The 100 Greatest Music Films

As the Oscars loom, we salute the best of music on film, from the birth of rock’n’roll to the rebirth of Sixto Rodriguez.

100 Greatest Music Movies Ever

LAST YEAR’S CHOICE of Searching For Sugarman as the Oscar Academy’s Best Documentary Feature foregrounded what many in the world of MOJO have been saying for years: we are living in the Golden Age of the music-orientated film.

With backing singers documentary 20 Feet From Stardom up for the same gong this time around, and the Coen brothers’ ’60s NY folk scene period drama Inside Llewyn Davis also nominated, MOJO takes the opportunity to present the 100 Music Movies that you simply have to see.

Fact and fiction, documentary and biopic, performance and satire, it’s a broad church embracing those films – like Eraserhead and Koyaanisqatsi – where revolutionary or dramatic music usage is part of the movie’s entire raison d’être.

From 1956 to 2013, from The Girl Can’t Help It to Searching For Sugarman via Dont Look Back, Purple Rain and This Is Spinal Tap – cue 100, guaranteed unforgettable, 100 per cent life-changing audio-visual experiences…

1. The Girl Can’t Help It (Frank Tashlin, 1956)

1.
The Girl Can’t Help It
(Frank Tashlin, 1956)


Essentially an update of George Cukor’s 1950 Oscar-winner Born Yesterday, Tashlin’s vehicle concerns a pneumatic blonde (Jayne Mansfield) with no seeming vocal talent, being fame-pushed by a cigar-chomping gangster (Edmond O’Brien). Though the storyline may initially seem slight, Tashlin’s creation worked because it was well crafted, funny and treated rock’n’roll with a brash pop respect. And it rocked, impressively, in sequences showcasing Fats Domino, The Platters, Little Richard, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. Fred Dellar

Now watch: Don’t Knock The Rock (Fred F. Sears, 1956)

2. Lift To The Scaffold (Louis Malle, 1958)

2.
Lift To The Scaffold
(Louis Malle, 1958)


Malle’s monochrome debut effectively bridged ’50s French noir and the incipient nouvelle vague, its lonely, ‘theme-less’, trumpet-led jazz soundtrack – largely improvised by Miles Davis and his combo in one four-hour session – entirely novel in 1958. Scenes in which Jeanne Moreau’s Florence wanders the neon-lit Paris streets in search of her misbegotten lover, spirited along by Davis’s weary solo horn, captures a city waking to a new youth movement and would inspire generations of subsequent film-makers. David Sheppard

Now watch: À Bout De Souffle (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)

3. King Creole  (Michael Curtiz, 1958)

3.
King Creole
(Michael Curtiz, 1958)


Originally envisaged as a vehicle for James Dean, Elvis Presley’s fourth feature found him working with Walter Matthau and the man who helmed Casablanca. This was no exploitation cheapie: for the first time, a rock’n’roll singer and his music were taken seriously by Hollywood. It was the last hurrah of the Memphis Flash, however: Tom Parker kept saying yes to big cheques and Presley took 10 years to rediscover the menace invoked in Trouble. David Hutcheon

Now watch: That’ll Be The Day (Claude Whatham, 1973)

4.  Jazz On A Summer’s Day(Bert Stern, Aram Avakian, 1959)

4.
Jazz On A Summer’s Day
(Bert Stern, Aram Avakian, 1959)


There’s a hazy, meditative tone to this film of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. The line-up boasts Thelonious Monk, Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington and Mahalia Jackson – and Anita O’Day’s immaculately stoned performance of Sweet Georgia Brown is as masterly as it is swinging – but it’s Stern’s cutaways to lush surroundings, dapper crowd and rippling waters that truly stand out – a jazz approach to the music edit that still looks startling today. Ross Bennett

Now watch: Mingus (Thomas Reichman, 1968)

5. Expresso Bongo  (Val Guest, 1959)

5.
Expresso Bongo
(Val Guest, 1959)


In 1958, British rock films were pallid: efforts like the trad jazz-stuffed Rock You Sinners effectively eradicated the music’s vim. Then Cliff Richard arrived, and hit cinemas fast. After framing a vicar in his film debut Serious Charge, Cliff (and his Shadows) became embroiled in the hustle and jive of the Soho rock’n’roll game. Britain’s very own Sweet Smell Of Success, it’s fast, loud, cynical and sharp: the only ’50s rock film from our shores that matters. Kieron Tyler

Now watch: The Tommy Steele Story (Gerard Bryant, 1957)

6. West Side Story (Robert Wise/Jerome Robbins, 1961)

6.
West Side Story
(Robert Wise/Jerome Robbins, 1961)


This adaptation of the 1957 Bernstein/Sondheim/Laurents/Robbins Broadway smash revolutionised the movie musical via heavier subject matter (racism and juvenile delinquency) and dance sequences that moved from soundstage to actual street, thrilling close-ups and montages edited to the music. Break-dancing would later owe a debt, but its influence on rock music culture has been immense – from P.J. Proby and the Pet Shop Boys to Alice Cooper, Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson, who reportedly watched it once a week. Bill Holdship

Now watch: Michael Jackson’s Vision (Various directors, 2010)

7. A Fistful Of Dollars  (Sergio Leone, 1964)

7.
A Fistful Of Dollars
(Sergio Leone, 1964)


Hitting US and UK screens three years after its Italian release, it took a while for A Fistful Of Dollars to make its presence felt. More than the moment the spaghetti western achieved critical mass, it was the first European film where original music – inextricably tied to the visuals – was almost more impactful than the choreographed action (or the brooding presence of a young Clint Eastwood). Ennio Morricone’s score was a form of environmental music, the sonic analogue of the parched landscapes and semi-mute characters. It set templates. Now the music could lead the way. Kieron Tyler

Now watch: Enter The Void (Gaspar Noé, 2009)

8. A Hard Day’s Night  (Richard Lester, 1964)

8.
A Hard Day’s Night
(Richard Lester, 1964)


A Hard Day’s Night upped the standards for rock films in a lightning stroke, capturing (and inextricably linking) The Beatles’ cheery rebellion and irreverent anti-establishment humour with cinéma vérité realism. Shot by Dick Lester in time with the music, the group’s brilliant original songs were mixed into Goonish comedy with natural ease, instead of being sidelines to B-movie plots. For the first time, major pop stars were shown (more or less) as they were, and we loved them all the more for it. Richie Unterberger

Now watch: Help! (Richard Lester, 1965)

9. The T.A.M.I. Show   (Steve Binder, 1964)

9.
The T.A.M.I. Show
(Steve Binder, 1964)


Director Binder invented the modern rock concert film here, using new-fangled hand-held cameras – and a precursor to High-Definition video – to create, almost extemporaneously, necessary techniques for every concert film that followed. It also presented, at a time of great racial unrest, a dynamic mix of British Invasion, Motown, surf, garage, ’50s rock, and R&B greats, and James Brown delivering possibly the greatest filmed live performance ever. Phil Spector replicated the entire model two years later with The Big T.N.T. Show. Bill Holdship

Now watch: The Last Waltz (Martin Scorsese, 1978)

10. Scorpio Rising   (Kenneth Anger, 1964)

10.
Scorpio Rising
(Kenneth Anger, 1964)


Chromed, customised motorcycles are the raison d’être of biker Scorpio and his true-to-life Technicolor gang of greaser dandies, whose posturing and partying are masterfully cut with images both iconic and iconoclastic (Marlon Brando, Bela Lugosi, comic books, cigarettes, skulls, saints and Jesus Christ) over an uninterrupted half-hour loop of 1963 pop hits from Elvis Presley’s (You’re The) Devil In Disguise to Bobby Vinton’s Blue Velvet. David Lynch was watching, as was a young Scorsese and future generations of MTV auteurs. Mike Hurtt

Now watch: Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973)

11. Catch Us If You Can  (John Boorman, 1965)

11.
Catch Us If You Can
(John Boorman, 1965)


A month after the blue-sky joy of The Beatles’ Help!, this monochrome Dave Clark Five flick clouded the skies. Clark plays TV stuntman Steve, who exits a Meat Marketing Board ad campaign, steals an E-Type and escapes the city with the campaign’s star (Barbara Ferris). Pursued by ad-agency sharks, the couple encounter junkie beatniks, jaded swingers, crushed dreams. Downbeat, existential with incidental music from Basil Kirchin, for the US market it was retitled Having A Wild Weekend. Kieron Tyler

Now watch: Ferry Cross The Mersey (Jeremy Summers, 1965)

