“ON THE COVER
THE BIZARRE STORY
THE MUSIC PRESS
To Frank Zappa, Music Journalism is people ‘who can’t write’
people ‘who can’t read’. And sure, it’s always been
trashy, opinionated, and elitist, but for seven decades we’ve
loved our weekly fix of ‘NME’,
‘RECORD MIRROR’, ‘SOUNDS’, ‘DISC’
and the rest…
only now, music journalism is in crisis. Apparently.
Andrew Darlington tries to make sense of it all...
‘MUSIC, WHEN IT HITS YOU
– YOU FEEL NO PAIN…’
“When young minds and bodies become host to the terrible
unleashed by the dark unholy influence of Rock music…”
(‘MONSTERS OF ROCK’ ‘2000AD’ no.2004)
The Music Press is in a state of crisis. Apparently. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.
You wouldn’t guess from newsagent’s shelves stacked high with glossy monthlies as wedge-thick as telephone directories, Emap’s Rock-bible ‘Q’
, the retro-cultist ‘Mojo’
, cross-media ‘Uncut’
, ‘Metal Hammer’
, ‘Record Collector’
, ‘Classic Rock’
, and the rest. Of course, publishing is always in a permanent state of crisis, according to publishers. Things merely tend to change. And the music press tends to change with it. It’s just that, for the best part of the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll – and Jazz before it, it was the weekly ‘inky’ papers that provide the low-down on what’s happening, who is causing it to happen, and where you have to go to be a part of it. And it’s the weekly that suffered the extinction-level event.
Think of the abattoir of victims. ‘Melody Maker’
was there at the beginning of everything we think of as ‘modern’ music. Always there to reflect the genre’s seismic convulsions across seven long decades. It merely failed to survive into the twenty-first century, cannibalised whole by its bratty long-time upstart rival ‘New Musical Express’
(the first merged issue coming in December 2000). All that remained intact within the body of its new host was its vital small-ads section, where so many important assignations had been made, where muso connected to muso, bands were formed and got signed, guitarists were recruited, and careers began. But long ago, there was also ‘Record Mirror’
, ‘Music Echo’
, and ‘Sounds’
. They all made their contribution. It’s here that new bands once snared a passing mention in the demo’s column. Grabbed a brief review playing support in Huddersfield. Waited with bated breath to read the review of their debut single. Did their first interview. Then, if things panned out, scored their first cover story. It’s just that now, all those titles are gone.
The music press was ‘a publishing quirk’ according to Jon Savage, but one with ‘an influence on English Pop out of proportion to their sales’ (in his book ‘England’s Dreaming’
, Faber 1991). And the twin strengths of those weeklies, their unique selling points, the spreads you always turned to first for your fix, were the gig guides, and the charts. Perhaps the demise of the papers is due to losing both those pivotal roles? In fact every city now deluges you in free events-listings magazines, from ‘Metro’
on down. While ‘NME’
– which published the chart for a fully fifty years, and persisted for long enough to feature Gareth Gates at no.1, opted out of running a Top 40, leaving it to the red-top dailies to deliver the latest hit-lists.
Of course, music journalism – and the success or failure of the titles that publish it, is essentially parasitic. Directly dependent on artists, music-styles and shifts in spending habits. And the nature of music-commerce itself has irrevocably altered. There’s the dark seduction of the web. Matt Phillips of the BPI (British Phonographic Industry), even blamed the revenue-downturn on a sudden deluge of ringtones. Sales of which soon overtook the singles market, which was already in meltdown. Legal – and illegal downloading and file-sharing played their part in distorting cross-counter record-sales, making charts less representative.
For example, in 2003 singles sales fell to 36.4-million from more than 80-million in 1999. At the start of 2004, Boogie Pimps’ cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody To Love” became the lowest seller ever to reach the top three, logging a mere 16,000 copies sold. Later that same year Eric Prydz’s “Call On Me” also made dubious history by shifting just 23,519 units, making it the lowest-selling number one
since sales records began. Until Elvis Presley’s “One Night” returned to no.1 the following January (the 1,000th chart-topper) by shifting a mere 21,000, as – for the first time, the number of tracks bought over the internet exceeded singles sales. For the first time in the history of the charts, with BBC Radio-2 taking over from Radio-1 as the most listened-to station, forty-somethings were buying more albums than any other age group. And Westlife could score no less than twelve no.1’s, even though no-one not wearing a training bra could name more than two of them. Strange days indeed.
