Documentary: JJ Cale – To Tulsa and Back

Yesterday, July 26th 2013 music lost one of the greats. JJ Cale is now being commonly described as an originator of the Tulsa sound, but what he actually created was the JJ Cale sound, which has since become synonymous with the music of his hometown. Essentially the blues with a groove, flavoured with country, rockabilly and jazz,  Cale’s style was minimalist, with a laid back feel, emphasizing the space between notes and beats. Nobody played the blues like JJ Cale but his style and sound can be heard in the music of many others. Eric Clapton made some of his songs famous and arguably Mark Knopfler built a career out of imitating him.

Shunning the machinations of the record business early on, Cale was a songwriter and musician who recorded and performed on his own terms over 14 studio albums.

If I could only listen to one artist forever I would live happily with just the music of JJ Cale. I first discovered Troubadour, his 4th studio album from 1976 and for me it will remain his masterpiece.

This documentary follows Cale on tour in 2005 as he shares his history and music.

Music Documentary: Joy Of The Single

What even constitutes a single these days? The first song to be given to radio off a forthcoming album? It’s availability on itunes? Thankfully the 7″ single seems to be having a bit of a resurgence in popularity in independent and DIY circles (a quick browse in any of the remaining records stores in the country will find a host of great Irish talent competing for your hard earned cash) but it may not yet be back to the levels of adoration it once demanded. As mentioned in this BBC doc, we all remember saving pennies and trotting down to the local record shop to carefully mull over what would be our foray into the music world, probably based on a song or two from the radio or a recommendation from a friend. The film features the likes of Jack White, Richard Hawley and Rob Davies all recounting this and similar magical moments connected to ‘the single’ and acts as a sort of love letter to it, reminding tired, mp3 accustomed ears just how magical a piece of wax with a few grooves can be.



Music Documentary: Pixies loudQUIETloud


Rejoice! There’s new Pixies music infiltrating ears and lives dates being selling out across the globe. But wait, no Kim Deal? If this came as a shock to you then this documentary is a must see. It’s shot during the previous reunion tour of the band Kurt Cobain described as making perfect pop music, and illustrates just how tense the relationship between the band members still is, not to mention drummer Dave Lovering’s struggles with the death of his mother during the tour. If you’re looking for an uplifting “we’re getting the band back together” documentary, there’s very few worse candidates than this film, but it does give a interestingglimpse into the sometimes realities of the big band comebacks are that have become so frequent in the last few years.

Music Documentaries: The Smiths: Not Like Any Other Love and The Importance of Being Morrissey

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the release of the first single by The Smiths ‘Hand In Glove’. Even before the internet, The Smiths have always been heavily championed, adored by ciritcs, the subjects of countless articles and media, constantly topping ‘most influentual’ and ‘best album’ polls and perhaps most impressively, a die hard fan base knowing no generational limits. We all probably have a friend who had a Smiths t shirt in school, and a parent/teacher/bus driver who had all of Morrissey’s lyrics stored carefully in their memory banks waiting to pop out at any given opportunity. Most of us have probably quoted lines from their songs to a significant or a potential significant other. There are very few acceptable reasons for not knowing The Smiths, and realising how they changed pop music.

For the obsessive fan, Tony Fletcher‘s book The Enduring Saga of The Smiths is one of the most well written and illuminating music books available. Below are some of the best documentaries on the band. First is the excellent BBC Culture Show special that was broadcast this week that really illustrates just how important the band were.


For the casual fan and insatiable fan alike, this is a doc made by Grandad in 2002, just try to get past the opening cover version.



This endearing documentary on the band’s former frontman was also made the same year. Definitely for the die hards but might just win over a few of the Moz haters too.


Iggy Pop – Documentary

(Photo by Cormac Figgis)

Taking his cue from Duane Eddy & Bo Diddley records James Osterberg derived his stage name from his time as drummer with high school band The Iguanas. The Stooges were officially unleashed on the world with their self titled debut album in 1969, the same the month as Woodstock. The antithesis of flower power, Iggy Pop and brothers Ron & Scott Asheton had given birth to a new music. Punk before punk.

This documentary from 2004 traces Iggy’s life through The Stooges and his solo career while also shining a light on the enormous musical legacy of a peerless performer and musical progenitor.

