“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” Janis Joplin sang in “Me and Bobby McGee.” For teens living behind the Iron Curtain in the 1950s, rock itself became a symbol of freedom. The documentary Free to Rock explores the role the rebellious music played in ending the Cold War, ending with the Berlin Wall coming down in 1989. Through interviews with Western musicians as well as Russian artists, the film makes the case that rock ’n’ roll’s attitude changed culture and helped bring about changes that reverberate today. Executive producers Nicholas Brinkley and Douglas Yeager spent ten years
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The film tells a lesser-known part of rock history, but the hour-long format barely scratches the surface.
Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago DVD Review: New Documentary Paints an Incomplete Picture of the Band
While interesting, the movie lacks key voices that would have provided a multi-dimensional portrayal of the classic rock group.
When asked to define Chicago’s sound, saxophonist Walter Parazaider provides this simple summary: “a good rock and roll band with horns.” The band has accomplished that goal in their 50-year-career, from their origins at Chicago’s DePaul University to their '70s heyday through their controversial 1980s productions with David Foster. The documentary Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago aims to chronicle their story, told through interviews with current members as well as rare home video footage. While it’s an interesting portrait of the band’s tangled history, it is also a one-sided perspective missing some key voices. Director Peter Pardini
While the film presents a largely sympathetic portrait of the reclusive star's last years, it never quite captures Jackson's struggles during that period.
Filming a biopic is fraught with difficulty. How can a writer and director accurately portray an international icon onscreen? Few Beatles films have adequately captured the complex personality of John Lennon, while Elvis Presley-themed movies have to walk a fine line between real life and caricature. In addition, are the screenwriters drawing from respected source material, or from authors with an axe to grind? These questions again surface while viewing the Lifetime movie Michael Jackson: Searching for Neverland, set for release on DVD on October 10. While it presents a largely sympathetic portrait of the reclusive star’s last years, it
An R&B legend's struggle with the spiritual and sensual is chronicled in this electrifying portrait.
In 1977, R&B legend Al Green signaled to fans that he was undergoing a life—and career—transformation. “Belle,” a track off his LP The Belle Album, contains a telling lyric: “It’s you that I want, but it’s Him that I need.” Green’s struggle to reconcile the spiritual and sensual, the sacred and profane, is chronicled in the newly reissued 1984 documentary Gospel According to Al Green. Originally produced for the BBC, this Robert Mugge-directed film has been remastered for DVD and Blu-ray, and features extras such as updated director commentary, previously unaired outtakes, and the full audio of Mugge’s two-hour interview
This riveting documentary chronicles the history of the Mississippi juke joint and the ongoing struggle to preserve remaining clubs.
Actor Morgan Freeman, who co-owns Mississippi juke joint Ground Zero, describes Delta Blues as “American classical music.” The documentary Last of the Mississippi Jukes—originally released in 2003 and now available on DVD—chronicles one state’s fight to preserve not only Delta Blues but the juke joints that introduced the blues. This loving tribute spotlights two venues, one older and the other a recreation of traditional juke joints. While the fate of these two places diverge, they share one common interest: fostering local talent and maintaining the tight community that the blues formed. Juke joints first appeared on southern plantations after the
This remastered 1986 performance reveals the singer/songwriter's allegiance to the rhythm and blues tradition.
As the title of a 1994 box set declared, the Who proved themselves as masters of “maximum R&B.” That phrase accurately describes Pete Townshend’s Deep End: Face the Face, a CD/DVD that captures a 1986 TV performance of selections from Townshend’s 1985 album White City: A Novel as well as solo and Who tracks. Featuring an unusually giddy Townshend leading a band including Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour, it demonstrates the singer/songwriter’s charisma as a solo artist. Filmed for the German TV series Rockpalast at MIDEM in Cannes on January 29, 1986, the performance includes tracks from White City as well
The Everly Brothers: Harmonies from Heaven DVD Review: An Appreciation of the Duo's Impact on Early Rock 'n' Roll
The rock pioneers set the standard for impeccable harmonies, and wowed audiences with their special blend of rock, country, and R&B.
Early rock pioneers the Everly Brothers set the standard for impeccable harmonies, and wowed audiences with their special blend of rock, country, and R&B. The duo gets their just due in the BBC documentary The Everly Brothers: Harmonies from Heaven, newly released on DVD and Blu-ray. Featuring interviews with surviving Everly brother Don, Keith Richards, Art Garfunkel, Albert Lee, Dave Edmunds, and Graham Nash, the film is a thoroughly fascinating look at an underrated family act. Harmonies from Heaven follows Don and Phil from their early years as singers with the Everly Family, a group comprised of the brothers and
This 1991 performance showcases the band's versatility and captures one of their last performances as an original quartet.
