I’ve decided to do that fairly standard and slightly stereotypical list thing that websites do; I must present to you a list of the greatest Rock and Roll movies of all time! However, I can’t rank them. There are obviously some I love more than others, but what does that matter? They each deserve recognition and love. And I actually already have dedicated an entire blog post to what I consider to be both the best movie and the best rock and roll movie ever: Pirate Radio. But, to recap briefly, it’s beautiful because it’s funny, charming, filled with friendships and romance, and- most importantly for me- rock and roll and a deep love for that rock and roll. I believe I posted that around the end of December; I delve into my love for that movie pretty thoroughly.
Alas, here are the others that are secondary to Pirate Radio in being a great rock and roll themed movie:
This Is Spinal Tap
One of my favorite experiences in life is laughing, and that’s pretty much the bulk of my reactions to this movie. I already love rock stars, long hair, ridiculously tight pants, British accents, so I was bound to love this movie. This “rockumentary” does well in catering to rock lovers by showing us that stage life, the performances, the backstage environment, but I think the humor and even the vulnerability of these characters are what make this movie appealing to everyone, rock lover like myself or not. Yes, the movie is about an 80’s metal band (who actually have been a band since the 60’s so it’s not even truly fair to label them as only as 80’s metal band, but that’s just so you have the proper image in your head), but this band actually isn’t hugely successful. You’re able to laugh at them, though, when nobody shows up for their record signing or when gigs are cancelled due to low ticket sales. You’re even more able to laugh at them when stage props go horribly wrong, like when they leave their largely incompetent manager to handle things:
Nigel doesn’t even know it just yet, but that little Stonehenge monument being lowered just slightly behind him was actually supposed to “20 feet high”, but because Nigel gave Ian, their manager, this napkin drawing, and Ian didn’t bother you know…fixing it, you end up with disappointed and humiliated rock stars.
You want them to win, but it’s just too funny when they don’t. They can’t even go to an airport without one of them being searched and discovering they tried to fool everyone with a foiled-up cucumber in their trousers. For the sake of comedy, please enjoy the crap out of this movie.
School of Rock
This movie is similar to Pirate Radio in that part of its’ appeal to me is how passionate the main characters are about rock.
Okay, maybe just Jack Black’s character in the beginning…but how freaking cool is it that he gives these already musically inclined kids the grand gift of rock and roll?! I love his chart of rock and roll history on the chalkboard, how he gives the kids various albums on CD to listen to for homework, and even shows them a bit of rock and roll (the drumming montage featuring Keith Moon is just beautiful). Also, Jack Black and those kids are hilarious. They’re endearing, some sweet, some sassy, and a few of them insecure, like I’m sure many of us were at that tender middle-schoolish age. I know I was. I had no self-confidence whatsoever. “I can’t play rock and roll, I’m not cool enough,”; how adorable and sad is that?! And you know what?! He certainly was cool enough for rock and roll, bless his shy little heart. And here’s my favorite sassy moment:
Paired with an awesome rock and roll soundtrack and references, these hilarious kids and the even more hilarious Jack Black make this movie one of the best ever. ROCK AND ROLL!!
That Thing You Do!
For whatever reason, I don’t think this movie is as well-known as others on this list, and I have no idea why. It’s written and directed by Tom Hanks!! He’s always been one of my favorite actors, and to me, it’s even cooler that he’s a huge classic rock and roll fan; he loves the Beatles (which he also incorporates into this film in more than a few ways but my favorite way is a major spoiler, so….) and is even an executive producer of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies. This movie even has the gorgeous Liv Tyler, talented actress but also the daughter of the legendary Steven Tyler, lead singer of Aerosmith! It’s just so laced with rock and roll, it’s wonderful. It’s about a band in the early 1960’s making it big with their first major hit single, and the journey ahead of them. Like the others on this list, it’s quite hilarious; Steve Zahn and Ethan Embry are both members of the band and they’re both delightful. But you also get the drama and the tension that forms when a band is successful and it all happens so quickly. And of course, there’s a little bit of romance as well. There’s so many little things I love, like the overall 60’s-ness of it all, the reference to other artists from the time, how the band members are with each other…I could go on, but just take these few specific things I love about it; it includes one of my favorite scenes in cinema EVER.
When they hear their song on the radio for the first time, it’s incredibly blissful and sweet. Liv Tyler, who is the lead singer’s girlfriend/muse, hears it first, and gradually the band all meet at the drummer’s father’s appliances store. Guys, I’m not kidding, this scene makes me tear up every single time. They’re just so freaking happy. Nothing can bring them down in this moment. You’re full of crap if you’re telling me you’ve seen a group of people any happier than these kids are.