12. Blow-Up  (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)

12.
Blow-Up
(Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)


To encapsulate his vision of Swinging London, Antonioni wanted just the right music. The Velvet Underground proved a no go. Tomorrow and The Who were elbowed. In the end, the Page-Beck model Yardbirds crunched on-stage in a chilly recreation of Windsor’s hot Ricky Tick club. For its star, David Hemmings, it “defined a media idea of the time”, yet the with-it dialogue and fashions soon dated, leaving behind a knowing existential chill. Kieron Tyler

Now watch: Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (William Klein, 1966)

13. Charlie Is My Darling  (Peter Whitehead, Andrew Loog Oldham, 1966)

13.
Charlie Is My Darling
(Peter Whitehead, Andrew Loog Oldham, 1966)


Three months before shooting The Rolling Stones’ 1965 tour of Ireland, Peter Whitehead captured a strange union of stillness and chaos in Beat poet documentary, Wholly Communion. His cameras capture a similar magnetic tension here: on-stage they’re battered by the band’s pugilistic R&B, while in the inner sanctum of the group’s hotel rooms they bring relative serenity, moving past Jagger and Richards’ Beatles mockery to focus on Brian Jones’s mannered outsider status. The future is already written. Ross Bennett

Now watch: Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London (Peter Whitehead, 1967)

14. Travelling For A Living  (Derrick Knight, 1966)

14.
Travelling For A Living
(Derrick Knight, 1966)


As the title indicates, Knight’s vérité chronicle of life on the road with folk family The Watersons bypasses sentimentality, zoning instead on the tedium that came as standard even for a successful folk group. “We’re never sure where we’re going to stay,” explains Norma Waterson, over footage of a pub audience, semi-obscured by a fug of tobacco smoke, “…so we carry a mattress and blankets in the van.” Knight cleverly refrains from saturating Travelling For A Living with The Watersons’ music, thus compounding the power of the group’s blood harmonies on performances of Hal-An-Tow and North Country Maid. Pete Paphides

Now watch: Folksangere (Danish TV, 1967)

15. Dont Look Back  (D.A. Pennebaker, 1967)

15.
Dont Look Back
(D.A. Pennebaker, 1967)


D.A. Pennebaker's masterly account of Dylan's 1965 UK tour remains the benchmark by which all other rock docs should be measured. Where to start? The Subterranean Homesick Blues promo, Dylan's merciless discombobulation of Chris 'The Scientist' Ellis, the Tito Burns/ Albert Grossman tête-à-tête, Joan Baez hitting a high note, Bob meeting new rival Donovan ("Hey man, that's a good song!"). Throughout, Dylan is confrontational and cool, charismatic and supercharged. Beautifully shot by Pennebaker on his 16mm shoulder-mounted camera, it is the ultimate portrait of an artist transforming before our eyes and marks the revolutionary birth of the feature-length rock doc. Ross Bennett

Now watch: Eat The Document (Bob Dylan, 1972)

16. Anna  (Pierre Koralnik, 1967)

16.
Anna
(Pierre Koralnik, 1967)


Written (in 192 hours straight) and scored by Serge Gainsbourg, this musical exploded into French homes as colour television debuted. Beyond the casting of Jean-Luc Godard muse Anna Karina – her ‘Roller Girl’ out-drawling Jagger in orange shirt, thigh-high striped socks and crash helmet – the film was a comic-book mash-up of other JLG tropes: primary colours, guerrilla camera work and Legrand-style musical cues shattering the “realism” of Paris locations. “French rock before French rock existed,” said Gainsbourg. David Hutcheon

Now watch: Une Femme Est Une Femme (Jean-Luc Godard, 1961)

17. Monterey Pop  (D.A. Pennebaker, 1968)

17.
Monterey Pop
(D.A. Pennebaker, 1968)


Over three days in June at the County Fairgrounds south of San Francisco, Dylan-honed documentarian Pennebaker filmed the tipping point as rock music flexed its artistic and cultural muscles. Jimi Hendrix closed the festival – the guitarist memorably setting his Fender Strat ablaze at the end of Wild Thing – while The Who’s thundering My Generation was just as seismic. However, Monterey’s most unexpected beneficiary was Otis Redding. “I don’t even remember who we followed,” recalls trumpeter Wayne Jackson. “It didn’t matter. When Otis went on stage it was all over.” Bathed in lens flare, Redding dubbed the Monterey audience “The Love Crowd”, but he was dead by the end of the year. The hippy dream would not last a whole lot longer. Geoff Brown

Now watch: Soul To Soul (Denis Sanders, 1971)

18. Yellow Submarine  (George Dunning, 1968)

18.
Yellow Submarine
(George Dunning, 1968)


Like Walt Disney’s Fantasia, this phantasmagoric animation said that music lets your mind run wild, no LSD (necessarily) required, just loosen your moorings, you’ll see. Low-budget and pre-pixel, Dunning’s team dazzled all-action and non-stop, busking with pens, pix, postcards, to visually hymn the triumph of the surreal-one-liner, cut-out Beatles and their tunes over those marvellously malevolent, music-hating Blue Meanies. Only last year, The Simpsons’ writer Josh Weinstein averred that Yellow Submarine “gave birth to modern animation itself”. Phil Sutcliffe

Now watch: La Planète Sauvage (René Laloux, 1973)

19. All My Loving  (Tony Palmer, 1968)

19.
All My Loving
(Tony Palmer, 1968)


It was John Lennon who vibed the BBC trainee Tony Palmer to counterbalance the corporation’s blanket low-brow portrayal of pop with a film that revealed the music’s genuine revolutionary potential. On the strength of enviable access to the Fabs, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Pink Floyd and others, Palmer was able to fashion a 50-minute documentary so visually violent (The Who’s set-trashing is simply terrifying), it caused outrage. Influenced by Godard, hard-hittingly intercut with newsreel, it opened the door and pointed the way for every subsequent rock documentary of substance. Andrew Perry

Now watch: All You Need Is Love (Tony Palmer, 1977)

20. Head  (Bob Rafelson, 1968)

20.
Head
(Bob Rafelson, 1968)


Rafelson denies he wanted to bury The Monkees, the band his TV show had created, but that’s what this psychedelic brain-twister did. The ‘plot’, crafted by an LSD-inspired Jack Nicholson, defies summary but the set-pieces are indelible, the direction is fun, the soundtrack the essence of ’68. Davy Jones later wished they’d made a Ghostbusters instead. Dorian Lynskey

Now watch: Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969)

21. Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969)

21.
Easy Rider
(Dennis Hopper, 1969)


Hopper took a dying genre – Roger Corman’s made-for-hubnuts biker quickies – and fashioned a counter-cultural milestone around a doomed Harley-ride to New Orleans by two spaced-out hippies and a lawyer lush. Laszlo Kovaks’ transgressive camera-work, an emotionally simpatico soundtrack (The Byrds, Steppenwolf, etc.) and Jack Nicholson’s Oscar-nominated performance made Columbia $74 million and set out the stylistic check-list for the next 10 years of countercultural, music-led cinema. Fred Dellar

Now watch: Harold And Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971)

22. The Blues According To Lightnin’ Hopkins (Les Blank, 1969)

22.
The Blues According To Lightnin’ Hopkins
(Les Blank, 1969)


Few films have captured the reality of country blues like Blank’s 31-minute short, shot in 1967 in and around the home of the 55-year-old singer and guitarist. An unadorned, narrative-free portrait of a gold-toothed Hopkins, hooch-swilling, fishing, telling jokes, holding forth on the meaning of the blues or just playing and singing with friends, it’s a depiction of everyday life in rural Texas which emerges as both raw and poetic. Phil Alexander

Now watch: You See Me Laughin’? (Mandy Stein, 2004)

23. Elvis: That’s the Way It Is (Denis Sanders, 1970/2000)

23.
Elvis: That’s the Way It Is
(Denis Sanders, 1970/2000)


Compiled from six of The King’s August 1970 Vegas shows, this doc had some of its popular reception stolen by Woodstock and Let It Be, but it was no less an innovation in its uncritical, un-narrated multiscreen look at a music superstar in the middle of a monumental comeback. The 2000 recut – which has more show and rehearsal footage and no vox-pop fan segments – is the gem, ’70s Elvis peaking before the rot set in. Bill Holdship

Now watch: Michael Jackson’s This Is It (Kenny Ortega, 2009)

