Three Music Documentaries That Are Worth Watching

Documentary Film: History of The Eagles

The 1970s Southern California country-rock band (reunited in recent years) oversaw the making of this four-hour in depth history of the musical act (that debuted earlier this year on Showtime) whose Greatest Hits album racked up the highest sales of any artist in popular music history. Yet it's far more open and honest about the internal struggles among band members and youthful excesses than one might expect from an authorized history. On the other hand, occasional flashes of arrogance on the part of Eagles principals Don Henley and (to a lesser degree) Glenn Frey are rather alienating. But if you want to get a very good idea of how rock band internal politics work and the machinations of the music business, this flick is an excellent primer. Oh yeah, then there's the music. If you like what The Eagles have created, the performance segments from their early years are a treat. And even if you are among those (many) Eagles haters – it seems for superstars, the more fans one has the more other really can't stand an act – any fair listener has to at least respect their artistic accomplishments.

Documentary Film: Sam Cooke: Crossing Over

Former gospel singer turned soul/R&B artist Cooke had one of the sweetest and most supple voices ever in postwar popular music, was a brilliant songwriter with a dead aim for listener's hearts plus a keen knack for the commercial hook, and was a pioneer in taking control of the business end of his career, eventually starting his own record label. As the first African-American to hit #1 on the pop and R&B charts he was a genuine game changer. This PBS American Masters segment does a fine job of telling his history and showcasing his spirited and emotive music. And it prompts speculation on what Cooke might have further accomplished if his womanizing hadn't led to him being shot and killed in a Los Angeles motel in 1964 at 32 years old. "One of the greats" can be an overused term, but in this case it's true: Cooke was a soul artist of the highest order.

Documentary Film: Mr. Blue Sky: The Story of Jeff Lynne & ELO

This movie is far more the former (about Lynne) than the latter (about his multi-million selling 1970s group Electric Light Orchestra). The dominant theme is Lynne's abundant musicality that lifted him from being a kid in postwar industrial Birmingham to taking the abundantly melodic and harmonic British pop-rock sound pioneered by the Beatles to heights of greater sophistication with ELO. But where he has hit his sweet spot is as a record producer with Beatles Harrison, McCartney and Starr as well as Roy Orbison and Tom Petty plus the Orbison/Harrison/Petty/Dylan/Lynne collaboration The Traveling Wilburys. It's a nice portrait of a man who is happiest creating music and taking it to its logically sweetest and fullest fruition.

From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2013



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