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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice guys can finish first
I bought this having heard the author interviewed on the Danny Baker show. I didn't really know who he was but thought it sounded like fun. It was only when I saw the picture on the front of the book in the Kindle store that I recognised Mark Ellen. My impression of him has always been of a enthusiastic, slightly naff, but engagingly so, puppyish figure. That very much...
Published 10 months ago by P. G. Harris

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Maybe Ellen is as nice as he seems but I never really understood how ...
The music autobiography is a strange thing. Written about a person, by that person, but do you only want to know about the music?

Maybe Ellen is as nice as he seems but I never really understood how he felt about anything. Everything was scooted past with the usual "ho-hum" attitude. I still feel I known next to nothing about him. As an example, I'm...
Published 7 months ago by ourman


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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice guys can finish first, 31 May 2014
By 
P. G. Harris - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
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I bought this having heard the author interviewed on the Danny Baker show. I didn't really know who he was but thought it sounded like fun. It was only when I saw the picture on the front of the book in the Kindle store that I recognised Mark Ellen. My impression of him has always been of a enthusiastic, slightly naff, but engagingly so, puppyish figure. That very much accords with the picture he paints of himself in this book. And yet, if the picture is an accurate one, then puppyish enthusiasm has enabled Ellen to be a driving force behind large parts of the music press from the 80s onwards, Smash Hits, Q, Mojo, Select. Add to that, for example, a significant involvement in Live Aid and you have what looks like a very successful career. Live Aid is perhaps illustrative of the whole. One was aware of the hiccups on the day, but overall the impression was of the might of the BBC getting behind a hastily constructed event. Ellen's picture is of a BBC which "didn't do" rock music and so handed the job to the amateurish Whistle Test team. The analogy provided is like asking Radio Cambridgeshire to cover the General Election.

Throughout his career Ellen has met enthusiasts for particular genres, prog, punk, rave etc etc but his own enthusiasm seems to be for popular music as a whole, in any form, any genre, with the possible exception of Cowell manufactured acts. His story starts with a pretty conventional middle class childhood in Hampshire from which the rock music scene was an escape from what he saw as stultifying boredom. Indeed, the theme of father/ son relationships, while not central to the book, is a pleasing and eventually touching background thread.

Having spent late teenage years travelling to festivals, and living in a half hearted commune in France, Ellen went up to Oxford, where amongst other things he was a member of a band called Ugly Rumours. As has been frequently documented, the charismatic but slightly self obsessed singer was one Anthony Blair.

After Oxford, enthusiasm, coupled with real determination, lead to Ellen's association with most of the major British music publications of the last two decades of the 20th century. Starting with a near life threatening encounter with Elvis Costello for Record Mirror, he moves on to NME in the Tony Parsons, Julie Birchall era where his uncynical enthusiasm seems somewhat at odds with the prevailing mood, although he does find a kindred eclectic spirit in the afore mentioned Baker.

This isn't, however, an unerringly positive account, Ellen does on occasion channel his enthusiasm into delivering a damn good kicking. The 70s and 80s Radio 1 pop DJs get a particularly vigorous shoeing, with Dave Lee Travis right on the end of the author's toe cap. Other particular targets are Roy Harper and Jimmy Page (jointly) and Van Morrison.

Inevitably the book contains plenty of celebrity anecdotes, but Ellen's do tend to have the irresistible merit of being funny, interesting, or indeed both. Some fine examples include a surprisingly feisty Sheena Easton, a down at heel Meatloaf, an insecure John Peel, an uninformed Su Pollard, an unashamed Rod Stewart and a remarkably deshabille Lady Gaga.

The final major anecdote is about being on a whirlwind world tour with Rihanna. In some ways Ellen uses this as part of his transition into being a grumpy old man, bemoaning the sense of entitlement of young journalist and the commoditisation of music. But even then, he can't give up his essential niceness, finding a way to recognise that the spoilt diva is under enormous pressure which goes a long way to understanding and even forgiving her brattish behaviour.

So, all in all, this is a thoroughly entertaining memoir, more about music journalism than about the music business itself, although the two are, of course, inevitably close, and the author comes across as a pretty decent chap, a good old english amateur succeeding through a combination of hard work and love for his chosen profession.