By 1991, Toto was at a crossroads. Only four original members remained: guitarist/lead vocalist Steve Lukather, keyboardist/lead vocalist David Paich, drummer Jeff Porcaro, and bassist Mike Porcaro. They were in the midst of recording the album Kingdom of Desire, a harder-charging work featuring Lukather on all lead vocals. Sadly, shortly after completing the album, Jeff Porcaro unexpectedly passed away; his brother Mike would succumb to ALS in 2015. The new release Toto: Live at Montreux 1991, a new release in the DVD/CD, Blu-ray/CD, and digital video formats allows fans one more glimpse at the legendary lineup. While not well filmed,
PBS salutes the legendary singer/songwriter with a fond look back at her career.
Over the last few years, singer/songwriter Carole King has enjoyed a career resurgence. Her bestselling memoir, A Natural Woman, bowed to positive reviews in 2012 Beautiful, the musical based on King’s life, debuted on Broadway in 2014 and is still going strong. Last year, she was feted at the Kennedy Center Honors, with Aretha Franklin bringing King to tears with her passionate rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” The celebration continues with the American Masters salute borrowed from that song title, a program which airs this week on PBS stations. Through King’s words, rare photos, archival
Bowie defied convention musically and visually, intertwining rock and film in a way no other artist will equal.
Against a blindingly white background, a man stands alone. Clad in a sky-blue suit and sporting technicolor makeup, the figure appears as if he has stepped out of a watercolor painting. Occasionally swinging a leg back and forth, he stares into the camera, lip synching the words to a sparsely arranged song. In extreme closeups, the singer evokes the lyrics’ complex imagery through facial expressions. Is this short clip a viral video from 2016? No, it is David Bowie’s video for “Life on Mars?” released in 1973. Over four decades later, the song and clip seem timeless yet strikingly modern.
JACO presents a complicated yet fascinating portrait of a gifted musician who reinvented the bass.
In 1976, an album was released that would revolutionize not only how the jazz bass is played, but the very concept of the instrument. Until Jaco Pastorius, few considered the bass as a lead instrument, one with as much dimension and virtuosity as the piano or guitar. The phenomenally gifted musician demonstrated the true meaning of fusion, melding together everything from Cuban to jazz to rock to R&B influences. His speedy yet tuneful style and use of harmonics changed the bass and inspired countless musicians after him. Mental illness and drug abuse cut his life and career horribly short, but
Based on Andy Summers' memoir, the documentary reveals the rise and demise of the defining 1980s band.
When the Police ceased recording in 1984, rumors swirled as to the cause. Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland became infamous for their constant fighting, sometimes ending up in fisticuffs (such as during a 1983 MTV interview with Martha Quinn). Summers and Copeland’s intense jealousy of Sting’s notoriety was cited as another factor. The new documentary Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police presents Summers’ side of the story, suggesting that the Police’s dissolution resulted from a multitude of complicated reasons. As hard on himself as on the other band members, Summers provides narration while archival footage as well as
A Beatles documentary with a twist, the film pays homage to international tribute bands.
At this very moment, a Beatles tribute band is likely playing a concert somewhere throughout the world. Over 8,000 groups worldwide regularly recreate the music and, occasionally, the exact image and accents of the Beatles. Come Together: A Beatles Tribute Documentary examines these tribute bands, which range geographically and even in gender. Hosted by John Lennon’s half-sister Julia Baird, the film interviews several musicians who earn a living imitating their idols. While interesting, Come Together provides little insight as to the benefits and pitfalls of such a career. Baird often appears in various locations throughout Liverpool, from the recreated Cavern
Relive the days of leafing through a friend's record collection by reading the rock journalist's new guide.
Writing a book entitled Overlooked/Underappreciated: 354 Recordings That Demand Your Attention is fraught with difficulty. The selections are based purely on personal taste, and are begging for readers to argue with the author. Yet rock journalist Greg Prato has tackled this challenge in his twelfth book, a work packed with suggestions for your music collection. Remember the experience of leafing through a friend’s records, CDs, and tapes, analyzing albums and recommending bands that (you think) no one knows? That memory mirrors the experience of reading Overlooked/Underappreciated. Covering mostly rock, jazz, R&B, and blues, Prato analyzes each listing using the following
Sensation: The Story of Tommy DVD Review: Takes Viewers Behind the Scenes of The Who's Groundbreaking Rock Opera
Learn more about the inspiration of the band's 1969 masterpiece.