24. Let It Be (Michael Lindsay-Hogg, 1970)

24.
Let It Be
(Michael Lindsay-Hogg, 1970)


The TV documentary/concert Macca envisioned devolved instead into a depressing fly-on-the-wall ogle at the Fabs’ dissolution. Lindsay-Hogg deliberately placed cameras where the band wouldn’t notice them, giving us the first rockumentary to capture, without commentary, the end of a musical dream, vision and era. But even amid the interpersonal strife, magic moments still abound, most notably the much-imitated rooftop concert finale. Bill Holdship

Now watch: I Am Trying To Break Your Heart (Sam Jones, 2002)

25. Gimme Shelter (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin, 1970)

25.
Gimme Shelter
(Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin, 1970)


Death, confusion and horror dominate the Maysles brothers’ document of The Rolling Stones’ free concert at Altamont Speedway in December 1969. There was authorial construction in the chaos, as the remarkable editing suite sequences reveal. Yet as Charlie Watts and Mick Jagger revisit that day on screen, we see guilt, bewilderment and total helplessness wash across their faces: the biggest band in the world at their most vulnerable and alone. Ross Bennett

Now watch: Monterey Pop (D.A. Pennebaker, 1968)

26. Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, 1970)

26.
Woodstock
(Michael Wadleigh, 1970)


Edited from 120 miles of film footage (by Martin Scorsese, among others), the three hours of Woodstock stand as a quintessential document of the age. Taking artistic liberties with the order of events, Wadleigh’s film brought narrative to the genre of the concert film, unfolding the story through live performances, backstage footage and crowd vignettes. An overwhelming box-office success, Woodstock proved that a significant market for such movies existed, and opened the floodgates for major studio backing of music concert documentaries. Sonny Baker

Now watch: Message To Love: The Isle Of Wight Festival (Murray Lerner, 1997)

27. Performance  (Donald Cammell, Nicolas Roeg, 1970)

27.
Performance
(Donald Cammell, Nicolas Roeg, 1970)


Hazily filmed in boho west London, Performance’s erotically ambiguous, Borgesian screenplay elicited a suitably eclectic soundtrack, helmed by LA sessioner Jack Nitzsche, and featuring Randy Newman, Ry Cooder and the film’s star, Mick Jagger. This perfumed rag-bag of driving blues, Eastern exotica, creepy easy listening and woozy psych-folk presented a shattered mirror to the film’s multiple-identity leitmotif, all coalescing to hallucinatory effect as Jagger oscillates between the movie’s twin narratives during the astonishing Memo From Turner sequence. David Sheppard

Now watch: The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973)

28. Mad Dogs & Englishmen  (Pierre Adidge, 1971)

28.
Mad Dogs & Englishmen
(Pierre Adidge, 1971)


A loud, brassy visual record of the 1970 Joe Cocker tour of the same name. Leon Russell organised the big band/choir from the Delaney & Bonnie axis of “Okies and limeys” and based on the R&B revues of the ’50s. Cocker and pals create a sweaty, secular church revival and 11 cameras capture the fire from angles that multiply. It’s a slice from a less steroidal era, refreshingly unslick; a communal era of rock stars, street freaks, dope, prayer circles and rampant bralessness, definitively documented. Michael Simmons

Now watch: The Last Waltz (Martin Scorsese, 1978)

29. Two-Lane Blacktop  (Monte Hellman, 1971)

29.
Two-Lane Blacktop
(Monte Hellman, 1971)


Rudy Wurlitzer’s taciturn take on the American road movie gets a ghostly Bressonian treatment from Hellman. A near-mute Dennis Wilson and James Taylor play The Driver and The Mechanic racing their 1955 Chevy cross-country against Warren Oates’ G.T.O. Wilson and Taylor epitomise the inert junkie cool of post-Woodstock young America. Andrew Male

Now watch: Vanishing Point (Richard C. Sarafian, 1971)

30. The Last Picture Show  (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971)

30.
The Last Picture Show
(Peter Bogdanovich, 1971)


By 1951 the only life left in Anarene, Texas seeps from radio, jukebox or record players. Music haunts the film; the spectre of Hank Williams briefly yields to Jo Stafford, Tony Bennett, etc. Source music is used to graphic effect to become a potent tool. Mike Hurtt

Now watch: Who’s That Knocking At My Door (Martin Scorsese, 1967)

31. Eat The Document  (Bob Dylan, 1972)

31.
Eat The Document
(Bob Dylan, 1972)


Shot during Dylan’s 1966 European tour, Eat The Document is the lysergic, full-colour companion to Don’t Look Back. Once again, D.A. Pennebaker and his freewheeling cameras capture an electrifying Dylan (then just 25) and The Band heading into the unknown while reinventing rock’n’roll in the face of rabid fans and angry folk purists. The man at the centre of it all is angry, wired and on the verge of collapse, while John Lennon and Johnny Cash enjoy tastes of Dylan the surreal raconteur and Dylan the musician in equally potent doses. It still remains officially unreleased, but thanks to the endless cycle of YouTube uploads, you can watch a snippet from the film above. Ross Bennett

Now watch: Don't Look Back (D.A. Pennebaker, 1967)

32. Super Fly (Gordon Parks Jr, 1972)

32.
Super Fly
(Gordon Parks Jr, 1972)


Pulpy, poorly acted, Blaxploitation films had a bad rap. Gordon Parks Jr reversed the tide. Not through casting Ron O’Neal as Super Fly’s desperate drug-dealing lead or shooting guerrilla-style in New York – though both were a step up – but by engaging Curtis Mayfield on soundtrack duties. The former Impression fully explored the pusher’s plight via a vivid tapestry of subtle, socially-aware lyrics and brilliantly sparkling funk. It elevated the humble soundtrack to a narrative art form. Andy Cowan

Now watch: Space Is The Place (John Coney, 1974)

33. The Harder They Come(Perry Henzell, 1972)

33.
The Harder They Come
(Perry Henzell, 1972)


This A-1 assemblage of Jamaican music was crucial in the popularisation of reggae worldwide, while Jimmy Cliff’s ska-sploitation portrayal of failed-recording-artist-turned-outlaw, Ivanhoe Martin, provided the shanty-town gangster imagery that would subsequently accompany/dog the music. Desmond Dekker’s 007, The Melodians’ Rivers Of Babylon, the Maytals’ Pressure Drop, plus Cliff’s Many Rivers To Cross and You Can Get It If You Really Want may never have been heard outside Jamaica but for this soundtrack. Mike Hurtt

Now watch: Rockers (Ted Bafaloukos, 1978)

34. Permissive(Lindsay Shonteff, 1972)

34.
Permissive
(Lindsay Shonteff, 1972)


The groupie phenomenon captured with stark realism on this bleakly evocative exploiter, in which teen runaway Suzy (Maggie Stride) falls in with drab progressive rock no-hopers Forever More and sleeps her way around Britain’s least glamorous nightspots. Comus and Titus Groan also star and nobody has any fun whatsoever. In one scene, a hippy asks Suzy what she wants in life. “Something to eat,” she replies, neatly summing up the death of the ’60s dream. Will Hodgkinson

Now watch: Catch Us If You Can (John Boorman, 1965)

35. Cocksucker Blues(Robert Frank and Daniel Seymour, 1972)

35.
Cocksucker Blues
(Robert Frank and Daniel Seymour, 1972)


After designing the Exile On Main St. sleeve, Swiss-born photographer/film-maker Robert Frank was asked to direct a suitably dissolute rock doc, chronicling the Stones’ 1972 US tour. Shot backstage, in airplanes and hotel rooms – the grey slide areas of on-the-road life – Cocksucker Blues was shelved soon afterwards, its much-rumoured depictions of sex and drug use accruing a mythic power. Once seen, another narrative emerges: the surreal boredom that fills out the time between each transformative live performance. Andrew Male

Now watch: Mad Dogs & Englishmen (Pierre Adidge, 1971)

36. Wattstax: The Living Word(Mel Stuart, 1973)

36.
Wattstax: The Living Word
(Mel Stuart, 1973)


August 20, 1972. In an all-day celebration of black pride and healing, seven years after the Watts riots in Los Angeles, just about the entire roster of Memphis label Stax was booked to play at the LA Coliseum. Over 100,000 punters (entrance $1) watched Isaac Hayes and The Staple Singers. However, the concert over-ran badly and many stars got no stage time, so Mel Stuart added street scenes, club sequences (Johnnie Taylor), church performances (The Emotions), and Richard Pryor monologues: the concert movie as remix, no less. Geoff Brown

Now watch: Soul To Soul (Denis Sanders, 1971)