And Dance culture didn’t do readily identifiable ‘stars’. As an essentially underground phenomenon, once its anthems crossed-over to the mainstream they lost that exclusivity. Shamen, Moby – Fat-Boy Slim, all became victims. And the press needs faces for eye-grabbing cover splashes. So where do they look now – Boyoncé or Busted, Dido or the Darkness? How many times can you cover-mount rock-renaissance poster-bands White Stripes, Franz Ferdinand, or the Strokes? The release of the ‘Let It Be… Naked’
CD even legitimised a Beatles cover-splash – ‘The Greatest Garage-Band Album Of All Time’, in 2003! ‘This year is most likely to be remembered for the traditional music industry’s funeral,’ says ‘The Observer’ Business Section (25 July 2004), ‘killed off by the new economy in the shape of Apple’s iTunes and GarageBand…’
The last time Rock bands truly had the field to themselves was Brit-Pop, a period with identifiable stars, regular new high-image faces with marketable attitude and credibility. Since then, call it market-fragmentation, democratisation, diversity – whatever, ‘NME’
was flailing, directionlessly torn between loyalty to the glory-days of its indie heritage, the stagnating circulation imperative of meeting a new diversity of sub-cults, and the dead-end chasing of a burgeoning TV-driven talent-show puberty-Pop audience...
This is the end, beautiful friend.
‘AND ALL THAT JAZZ…’
“By giving, in an interesting manner, between these
two covers, up-to-date information of as many branches
of popular entertainment as space will permit…”
(editorial of ‘Melody Maker no.1’ January 1926)
The story of twentieth-century music is very much to do with the decline of Western civilisation. For Vaughan Williams to the Rolling Stones. From Gilbert & Sullivan to Marilyn Manson. From Marie Lloyd and Vesta Tilley all the way to ‘X-Factor’. These are changes sparked by evolutions in electronics, and they all happened pretty much within the life-times of people still alive today. Radio and phonograms began triggering social and economic shifts in 1906 more profound than downloading or iPods ever could.
The earliest mechanised music-machines were probably pre-electric nickelodeons, Pianola’s, Player-Pianos operating from reels of hole-punched paper for the tuneful amusement of fairgrounds and bars. The Columbia Phonograph Company was formed in 1887 to market wax cylinders and recording machines. In 1890 it introduced the first pre-recorded cylinders, and an industry was born. Then there were Edison Home Phonograph music-cylinders. But it was the 78rpm twelve-inch shellac disk that took it all beyond the tipping point – the spiral scratch of encoded sound played on ‘The Victor Talking Machine’s Victrola, those crank-operated machines with changeable needle pick-ups. The original ‘revolver’, which lit the original ‘revolution’…
The music you devour at puberty roars into your bloodstream like a drug. That’s always been true. An addiction that’s as real now as it was for those who were around ten years ago, thirty, fifty… even seven decades ago. An inconceivable age in pop-culture terms. Listen to it now, and it’s impossibly difficult to get your head around what exactly was so exciting and vital about the yester-music they loved all those days before yesterday. But, from syncopated dance-rhythms through Be-Bop into Beat and everything beyond that point, chances are they were all feeling something vaguely similar to the way we feel. And they all got their weekly fix up-dates from the music press. Their connection to hep, hip, or hip-hop.
1926 was a flashpoint year for trash culture. April saw the launch of America’s first-ever all-Science Fiction monthly magazine, Hugo Gernsback’s garishly wonder-packed ‘Amazing Stories’
. While a few months earlier – in January, from a music publisher’s office in London’s 14 Denmark Street, came the modest launch of ‘Melody Maker’
– ‘a monthly magazine for all who are directly or indirectly interested in the production of popular music.’ Incidentally, both Miles Davis and John Coltrane were born this year too. In this different kind of, strangely similar world. Think Dennis Potter’s TV ‘Pennies From Heaven’
(BBC1, 1978) – remember that?, the travails of a travelling song-plugger hawking the printed sheet-music of popular ballads around instrument stores.
