Book & Film Reviews: Issue #59
By Classic Pop | January 14, 2020
Before We Was We
Written to mark their 40th anniversary as a group, Before We Was We, the first official Madness book, is the story of the Nutty Boys’ journey from youth clubs to the Top Of The Pops studio.
Featuring the accounts of all members of the band, it details how a bunch of self-proclaimed “hoolies and urchins” came together in classrooms, clubs and concerts whose mutual interests in music, fashion, films and culture bonded them into the pop/ska-meisters who’d later inspire a generation of ragtag acolytes to join their house of fun.
Brimming with tales of petty crime, ducking and diving, and cheeky exploits aplenty, it’s a coming-of-age story much more than a band biography. It revisits a bygone time and place where Suggs and co. would zip around Camden Town in Morris Minor vans, hang out in dilapidated bombed-out buildings, on deserted street corners and boys clubs, before setting about following the career trajectories of the idols they watched on TOTP every week.
Often hilarious, often heart-warming, Before We Was We is recounted in a distinctive, charming style which makes it impossible not to champion the group and rejoice in their eventual success, wishing you could be part of their gang. – 8/10
It may be almost four years since the release of her last album Anti, but in that time Rihanna has been busy building an empire. However, for the large portion of her fanbase who couldn’t care less about lipstick or lingerie, the wait for a new record has been frustrating to say the least.
While new music is still yet to surface, Rihanna – described by its creator as “a visual auto-biography” – is enough to suffice until the album materialises.
Despite a hefty price tag (it’s available in three editions, with a an RRP of £120, although you should be able to pick it up cheaper), the book fulfills its promise of being the ultimate visual statement of the star’s life and career to date. With 500+ oversize pages and more than 1,000 images, this is much more than her Instagram feed packaged between hardback covers. Beautifully presented as collages, fold-outs and artistic portraits, it’s an access-all-areas pass to the singer.
Personal snapshots of the off-duty superstar sit alongside countless magazine editorials that have established her as her generation’s most influential fashion icon. Meanwhile, electrifying images of her onstage and in performance juxtaposed with shots backstage and in the studio provide a unique insight into the woman and the artist. A new LP would be nice, though… – 10/10
Just Kids: Illustrated Version
Almost a decade since it topped best-seller lists around the world, Patti Smith’s Just Kids is re-released in a new illustrated format to include examples of the work that she and artist soulmate Robert Mapplethorpe tirelessly created amidst their poverty-stricken pursuit of success.
An exquisite depiction of the bonding of two vagabond hearts that were at times friends, lovers and muses to each other, the book follows them through their hand-to-mouth existence in late-60s New York as dreamers owning their first Brooklyn apartment and time spent living at New York’s infamous bohemian mecca, the Chelsea Hotel.
As artful as anything Patti or Robert created, the original Just Kids book is a beautifully crafted ode to the Big Apple’s bygone era where free spirits could survive on next to nothing, nourished only by their creativity. The book brought that time and place to life thanks to Smith’s sublime prose. The addition of artwork and photographs of the artists and their haunts only serves to inject colour into the gritty realism she conveyed so eloquently in her text.
A book about love, friendship, art, hope and a tireless work ethic, Just Kids is the ultimate aspirational story for anyone daring to follow their dreams in pursuit of a life which is beset by struggle but ultimately enriched by the pair’s creative vision. A classic. – 10/10
Hitsville: The Making of Motown
Benjamin and Gabe Turner
Commemorating the 60th anniversary of arguably the greatest record label of all time, Hitsville: The Making Of Motown traces its roots to the factory floor of Detroit’s Ford car plant where Berry Gordy translated the production line process to the music business, creating a brand whose social voice was as influential as its musical one.
As an officially endorsed documentary, Hitsville’s slightly biased viewpoint is compensated for by access to Motown’s major players – Gordy himself, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves, the Funk Brothers and Mary Wilson all give new interviews. The film’s main draw, however, is the previously unseen archive footage – backstage with The Supremes, in the studio with Marvin and Stevie, rehearsing with The Jacksons and even audio recordings of Motown business meetings.
In fact, even though the story is told in detail, how Gordy turned a suburban house into Motor City’s musical mecca and how Motown transformed the visibility and perception of black music and the social climate, it still barely scratches the surface of the story. And therein lies the film’s only flaw – it isn’t long enough. With access to the stars and the Motown archives at their disposal, to really tell Motown’s story, only an in-depth series would truly do it justice. – 8/10