Muscle Shoals & Sound City
I recently watched the two rock documentaries "Muscle Shoals" and "Sound City" back-to-back and can't recommend them highly enough. Watching them in sequence gives you two different looks at music production from two vastly different environments — Alabama in the 60's-70's and California in the 70's-90's. They both do a great job showing how the cultural and human events may affect how the music is made, or the feelings the music evokes, but the core principle remains the same: make great music. Each doc is packed with personal insights to many individual track recordings and have interviews with the artists, producers, and musicians themselves. Between the two, you'll hear from musical giants like: Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, Bono, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Trent Reznor, Dave Grohl, and more — all speaking candidly about what they love. By the end, I was not only adding some regrettably forgotten classics to my music collection, but also reveling in the slew of artists I had never heard of until these documentaries. Being a child of the 90's, it's shocking/sad to realize how much fantastic music I wasn't listening to — or may never listen to — because I've just never heard of the artist.
One undertone of the Sound City documentary specifically speaks to the struggle of "losing" parts of music to the digital age. I've written about that sentiment before on this site with my varied (and somewhat conflicting) thoughts on the subject, and these documentaries still leave me undecided. I feel that artistic discovery (/rediscovery) and preservation are THE two biggest challenges facing technology today. Having every song available for listening isn't much help when the only avenues to find music that's "new" to you are "Top 10's" or "Most Popular" lists. I think Beats Music's expert curated playlists and things like Pandora/iTunes Radio's discovery algorithm's are a good step forward... but still neither come close to the brows-ability I have at our local Shake-It Records store. Between the genre-related albums that are just a glance-and-flip away — and the welcome suggestions of the employees — I've been turned on to a giant stack of favorite artists. For those without a great local records store, I'd guess it's great documentaries like these that'll have to serve as their avenue for discovery of music's sometimes forgotten historical gems. Here's to many more.