37. The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973)

37.
The Wicker Man
(Robin Hardy, 1973)


A perfect Paganist fusion of soundtrack and subject matter: enduringly creepy British horror, and ultimate country dream escape for acid folk musicians (that being outdoor sex, high-necked knitwear, recognition of the hare as the ultimate mystical creature, and some great tunes, courtesy of the mysterious Paul Giovanni and Magnet). When people talk about the ‘folk horror’ genre in 1970s Britain, what they’re talking about is The Wicker Man and some other films they wish were as good. Tom Cox

Now watch: The Guga Hunters Of Ness (Mike Day, 2011)

38. American Graffiti (Robin Hardy, 1973)

38.
American Graffiti
(Robin Hardy, 1973)


Bringing rock’n’roll nostalgia into mainstream cinema, George Lucas’s paean to his teenage years captures a perfect moment: the summer of ’62, school’s out (for ever), the hardest thing in life is getting past second base and only the audience are aware how much the American Dream would be tested the following year. By using an all-night Wolfman Jack radio show as ambience, Lucas reimagined the soundtrack album, fashioning a collection of existing hits into a solid-gold marketing opportunity. David Hutcheon

Now watch: Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992)

39. That’ll Be the Day (Claude Whatham, 1973)

39.
That’ll Be the Day
(Claude Whatham, 1973)


The gap between American rock’n’roll excitement and provincial life in ’50s Britain drives this story of would-be rocker Jim MacLaine (David Essex) drifting through dead-end jobs (including a memorable stint on the dodgems with Ringo Starr’s jack-the-lad teddy boy). Even-more downbeat sequel Stardust caught up with MacLaine post-fame, but it’s TBTD’s authentic evocation of working-class dreams, plus a soundtrack that helped kick-start the ’50s revival of the mid-1970s, which earns its place. Will Hodgkinson

Now watch: Quadrophenia (Franc Roddam, 1979)

40. Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973)

40.
Mean Streets
(Martin Scorsese, 1973)


The Ronettes open Scorsese’s first classic with Be My Baby, Spector’s epic symphonic production, to set out the love, revenge and murder about to unfold (Phil almost sued Marty). Instead of an original score, the director employed ’50s and early ’60s rock‘n’roll (Johnny Ace, The Miracles), rock du jour (the Stones, Derek And The Dominos), Neapolitan pop (Jimmy Roselli), salsa (Ray Barretto), and of course opera (Giuseppe Di Stefano) as the film’s insightful Greek chorus. Michael Simmons

Now watch: The Big Chill (Lawrence Kasdan, 1983)

41. Space Is The Place  (John Coney, 1974)

41.
Space Is The Place
(John Coney, 1974)


Freshly dismissed from a University of California lectureship and on the outs with the Black Panthers, galactic jazztronaut Sun Ra made this lushly tinted, time-trammelled sci-fi feature for which “sui generis” is far too generic. See Ra play cards with The Overseer for the fate of black people. See Ra lead priceless performances by his Solar Arkestra. See Ra visit an Oakland job centre, where a bum asks him, “Hey, wha’happenin’?” Ra’s profound response: “Everything is happening.” Amen. Peter Relic

Now watch: Star Wars – the Mos Eisley Cantina scene (George Lucas, 1977)

42. Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)

42.
Nashville
(Robert Altman, 1975)


Altman’s masterpiece translated screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury’s observational diary of her rhinestone-era Nashville sojourn into a seething turmoil of overlapping stories about a throng of characters sullied and humiliated on their pilgrimages to fame’s altar – accompanied by 29 original soundtrack songs mostly written and sung by the actors. A political and pop-presaging assassination plot focused all this relentless energy and emotion. Sour-funny tragi-comedy so good it makes high art feel just like life. Phil Sutcliffe

Now watch: Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997)

43. Cracked Actor  (Alan Yentob, 1975)

43.
Cracked Actor
(Alan Yentob, 1975)


On the weird road between Diamond Dogs and Young Americans, Bowie was poised for a US breakthrough, but in other ways, everything was falling apart, with a baroque tour presentation and manic cocaine use driving The Dame to distraction. Future Beeb-heavyweight Yentob gets it all in a rock doc that mines themes of identity, alienation and fan-love, with indelible back-of-the-limo scenes that convinced Nic Roeg to cast pallid insect Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth. Bowie said later: “When I see that now I cannot believe I survived it.” Clive Prior

Now watch: The Man Who Fell To Earth (Nicolas Roeg, 1976)

44. Slade In Flame  (Richard Loncraine, 1975)

44.
Slade In Flame
(Richard Loncraine, 1975)


A Hard Day’s Night, by way of Ken Loach, Loncraine’s account of a working-class rock band’s hard track to fame was researched on the road with Slade in the US. As a result, band scenes possess an authentic melancholy humour, concert footage is second to none, and supporting roles were perfectly cast with Alan Lake as Flame’s dilapidated ex-singer, Performance’s Johnny Shannon as their brute manager, and a young Tom Conti chilling as the Mephistophelean product manager. Andrew Male

Now watch: Now watch: Performance (Donald Cammell, Nicolas Roeg, 1970)

45. Bound For Glory  (Hal Ashby, 1976)

45.
Bound For Glory
(Hal Ashby, 1976)


Ashby’s Woody Guthrie film might well be the only music biopic in which the mood and temperament of its subject is echoed in the rhythm and structure of the film itself. Drifting, episodic, ambiguous and understated, Bound For Glory is also an exceptionally strong contender as the most beautiful music biopic ever made, Haskell Wexler’s cinematography bringing a sun-faded, careworn beauty to the small towns, diners, fruit fields, main streets, back roads and railway yards of the singer’s journey. Andrew Male

Now watch: Now watch: Coming Home (Hal Ashby, 1978)

46. Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977)

46.
Eraserhead
(David Lynch, 1977)


Eraserhead’s sound design revolutionised cinema. Whether it was the lashing wind and rain, droning household appliances or insistent infant mewling, the constant low-level dissonance thrust viewers deep into Lynch’s visceral nightmare. None of this was accidental. Lynch and Alan Splet spent a year fashioning and tweaking sound effects with whatever analogue technology they could muster, generating a soundtrack of such primitive, jarring impact that it redefined the form for all musicians and film-makers following in its wake. Andy Cowan

Now watch: Natural Born Killers (Oliver Stone, 1994)

47. Saturday Night Fever (John Badham, 1977)

47.
Saturday Night Fever
(John Badham, 1977)


Based on a magazine article by British journalist Nik Cohn and directed by another Brit, this NYC-centric picaresque simultaneously kick-started John Travolta’s career and pushed the disco phenomenon into debilitating overdrive. As much post-Mean Streets as pre-Grease, this gritty update of the coming-of-age musical presents music as true escapism, from work, surroundings but also, in the character of Travolta’s Tony Manero, our own inadequacies as human beings. Jonny Trunk

Now watch: Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)

48. The Last Waltz (Martin Scorsese, 1978)

48.
The Last Waltz
(Martin Scorsese, 1978)


Look at all concert films before Scorsese’s documentary of The Band’s farewell concert and they seem distant, uninvolving, blurry. Here we’re up close and personal: a group of musicians’ musicians at their peak in terms of live ability, looks (Rick Danko’s hair is almost a worthwhile performer in itself), and wild on-the-road stories (watching a fight while playing at Jack Ruby’s club). All you could want, from any band. Tom Cox

Now watch: Festival Express (Bob Smeaton, Frank Cvitanovich, 2003)

49. All You Need Is Cash  (Eric Idle, Gary Weis, 1978)

49.
All You Need Is Cash
(Eric Idle, Gary Weis, 1978)


Produced at a time when the music world still hoped for an actual Beatles reunion, Eric Idle’s TV Fabs spoof was loved by Lennon but reportedly got under McCartney’s skin. Thirty-five years on, this tale of the ‘Pre-Fab Four’ – Ron, Dirk, Stig and Barry – retains a lasting emotional power and cultural influence thanks to the yin-yang John/Paul mix of Idle’s acidic wit and Neil Innes’s lovingly detailed musical pastiches. David Buckley

Now watch: This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984)

50. Rock’n’Roll High School  (Alan Arkush, 1979)

50.
Rock’n’Roll High School
(Alan Arkush, 1979)


Malcolm McLaren originally wanted the Sex Pistols’ cinematic debut to be an absurdist teen-rebel B-movie pastiche but, in the end, The Ramones trumped him with this Roger Corman production, co-written by future Gremlins director Joe Dante. A joyous, knowing re-purposing of high-school exploitation cinema tropes for a cool modern audience, it went largely ignored but anticipated the ’80s high-school movie boom just around the corner. Andrew Perry