New album Ready To Die sees Iggy reunited with guitarist James Williamson for the first time since 1977’s Kill City, original Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton having died in 2009. Ready To Die by Iggy & The Stooges is out now on the Fat Possum label.

Music Documentary: Pavement – Slow Century

The idea of one band being the ‘defining sound of a generation’ is always a difficult theory to justify. In any given generation there are so many subcultures and tribes with their own soundtrack, and only a handful who would be remembered as having mainstream success. With heavy backing from the college rock scene, Pavement are remembered as the prevailing kings of 90s slacker rock scene, separate from the grunge and noise rock genres who had their own royalty. Although they have always retained a cult following, their 2009 reunion tour seen even their most casual fan reminded of the band’s importance, not only the wealth of bands influenced by them (and some just poorly imitating them).

And why not? Their songs of social disillusionment and confusion ring through worringly clearly in present day while their care free musicianship reacts perfectly against the hyper produced and polished sounds coming from laptops and bedrooms. Although this documentary, co-produced by Lance Bangs, only provides a basic run down of the bands history intercut with tour footage and interviews, it does just enough to reel that casual fan in and leave them rummaging for that mix cd they received from their Pavement loving mate years ago.

Music Documentary: The Undertones – Here Comes The Summer

Unlike music documentaries, truly great music biopics are hard to come by. If you don’t believe me then try being subjected to ‘True Movies music weekend’. Music documentaries usually allow those involved (sometimes in the loosest sense) to reveal something to fans, while biopics have to compete with the excitement of the myths and reputations built by fans themselves, and that’s before we even get into the reproduction of the music.

Good Vibrations was released this weekend to a flurry of critic and fan praise alike, and looks set to be this year’s ‘Control’. The film follows Terry Hooley and his journey to becoming the musical messiah of Belfast during The Troubles. The most known band to feature in the film are The Undertones, and although everyone thinks they know about the band behind what John Peel called ‘the most perfect pop song ever written’, there’s a lot more to the Tones than that one song. Exactly what their success meant to the people of Derry, their influence on music in Northern Ireland and their attitude to going on tour with The Clash in America is all detailed in the doc below.

Music Documentary: Caledonia Dreaming

The best pop music is always born out of some sort of miserable situation. Break ups and break downs provide typical inspiration but the most powerful are usually made in reaction to a social circumstance. Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit, Gil Scott Heron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised and even Nina’s 99 Red Balloons were all prompted by social injustice. Similar to the post-industrial Manchester that prompted The Smiths, Joy Division and The Fall into being, the youth of 1980’s Scotland were having an identity crisis, and they battled it with pop music.

The BBC documentary below details the history of Scottish pop from Orange Juice to Teenage Fanclub to Franz Ferdinand. A musical heritage that heavily influenced the current young Scot crop we regularly play such as Django Django, Casual Sex and Frightened Rabbit, and it seems to just keep thriving. Yes, there are some questionable mentions of bands such as The Fratellis and Wet Wet Wet, but it all has its place in music history, just not in your record collection.

(all parts available on youtube, just see the suggestions at the end)

Music Documentary: Mark Linkous is Sparklehorse/The Sad and Beautiful World Of Sparklehorse

As total music nuts here at Needle Hits The Groove, we get as excited about a good music documentary as we do about a great album. It’s always interesting to the inner workings of a tour or the creative process, the relationship between band members, or simply gaining an understanding of the social context that inspired the music.

As this week was the three year anniversary of the death of Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous, what better way to start off our weekly documentary recommendation, than a piece than allowed an intimate glance into Linkous’s home life and writing process, as well as his account of the incident that almost left him paralysed. The full documentary is available on youtube in several parts, the first part is below.



However there is another documentary  on the aloof genius currently in production by his two friends Alex Crowton and Balwant Dassentitled called ‘The Sad and Beautiful World of Sparklehorse’. This documentary will explore the link between mental illness and creativity using Linkous as an example of an artist of extremely high talent who also suffered from bipolar disorder before taking his own life in March 2009.

A funding campaign to complete the film is currently running and so far the interviewees include Gemma Hayes, Emily Haines of Metric and Mercury Rev.

Donate to the film and watch the trailer.