Summer is a time of raunchy comedies, superheroes, and explosions, but you can find movies for grown-ups, too. I highly recommend two outstanding documentaries that take the audience behind the scenes of some of the greatest music ever recorded.
20 Feet from Stardom is the story of the back-up singers, the ones who sing “da doo ron ron” and “toot toot beep beep” and all those extras that make the songs so rich and powerful. This is the story of the singers, mostly women, with powerhouse voices, who appear over and over on hit after hit. The stories are fascinating, like the late-night call that had Merry Clayton racing to the studio with curlers in her hair and a mink coat over her pajamas to sing “Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away” on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” and Darlene Love working as a house cleaner and hearing her own voice on the radio. It kicks up a gear into existential consideration of the way all of us find ourselves in one way or another supporting players.
Here is Lisa Fischer, also featured in the film, performing “Gimme Shelter” with the Rolling Stones in concert.
Muscle Shoals, directed by Greg “Freddy” Camalier, is the equally enthralling story of a small Alabama town with two recording studios that produced some of the greatest music of all time from performers like Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Allman Brothers. Intimate archival footage and present-day recollections from the performers and the studio musicians and engineer/producer Rick Hall are fascinating and the music can’t be beat. “I’ll Take You There”, “Brown Sugar”, “When a Man Loves a Woman”, “I Never Loved A Man the Way That I Loved You”, “Mustang Sally”, “Tell Mama”, “Kodachrome”, and “Freebird” are just a few of the tens of thousands of tracks created there.