Now watch: Fast Times At Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling, 1982)

51. The Kids Are Alright (Jeff Stein, 1979)

51.
The Kids Are Alright
(Jeff Stein, 1979)


Impressionistic, non-linear, this celluloid scrap-book of new and archival Who footage (setting off bombs on The Smothers’ Brothers show, blowing The Rolling Stones off-stage on their then-unreleased Rock’n’Roll Circus) and comedic vignettes (Keith Moon interviewed during an S&M session, John Entwistle shotgunning Gold Discs like clay pigeons, a pin-eyed Pete Townshend babbling about “Power and volume…”) somehow perfectly defines the “quadrophrenic” nature of the band and its late drummer in a way that subsequent documents failed to do. Stevie Chick

Now watch: 25x5: The Continuing Adventures Of The Rolling Stones (Nigel Finch, 1990)

52. Radio On (Christopher Petit, 1979)

52.
Radio On
(Christopher Petit, 1979)


Britain’s first (and only) post-punk road movie follows a brooding radio DJ along the M4 to investigate his brother’s suicide. Shot in glum monochrome beneath Joy Division skies, it shows a Britain sunk deep in late ’70s despond, all crumbling cities and wintry fields, perceived through a scrim of Bowie-meets-Ballard alienation. Sound and vision are far more evocative than dialogue or character: Robert’s long, grey drive to Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity could easily be the world’s least glamorous music video. Dorian Lynskey

Now watch: Control (Anton Corbijn, 2007)

53. Quadrophenia (Franc Roddam, 1979)

53.
Quadrophenia
(Franc Roddam, 1979)


As a 1973 double album that tells the tale of Jimmy, a confused Mod battling multiple identities, Quadrophenia brought an added psychological depth and melancholy to The Who’s music. On screen – with added songs like Four Faces and Get Out And Stay Out, a script that followed Townshend’s lyrics to the most minute detail and Phil Daniels’ perfectly wired portrayal of Jimmy – the emotional authenticity became palpable. Mike Hurtt

Now watch: Saturday Night Fever (John Badham, 1977)

54. D.O.A. (Lech Kowalski, 1980)

54.
D.O.A.
(Lech Kowalski, 1980)


You can almost taste the period grot in Kowalski’s fragmented, narration-less punk doc, mostly shot in London in 1978 (X-Ray Spex, Sham 69, neophyte punk wallies Terry & The Idiots), but structured around his extraordinary 16mm film of the Sex Pistols’ car-crash tour of America’s Deep South. Iconic scenes of nihilism endure – Sid Vicious blitzing a fan’s head with his bass; Sid’n’Nancy smacked out at the Chelsea Hotel – the DIY form only serving to amplify fag-end punk’s filth and grotesquery. Pat Gilbert

Now watch: The Punk Rock Movie (Don Letts, 1978)

55. The Blues Brothers (John Landis, 1980)

55.
The Blues Brothers
(John Landis, 1980)


The spectacle of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s Saturday Night Live revivalist R&B revue mutating into a $30-million coke-and-booze-fuelled soul party would be rock’n’roll nirvana on its own, even without contributions from a supporting cast of James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway and John Lee Hooker. The end result turned teenage, post-punk audiences on to soul and blues, while becoming the feel-good hit of the summer of 1980. Phil Alexander

Now watch: American Graffiti (George Lucas, 1973)

56. Babylon  (Franco Rosso, 1980)

56.
Babylon
(Franco Rosso, 1980)


Filmed on location in Brixton, and centred on aspiring toaster Blue (played by former Double Deckers child star and Aswad singer-guitarist Brinsley Forde), Babylon was more than a reggae movie. Synonymous with the Ghost Town The Specials sang of, it was a Polaroid of urban alienation that spoke to the marginalised at the dawn of a new decade. “It was great to have a script that was real,” Forde told MOJO. “Babylon is accurate. How does this little sound system go against Jah Shaka? You get the sound system in its natural form. You get the reality.” Kieron Tyler

Now watch: Reggae In A Babylon (Wolfgang Büld, 1979)

57. The Great Rock’N’Roll Swindle (Julien Temple, 1980)

57.
The Great Rock’N’Roll Swindle
(Julien Temple, 1980)


Released two years after the Sex Pistols’ wretched demise, this smash-and-grab cod-documentary was designed to simultaneously explode and add to their myth. But beyond the questionable machinations of manager Malcolm McLaren – the Situationist Larry Parnes whose purportedly invented scam-band would, he gasps through a rubber mask, bring in “close on a million pounds!” – its oppositional mix of raw footage and elaborate invention illustrates punk’s protean creative promise in ways that continue to stimulate. Ian Harrison

Now watch: Jubilee (Derek Jarman, 1978)

58. One From The Heart (Francis Ford Coppola, 1982)

58.
One From The Heart
(Francis Ford Coppola, 1982)


Coppola’s underperforming fiction romance, set in a budget-busting artificial Vegas assembled on the Zoetrope studio lot, plays like a humungous MTV folly to the stylised spirit of make-believe. But it nevertheless had a soul, mostly thanks to Tom Waits’s verdant soundtrack, which reworked sentimental cliché in the same manner as Coppola’s neon-soaked drama. Co-singer Crystal Gayle, adding notes of dreamy allure, joined Waits on the cusp between country, cabaret and barfly blues, their wordplay perfectly matching the screenplay’s endearingly sentimental conflicts. Martin Aston

Now watch: Moulin Rouge (Baz Luhrmann, 2001)

59. Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982)

59.
Koyaanisqatsi
(Godfrey Reggio, 1982)


Subtitled ‘Life Out Of Balance’, the first film of Reggio’s Qatsi trilogy presented an ambiguous rumination on man’s relationship with nature and technology. Pairing Philip Glass’s epic, mournful neo-classical score with cinematographer Ron Fricke’s 16mm time-lapses of desert plains, factory belts and human traffic, the surprising mainstream success of Koyaanisqatsi meant this once radical audio/visual aesthetic would come to be standard – almost cliché – directorial shorthand for conveying a sense of the profound. Sonny Baker

Now watch: Baraka (Ron Fricke, 1992)

60. Music Is The Weapon (Stéphane Tchalgadjieff & Jean Jacques Flori, 1982)

60.
Music Is The Weapon
(Stéphane Tchalgadjieff & Jean Jacques Flori, 1982)


Sitting in a battered green armchair, wearing only his pants and covered in scars, Fela Kuti is a charismatic pontificator, laying into hypocrisy, corruption and the Nigerian government; on-stage at his nightclub, surrounded by his band and “queens”, he becomes a conduit for what he saw as higher sources. This is a undeniably partisan profile, but it remains a unique portrait of struggle filmed from behind the barricades. In its wake, musicians realised that film, too, could be a weapon. David Hutcheon

Now watch: Bob Marley – Time Will Tell (Declan Lowney, 1992)

61. Pink Floyd – The Wall (Alan Parker, 1982)

61.
Pink Floyd – The Wall
(Alan Parker, 1982)


After Bugsy Malone and Fame, The Wall was Parker’s difficult third musical, and Bob Geldof’s first, as burnt-out rock star Pink. Parker wisely eschewed dialogue for senses-battering set pieces and Gerald Scarfe’s Grand Guignol animation, using Floyd’s original music to steer between introspective anxiety and action nightmare. Purposefully bombastic, the war scenes remain authentically haunting, while there’s still no better visualisation of archetypal rock star agony. Many a music video followed in its expressionistic wake. Martin Aston

Now watch: Infected: The Movie (Peter Christopherson, Tim Pope, Alastair McIlwain, Mark Romanek, 1986)

62. Wild Style (Charlie Ahearn, 1983)

62.
Wild Style
(Charlie Ahearn, 1983)


While not technically a documentary – the flimsy plot involves graffiti writer Zoro (Lee Quinones) trying to win back his girlfriend – Wild Style is the finest chronicle of hip-hop’s formative days. Scenes such as Grandmaster Flash’s DJ practice in his kitchen or the Cold Crush Brothers and the Fantastic Freaks trading rhymes on a basketball court capture the birth of a culture, and later provided samples for everyone from Beastie Boys to Beck. Alan Light

Now watch: Beastie Boys’ Video Anthology (Various directors, Criterion, 2000)

