10 Criterion Collection Discs Every Musician Must Own

The good folks at the Criterion Collection invented the concept of the special edition for the home video market way back in 1984, and in the past 30 years have become the gold standard, a hallmark of excellence in the ever-changing landscape of home entertainment. From laserdisc to DVD to blu-ray to streaming, Criterion has continually opened our eyes to cinema classics from around the world, including a number of music-themed titles.

Here, in no particular order, are our Top Ten Criterion Collection discs every musician must own.

99_BD_box_348x490_original1. Gimme Shelter (1970) 

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The legendary doc chronicles the Rolling Stones’ disastrous outing at the Altamont Speedway in 1969, thus bursting the bubble on the flower power era. Throw in some amazing tunes, “security” provided by the Hells Angels and an in-depth booklet and audio commentary by the film’s director, and this easily makes the list as our first must-buy title. Now available on blu-ray.

624_BD_box_348x490_original2. Qaudrophenia (1979) 

Another blu-ray stunner, Quadrophenia is the Who’s second-best rock opera, but scores bonus points for an early Sting appearance (as a pathetically hero-worshiped bell boy). A cool supplement on the new disc is an interview with audio engineer Bob Pridden, who talks about the newly commissioned 5.1 surround mix (see below).

168_BD_box_348x490_original3. Monterey Pop (1967) 

Yeah, yeah, another 1960s rock fest on the list so soon? Yep. One word: Otis. That’s all you need to know, man. That, and some guy set a guitar on fire…but even Hendrix’s theatrics can’t outshine the genius of Otis Redding, who died mere months after his legendary performance at Monterey Pop. Out now on blu-ray, transferred from the original 16mm elements.

608_BD_box_348x490_original4. Harold and Maude (1971) 

My wife hates it, I love it, and it’s really got very little to do with music. But it does contain some of Cat Stevens’ best work, including the non-LP “If You Want To Sing Out,” performed gloriously out-of-tune in the film by Ruth Gordon (and very much in tune by Cat Stevens again in the movie). Available on blu-ray in your choice of LPCM mono or stereo.

20_box_348x490_original5. Sid and Nancy (1986) 

Alex Cox’s brilliant (if somewhat historically inaccurate) look at the life and squalid death of the Sex Pistols’ bassist Sid Vicious. Now, the Criterion version is currently out of print, but you can grab a used copy of the DVD on Amazon and slip it in with the current MGM blu-ray to make your own special edition. The Criterion version is in the correct aspect ratio (1.75:1), contains a commentary not found anywhere else and includes the infamous 1976 Bill Grundy interview with the Sex Pistols. Well worth tracking down on the used market, trust us. Also be on the lookout for an early appearance by Courtney Love…

83_harder_original6. The Harder They Come (1973) 

The DVD is out of print, but go find a copy now! Quite simply the BEST soundtrack ever, featuring the incomparable Jimmy Cliff single-handedly showing us what Jamaican music is truly all about (sorry Bob). The story of the shady Jamaican recording industry and a musician trying to make his way is nearly incomprehensible without subtitles, so don’t feel bad if you have to turn them on to figure out what anyone’s saying.

100_box_348x490_original7. Beastie Boys Video Anthology (2000)

Sadly, now that Adam Yauch is no longer with us, there will never be any more new music from the Boys, the Boys, the Beastie Beastie Boys. And since there is no more Music Television, even if there were new music, there’d be no station on which to play their new videos. So, what we are left with is one amazingly neat little package,  a collection of some of the most groundbreaking music videos ever filmed, by one of the most groundbreaking bands ever. Still in print on DVD, but since most of the videos were mastered in standard def, don’t expect an HD upgrade on blu-ray anytime soon. 18 videos, 40 remixes, 100 alternate angles, audio commentaries and 5.1 mixes – what more could you ask for? Just don’t forget to let the beat…….um, DROP!

336_BD_box_348x490_original8. Dazed and Confused (1993)

If Kiss, the Nuge and Sweet mean anything to you, this is your movie. Throw in a pervy Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck beating freshman ass, and a lot of pot, and you’ve got the recipe for stoner cinema’s art house entry. Helmed by indie guru Richard Linklater, the film simply shines on blu-ray. Featuring an amazingly detailed booklet (with faux character yearbook) and a die-cut slipcase, the disc also houses a 50-minute doc, commentary, behind-the-scenes footage and audition tapes. Well, alright, alright, alright…

654_BD_box_348x490_original9. Repo Man (1984) 

Another Alex Cox classic, Repo Man features some of the best early-’80s West Coast punk, plus Emilio Estevez rocking the nihilistic middle-class punk aesthetic. Newly minted on blu-ray, featuring a gorgeous 2K transfer, audio commentary and interviews with  musicians like Iggy Pop (see below).


683_box_348x490_DF_original10. Nashville (1975)

Robert Altman’s look at Nashville finally arrives on blu-ray, and what a stunner it is. An inside look at the Nashville industry, filmed beautifully in scope, and featuring many live, on-set performances of songs written by the cast itself. This is one you simply must own.

12_box_348x490_original11. And because every list should go to 11, we chose a special bonus entry, the one that inspired things going to 11…This is Spinal Tap. Technically out of print on DVD, this is another situation like Sid and Nancy where you should pick up the new MGM blu-ray, track down the Criterion DVD and make your own homemade special edition. The Criterion disc houses an exclusive commentary and over an hour of cut footage.

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