WE asked the very excellent music journalist Mark Ellen for his top five rock books ever.
1) Revolution In The Head: The Beatles’ Records And The Sixties by IAN MACDONALD (1994)/The Beatles – All These Years Volume One: Tune In by MARK LEWISOHN (2013)
I’m cheating slightly by putting two Beatles books in but you can’t mention one without the other. You can read Ian Macdonald’s masterpiece like a series of short stories: each chapter’s about a particular Beatles’ song in the order they were released and full of astonishing detail about its inspiration, recording and musicianship. You can choose a chapter to suit your mood last thing at night – eg in need of a challenge – Happiness Is A Warm Gun; light relief – You Know My Name (Look Up The Number); about to drift off – Here There And Everywhere etc. Tune In is the first part of a trilogy by the great Beatles scholar Mark Lewisohn (the next installments being, inevitably, Turn On and Drop Out). This scintillating brick-like volume is 820 pages long and it may give you some inkling of the level of riveting detail to learn that on that final page – spoiler alert! – The Fabs release their first album.
2) England’s Dreaming by JON SAVAGE (1991)
Meticulously-researched Dickensian adventure featuring all the rascally key players of the punk boom. Vastly more enduring than a lot of the records they made.
3) The Big Wheel by BRUCE THOMAS (1990)
Hilarious account of the imperial phase of Elvis Costello & The Attractions – though that’s never made officially clear. The author – bassist Bruce Thomas – refers to himself only as The Owl Of Art, drummer Pete Thomas as The Buzzard Of The Beat, keyboardist Steve Nieve as The Crow Of Kitsch and Elvis himself as simply The Singer. The Buzzard is so pissed one night he falls asleep on the hotel lawn; in the morning the sprinkler system kicks in but it’s a full ten minutes before he wakes up. Another night the band break a fish tank in a restaurant and cover the floor with flapping carp. A piercing insight into life on the road when maddened by boredom.
4) Heroes And Villains: The True Story Of The Beach Boys by STEVEN GAINES (1995)
Chilling account of the whirlwind rise and poisonous disintegration of California’s golden boys. When drummer Dennis Wilson has a child by the 19 year-old daughter of his first cousin and fellow group member Mike Love, you start to wonder if things aren’t getting out of hand.
5) Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys by VIV ALBERTINE (2014)
Fascinating chronicle of the Slits’ guitarist’s brush with fame while running with the Pistols and Clash gangs in the late ‘70s. Makes such a change to see the rock and roll world through a girl’s eyes – though, to be honest, there’s only *so* much menstruation a man can handle.
Mark Ellen’s memoir Rock Stars Stole My Life!: A Big Bad Love Affair With Music is available in hardback, audio and eBook formats from Hodder.