I’m a musician. I play Bass Guitar and was in a grunge rock band back in the mid-90’s. I also played in a power pop, folk-punk band with my brother. I love music. It’s my biggest passion, next to movies of course. So I always kind of dig a good music Documentary.
This one is about FAME recording studios in Muscle Shoals Alabama. The man behind everything was Rick Hall, a stubborn man who might have been hard to work with, but had a keen ear for sound. He knew how to cut a track. Several famous music legends share their stories about what it was like to record with Rick.
But not only is it about music, it was about a certain time as well. Most of the first half talks about the early 60’s and what the racial tension was like back then. Many black musicians recorded some memorable songs at FAME, like Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and Etta James. It chronicles the studio throughout the 60’s and into the 70’s. But the Doc is also about the Swampers, the studio’s rhythm section, who were pretty much the heart and soul of the place. They were all white, but they “played like they were black”.
I know a lot about music history, but I didn’t know about this studio, so I found this to be a fascinating Documentary. I had no clue that famous songs like “WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN” was recorded in this redneck town. Hearing details about the recordings of these landmark songs was a real pleasure to take in. Rick Hall is a terrific character and I loved the dynamic between him and the Swampers. There’s also a bit of dramatic momentum when Rick and the Swampers part ways.
The interviews with the famous musicians add a lot of personality and depth to the movie. I loved hearing how difficult Wilson Pickett was to work with, or how hard it was to get into a “white only” restaurant with black musicians. Aretha Franklin, Bono, Alicia Keys (who we see recording a new song in the studio), and Jimmy Cliff are just some of the greats who gush about the studio. One of my favorite stories involved the making of a Rolling Stones album. Mick Jagger’s reaction to one of the Swampers claiming that there was no drug use while making a record is priceless. And it’s always a pleasure to watch Keith Richards. I fucking love his face. He’s so interesting and just a hoot to listen to. That’s a man who’s lived, and I find him fascinating.
The film is also elegantly made. Lots of scenic shots of the small town in all it’s beauty, mixed in with some great, classic tunes. There’s also some archive footage mixed in with the interviews. Stuff that’s never been seen before, which I thought was pretty awesome. The movie is nearly 2 hours, but it never feels like it. I was engaged the entire time.
If you’re a music buff, than MUSCLE SHOALS is a must-see! It’s a well made Documentary about an important time in music history that’s informative, poignant, funny, and always engaging. ★★★½ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated PG for thematic elements, language, smoking and brief partial nudity. (I actually applaud the MPAA for this rating. With all the drug references and suggestive material, I thought for sure it was PG-13. Thanks for not being prudes for once, guys!)
– Running time: 1hr 50min.