A New Look at Muscle Shoals

A new film examines the old soul of Muscle Shoals

In the north corner of Alabama, on the banks of the Tennessee River, sits Muscle Shoals—a tiny town with a giant musical legacy. Beginning in the 1960s, some of the music industry’s biggest names—the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Wilson Pickett, Paul Simon, and others—made the pilgrimage to this creative hub, where a group of local studios had tapped into a new sound, one that would alter the landscapes of rock ’n’ roll and soul. It’s this storied history that’s the subject of first-time director Greg Camalier’s documentary, Muscle Shoals.

The film explores the city’s emergence through behind-the-scenes footage and new interviews with artists including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Gregg Allman, Percy Sledge, and Aretha Franklin, as well as producer Rick Hall of FAME Studios and FAME’s renowned rhythm section, the Swampers, who later founded rival Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Overcoming racial barriers, the studios recorded hit after hit, giving birth to the legendary Muscle Shoals sound with such classic tracks as “Wild Horses,” “Mustang Sally,” “Tell Mama,” and “Simple Man.”

The documentary premieres this Saturday, January 26, at the Sundance Film Festival. Until then, listen to our Muscle Shoals playlist on Spotify.

“I’ll Take You There” The Staple Singers
“Chain of Fools” Aretha Franklin
“Mustang Sally” Wilson Pickett
“Sweet Home Alabama” Lynard Skynard
“Wild Horses” The Rolling Stones
“What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am” The Tams
“Patches” Clarence Carter
“Tell Mama” Etta James
“When a Man Loves a Woman” Percy Sledge
“Simple Man” Lynard Skynard
“I Never Loved a Man” Aretha Franklin
“Kodachrome” Paul Simon
“Brown Sugar” The Rolling Stones
“I’d Rather Go Blind” Etta James
“Slip Away” Clarence Carter
“Loves Me Like a Rock” Paul Simon
“Bloody Mary Morning” Willie Nelson
“Sweet Soul Music” Arthur Conley
“Lookin’ for a Love” Bobby Womack
“Land of 1,000 Dances” Wilson Pickett