A final sign of the overall warmness of the book. In the mid 80s Ellen married Clare. For the rest of the book I found myself worrying when the split would come, showbiz lifestyle and all that. But it doesn't, and the dedications at the start suggest they are still happily together.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rock Stars Stole my Life!, 13 May 2014
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 10 REVIEWER)   
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This is an engaging and fascinating memoir by Mark Ellen – music journalist, critic, radio and television presenter – whose life has been completely wrapped up in his love of music. He begins with his sisters love of The Beatles, and his early musical interest in bands such as The Kinks and Bob Dylan in the Sixties. His childhood love of music was misunderstood by his parents, who disapproved of Top of the Pops and these new long haired bands taking over the airwaves. However, as so often happens, parental disapproval only made music even more attractive to Ellen. His first gig was Nick Lowe at the Roundhouse and he moved on to musical influences such as Pink Floyd, Leonard Cohen and Frank Zappa. Early bands at school and university made him realise that his career did not lie in actually being a musician (with band names such as, “Rectal Prolapse,” you suspect success was not going to be easy). However, watching the music press of the Seventies (many almost as famous as the bands they were writing about) swanning into the backstage areas at music festivals and concerts, gave him the idea of possibly trying to work for a music magazine.

What follows is really a career in music. Mark Ellen has worked for music magazines as diverse as NME to Smash Hits, through Q and Mojo. His section on working at the NME is especially interesting, with office politics and factions developing amongst the journalists, which gave him his first disenchantment of what working in the music business would be, considering his rather youthful and naive views at the time. He worked for Radio One, standing in for a delightfully insecure John Peel, before finally getting his own show (one of the highlights of the book for me was a rather nervous encounter with Iggy Pop, who turned up for an interview covered in woad and in no fit state to answer any questions – especially live on air); moving on to television with “The Old Grey Whistle Test” – later updated to the rather more modern, “Whistle Test” when “The Tube” threatened viewing figures. He was at Live Aid, many different award shows and has seen the best and worst of the music business.

Although meeting some of his heroes led to disappointment (another highlight was a hilarious, for all the wrong reasons, interview with Roy Harper and Jimmy Page), this is not, in any way, an unkind or vicious attack on those the author is writing about. Yes, he may muse on how certain superstars have terrible behaviour, but he also understands how difficult living with such huge fame can be. Mostly, his writing is very self deprecating, laughing at himself over anyone else and will not offend anyone mentioned within its pages. Often it is the music business itself, rather than the personalities, that comes under scrutiny. However, for anyone who grew up in the time Mark Ellen is writing about, or who loves music, this is an entertaining and enjoyable read. The author has managed to laugh both himself, and at the business he has spent his life working in, yet also convey his immense fondness and affection for the music which has provided the soundtrack of our lives – including his own. If you enjoy books by authors such as Stuart Maconie, then you will probably like this.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It doesn't hurt that he resembles Paul McCartney, 26 Jun. 2014
By 
Anthony Nesbitt (Liverpool, Merseyside, England.) - See all my reviews
Don't be deterred by the fact that Ellen was one of the leading lights of 'Smash Hits', (I read it....) Ellen's autobiography is a recounting of the all too painful, and indeed entertaining, wreckage of the music industry over the last forty years. Highlights range from Ellen blagging the all important first job at the 'NME' (Seventies 'NME', mind you.) and having to hold his own with Shaar Murray, Burchill, Baker, Kent, etc; To dealing with a very insecure John Peel; With Jimmy Page and Roy Harper on an interview where Page and Harper really don't fancy playing ball; 'Frankie Goes to Hollywood' on tour; 'The Old Grey Whistle Test', 'Live Aid', etc. For me, the test of the book is simple, If you don't laugh at the Julie Burchill 'Bow Bells' gag in the first sixty pages? It's not for you. One of the fastest reads of the year. Loved it. Wished it were longer.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thanks for the memories, Mark, 13 Jun. 2014
By 
Robert Carey (Dublin) - See all my reviews
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This is one of, if not the best, book about rock journalism I have read (and I have read a lot). Wonderful to read about the origins of some of my favourite journals, from Q to the late and much lamented Word. I bought the first edition of Mojo and all these years later I'm still buying it - although I do believe it has been overtaken of late by Uncut. Thanks a million, Mark.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant., 17 Jun. 2014
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This review is from: Rock Stars Stole my Life!: A Big Bad Love Affair with Music (Hardcover)
I will be honest - I bought this book to better understand my dad's worship of the Band Aid generation of musicians. Mark Ellen writes with humour and flair, and the ride is thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish: from the early days to Rihanna's Boeing 777 and "conflict-free" diamonds. It also made probably the most appreciated Father's Day gift in history ...

My dad can now watch Top of the Pops replays from the 80s in peace. In fact, I might even watch them with him occasionally!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Maybe Ellen is as nice as he seems but I never really understood how ..., 31 Aug. 2014
By 
ourman (Hanoi, Vietnam) - See all my reviews
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The music autobiography is a strange thing. Written about a person, by that person, but do you only want to know about the music?

