A Great Weekend Watch On Netflix - "20 Feet From Stardom"
Before you little bitches, that love to nitpick every little thing, jump in to tell me this is from 2013, I'm well aware.
The point of this blog is that until this past week I was not. And this documentary was SO GOOD that I've told everybody I can about it and they have never heard of it either.
I work with a pretty awesome group of people behind the scenes at the ballpark. Super talented and from all different walks of life. One guy, in particular, is named Max and plays trumpet in a famous jam band, Poi Dog Pondering. And he's always putting me on to great music and historical stuff. He mentioned this documentary last week nonchalantly to me and when I asked what it was he couldn't believe I'd never heard of it. He told me watch it soon as I could. I did. And wow.
So yes, although it's been out for 7 years now, chances are you haven't seen it before so I am strongly urging you to watch it this weekend if you have time or need something to watch.
If you are a fan of music, any kind of music, a fan of history, or just want to have your mind blown by how gifted some humans are then cue this hour and a half documentary up tonight or tomorrow.
Without spoiling it, here's the synopsis of it -
20 Feet from Stardom is a 2013 American documentary film directed by documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville and was produced by Gil Friesen, a music industry executive whose curiosity to know more about the lives of background singers inspired the making of the film.
The film follows the behind-the-scenes experiences of backup singers and stars Darlene Love, Judith Hill, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Táta Vega, and Jo Lawry, among many others. On March 2, 2014, it won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 86th Academy Awards.
Lisa Fischer said of backup singing: "I reject the notion that the job you excel at is somehow not enough to aspire to, that there has to be something more. I love supporting other artists." She added: "Some people will do anything to be famous. I just wanted to sing."
The reason this film was so great is that it highlights so many unknown talents that we all actually do know, like really know, by voice, but not by name. They start rattling off ditties of songs we all know and love from the 60s and 70s while catching up with the backup singers that made them what they were. The harmonizing, though a lost art of music today, made so many of the greatest songs ever made what they were and a lot of the same singers and artists were responsible for them, as you come to find out in the movie.
The film casually trots out some of the biggest names in music history who give credit to the backup singers they worked with and have known throughout the years- Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Sting, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Chris Botti, Sheryl Crow, Bette Midler, Tom Jones, and Luther Vandross to name a few.
(Luther Vandross' career started out singing as a backup singer for cyring out loud!)
They shine a great light on one group in particular, "The Blossoms", and their "lead" Darlene Love, who was incredible. Sadly, like many female artists of her time, and of color, she was taken advantage of by Phil Spector and forced to ghost sing for other artists he produced for and had to lend her vocals to backing tracks for basically her entire career. When they catch up with her and her co-singers and they go over all the hits they made it's mind-blowing. Her voice is still crazy powerful today.
The real highlight of the doc for me was Mick Jagger explaining the making of "Gimme Shelter" along with his backup singer Merry Clayton.
Again, another name you probably don't know off the top of your head but one of the most unmistakable vocals of all time.
You know the one -
Here it is isolated -
The story behind how the record came to be is pretty awesome. It will make you love Mick Jagger even more for how honest, humble, and quick to give credit he is. (They don't go into the curse of the song thankfully, but if you're interested you can look up the darker story behind the song and the reason some people say there's a curse from it. I don't want to spoil anything in this blog)
They also showcase a woman named Lisa Fischer who again has a name that doesn't ring a bell but once you see her and more importantly hear her you immediately recognize. She's been on stage at so many concerts I've been to I knew immediately when I saw her. And when you hear her sing unaccompanied by anything else you realize it's one of the most incredible voices you've ever heard in your life. Springsteen vouches as well.
After watching these women's voices make the hair on the back of your neck stand up straight over and over and over again you begin to wonder how did they not have star careers of their own? The film goes into that and its fascinating because some of them never wanted that life. They were perfectly content in their roles. Others did and were railroaded by guys like Phil Spector, or just didn't have the "it" factor.
All in all though great documentary that I highly recommend.
Here's another preview if you're still not sold.