63. Stop Making Sense  (Jonathan Demme, 1984)

63.
Stop Making Sense
(Jonathan Demme, 1984)


For this spontaneous offshoot of Talking Heads’ Speaking In Tongues tour – a tightly rehearsed show with a powerful and original narrative arc – director Demme made a purist pitch: no special effects, no fast edits, no coloured lights, muted applause and no audience shots until the very end. “We wanted the viewer to feel in the audience instead of watching other people have a good time,” explained Talking Heads bassist Tina Weymouth. Instead it’s a movie made riveting by the pure, kinetic joy of the performance. “That tour was kind of like church,” drummer Chris Frantz told MOJO. “A transporting experience for everyone.” The concert documentary as performance art. Dorian Lynskey

Now watch: Shut Up And Play The Hits (Will Lovelace & Dylan Southern, 2012)

64. This Is Spinal Tap  (Rob Reiner, 1984)

64.
This Is Spinal Tap
(Rob Reiner, 1984)


“These go to 11...”; “There’s a fine line between stupid and clever”; “Stonehenge!” The finest moments of this, if you will, mockumentary have simply become part of rock’n’roll’s common vocabulary. David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel, and Derek Smalls were the note-perfect embodiment of the pomposity, cliché and naivety that characterised so many veteran rock bands by the 1980s. U2’s The Edge later said that the first time he saw this lovingly brutal spoof, “I didn’t laugh, I wept. It was so close to the truth.” Alan Light

Now watch: CB4 (Tamra Davis, 1993)

65. Purple Rain  (Rob Reiner, 1984)

65.
Purple Rain
(Rob Reiner, 1984)


Purple Rain was possibly the greatest example of Prince’s own myth-making at play. The opening scene – a montage of Let’s Go Crazy being performed for Minneapolis club First Avenue’s multi-racial, ambisexual crowd – echoed the artist’s own transformation from funk wunderkind to gender-bending scion of rock, pop and soul. The whole film was touched with a (hyper)real-life veracity and an attention to detail (everyone in a Renaissance ruffle or Zoot suit) that broke the fourth wall between idol and audience. Priya Elan

Now watch: 8 Mile (Curtis Hanson, 2002)

66. Another State Of Mind  (Adam Small & Peter Stuart, 1984)

66.
Another State Of Mind
(Adam Small & Peter Stuart, 1984)


It was tough being a punk in America in the early ’80s – a point borne out by this lo-fi film that chronicles the exploits of Social Distortion and Youth Brigade as they attempt to tour the US for the first time in a dilapidated school bus. An unholy collision of angst, testosterone, contradiction (is Dischord/Minor Threat man Ian MacKaye really working in a Häagen-Dazs shop?) and unwitting humour (Mike Ness’s hair and mascara tips, anyone?), Another State Of Mind nevertheless provides a poignant document of the US DIY scene before it had been codified. Priya Elan

Now watch: Repo Man (Alex Cox, 1984)

67. Heavy Metal Parking Lot  (Jeff Krulik & John Heyn, 1986)

67.
Heavy Metal Parking Lot
(Jeff Krulik & John Heyn, 1986)


On May 31, 1986, two friends borrowed a camera from a public access TV station to record the car park ‘tailgating’ party before Judas Priest’s appearance at Washington DC’s Capital Centre. The lo-fi nature of the film, coupled with the exhilarated beer-fuelled hollering and flyblown acid prophesising of its metal fan subjects, resulted in a surprisingly poignant depiction of (then) outsider culture. VHS bootlegs of the 16-minute movie became the stuff of legend, finding fans in Nirvana and Sofia Coppola. Sonny Baker

Now watch: Repo Man (Alex Cox, 1984)

68. Round Midnight (Bertrand Tavernier, 1986)

68.
Round Midnight
(Bertrand Tavernier, 1986)


Tavernier abruptly halted jazz’s poor run at the box office with this must-see portrait of a down-at-heels tenor sax player in 1950s Paris. His masterstroke was casting Dexter Gordon in the lead role – a man whose exhausted gait tells of a life lived on the road, his every cracked whisper rattling with pure jazz static – backed by a Herbie Hancock-led ensemble delivering real live chops. The undeniably emotive score bagged an Oscar, but it’s Gordon’s heart-rending portrait that seals the deal. Andy Cowan

Now watch: Bird (Clint Eastwood, 1988)

69. Pretty In Pink (Howard Deutch, 1986)

69.
Pretty In Pink
(Howard Deutch, 1986)


More than the preceding Valley Girl or writer John Hughes’s first coming-of-age dramedy The Breakfast Club – which also starred toothsome redhead Molly Ringwald – Pretty In Pink plunked “noo wave” (as American culture saw it) in the Hollywood mainstream. The Smiths, Psychedelic Furs and Belouis Some(!) were part of the film’s offensive to voice the ensemble cast’s varying degrees of outsiderdom. Seemingly every subsequent teen film and TV show has done the same. Martin Aston

Now watch: The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky, 2012)

70. Infected (Peter Christopherson, Tim Pope, Alastair McIlwain, Mark Romanek, 1986)

70.
Infected
(Peter Christopherson, Tim Pope, Alastair McIlwain, Mark Romanek, 1986)


Rather than touring, The The’s angst-racked Matt Johnson decided all the songs on his Infected LP would be presented via psychotropic videos mired in sex and horror. Filmed in Bolivia, New York and south London on a budget of $500,000, their conceptual ferment included the rise of Jihad, the AIDS terror and Britain as puppet police state. Undated on multiple levels, the reluctance of anyone else to properly pick up on the challenge has ensured its singular status. Ian Harrison

Now watch: The Special AKA On Film (Jeff Baynes, 1985)

71. Muddy Track (Bernard Shakey, 1987)

71.
Muddy Track
(Bernard Shakey, 1987)


“I’m looking for anything bad,” says Neil Young to his film crew, as this no-budget chronicle of a dismal ’80s doldrums European tour begins. A lowering hour of aimless soundchecks, on-stage fuck-ups and backstage fights with an addled and ailing Crazy Horse follows, and is riveting viewing, Young (aka ‘Bernard Shakey’, his film-making pseudonym) revelling perversely in rock’s lowest ebb. “Muddy Track’s not a documentary,” he said later. “I don’t know what the fuck it is.” Stevie Chick

Now watch: Blur: Starshaped (Matthew Longfellow, 1993)

72. Let’s Get Lost (Bruce Weber, 1988)

72.
Let’s Get Lost
(Bruce Weber, 1988)


Fashion photographer Weber’s monochrome study of Chet Baker finds the once devastatingly handsome figurehead of West Coast Jazz living out the last year of his life as an itinerant speedball junkie in Europe, resembling – at 57 – a gnarled barfly from the margins of a Bukowski novel. Despite the brutal biography, Weber’s portrayal of his subject is rooted in a deep romanticisation of the ruin – Baker as the beautiful doomed genius, free to construct his own legend. Sonny Baker

Now watch: Round Midnight (Bertrand Tavernier, 1986)

73. Hairspray (John Waters, 1988)

73.
Hairspray
(John Waters, 1988)


Like a benign leisure-suited subversion of Grease, Waters’s most celebrated movie looked to when teen pop life and the fight for racial justice met, in 1962 Baltimore (stout pride and class war also get a look-in). As well as roles for the musically sound likes of Ruth Brown, Debbie Harry and Ric Ocasek, the quality soundtrack – featuring Toussaint McCall, The Champs and Barbara Lynn – pre-dated Tarantino’s use of obscure-but-great vintage tunes to augment onscreen action. Ian Harrison

Now watch: Cry-Baby (John Waters, 1990)

74. The Decline Of Western Civilization Parts I & II (Penelope Spheeris, 1981/1988)

74.
The Decline Of Western Civilization Parts I & II
(Penelope Spheeris, 1981/1988)


Spheeris’s record of the Los Angeles punk scene – a grimy nihilistic harbourage for X, Black Flag and Circle Jerks – followed such raw testimonials as The Blank Generation and D.O.A., and immortalised the doomed Darby Crash of The Germs. With Part II, Spheeris confronts LA hair metal, a melancholy portrait of bemused excess that propelled some appalled fans into the starker world of thrash. Victoria Segal

Now watch: What We Do Is Secret (Rodger Grossman, 2007)

75. Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story(Todd Haynes, 1988)

75.
Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story
(Todd Haynes, 1988)


Despite being armed with just Barbie dolls and home-made sets, Todd Haynes’s ultra low-budget 43-minute debut poignantly captured the easy listening siren’s secret struggles with anorexia. By gradually ageing (and often mutilating) the dolls, Haynes wrought real drama from Carpenter’s doomed pursuit of idealised beauty, juxtaposing her personal struggle to embody one American Dream with the country’s wider political failures – courtesy of jump-cut footage of Vietnam and Watergate – while (unlicensed) Carpenters songs hammer the contrast home. Andy Cowan

