20 Feet from Stardom: All of the Talent, None of the Fame – Netflix Review (Day 19)

This Academy Award-winning documentary shines a powerful light on the people in the shadows.


This is a documentary about famous backup singers, including Darlene Love and her group the Blossoms, Grammy-winner Lisa Fischer, up-and-comer Judith Hill, Merry Clayton, Tata Vega, the Waters family, and Jo Lawry, among others. It goes into the careers of these amazing performers who made so many of the iconic songs that we love and yet never got the fame that they deserve. It’s a stunning view of a part of the music industry that people probably never thought about. There are also plenty of big names talking to everyone, like Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Stevie Wonder, Bette Midler, and Sheryl Crow.

Pictured: A ton of talent. Not Pictured: Fame or money.


This category ended up being “Academy Award Winning Documentary Film,” and my first thought was actually to pick John Ford’s documentary on the Battle of Midway because I had seen the film Midway earlier this year and had selected a John Ford film for Day 17. I also considered amazing films like Man on a Wire or Kon-Tiki, but then I heard The Faceless Old Woman Who Lives on My Sofa tell me that I needed to watch this film, and it turns out that, like most men will eventually learn, listening to my woman was the right decision. 

Midway didn’t have Bruce Springsteen, so, that’s a point against it.

This film isn’t a dark war story or a film about children dying, it’s just a movie about some people that have undoubtedly influenced your life and yet you likely don’t know who they are. Even the ones that had their big moment have fallen into obscurity again. One of the things this film does so well is that it shows us the lives of these artists like you’d expect, but first it shocks us with how many songs we already know their voices from. There’s a single sequence in which we find out that Darlene Love and the Blossoms were the backing voices for songs ranging from “The Monster Mash,” to Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” to the Crystal’s “Da Doo Ron Ron.” Moreover, it turns out that the Blossoms were the actual voices on the song “He’s a Rebel,” a number one hit, but Phil Spector (sorry, CONVICTED MURDERER Phil Spector), instead marketed it as a Crystals recording. That’s just one of the groups whose recordings you’ve undoubtedly heard, but never thought about whose voices were actually telling you “they did the mash.” Oh, and Darlene Love, a black woman, was one of the lead female voices on “Sweet Home Alabama,” something that even she acknowledges was a bit surprising. 

Phil Spector, failing to just f*cking die already.

One thing the movie mentioned was how different it is for an artist to have to constantly sing together on key and match someone throughout a performance. While my singing abilities are best described as carcinogenic, the way they explain it does succeed in conveying the added difficulty that many singers couldn’t handle. Not coincidentally, most background singers start off singing in church choirs; apparently that’s where you learn to harmonize with a lead. What seems unquestioned throughout the series, by both the lead singers and the backups, is that many of the backup singers are just as talented as most stars, or even moreso, but somehow just don’t get the public’s ear at the right time. It’s honestly sad to hear these great voices and these great talents not get the acclaim they deserve, but most of them made their peace with it and take pride in doing a great job as a backup singer. Others, however, are still trying to get their name out there, so they’re still trying to make that long walk from the background to center stage.

Lisa Fischer has a Grammy and still doesn’t get enough respect.

Overall, this was a great film. Unfortunately, it’s leaving Netflix on September 23, so, if you are reading this, watch it now. It’ll change your perspective on music.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

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