What makes a good rock ‘n’ roll documentary? It all depends on the personalities involved, as the top five picks take drastically different takes on how to tell their stories.
5. loudQUIETloud: A Film About The Pixies
So hell froze over and Frank Black Francis actually picked up a phone and called the band he ended by fax machine. loudQUIETloud looks at how fractured relationships can return together to create lasting impressions on fans and glorious memories (and cash) for themselves.
Under Great White Northern Lights (White Stripes)
Touring the tundra is not for most folks, but Jack and Meg not only play music in the north; they made a poignant film about it. Between the live music tracks and meetings with town fans, mayors and elders, sits moments where you can see these two opposites moving further apart. Only the music brings them together… and is that enough? The film doesn’t answer the question, but history sure has! It is essential viewing for any White Stripes fan.
Three Days (Jane’s Addiction)
Filmed during the bands 1997 Relapse Tour, one walks away from watching wondering how normal a hedonistic lifestyle can be. With no valid anchor to ground the audience we see Dave Navarro sweetly lie about drug use to his gal pal over the phone, Perry Farrel pontificate about the nature and the purpose of the universe, and a steady stream of cameos that bring a serious type of normalcy to their own brand of Spinal Tap adventures.
Meeting People Is Easy (Radiohead)
This Radiohead ‘anti-documentary’ documentary follows the band attempting to deflate the hype surrounding themselves and their monolithic OK Computer. No attempt is made to see how the relationship between members works to help their creativity; instead Grant Gee focuses on the writing process using studio outtakes and live footage to build a narrative. However, burnout becomes apparent and band faces its lowest point at what seems to be their artistic height.
1991: The Year Punk Broke (Sonic Youth)
A virtual who’s who of the 90’s alt rock scene, the movie follows Sonic Youth and Nirvana as they start in cult following obscurity and rise to commercial and critical success stories. At its heart you see two bands just trying to “goof off” and make sense of it all in the middle of the oncoming hyperbolic onslaught.
Something about ‘garage rock’ makes it so timeless. Maybe it’s the fuzzed out guitars or the berserker energy with which the six-string is played, but it certainly rocks the house when done right.
Perhaps that’s why I got so excited the first time I heard the Dirtbombs. They had even more than I could’ve imagined going for them. Backing the vocals and guitar ‘riffage’ of Mick Collins is a band that boasts dual bass guitar and dual drums and every song they power through is uniquely their own, even when they pull off a great cover.
Which is exactly what Ultraglide In Black is, a covers album (with one original). Every bit as powerful as anything the White Stripes have done, Ultraglide in Black looks back at some classic R&B and soul and channels it through the ghost of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and MC5.
If you take a song like Stevie Wonder’s “Livin’ For The City” which thematically deals with systemic racism, the original comes off musically with a gospel and hopeful air. Under Collins, the Dirtbombs version is anger and seething. It strips away the hope and with the help of both a sinister sounding bass and guitar the songs conclusions ‘of just enough’ sounds angry and futile.
In fact, this album is Collins interpretation of ‘Black America’ through the songs of the artists he grew up with. You get Sly Stone’s “Underdog”, Curtis Mayfield’s “Kung Fu”, Phil Lynott’s “Ode to a Black Man” and Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up,” blasting out the speakers with this tremendous power that Mick Collins finds for every damn song on the record.
As you finish Ultraglide In Black, you find yourself wondering why this album has sat under the radar for most people. It isn’t just a great record worth of songs, it is a classic record that should be in everyones collection.
With Record Store Day 2015 fast approaching I thought I’d go back to one of my favourite RSD releases, The White Stripes – Elephant.
While the White Stripes put out a lot of great material during their career, nothing opened up quite the way Elephant did with “Seven Nation Army.” It thundered to the point of making you rock whether you wanted to or not. It was a hair swinging, face slappin’ opening statement. Things only got cooler when you saw them chasing The Simpsons around to the driving fury that was “Hardest Button to Button”, and yet like Led Zeppelin before them, they could slow it down on a dime with a slow blues or acoustic number that had you grab for your headphones to hear the nuances and emotional depth.