It’s not true to say there was no music journalism before
1926. Obviously there was. ‘Popular Music & Dancing Weekly’
had been running at least two years earlier. It’s just that ‘Melody Maker’
provides the only week-by-week direct link clear through all the years between, up to… almost, today. I wasn’t there. You weren’t there. This is about as close as we can get. This must have been pretty much how it was. There were wind-up phonographs, playing big heavy easily-breakable 78rpm disks. There was that infant music-press already establishing the convention of complaining that ‘inferior’ releases frequently sell more than ‘good’ ones.
The big difference is that it’s not the artist, it’s the song that counts. The dominant currency is play-it-yourself sheet-music, a convention that continued as ‘Melody Maker’
briefly launched a sheet-music ‘Top Ten Tunes’ in 1942 – it lasted two months, then again – for five months, in 1943, until a regular Top Fifteen ran from 27 July 1946. ‘New Musical Express’
would continue to run its sheet-music list alongside their record chart well into the mid-sixties. The biggest-selling song-title of that first year – 1926, by the way, is that cult-classic “Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie”. But Dance-bands were big news in that first – three-pence issue too. There were intriguing features ‘The Banjo In Modern Dance Orchestra’ by Emile Grimshaw, and the informative ‘How To Read Music At Sight’ by Hubert Bath. Glance through the small-ads though, and there are more recognisable then-as-now constants. An advert asks £4.4s for a portable drum-kit, and a De Luxe kit – with triangle, tuned cowbells, sleigh bells and gong, going for a hefty £30.
In July 1927 a genteel ‘Major’ Christopher Stone DSO MA, became the first BBC Radio Disc Jockey, broadcasting polite Crooners and dance-band music in his ‘Record Round-Up’ from London’s Savoy Hill Studios, to the satisfying frisson of parental disapproval. The BBC had been initially dubious about a format based merely around the spinning of discs, but Stone could be persuasive. He persisted. On his 75th birthday – in 1957, ‘Melody Maker’
generously acknowledged that ‘everyone who has written, produced or compéred a gramophone programme should salute the founder of his trade.’ Among the dissenting voices was 1930s leftist critic Theodor W Adorno who declared that ‘all contemporary musical life is dominated by the commodity form,’ meaning that he saw recorded music as being in league with radio in converting audiences from participants ‘into the acquiescent purchaser’ (‘The Jargon of Authenticity’
Meanwhile that other ‘founder of a trade’, under its first editor, Edgar Jackson – and his successors Percy Mathison-Brooks then Ray Sonin, ‘Melody Maker’
went weekly and was soon cover-boasting the ‘World’s Largest Net Sale’, escalating from 20,000 to 69,000 copies. It introduced record reviews (the first one being Sophie Tucker’s rollicking “Nobody Knows What A Red-Headed Mamma Can Do”), even as dissenting voices were complaining that young people were too busy listening to gramophones to learn an instrument, so where would tomorrow’s musicians come from?
Why play piano when you can switch on the wireless? While isn’t this new craze for playing records at dances taking work away from live musicians? (so much for Superstar DJ’s the Chemical Brothers!). It’s that same kind of end-of-the-worldism replicated when ‘Melody Maker’
reported (in 1971) how the music industry was losing £100-million to bootleg album sales. Just as, a few years later, cassette ‘home-taping is killing music’, then ‘Napster is destroying the music industry’. Nevertheless, despite all those years of doom-mongering, we’re still here…
Outrage? We got plenty of that. There was the Irish clergy’s 1936 campaign against the vile tide of jazz-driven immorality, as they attempted to ban ‘Hot Music Dances’ that persisted after 11pm, or those involving the carnal temptations of long late-walks home. They deemed any night-walk over three miles to be sinful. These tales have echoes easily picked up in 1972 with the Government’s ‘Night Assemblies Bill’ aimed directly at crushing Rock Festivals. Or the 1990s legislation targeting Acid House Parties.