This year marks the 45th anniversary of The Who’s landmark rock opera Tommy, and the celebrations and accolades continue. In 2013, they released a deluxe box set featuring demos, early versions, and live renditions of Tommy tracks; now Eagle Rock has followed suit with Sensation: The Story of Tommy, a DVD/Blu-ray that provides an overview of the album’s creation. An expanded version of the 2013 BBC documentary, the release features new interviews with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey as well as archival footage of John Entwistle. Casual fans will enjoy the look back on a seminal work, although hardcore fans
This riveting documentary shines a deserved spotlight on the most unknown MVPs in rock and soul music.
When recalling the Rolling Stones’ 1969 single “Gimme Shelter,” one thinks of Mick Jagger’s snarling lead vocal. Equally important to the song’s legendary status, however, is Merry Clayton’s passionate performance. Her name may not instantly ring a bell, but her gospel-drenched voice shouting “Rape! Murder! It’s just a shot away” remains instantly recognizable. Clayton and other unsung heroes of R&B and rock music are celebrated in the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom, an essential addition to any music fan’s library. Eschewing narration, the film allows the noted backup singers to tell their own stories. The tales they spin are both
See U2 and INXS in their early years and relive other '80s music in this music festival documentary.
When hot summer winds blow, music festivals are sure to follow. Today, multi-day events such as Lollapalooza and Coachella are relatively common; back in the early 1980s, such concerts were in their infancy. In 1982, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak sponsored the first US Festival (standing for “United Us in Song,”), an event he envisioned as an '80s version of Woodstock. Staged near San Bernadino, California, the three days boasted an impressive lineup of the era’s biggest artists. Wozniak produced the second and final US Festival in 1983; despite a 670,000 attendance figure, the production lost millions for the entrepreneur. Thankfully
Book Review: The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story by Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew Robinson, and Kyle Baker
The graphic novel attempts to tell the story of the Beatles' manager--with mixed results.
This holiday season has seen an astonishing number of Beatles-related books and CDs, some tying in with the upcoming 50th anniversary of the group’s first visit to America. One figure that remains a mystery, however, is the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein. Through the years he has emerged as a tragic figure, a drug-addicted man tortured by his homosexuality (in the 1960s, homosexuality was illegal in Britain), hopelessly in love with the unattainable John Lennon, and a good-intentioned but ultimately naive businessman. The graphic novel The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story attempts to reveal his life through a cinematic technique—not
The documentary explores the origins of the 1960s counterculture movement and how it influenced some of the Beatles' greatest works.
In 1960s England, an underground art movement greatly influenced worldwide pop culture. Emerging from 1950s nuclear disarmament protests and the frank American beat poets, this counterculture trend ultimately rebelled against prevailing conservatism. Attitudes toward sex, politics, art, and music changed, becoming more liberal. Jazz musicians such as Thelonius Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Ornette Coleman also played a part in this rebellion, as their music often deconstructed the traditional form to create a looser, more freeform version. In turn, these transformations hugely impacted the Beatles’ music. Going Underground: Paul McCartney, the Beatles and the UK Counter-Culture examines this period
The documentary tells how an obscure song spurred the creation of hip hop.
Can a documentary about a song by an obscure band sustain interest for 85 minutes? Surprisingly yes, as proven by the new film Sample This, which chronicles how “Apache” by the Incredible Bongo Band became a cornerstone in the creation of hip hop. While not a hit, the track was rediscovered by early 1970s DJ Kool Herc; by remixing it and playing it at New York street parties, he inspired a generation of emerging artists to sample it for their own tunes. The story centers on Michael Viner, an unknown music producer who found himself overseeing the music for the
The good-hearted documentary tells the story the Beatles from the perspective of a true fan and onetime employee.
Those who think that the onslaught of books and films constantly arriving on the market have told the Beatles’ complete story--think again. Thanks to a Kickstarter campaign and pure perseverance, the eagerly awaited Good Ol’ Freda presents another side of the Beatles’ story: that from the perspective of manager Brian Epstein’s assistant and president of the Official Beatles Fan Club. Freda Kelly, a charming and very private woman, lifts the curtain to allow fans a peek at life inside the group’s inner circle. At the same time, she refuses to violate the members’ privacy and remains steadfastly loyal to her
Little-known female jazz instrumentalists finally get deserved recognition in this documentary, which spans from the late 1930s to the present.
When asked to name prominent female jazz artists, most fans can list Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, or Billie Holiday. All were legendary singers, but what about musicians? While a few names may come to mind today such as Esperanza Spalding and Diana Krall, many toiled in all-girl bands or behind the scenes for decades, never receiving the recognition they deserved. The documentary The Girls in the Band spotlights women from the late 1930s to today, demonstrating how they battled sexism and being labeled as “novelty acts” to pave the way for modern artists. Director Judy Chaikin--best known for writing, producing,
Her first live release in a decade shows how she has transformed from anger to maturity, all with her voice intact.