Now watch: Team America: World Police (Trey Parker, 2004)

76. Do The Right Thing(Spike Lee, 1989)

76.
Do The Right Thing
(Spike Lee, 1989)


This nervy exploration of simmering racial tensions rests on the unbridled power of a single song. Public Enemy’s defiant Fight The Power defines the movie from its first frame – a silhouette of Rosie Perez dancing outside her redbrick Brooklyn tenement – to its last. Lee deployed the song’s seething rage as aural punctuation, via Radio Raheem’s ghetto-blaster and radio station broadcasts, cannily holding back its full force for the movie’s riotous, bloody climax. Andy Cowan

Now watch: Juice (Ernest R. Dickerson, 1992)

77. In Bed With Madonna(Alek Keshishian, 1991)

77.
In Bed With Madonna
(Alek Keshishian, 1991)


Filmed at the height of 1990’s Blond Ambition Tour, here’s Ms Ciccone in livid colour. The stadium choreography set industry standards while Keshishian’s off-stage black-and-white footage launched an entire sub-genre of reality television, making a virtue of its star’s riveting levels of personal unpleasantness towards assistants, dancers, family, backstage guests and then-boyfriend Warren Beatty who wisely sighs, “She doesn’t want to *live off-camera, much less talk.” Jenny Bulley

Now watch: Elton John: Tantrums & Tiaras (David Furnish, 1997)

78. 1991: The Year Punk Broke(David Markey, 1992)

78.
1991: The Year Punk Broke
(David Markey, 1992)


Sonic Youth are in the foreground, striking out into major label success, but in the background of Markey’s European tour doc a whole other story is unfolding with Dinosaur Jr., Babes In Toyland and, significantly, Nirvana, the summer before Nevermind went to Number 1. Kurt and co hang with the Sonics, parodying In Bed With Madonna, feigning rock-star insouciance, complaining about the food: a cultural shift in action, serendipitously captured on shaky fan-cam. Jenny Bulley

Now watch: Hit So Hard (P. David Ebersole, 2011)

79. Dazed And Confused(Richard Linklater, 1993)

79.
Dazed And Confused
(Richard Linklater, 1993)


The ultimate hang-out movie, detailing 24 shiftless, hedonistic hours in and around a Texan high school in the Bicentennial summer of 1976, is irresistible to anyone who’s ever been a teenager in love with rock music. “If I ever refer to these as the best days of my life, remind me to kill myself,” says the film’s lead character, Randall ‘Pink’ Floyd, with poignant lack of self-awareness. Makes you wish punk never came along to ruin the party. Tom Cox

Now watch: Detroit Rock City (Adam Rifkin, 1999)

80. Buena Vista Social Club(Wim Wenders, 1999)

80.
Buena Vista Social Club
(Wim Wenders, 1999)


Following the million-selling Ry Cooder-inspired album, Wenders’ movie interleaved concert footage with ancient muso reminiscence – and bemusement in Amsterdam and New York. The film emphasises lovely grooves and cosy outcomes, but US authorities fined Cooder £25,000 for “trading with the enemy” and BVSCers had to cancel Miami shows when picketed by expat Castrophobes, which stopped them playing the popular music of former dictator Batista’s era. A complicated cultural revolution documented. Phil Sutcliffe

Now watch: Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: A Musical Journey (Various directors, 2003)

81. The Filth And The Fury(Julien Temple, 2000)

81.
The Filth And The Fury
(Julien Temple, 2000)


The Sex Pistols documentary that Temple said he’d always wanted to make (as a belated apology for The Great Rock’N’Roll Swindle), TFATF exploded the modern music doc conventions, interviewing his subjects in semi-anonymous silhouette and editorialising via historical footage of everything from racist East Enders and The Two Ronnies, to Olivier’s proto-Lydon Richard III. No beast so fierce, it only seems old now because everybody – including Temple – adopted its innovations as the norm. Andy Fyfe

Now watch: Oil City Confidential (Julien Temple, 2009)

82. Je Chanterai Pour Toi(Jacques Sarasin, 2001)

82.
Je Chanterai Pour Toi
(Jacques Sarasin, 2001)


Boubacar Traoré was Mali’s Elvis Presley, a star in the 1960s who vanished; his 1980s comeback was derailed by his wife’s death. This profile follows the taciturn singer/guitarist on a melancholic tour of the Niger Delta in 2001, meeting and playing with, among others, Ali Farka Touré. Beautifully filmed by Stéphan Oriach, it’s an elegy of extraordinary grace and sadness, a salute to music, love and – presciently – a Mali perhaps now lost. David Hutcheon

Now watch: Benda Bilili! (Renaud Barret, Florent de La Tullaye, 2010)

83. MC5: A True Testimonial(David C. Thomas, 2002)

83.
MC5: A True Testimonial
(David C. Thomas, 2002)


As rock docs proliferated through the ’90s, some were annoyingly casual with chronology and/or the truth in their contrivance of a streamlined ‘story’. Seven years in the making, this legendary movie was the opposite: a scrupulous labour of love, two hours in duration (and the MC5 only made three albums!), the standard against which others should be judged. Sadly, a royalties wrangle has prevented its official release, but with hot-action footage which, at guerilla screenings, literally has audiences on their feet applauding, it’s appropriately inspirational. Andrew Perry

Now watch: Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers: Running Down A Dream (Peter Bogdanovich, 2007)

84. 24 Hour Party People(Michael Winterbottom, 2002)

84.
24 Hour Party People
(Michael Winterbottom, 2002)


Blurring the boundaries of history and myth, this side-splitting salute to Manchester’s visionary, chaotic Factory label sought from the off to disrupt the ponderous rhythms of the conventional rock biopic. It’s epitomised by the scene where Buzzcocks singer Howard Devoto is pleasuring label boss Tony Wilson’s wife in a toilet cubicle as the camera pans to the real-life Devoto cleaning the sinks. The latter eyes the filmgoer apologetically and says, “I definitely don’t remember this happening…” Danny Eccleston

Now watch: Joy Division (Grant Gee/Jon Savage, 2007)

85. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart(Sam Jones, 2002)

85.
I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
(Sam Jones, 2002)


As an insight into how bands work, photographer Sam Jones’s documentary is the melancholy lo-fi counterpoint to Some Kind Of Monster’s high-stakes farce. When Jones began chronicling the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, a film about Wilco seemed like the quintessential for-fans-only enterprise, but Jeff Tweedy’s gradually unfolding war on two fronts – with Reprise Records and bandmate Jay Bennett – gave the director a universal theme: principle and what it costs. Dorian Lynskey

Now watch: Joy Division (Grant Gee/Jon Savage, 2007)

86. Masked And Anonymous(Larry Charles, 2003)

86.
Masked And Anonymous
(Larry Charles, 2003)


Dylan and Charles’s vision of the USA as a banana republic now seems eerily close to accurate. Bob plays rock star Jack Fate – released from prison to play a benefit while revolution runs in the streets – casually dispensing revealing Dylanisms (“I stopped trying to figure everything out a long time ago”). The scenes with Bob’s best Never-Ending band (guitarists Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton) were influenced by tight shots from old C&W TV shows and are just perfect. Michael Simmons

Now watch: Renaldo And Clara (Bob Dylan, 1978)

87. Led Zeppelin: DVD(Dick Carruthers, 2003)

87.
Led Zeppelin: DVD
(Dick Carruthers, 2003)


Though obviously always reluctant to tinker with their legacy, Zeppelin would probably have supplanted the one (rather silly) celluloid artefect from their active life span, The Song Remains The Same, had viable footage existed. This only became possible post-millennium, thanks to digital remastering technology, which, particularly in the case of DVD’s Albert Hall show, gave a brighter audio surely than punters in the venue had on the night. The early ’70s had never looked and sounded so good. Andrew Perry

Now watch: The Rolling Stones: Charlie Is My Darling (Mick Gochanour, Peter Whitehead, 2012)

88. Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster(Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 2004)

88.
Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster
(Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 2004)


Lars Ulrich later said Metallica were “stupid” to agree to this documentary, filmed during the genesis of their eighth album St Anger. Initially tarred with Spinal Tap’s brush thanks to scenes of door-slamming tantrums and unctuous group therapy, the film ultimately captures the depressing realities of rock’n’roll’s mid-life crisis. Breaking the rules of uptight 21st-century fame, cameras eavesdrop on every silliness, every sadness – an act of over-exposure that turns metal’s puppet-masters into real human boys. Victoria Segal