And drugs? – that too, a headline revealed the truth about “Dope Cigarette Peddling Among British Musicians”, promising shock-revelations about this ‘dangerous illegal drug-habit gaining ground here’ (22 February 1936). Let’s be thankful that narcotic trend never caught on. There were also attacks on night-clubs as ‘rotten holes’ where underpaid musicians work in disgraceful conditions. So no change there either. And pay-for-play corruption? DJ Jack Payne was accused of ‘microphone prostitution’ and ‘oblique advertising’ when he had the temerity to suggest that one particular song on his play-list sounded like ‘a potential hit’. The cad!
It’s difficult to imagine now, but Jazz was the great brawling insurrectionist music of those pre-war years, confronting all the cosy insularities and racial hypocrisies of the time. Philip Larkin, celebrated its energy by writing “For Sidney Bechet” about how ‘on me your voice falls as they say love should/ like an enormous yes’ (in his ‘The Whitsun Wedding’). Yet Herman Hesse saw Jazz as ‘a shrill and blood-raw music… hot and raw as the steam of raw flesh’ reaching ‘an underworld of instinct’ (in his cult 1927 novel ‘Steppenwolf’
). To Hesse, Jazz is ‘a music of decline’. And in a sense he’s right.
Without Slavery there would be no Jazz.
Without Slavery there would be no Blues. Without Slavery there would be no Rock ‘n’ Roll, no R&B, Reggae, Soul, Hip-Hop, no Rap. Sure, there are Irish and English Folk-roots to American Country and Appalachian music, but it’s the gradual blackening of white music that defines the century. The first-ever jazz record – the Original Dixieland Jass-Band’s “Darktown Strutters’ Ball”, establishes a pattern that persists as white musicians – even intensely well-intentioned white musicians, thieve from black culture. Paul Whiteman (‘white man’ in every sense) is billed King of Jazz, instead of Louis Armstrong. Benny Goodman is King of Swing, not Duke Ellington. Just as Elvis and Bill Haley, not Chuck Berry or Little Richard would be King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. And Eminem the most visible face of Rap.
Yet the music press is commendably capable of hitting back, playing its part in investing dignity in the art of black music. The work of the great ‘Negro tenor sax phenomenon’ Coleman Hawkins, and Dizzy Gillespie could ‘do no wrong’ – at a time when mainstream media was still treating jazz as crude ‘jungle music’. And visiting black jazzers quickly learned to enjoy their celebrity in the relatively more relaxed racial atmosphere of Old Europe.
The story of the Music press is also the history of Pop itself. The music would have happened anyway. But chances are, without the press there to argue out its contradictions, it would be a less considered, less thought-out place. The press creates and defines the musical categories the musicians always claim to disregard and kick against. The press writes the reviews they claim never to read, and don’t care about anyway. It reports the quotes they later retract and say they never said. It champions the new music of the future. And sometimes gets nostalgic about its past. Dixieland, ‘Jitterbug’, Swing, Crooners… Trad Jazz, Be-Bop… World War. They all come and go with their own controversies and crises.
But in the music world, of course, it’s not all Jazz. It is dance-bands too, Ted Heath, Geraldo, Victor Sylvester, sweet balladeers with cheesy grins, penguin suits and patent-leather slicked-back hair, and novelty songs concerning the price of that ‘doggy in the window with the waggly tail’. A different world. Back then – in the days before Rap, they have to make do with proper songs, melodies, tunes. Before sampling technology it’s necessary to play proper instruments that are tediously difficult to learn, requiring skill and dexterity. And before ‘The X-Factor’, you had to develop artists on the old-fashioned basis of ability, talent and originality. Thankfully we’ve now progressed beyond all that. But soft, even here, Peter Leslie’s ‘Show Talk’ column (in ‘Melody Maker’
7 January 1956) poses the question ‘does one have to be a good singer to be a star? From a number of examples, both male and female, obviously not – provided the definition of ‘star’ is in the usual terms of money, publicity and selling power.’ He’s sniping at – no, not Michelle McManus, but Eartha Kitt, with her ‘voice dipped in smoke and honey.’
