Extras \ Film: THE BEST BIOPICS EVER MADE ABOUT MUSICIANS AND BANDS

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by Aveline MacQuoid on May 31, 2021

in Extras

The Best Biopics Made
About Musicians and Bands Ever

There have been many movies based around real and fictional musicians and bands. Movies such as Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? Featuring country and bluegrass musicians on the run. Other fictional movies that have found success include The Commitments, Purple Rain, Almost Famous, and Walk Hard.

Musicians such as Johnny Cash have provided rich source material and a story that continues to capture the imagination and ignite creativity in others. Stage shows such as The Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash and, of course, Walk The Line show that public interest in these stars never wanes.

However good these movies are, they can’t match the power and the music from the stories of real-life musicians. There have been some powerful biopics released from Hollywood and independent sources over the last few decades, and there will no doubt be more to come.

Here are some of the best musical biopics ever made. 

Pink Floyd’s The Wall

The Wall became one of the biggest selling concept albums, indeed of any type of album, of all time. According to the Record Industry Association of America, the album is the 8th biggest selling in the US with around 23 million copies. When you look at sales across the world, the number is over 30 and it is Pink Floyd’s second most popular record after Dark Side of the Moon.

As for the movie, while it is not technically a biopic, it has strong enough biographical links to make this list. Roger Water’s life was opened up and put on both screen and stage, as the story of a rock star coping with his father’s death was laid bare.

What makes it more unusual for a list of biopics is that it was made as a combination of live-action and animation. The movie and album also saw the end of Pink Floyd as it was known then. 

Eight Mile

Another movie that has biographical tendencies but is not specifically labeled as a biopic. This tells the tale of a young man growing up in a trailer park with his mother and younger sister and dreaming of a better life.

A movie that is perhaps surprisingly well made and acted and is based around the life of Marshall Mathers III, better known as Eminem. It shows his life when he was living with a drug-addicted, out-of-work mother, while he toiled in a factory. He attends rap battles and writes lyrics in his spare time hoping to make something better of his life.

Straight Outta Compton

This time, there is no ambiguity. Straight Outta Compton tells how a group of friends became one of the most notorious bands ever to emerge in the states, and perhaps the world.

Although there were more members in real life, the movie decided to follow five main players, and their manager, as they release their seminal album; Straight Outta Compton. In 1989 the Federal Bureau of Investigations sent NWA’s label, Priority Records, a letter to inform them of their feelings about the lyrics on the album. Particularly about the song, F**k tha Police. The letter was written by one Milt Ahlerich, however, it was written on official FBI paper and drew sharp criticism from the media.

The movie itself shows how the band took themselves from a life of constant danger, surrounded by crime, drugs, and guns, and instead created music that sold over 3 million copies despite having little or no airplay in many regions. The film shows the challenges that the band faced from the police and some sections of the media, and dangerous interlopers, and ultimately the implosion that ended the group forever. 

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

There is now a fine Broadway musical devoted to this fantastic singer. Tina: The Tina Turner Musical was nominated for 12 Tony awards and has been packing audiences in who are keen to enjoy the music and life of this great vocalist.

Back in 1993 though, cinema goers were being wowed by Angela Bassett and Lawrence Fishburne as husband and wife, musical geniuses, Tina and Ike Turner. Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock and was abandoned by her parents when she was young before later being reunited with her mother and sister. As she pursues her dreams she then encounters Ike Turner who takes her under his wing and later marries her.

As you may know, they went on to be a success before Ike turns to physically and mentally abusing his young wife and also to hard drugs. Powerful performances and a compelling life story make this a biopic worth a watch. 

The Runaways

A very different type of female vocalist is in the next biopic on the list. The Runaways were a band put together to be the first all-girl rock group ever. If that sounds cynical then maybe it was. Kim Fowley was responsible for releasing a string of novelty and cult records during the 1960s and ’70s until he hit upon the idea of a girl group after meeting Joan Jett.

Blonde Cherie Currie was added as the singer despite no musical experience and the band went on to release four studio albums. The movie shows the band being put together and then the way Fowley wanted Currie presented ultimately tore the band apart. Joan Jett went on to become a highly successful rocker in her own right.

Jett wrote and recorded “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” which is a staple song for musicians to learn and e chord guitar is vital for this. The Runaways were just amateurs teaching themselves so sticking with the guitar might mean it’s you being featured in a biopic one day.

Control with Joy Division and Ian Curtis

New Order is responsible for many hit records and released the biggest-selling 12 inch single ever in the UK. Blue Monday sold over 700,000 copies which is more than some bands’ albums. It also had a sleeve designed by Peter Savill that cost so much the record actually lost money every time it was sold.

But, before New Order came along, they were known as Joy Division, and as any fan knows, their singer then was called Ian Curtis. This biopic was released in black and white and is largely filmed around the north of England and in clubs as you see a band come together and start to find success. This biopic is the story of Ian Curtis’ life as he struggles to do the right thing by his wife and daughter just as he is falling in love with another woman.

On top of this, there is the fact that Curtis was struggling with depression and epilepsy. During the recording of the band’s last album together. Closer, the young singer was suffering more and more blackouts and seizures. Unable to cope, he took his own life at the age of 23. 

Summary

These are only a few of the great biopics, and there are plenty more music fans. Bird and Ray would grace any list of movies based on musicians, as would, of course, Walk the Line.

Many of these movies will inspire musicians to learn chords for guitar from websites and videos on the internet. Music isn’t just a joy to listen to or enjoy on the big screen, it can make a great hobby too.

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