Almost two decades have passed since Alanis Morissette earned national acclaim with her breakthrough album Jagged Little Pill. For Americans, Morissette seemed to appear out of nowhere, but few realized her radical transformation from child star to rock star. After appearing as a regular cast member on the Canadian kids show You Can’t Do That on Television, she evolved into Canada’s answer to Debbie Gibson. Her first change came by relocating to Los Angeles; the second was collaborating with rock producer Glen Ballard. By the time “You Oughta Know” hit radio, Morissette became the “angry young woman,” the spokesperson for
This thorough look at one of the 1970s' most successful bands is a must-own for Eagles fans.
Filmmakers, take note: this is the way to celebrate a band’s legacy. History of the Eagles, a new documentary, chronicles the classic rock legends’ rise, breakup, and improbable reunion in an epic two-part film. Now out on DVD and Blu-ray, the movie is a must-own for Eagles fans and a stellar example of narrating a band’s story in a riveting yet objective manner. Part One takes viewers on a journey through the band’s earliest years, critical and commercial peak, and eventual downward spiral due to drugs, alcohol, and clashing egos. New interviews with current and former Eagles members shed new
Long out of print, the restored film retains its multigenerational appeal, largely thanks to Harry Nilsson's timeless songs.
In 1971, ABC aired the first animated special aired on primetime television, The Point, a lesson in tolerance told through Harry Nilsson’s wonderful music. A new collector’s edition, available on DVD, brings the charming cartoon to a new generation through remastering and bonus features. Those who grew up listening to such tunes as “Me and My Arrow” and “Are You Sleeping?” will enjoy this trip back in time, while its timeless themes may resonate with younger viewers. The Point tells the story of Oblio, a round-headed boy living in a land where everyone else sports pointed heads. In a land
Paul McCartney: Live Kisses DVD Review: A Thoroughly Enjoyable Document of an Artist's Labor of Love
The ex-Beatle uncovers some buried treasures and interprets them his own way in this deeply personal performance.
Earlier this year, Paul McCartney satisfied a longtime ambition of recording an album of standards. Though other rockers have released American songbook collections, McCartney distinguished his album from other projects by selecting more obscure tunes. The resulting album, Kisses on the Bottom, allowed McCartney to pay tribute to lyricists such as Fats Waller, Frank Loesser, and Johnny Mercer who had influenced his own writing. On February 9, 2012, McCartney and many of the Kisses on the Bottom musicians gathered to perform the tracks at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles. With the assistance of top jazz artists such as Diana Krall
The low-budget film paints a fragmented picture of a complicated post-punk band.
During the documentary Color Me Obsessed: A Film About The Replacements, one critic describes the band with one simple phrase: “a glorious mess.” The same could be said for this film, a tribute to the Minneapolis-based group that includes no actual music or footage of the Replacements. Instead, their story is told through the eyes of critics, fans, and roadies who struggle to explain how the post-punk band influenced college rock, grunge, and even emo. Longtime fans will enjoy this complicated, often humor-filled look back at their unusual odyssey; casual listeners, however, may walk away without a clear notion of
A new package celebrates 25 years since the film--and its memorable songs--first entered popular culture.
Anyone who grew up in the '80s can immediately identify this quote: “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” Amazingly, 25 years have passed since Johnny Castle uttered those famous words to "Baby" Houseman in Dirty Dancing, the low-budget film that became a popular culture touchstone. In addition to the film, the soundtrack topped the charts and earned an Oscar and Grammy for the smash “(I've Had) The Time of My Life” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes. To honor the milestone, RCA has released Dirty Dancing: The Deluxe Anniversary Edition, a lavishly packaged CD which includes new liner notes, a
Martha Reeves and her new Vandellas perform their hits at a South Carolina concert, now available on DVD and CD.
In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Martha Reeves and the Vandellas at 96 in their 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list. Thanks to Reeve's powerful voice and material written by Motown's greatest songwriters, the group stands as one of the defining acts of the 1960s. “Dancing in the Street” became an unofficial anthem for '60s activism, while “Nowhere to Run” unintentionally expressed the uncertainty and sense of gloom surrounding the Vietnam War. Pop classics like “(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave” and “Jimmy Mack” remain oldies radio staples. Four decades after the group's breakup, Reeves still tours, this time accompanied
This trip down Philadelphia Soul memory lane proves that some artists get even better with time.