It’s difficult to imagine now, at a time when music is everywhere, how you had to hunt it out then. The only on-air outlets were rigidly sewn-up by the conservative BBC with its correct radio pronunciation. No regionals. No commercial stations. No lift-music. No Shopping Mall muzak. No Shopping Malls. No YouTube. No MTV… no TV. You have to be hip to find out what’s happening. Through the 1940s ‘MM’
ran a weekly listing of ‘Jazz On The Air’ short-wave radio stations to act as your search-engine, as well as a ‘Broadcast Chart’ based on radio-popularity (“It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie” is its first no.1). They also featured a ground-breaking discographical ‘Classics of Jazz’ series, arousing sufficient interest to prompt an HMV re-issue programme. To long-term contributor Max Jones ‘‘MM’
was the only guide we knew to which band played where and who was in it, to what record was most worth getting, to who was in town, what music was published, and how much chance there might be of buying a new sax, clarinet, or trumpet…’ Well, there was ‘Rhythm’
magazine too, but ‘Melody Maker’
soon saw off this upstart, and consumed it.
By now Jazz was maturing into the 1940s by intellectualising itself away from the mainstream. Beats got harder. Riffs fiercer. Bandleader Cab Callaway notoriously fired the radical Dizzy Gillespie by dismissing his outrageous innovations as ‘Chinese music’. It was a dialogue that spilled over to be fiercely fought out by warring factions through the letters pages and opinion columns of the music press. The fiercely loyal – and predominantly male readership were either themselves musicians interested in instrument-reviews, dealer news or small-ad opportunities. Or they were nerdy music-heads, those whose knowledge of obscure ‘B’-sides, matrix numbers and session-players provided their status in the cult pecking-order.
A copy of ‘Melody Maker’
separates you out as aware, and wires you into the kind of virtual community of gloopy obsessives, poets, left-wingers, Beatniks and Gone-Dames. Or Hipsters in berets, goatee beards, Zoot suits, Ban-the-Bomb buttons and black turtle-neck sweaters. The sect who hoard back-issues filed in date-order, and who war about purists ‘selling out’ or the ‘New Thing’-betrayal across the letters page. It’s a ferocious partisan sport just as vitriolic then – between Trad enthusiasts or Beat Generation Boppers, as the Mod vs Rocker antagonisms fought out on Brighton beach.
Or as Jarvis Cocker found out when he was buying his dose of Friday’s ‘Pick Of This Week’s Pops’ in WH Smith’s Fargate Sheffield branch in the early 1970’s. ‘I used to hide ‘NME’
inside my satchel’ he confessed, because ‘buying ‘NME’
had you marked out as a bit of a weirdo.’ Yet down the years, for them all, each weekly bulletin defines the decoding of credibility, separating out the cool from music which is merely lightly chilled, and from that which is condemned to be terminally tepid. Because, to a music-fan – yes, it’s vital to be seen as an individual, but there’s nothing worse than not being the right type
of individual. If your stance is nearly right, but you’ve got it slightly wrong, then it’s completely wrong. Be-Bop. Punk. Industrial-Funk… Hip-Hop. It’s the same.
Meanwhile – back in the late 1940s, those same audience-divisive Jazz changes inevitably result in a Pop vacuum that refuses to be fobbed off by the BBC’s sole weekly pop-record request show, Sunday lunch-time’s ‘Two-Way Family Favourites’ featuring saccharine-voiced Anne Shelton or Ronnie Hilton. It will only be filled by a re-immersion in new fusions of Blues with Country roots-music. When the Blues had a Baby, and they called it Rock ‘n’ Roll. That same new Rock ‘n’ Roll stuff that Frank Sinatra so sneeringly denigrates. ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll is lewd – in plain fact, dirty’ says Ole Blue Eyes, ‘it’s phoney and false, and sung written and played for the most part by cretinous goons.’ Of course, such critics are correct. Rock ‘n’ Roll constitutes a major reversion to simplicity, a step back from the smooth musical sophistication, lyrical virtuosity and melodic richness of the best that preceded it. Its values more intuitive than technical.
