The Girl Can’t Help It (1956, Key)
Best remembered for the image of Jayne Mansfield holding twin milk bottles in front of her chest, this early rock fable is also one of the most thrilling music-compilation films, with sizzling performances by Little Richard, Gene Vincent, and Fats Domino.
A Hard Day’s Night (1964, MPI)
The movie that shows why they called it Beatle-mania. Rock superstardom has rarely seemed as innocent — or as exhilarating — as in this day-in-the-life portrait of the moptopped foursome, who are transformed into a surreal British version of the Marx Brothers.
Don’t Look Back (1967, Paramount)
Bob Dylan reigns over this backstage documentary of his 1965 tour like a skinny sultan. The movie is one of the only examples of cinema verite that has you hanging on every ”caught” moment.
Jimi Plays Monterey (1987, Virgin)
The complete version of Hendrix’s performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop festival. His speedball wizardry is overpowering.
Woodstock (1970, Warner)
The epic poem of rock-docs may also be the greatest movie about the ’60s. Martin Scorsese served as supervising editor, helping to orchestrate the astonishing triple-screen imagery.
Saturday Night Fever (1977, Paramount)
Proof that disco didn’t suck. When John Travolta struts through Brooklyn to ”Stayin’ Alive,” the music suddenly seems as vital as ”Blue Suede Shoes.” The movie sees the passion beneath the polyester.
Stop Making Sense (1984, RCA/Columbia)
After two decades of concert films in which no one seemed to know where to put the camera, director Jonathan Demme collaborated with Talking Heads on this elegant and intimate concert-film masterpiece.
This Is Spinal Tap (1984, Nelson)
An ingenious parody of rock documentaries and brain-dead heavy-metal stars that is also an homage to the very notion of rock tradition.
Sid and Nancy (1986, Nelson)
Alex Cox’s great tragicomedy is both a chronicle of the Sex Pistols’ career and the most emotionally wrenching rock & roll film ever made. Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb are brilliant as Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, who stayed true to each other even as they entered the outer limits of punk decadence.
The Decline of Western Civilization Part II (1988, RCA/Columbia)
This documentary about the Los Angeles heavy-metal scene is an audacious, funny portrait of middle-class rebellion in the age of Reagan. As the movie tells it, today’s metal has no real stars, just fans who’ve made it to the top of the heap.