I really love documentary films, though I have to admit that most of them suck. Music docs have high potential, but they were ruined in part by the old Behind The Music shows that aired on VH1 back in the day. The last music doc I saw was It Might Get Loud back in 2008. It brought together Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White to talk about playing guitar. It was solid.
This year brought with it Sound City, a doc about the shit hole of a recording studio in Van Nuys that arguably was home to some of the most important albums of all time. It was directed and produced by Dave Grohl, of Foo Fighters and Nirvana fame. The subjects in the film cover decades of music royalty, with quite a bit from Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, Tom Petty and Rick Springfield (even Barry Manilow!). The modern era is well represented by Grohl himself, Trent Reznor, Butch Vig (drummer from Garbage, but producer of Nirvana's Nevermind and many Foo Fighters records), Frank Black and others. Oh, and it even includes a Beatle.
The first two thirds of the film are about the history of the studio itself. Its first big break came literally from the formation of Fleetwood Mac as we know it, as Buckingham Nicks met Fleetwood there. Springfield's success, and the important relationship with the one of the owners, further propelled the studio.
The 80's nearly destroyed the studio as "artists" chose other, fancier places that didn't compare to Sound City's analog and rough appearance. It's worth noting that rock music really went to shit in the later part of that decade. That's weird to think about for me, as it was the 80's that I started to really get into music, but today don't recognize very much of it as important. There is a ton of music from the 70's that I may not care for, but understand that it's good stuff.
Then a three-piece from Seattle packed up their shit and recorded an album with a naked swimming baby on the cover, and in the span of a year, rock music recovered from the hair band era. It wasn't long before bands were flocking to record there again.
The studio apparently closed in 2011, as the tools required to make music just didn't require a studio anymore. This is where the last act of the movie takes a turn from historical documentary to love letter for the studio, and the human process of recording music. Grohl bought the mixing board from Sound City, as he felt it had to live on. He then proceeded to record an album on it that brought back many of the people who had success via the old studio. At first this appeared completely self-serving, and maybe a little masturbatory, but the authenticity of Groh's passion for recording and music is very much genuine. Remember, this guy could have quit years ago on the strength of Nirvana and Foo money.
And what better way to pay homage to music than ask a member of the Beatles, Grohl's reason for getting into music in the first place, to join him. So Paul McCartney joins the surviving members of Nirvana, with Foo's, and they record together. I have to admit, when I saw them do it live on SNL late last year, it was the most interesting thing I've seen Sir Paul do in my lifetime. It was fantastic.
If you're a fan of rock music, and appreciate everything that has come out from the 70's to today (leaving out the late 80's, of course), this is one of the coolest things ever. I really enjoyed the movie. It's currently streaming free for Amazon Prime members.