The language is nonsensical, to do with ‘Hound Dogs’, fuzzy trees, and girls called Long Tall Sally, Short Fat Fannie, Dizzy Miss Lizzie, Skinnie Minnie, Bony Moronie, Ramalama-Ding-Dong or Be-Bop-A-Lula. It’s bawdy-house sax and those lewd and lascivious negro blues-shouters predatory for your children are cynically shifting Pop’s centre-of-gravity from the heart to the groin. ‘Who walks in the classroom cool and slow, who called the English Teacher Daddio’? The Coasters’ “Charlie Brown”, that’s who. Who was it who kissed the Teacher, tip-toed up to reach her, he’s the Teacher’s pet now, what he wants he can get now? The Everly Brothers’ “Bird Dog”, that’s who. ‘School’, ‘Teacher’ – these are signifiers of a new, more juvenile target-audience.
Chuck Berry’s manifesto ‘Hail Hail, Rock ‘n’ Roll, deliver me from the days of old’ grabs it exactly. ‘Crazy man crazy’. A Teenage Fad? A passing phase? You bet it is. The dominance of this new market is the next wave in the global-domination of American Pop, and more specifically, black American music. Its fan-mag faces may be Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, and Eddie Cochran, but its pulse is firmly R&B. Even when the emergence of the Beatles, the Stones, the Animals, Kinks and Who seem to indicate the opposite – a retaliation from ‘Old Europe’, their roots in Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Little Richard, Motown and Chess, vindicate its truth.
Part of these new evolutions is technological, with more refined hi-fidelity playback equipment coming onto the market, using sapphire or diamond stylii, combined with lightweight pick-ups and three-speed turntables with in-built amplification. Even ‘3D’-stereo sound. While portable transistors were busy replacing cumbersome valves. You only have to check out the lavish advertising-spreads between the ‘Platter Chatter’!
In June 1948 Edward Wallerstein of Columbia Records in New York introduced the music world to its next innovation, the long-playing record – the twelve-inch LP. Standing flanked by two stacks of discs, he demonstrated the advantage in playing time between the then-conventional shellac 78rpm single, and the new LP designed to spin at thirty-three-&-a-third revolutions per minute. This vinyl platter lasted twenty-two-&-a-half minutes – enough time, using both sides, to listen to Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’
… or to contain an ‘album’ of ten pop songs! Leading the way for Frank Sinatra to introduce the concept of the ‘concept album’, with his thematically-linked ‘Songs For Swinging Lovers’
(1956) or ‘Come Fly With Me’
(1958) LP’s. Another aspect of its commercial expansion was consumer-driven, with an escalating demand for leisure entertainment and musical style-shifts that shocked the staid record companies out of their complacency.
1960 sees UK record sales top the £20 million mark for the first time ever. Leonard Feather, respected ‘Melody Maker’
New York correspondent from 1933 on, calls Jazz ‘the art with nine lives’. Well – Jazz is still here, but the various incarnations of Rock have now dominated global music for even longer. And a third ingredient in the longevity of that bratty new music is the generational curve it defines. It begins with the ‘Baby Boom’ explosion. The result of love-hungry soldiers abruptly demobilised as global hostilities cease. Those babies grow in time to locate their first rebellious expression through Elvis Presley’s dumb insolence, then hit a global hormonal frenzy with the Beatles. It’s that same generation that then matures into a more considered Progressive Rock in its student years, and now still turns out for Dylan, Stones or Status Quo tours long after they should cease to care.