Now watch: Anvil: The Story of Anvil (Sacha Gervasi, 2008)

89. Dig!(Ondi Timoner, 2004)

89.
Dig!
(Ondi Timoner, 2004)


Having chanced upon The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre as young hopefuls, Ondi Timoner pursued them with formidable tenacity for the next seven years. To say that this never-bettered study of ego and ambition is about art versus commerce would be simplistic because BJM’s self-destructive Anton Newcombe is even less sympathetic than the Dandys’ shark-eyed Courtney Taylor-Taylor. Pathos comes from BJM’s endearingly goofy Joel Gion as he watches his high hopes recede along with his youth. Dorian Lynskey

Now watch: 1991: The Year That Punk Broke (David Markey, 1992)

90. Miles Electric:  A Different Kind Of Blue(Murray Lerner, 2004)

90.
Miles Electric: A Different Kind Of Blue
(Murray Lerner, 2004)


While much of Miles Davis’s audio catalogue has been restored and reissued in definitive form, the same is not true of his filmed performances. Miles Electric, however, is a high point. After some background biog prelims we get Miles’s single-track, 38-minute set, low down the bill at the Isle Of Wight Festival in 1970: an earth-shattering performance from the man and his ‘electric’ band that changed jazz’s association with rock forever. Phil Alexander

Now watch: Jazz Icons: John Coltrane Live In ’60, ’61 and ’65 (Reelin’ In The Years/Naxos, 2007)

91. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party(Michel Gondry, 2005)

91.
Dave Chappelle’s Block Party
(Michel Gondry, 2005)


Gondry’s film of an impromptu hip-hop show thrown by comedian Dave Chappelle in summer 2004. The effortlessly charismatic Chappelle invites unsuspecting locals from his rural Ohio hometown, books a star-struck college marching band to play with Kanye West and investigates the notorious Bed-Stuy neighbourhood. More than mere concert movie, Block Party humanises a genre too often overshadowed by violence and controversy. And that concert footage – The Roots, Erykah Badu, a reformed Fugees – is truly heady stuff. Stevie Chick

Now watch: Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest (Michael Rapaport, 2011)

92. The Devil And Daniel Johnston(Jeff Feuerzeig, 2005)

92.
The Devil And Daniel Johnston
(Jeff Feuerzeig, 2005)


Few films have raised such complicated questions about fame and fans as this metatextual doc about the cult US singer-songwriter, driven and damaged by decades of mental illness. We follow his picaresque journey through fairgrounds, MTV shows and mental hospitals. He causes a plane crash believing he’s Casper The Friendly Ghost. He hits his manager with a lead pipe. He has physical presence but, personally, he’s barely there. “The establishment think it’s heresy to say the words Daniel Johnston in the same breath as Bob Dylan,” says director Feuerzeig. “We’re picking a fight on purpose.” Victoria Segal

Now watch: Benjamin Smoke (Jem Cohen, Peter Siller, 2000)

93. Stax: Respect Yourself/The Stax-Volt Revue Tour 1967(Robert Gordon, Morgan Neville, Anon, 2007)

93.
Stax: Respect Yourself/The Stax-Volt Revue Tour 1967
(Robert Gordon, Morgan Neville, Anon, 2007)


Complementary DVDs, the first featuring Robert Gordon/Morgan Neville’s succinct recounting of Stax Records’ historic rise, social importance and dismaying fall. The second DVD vividly adds the ‘why’ to Respect Yourself’s ‘what’ in a stunning live show from April 1967, filmed for Norwegian TV in Oslo. Highlights: an utterly crazed four-song Sam And Dave set preceding Otis Redding (five songs, sensational). Geoff Brown

Now watch: Motown: Definitive Performances (Universal Video, 2009)

94. The Passing Show(Rupert Williams, 2006)

94.
The Passing Show
(Rupert Williams, 2006)


If Ronnie Lane’s life was dogged by bad luck, ill health, and a fatal fascination with all things romantic and impractical, it’s heartbreakingly ironic that he should be commemorated by such a meticulously researched BBC documentary. Speaking to McLagan, Jones, Clapton, Townshend and a glorious roll-call of Lane’s eccentric bohemian pals, Williams’ film is moving, humble and remains the defining document of exactly what can go wrong when ’70s rock royalty decides to “get it together in the country”. Andrew Male

Now watch: Synth Britannia (Benjamin Whalley, 2009)

95. Heima: A Film By Sigur Rós(Dean Debois, 2007)

95.
Heima: A Film By Sigur Rós
(Dean Debois, 2007)


Inspired by the intimacy of Jazz On A Summer’s Day and the dynamism of Pink Floyd’s Live At Pompeii, Sigur Rós’s two-week tour of their native Iceland in the summer 2006 – playing for free in tiny village halls and for 25,000 people in Reykjavik – seemingly unified a country on the brink of economic collapse. Heima’s creative triumph, however, lies in its union of place and music, the former so clearly shaping the latter. Phil Alexander

Now watch: Pink Floyd Live At Pompeii (Adrian Maben, 1972)

96. Wild Combination:  A Portrait Of Arthur Russell(Matt Wolf, 2008)

96.
Wild Combination: A Portrait Of Arthur Russell
(Matt Wolf, 2008)


More resin-bowed tone poem than trad doc, Wild Combination arrived 15-plus years after its subject’s death, as the cavalcade of Russell reissues inspired avant-disco dandies like LCD Soundsystem. Depicting a surrogate walking around wearing Russell’s old clothes, the film – as scruffy and daring as Russell himself – includes emotional interviews with the likes of Modern Lover Ernie Brooks, as well as Russell’s brother-in-law commending the composer’s parents for their acceptance of his homosexuality. They, of course, had no idea he way gay. Peter Relic

Now watch: Pink Floyd Live At Pompeii (Adrian Maben, 1972)

97. Anvil: The Story Of Anvil(Sacha Gervasi, 2008)

97.
Anvil: The Story Of Anvil
(Sacha Gervasi, 2008)


Not merely a great documentary about ’80s metal also-rans but a work of genuine heartbreak, thanks to the unquenchable optimism of Anvil singer Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow. Working a low-pay delivery job in Ontario, two-plus decades after his band’s one brush with fame, Lips sets out with childhood friend and drummer Rob Reiner to make their band’s 13th LP. The result: an oddly uplifting real-life Spinal Tap, perfectly capturing human hope on the flipside of the rock’n’roll dream. Tom Cox

Now watch: This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1983)

98. The Night James Brown Saved Boston(David Leaf, 2008)

98.
The Night James Brown Saved Boston
(David Leaf, 2008)


On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. As the news spread, riots broke out in most major US cities. On April 5, James Brown was to perform in Boston. Local police, fearing he would be an anger magnet, wanted to pull the plug. Brown persuaded mayor Kevin White otherwise. The concert, televised live, showed James calming audiences and police alike while delivering a blistering, if nervy, set. Extras include interviews with those in attendance. Geoff Brown

Now watch: The T.A.M.I. Show (Steve Binder, 1964)

99. Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune(Ken Bowser, 2010)

99.
Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune
(Ken Bowser, 2010)


Believing in the singular value of idealism, reflected in songs like I Ain’t Marching Anymore and Outside Of A Small Circle Of Friends, Ochs emerged triumphant in the early ‘60s Village folk clubs, only to kill himself in the next decade. Director Ken Bowser and producer/brother Michael Ochs ensure that the interviews and archival footage reveal the whole man – the scenes of manic, drunk, late-era Phil are harrowing: the frailty and fallibility behind the idealism. Michael Simmons

Now watch: Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) (John Scheinfeld, 2010)

100. Searching For Sugar Man(Malik Bendjelloul, 2012)

100.
Searching For Sugar Man
(Malik Bendjelloul, 2012)


How do you make a movie about The Invisible Musician? Starved of footage, Bendjelloul’s heart-swelling doc tackles the challenge with ingenious bricolage, continent-hopping between post-apartheid Cape Town – holding an inexplicable 30-year torch for a forgotten chicano singer-songwriter – and post-apocalyptic Detroit, home to smiley-but-ghostly, missing-in-action Sixto Rodriguez. A love letter to the sweaty record geeks who tracked him down, its one unanswered question – where did all Sixto’s royalties go? – must wait for a sequel.Danny Eccleston

Now watch: Desperate Man Blues (Edward Gillan, 2003)

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