Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"Muscle Shoals", a historical documentary about the rhythm and blues mecca

Last night on PBS's "Independent Lens" series, this film was watched here.  It's about the development of the small town of Muscle Shoals, Alabama(pop. 12,000) into a center of the R&B recording industry.  It was worth almost every minute.  Beginning in the early 1960's this town began what might be seen as an unlikely rise in the recording industry.  The story will not be told here, it's for you to find and watch, but what follows are few highlights of what a determined producer and five "greasy" white 19 and 20 year old band guys were able to spawn, all locals of the small town and its rural surroundings.

---Local Percy Sledge's great hit(When a Man Loves a Woman) was his first recording. The film has footage of the creation of the song in the studio and its rapid ascent to the number one song in the country if not the world.

---Both Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin recorded most if not all of their major 60's hits with the Muscle Shoals band.  Who would have guessed that the Queen of Soul had an all white band or that the bravado Pickett was backed by the same group.  The clips of Aretha Franklin developing her own unique style in the studio are special.  Same for those of Wilson Pickett coming into town with a chip on his shoulder and developing a close musical relationship with the studio musicians.

---There is almost impossibly good footage of the Rolling Stones short visit to a studio there, a time in which they got four songs in the can in two days, including Wild Horses and Brown Sugar.  In a current interview, Keith Richards noted that the accomplishment was not at all normal for them.

Writing any kind of commentary that can really capture this film is something that I am failing to do.  There is too much there.  Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Stevie Winwood,  and many others are all there in current interviews.  One inexplicable person included in several short interviews is Bono, who never recorded there and makes at least one glib predictable comment about the civil rights struggle. That was a false note here, as in "you weren't there Man".  I guess he will help with broader distribution.  There was another short part of the film that was annoying here, and I'll let the readers find it if they can.  They may well not share my view.

The first hour and fifteen minutes of the film are over the top exceptional.  The last thirty minutes of the film mellows down, as musicians from all over flock to Muscle Shoals, many of whom are more mainstream and need their badge of honor.  That does not detract from the film at all, as it is part of a remarkable story.   



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