Even in this poor quality youtube video of the moment, I still cry.
Other thing I love that is kind of a spoiler…but all you need to know is there’s a dramatic break up at some point, and Liv Tyler delivers this beautiful and sad speech. This is just a snippet, but you really should just watch the movie to hear it all:
Rock and Roll High School
Okay, so based on my previous experiences of showing this movie to my friends who aren’t quite as rock and roll obsessed as I am, this one might be considered more enjoyable for us rock fans. That, of course, isn’t to say that it is exclusively for rock fanatics; it has so much silliness that you can’t resist it. But, back to the rock and roll; like the others, the soundtrack is amazing. Unlike the others, this one actually stars a legendary rock band in the flesh: the Ramones. Released in 1979, this was pretty much at the height of their punk rock career. They actually perform in it and drive the plot. Riff Randell, played by P.J. Soles (who is otherwise known for playing bitches in horror movies in the late 70’s), is just an awesome character. A passionate lover of rock, all she wants in life is to see the Ramones in concert and give them the songs she has written for them. Basically, Riff Randell is the original fangirl. She loves them so much, and I adore that about her. I feel like I am her. Of course, I have never been cool enough to write songs for any of my favorite bands; I’ve only fantasized about the Rolling Stones writing a song about me once I tell them that’s what it will take for them to be a step above the Beatles in my heart. One of my favorite scenes is when the Ramones just show up at the line of people waiting for people to buy concert tickets (in the days before the internet, people actually physically waited in lines to see their favorite artists) and they’re doing one of my favorite songs of theirs (“I Just Want to Have Something To Do”) and Riff is just having the time of her life (when she’s not battling the bitch groupie that cut in front of her in the ticket line while Riff was sleeping). She is dancing, jumping, smiling- you look at her and know she’s in pure ecstasy. For some reason, the internet does not have any pictures of this moment I’m so in love with, so I awkwardly attempted to capture this moment with my phone camera while watching it on DVD…however, my blu ray player kinda sucks and doesn’t let me rewind in slo-mo AND pause- my last one did. Oh well. JUST LOOK AT HER HAPPY FACE, SHE IS TOSSING HER HEAD IN BLISS BECAUSE HER IDOLS ARE A MERE LIKE FIVE FEET AWAY:
Out of context, this looks creepy, but it’s one of my favorite scenes in this movie. You just can’t beat the feeling of rock and roll.
My other favorite scene is when she actually meets them, and she’s just so happy. Joey Ramone, her favorite and her dear crush, remembers her name and even sweetly waves to her as she is rushed out of the room by their stereotypical jerk manager.
So, if you want to see a series of unlikely events like a rock band come to a high school and help its’ students take over the school, you are in for one heck of a treat. Seriously, I can’t get enough of this movie. I’ve watched it a handful of times every year since I was 13.
I know I said I wasn’t going to rank these movies, but honestly speaking, this is probably the absolute best aside from Pirate Radio. Based on the real-life experiences of former rock journalist turned movie dude Cameron Crowe, this just feels so authentic. We follow the sweet William Miller as he writes a piece for Rolling Stone Magazine, on the road with Stillwater, your stereotypical fighting, dramatic, pain-in-the-ass of a modern rock band. This is the early 70’s, so we are a bit past my favorite decade of rock and roll, but there’s still plenty of references to the best. When William is a little boy and his sister leaves the house, she leaves him her record collection. Sweet little William touches the records and looks at them like they’re gold. Which, to people like me, they truly are. My favorite is that he starts with Tommy, an iconic album by the Who that also happens to be one of my favorite albums ever. Later in the film, you see another album of theirs that is also awesome in the background, Who’s Next, and then one of the band members references the wisdom of Pete Townshend. Anyway, I feel like a lot of the people who love this movie love self-proclaimed-not-a-groupie-but-totally-is-a-groupie-in-that-she-admits-to-preferring-famous-people “band aid” Penny Lane. I actually can’t stand her. Probably because I relate more to the quiet William Miller. I truly feel like I am William Miller. (Yes, he’s hopelessly in love with her, but he really shouldn’t be. Alas, you can’t control your heart.) I just want to punch her when she tells him “you’re too sweet for rock and roll”. She’s so vain and awful. Then again, so are the rock stars themselves, but I couldn’t even hate them if I tried. But any hatred aside, this movie is amazing. Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is also in Pirate Radio, has a smaller part in this movie but I love him just the same- except when he insults the Doors. Again, similar to This Is Spinal Tap, it’s endearing and entertaining to watch a trying band in their best and worst moments- to their performances, to their silly arguments over band merchandise (actually that argument isn’t so silly but their constant bickering with each other in general is), to affairs being revealed and nearly dying with each other, you see all of it. They’re not based on one band in particular, but Cameron Crowe was inspired by many of the bands he dealt with in that time period. This movie already has a billion cool points, but one of my favorite aspects is its’ reference to Creem Magazine, which is a magazine I actually worshipped when I was younger because I had all of my dad’s copies from the late 70’s and early 80’s, and I’m still not over that it’s no longer in publication but Rolling Stone still is. Yeah, Rolling Stone is still cool sometimes, but Creem gave you just rock and roll. Music only, none of these movie reviews, interviews with hot actors at the time, and political crap. Again, those are fine too, but once you’ve read so many issues of a music-only-focused magazine, it’s hard to go back.