“I love music, any kind of music/ I love music, just as long as it's groovin'/ Makes me laugh, makes me smile,” the O'Jays sing on their 1975 smash “I Love Music.” For 50 years, the Philadelphia International group have produced memorable singles, many of which virtually defined the 1970s. Amazingly, founding members Eddie Levert and Walter Williams still tour, accompanied by Eric Nolan Grant, a member since 1995. Levert's gritty yet passionate voice, along with the trademark O'Jays harmonies, are on full display on the DVD/CD set The O'Jays Live in Concert, an often enjoyable romp through their greatest
Bachman and Turner Live at the Roseland Ballroom NYC DVD Review: Taking Care of Business for Longtime Fans
The music veterans show they still know how to rock after 40 years.
Proving that there are second acts in rock and roll, singer/guitarist Randy Bachman left one successful rock band, only to form another, even more successful band. With his first group, the Guess Who, he cowrote some of the their biggest hits such as “These Eyes,” “No Time,” “Undun,” and “American Woman.” The latter peaked at number one on the U.S. charts, a first for a Canadian band. However, due to health problems and other issues, Bachman left the Guess Who at the height of their popularity. Defying critics, Bachman almost immediately formed a second group, Brave Belt, with another ex-Guess
Fans of English blue-eyed soul will enjoy Simply Red's high-energy performance at the legendary jazz festival.
For most Americans, the words “Simply Red” conjure images of a man bearing a shock of red, curly hair, earnestly belting out the soulful ballad “Holding Back the Years” back in 1985. In reality, the band (whose only consistent member is lead singer Mick Hucknall) has since produced a steady stream of solid blue-eyed soul, eventually leading to Hucknall dissolving the group in 2010 to pursue a full-time solo career. While Simply Red may have ended, fans can appreciate and rediscover them through the DVD Simply Red Live at Montreux 2003, a showcase for Hucknall's still-intact voice as well as
Go inside the filming of one of the best rock movies ever made.
To this day, Prince remains an enigma. He grants few interviews, once changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol, and strangely declared that the Internet was “over.” Imagine being director Albert Magnoli, who in 1984 was hired to showcase this then-budding star on the silver screen. How could he stay true to Prince's Minneapolis roots and androgynous yet explicitly sexual image, but at the same time have the movie “play in Peoria”? The new book Music on Film: Purple Rain details the making of the classic flick, widely considered one of the best rock films ever made. Author John Kenneth
Old Blue Eyes' story is retold through photographs ranging from childhood to his elder years.
Say the name “Frank Sinatra,” and one conjures images of more than simply a superb singer and occasional actor. Over time he has become an icon, a larger-than-life image of machismo, elegance, and just plain coolness. Often sporting his fedora and a trench coat draped casually over one shoulder, Sinatra's voice and style live on, even 14 years after his death. While numerous tomes have attempted to capture his life on the page, few have concentrated on photographs rather than simply text. Frank Sinatra: A Life in Pictures, edited by Yann-Brice Dherbier, opts to take this different approach by telling
Learn about the fascinating rise and fall of The Beatles' failed label Apple Records.
On May 11, 1968, John Lennon and Paul McCartney arrived in New York to announce a new business venture. Three days later, they addressed the media at New York's Americana Hotel to explain the concept behind The Beatles' new company, Apple. While Apple would combine films, electronics, and fashion, its chief purpose lay in its music label. “We want to set up a system whereby people who just want to make a film about anything don't have to go on their knees in somebody's office. Probably yours," Lennon explained. McCartney added, “if you come and see me and say 'I've
Featuring live performances spanning from 1975-1983, the DVD shows the evolution of one of the most influential bands of the '80s.
Since the mid-'70s, Talking Heads have defied easy categorization. Are they rock? Punk? Avant-garde? The band raised themselves above labels and existed on another sonic plane, one which blended all the aforementioned sounds as well as African rhythms, funk, and even a touch of country. No one before or since has surpassed the band visually and musically, and these talents are prominently displayed in the DVD Chronology. Live shows from 1975-1983, along with one of their performances at their 2002 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, offer a rare glimpse at their formative years. Stripping away their
Morton succinctly tells the fascinating story of a classic movie musical that still enchants audiences.
Back in 2000, Miramax Films reissued the classic A Hard Day's Night in movie theaters. Since I was unable to see the 1964 film when it first appeared in theaters (due to the fact that I hadn't been born), I excitedly gathered a group of friends to see The Beatles musical as it was meant to be seen: on the big screen. Sitting in the cinema with a sold-out crowd, many of whom hadn't yet been born in 1964, I was wondering if the film's irreverent humor and buoyant music would still resonate. Indeed, over 35 years later, the audience