record producing to dominant the charts isn’t as prevalent anymore.
Magazines such as Smash Hits and Top of the Pops were my favourites as a kid growing up in the early 00’s even when music culture defined by pull out lyrics and heart throb interviews were on their way out. Sadly both publications ceased production in 2006.
These days, I get my musical kicks from autobiographies and documentaries, I like looking at history, times and places when I was a mere sparkle in my parents’ eyes. Music documentaries are an ace way of time travelling. What is particularly prevalent is the way that a young Mick Jagger divulges to a camera, snakeskin boots and velour trousers a plenty with no clue that over 40 years later he remans an icon and a firm piece of music history.
Here are three of my favourite rock documentaries, all must see’s for completely different reasons.
Gimme Shelter, (1970) The one that makes you feel like you shouldn’t be watching. A pure observation documentary, no voiceovers, no interviews just a painful fly on the wall that follows The Rolling Stones in the lead up and aftermath of that fateful final show of their 1969 US tour at the Altamont Speedway. The footage is split between the band watching the clips from the documentary and what was happening at the time.
The film captures the brooding energy of the ‘Woodstock of the West’ and the elements that steered the free concert to doom from the start. From Mick Jagger begging the crowd to stop hurting each other, to Keith Richards displaying his dismay at the Hells Angels behaviour. As soon as you hear The Stones riffing ‘Under my thumb’ you can feel the mood worsening – the film captures the stabbing of 18 year old Meredith Hunter who was violently stabbed whilst trying to get onto the stage holding a gun. The footage is undercut with Jagger’s haunting realisation to what he described as a ‘scuffle’ at the time.
Kurt and Courtney (1998) The one that makes you think Kurt was murdered. If you want atmosphere projected by the grey Seattle backdrop and the thrashing of dirty, alternative metal then be prepared to immerse yourself into late 80’s/ early 90’s Nirvana. Serving up a conspiracy led focus, Nick Broomfield’s no prisoner journalism leads us to a number of characters claiming to know Cobain and his headspace before his ruled suicide in ’94. Unfortunately in a film centred around the man behind Nirvana’s lyrical sound – there is no Nirvana music featured as Love refused to license any of Cobain’s music. The details of murder accusations are unveiled by conspiracy theorists Tom Grant, Love’s father, Hank Harrison and more darkly, El Duce who claimed on film he knew who killed Cobain and was subsequently killed by a train two days after the interview.
An interview with journalist Victoria Clarke is also included which depicts the threats left on her answer machine by Cobain and Love following her work on the book ‘Nirvana: Flower Sniffin’ Kitty Pettin; Baby kissin’ corporate rock whores’ which was penned with Britt Collins. The ending of this one is filled with catastrophic irony which is why this dark music documentary is a must see.
Soul boys of the western world (2014) The one that makes you wish you were an 80’s Blitz kid. Beginning with the punchy chords of ‘The Freeze’ playing underneath the voices of Tony, Gary, Martin, Steve and John, the film chronicles the roaring successes and turbulent times of Spandau Ballet. Littered with home footage, photo archives and a seriously awesome soundtrack that not only features all of the Spandau hits but also includes chart toppers from the likes of David Bowie and Rod Stewart.
Narrated by the band, the film documents the humble beginnings of ‘Gentry’ to the golden success of Spandau, how Gary Kemp headed the lyric factory, Tony Hadley’s velvety vocals and the austerity of that infamous 90’s court case over royalties which sadly drove the band to a n indefinite parting until a reconciliation in 2009. One to watch for 80’s culture and a slice of ‘true’ new romantic music.