Back to the movie…it’s incredible, okay?! Also let this band aid sum up my whole life:
And this as well:
I decided not to include actual biographical films of my favorite rock stars; for the most part, I find the movies for the fictional bands to be better. The only one that I love dearly so far is called Love & Mercy, written to show the true story of the struggles of Beach Boys genius Brian Wilson. We see both his youth and success with the band, and then when he is basically in captivity by this crazy, manipulative, scary therapist. It’s awesome. But it’s more than a rock and roll movie, it’s even more than a simple biopic of a rock star; it’s a story of triumph over mental health issues. Of course, he wasn’t cured, but still. He gets the proper help and that alone is incredibly inspiring. It’s important for anyone to see. All of the other rock bio films I have seen thus far have honestly been a bit disappointing, like The Buddy Holly Story and La Bamba. Being a huge fan of both Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly, I am simply disappointed with the casting and the historical inaccuracies (Gary Busey? Really? And Ritchie Valens wasn’t actually that obsessively scared of flying. Isn’t dying when your career has only just started tragic and interesting enough?! The poor guy was only 17!). I hope one day that they both get new movies truly deserving of their legacies. As far as the Jimi Hendrix movie that came out within the last couple of years, I haven’t seen it yet. But man, we need more amazing films like Love & Mercy!!! There was rumors years ago of Kirsten Dunst starring as Debbie Harry in a Blondie film, but that hasn’t happened. I’m very upset; I love Blondie and Kirsten Dunst is one of my favorite actresses. Oh well. Maybe that idea will come back someday??
Also, I want to talk about all of the Beatles movies like Help!, A Hard Days Night and Yellow Submarine, but, oddly enough, aside from perfect soundtracks and performance scenes, they’re not quite the same as these other movies I have talked about. Like, they’re not solely about rock and roll. They are just about rock stars…maybe A Hard Days Night could be considered more rock and roll than the others….crap. Now I have regret. Alas, I’m going to return to my previous assessment that they’re just not quite the same as the others.
Like Rock and Roll High School, this one stars the actual members of the band…
Scooby-Doo and Kiss: Rock and Roll Mystery
Okay, so, this one merely features the real voices of the bands members…not quite the same, but still counts.
I almost forgot about this one…that would have been a tragedy. Without the Scooby-Doo factor, this probably would be in the band-movie category along with the Beatles’ movies, but..whatever, this is the honorable mentions category. Screw it, it counts.
If you’re a fan of rock and roll and even more importantly, a fan of Kiss, you’re going to love the crap out of this movie. It’s set in a Kiss theme park, and it’s filled with song and album references and it’s just so cool. Also hearing the guys voice animated versions of themselves is awesome as well.
Not obsessed with Kiss? Not even rock and roll? But you love Scooby-Doo? Don’t fret, you’re still going to love the crap out of this movie. I showed it to my best friend, Hallie, who is a huge Scooby-Doo fan, and she loved it. She doesn’t know diddly squat about Kiss, but she thought this movie was amazing. See, something for everybody! Because, what kind of person are you if you don’t like Scooby-Doo? I don’t even want to know. It has the relationship dynamics of the gang that we know and love, and even more.
Of course Fred is the only one who doesn’t like Kiss and didn’t want to dress up with the rest of the gang. And yes, Daphne is pissed because his driving ruined her Starchild make-up.
Also, for the rock and rollers- it gets super trippy. I love it so much.
The ultimate lesson here? The world needs more rock and roll movies!! It makes me happy!!! And I’m sure I’m not the only one!!!