Maybe Ellen is as nice as he seems but I never really understood how he felt about anything. Everything was scooted past with the usual "ho-hum" attitude. I still feel I known next to nothing about him. As an example, I'm always amazed in biographies when wives are mentioned only in passing. You've spent your life with this person - how come they are hardly mentioned? If rock stars stole your life then surely some of that intersects with your life away from work. If you don't want to include the personal then don't write an autobiography.

Beyond that there are the little language ticks that start to annoy after a while. You suspect that Ellen is the type of person to go to a bar and order "a flagon of your finest ale, landlord". I think it's meant to be ironic but after while I think reader and writer are no longer sure.

The Word was a fantastic read and the podcast even better but a couple of years in and the anecdotes started to come up for the second and third time. In that respect it felt like Ellen was simply running through his greatest hits.

It's not that it's not an enjoyable read. But I'd have liked something that wasn't always so superficial. I would have liked to have disliked Ellen occasionally and have noted Ellen not always liking himself. It was a bit too Smash Hits, I wanted something heavier. There's been a few attempts to write "the music Fever Pitch" - this isn't quite it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Manna from heaven for Word readers, 20 July 2014
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What a lovely book. If you know Mark Ellen from his magazine days you will recognise his style and the odd story will be familiar but it doesn't detract from an engrossing story. The self effacing tone fits perfectly as an antidote to the self aggrandisement and hubris that permeates the industry and I found his writing as a true fan provoked real empathy. Part of the interest is the gradual revelation of his eyes being opened to the cynical side of the music business and its operators but he never lets it cloud the starry eyed wonder that makes him a joy to listen to. Thoroughly recommended for the over 40s who can remember the open vistas of exploration of the sixties and the seventies.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "To the toppermost of the poppermost!", 14 May 2014
By 
M. Ellingham "Mark Ellingham" (London, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Rock Stars Stole my Life!: A Big Bad Love Affair with Music (Hardcover)
This is a terrific, very funny, big-hearted, self-deprecating memoir – "To the toppermost of the poppermost!" to steal John Lennon’s phrase. If you grew up obsessed by music in the 60s, 70s or 80s, it is hard to imagine you won’t read this without laughing out loud in self-recognition and at the magnificent antics of rock’s great, good and forgotten souls.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This book is a joy, 10 Dec. 2014
By 
This review is from: Rock Stars Stole my Life!: A Big Bad Love Affair with Music (Hardcover)
As a subscriber to the late lamented Word magazine, and someone who has enjoyed every one of the Word magazine podcasts, I am familiar with both Mark Ellen and many of the anecdotes which appear in Rock Stars Stole My Life!: A Big Bad Love Affair With Music. This prior knowledge did not detract from my enjoyment one jot.

Mark's musical consciousness started in the sixties and continues to the present day, and as such he has anecdotes galore from his long and illustrious career which saw him pass through the NME, Smash Hits, the BBC (and Whistle Test plus the small matter of Live Aid), Mojo, and the Word. Needless to say he has great insights about the way the music industry worked (and works); his numerous and eclectic musical passions; his own life story; and much more.

This book is a joy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A trip down memory lane with Black Type, 16 Jan. 2015
By 
Tealady2000 (Edinburgh) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Rock Stars Stole my Life!: A Big Bad Love Affair with Music (Hardcover)
If like me you get a newsletter/magazine from your old University containing reviews of books written by former students, you'll know that those books are often only of interest to academics in highly specialised fields. It was a very pleasant surprise therefore to come across a review of "Rock Stars Stole my Life" in last autumn's newsletter. I acquired the book and read it eagerly - it didn't disappoint. Mark Ellen is clearly nuts about music but has managed to remain surprisingly level-headed following 40 years working in music journalism. I loved his childhood recollections of his father's complete bafflement by rock/pop music. At University, Ellen wanted to be a performer himself, and formed a band with Tony Blair. After realising that music journalists got in to big gigs for free, he set about carving out a career for himself as a reviewer and writer - and the rest is history. There are loads of funny and entertaining stories in this book (including using Phil Collins singles for shooting practise) but it is also fascinating to look back on how the music business and music journalism have evolved since the late 70s. I remember buying Smash Hits when it very first came out - oh the thrill of seeing rock stars in colour (in your face, Sounds and NME!) and I definitely recall the free Simple Minds badge, which was so proudly worn by Mark Ellen's mum. Basically this a great read if you fancy a bit of a musical nostalgia-fest. Don't forget to check out the URL on the dust-jacket for a generous helping of extra photos and other bits and pieces.
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