Meanwhile, the 1950s is a terminally soporific decade. Music entrepreneur Simon Napier-Bell recalls ‘at the beginning of the Fifties there was no Rock ‘n’ Roll, the word teenager didn’t exist, and British Pop Music was trash… people bought the latest Pop Song and struggled through it on the piano at home. For the industry, records were just an extra. The Top 20 chart was the best-selling sheet music, not the best-selling records. Mostly the songs were dreadful’ (in ‘Observer Music Monthly’
May 2004). Listen to one of the big hits of the final months of 1955 – the anaesthetisingly twee “Twenty Tiny Fingers”, a cutesy overload of a song about the birth of twins, sweeter than a diabetic’s urine, yet so popular that no less than three versions chart – the Stargazers to no.4, Alma Cogan ‘the girl with the laugh in her voice’ to no.17, with the Coronets trailing in at 20. ‘One of them looks like Mommy, with a cute little curl on top’ they chirp cheerily, ‘the other one’s got, a big bald spot, exactly like his pop-pop, pop-a-pop’, with just a hint of coy innuendo played out around what the second bald spot resembles.
Saturated in irritatingly safe domesticity you wonder – can this be the same planet, the same species as the one that later consumed R&B, urban hip-hop? Perhaps they had no need to ‘keep it real’? Those consumers had years of face-to-facing the most brutal reality through blitz and world war. A generation that was collectively shell-shocked and traumatised needed soothing non-intrusive reassurance. And that’s what those songs provide. Just that beneath their placid somnambulism there’s a new generation growing up who see only its cultural deadness, and yearn to escape. ‘Let’s make like the storm, and blow. Let’s make like a train, and leave…’
Things really began accelerating in April 1952 when sly booking agent Maurice Kinn acquired the ailing ‘Musical And Accordion Express’
for a mere £1000, and gave it a full-throttle make-over. One that soon hit its stride. By its 14 November issue the renamed ‘New Musical Express’
inaugurated the UK’s first record chart ‘which we know will be of the greatest interest and benefit to all our readers.’ Compiled by advertising manager Percy Dickins who phoned some twenty-odd shops asking for a list of their bestsellers, it is – oddly, a top twelve, even more oddly – including ‘tied’ positions, it is made up of fifteen titles!
Hit Parade song
-charts had already been up and running sporadically since 1936, when bandleader Geraldo tried to establish a radio show around the concept. The show ran for just six months. The American ‘Billboard’
trade-paper has been listing best-selling records since July 1940 (in fact in the late-Forties ‘Billboard’
journalist Jerry Wexler – later Atlantic producer of, among others, the ‘Dusty In Memphis’
(1969) album, had coined the term ‘Rhythm & Blues’ to replace the magazines dubious ‘Race Records’ black-music chart), but – for ‘NME’
, this is a significant first for this side of the Atlantic (and one launched as part of its circulation war, timed to coincide with ‘MM’
s celebratory 1,000th issue!).
It was also a first in that it asserts the notion that the ‘record’ is an important commodity in its own right, rather than just one component in the overall success of a ‘song’. To Simon Napier-Bell ‘Elvis, and the singers that followed him couldn’t be reproduced on the piano via a piece of sheet music. If you wanted “Heartbreak Hotel” or “Hound Dog”, you had to buy the record. Teenagers totally rejected adults and their silly pieces of sheet music, and started buying records in droves.’ Phil Spector’s productions accelerate the process, each single release becomes a unique artefact, impossible to replicate.
For writer Theodor Adorno this switch from active participants to passive consumers makes people ‘slaves of the commodity fetish’. But this generational reorientation also delineates ‘Melody Maker’
s upstart rival’s more pop-commercial bias, aimed squarely at the newly-invented ‘teenager’. As early as the 4 February 1955 issue it can boast the ‘largest circulation in the world for any music paper’ – 100,000 copies, staking out its shot for the ‘devil’s music’ by publishing the first Elvis cover, a full-page ad for “Heartbreak Hotel” in the 4 May 1956 issue. Then scoring the first-ever national mention of the Beatles’ “Love Me Do” in 21 September 1962, and tripling its sales to 300,000 by 6 November 1964 as the Beat-Boom bites. Impressive, but ‘Largest in the World
’? Yes, for unlike the diverse regionalism of America, Britain has a highly centralised media. America has trade-papers such as ‘Cashbox’
. For jazzers it has ‘Metronome’
and Chicago-based ‘Downbeat’
(edited by Nat Hentoff). Later there will be ‘Teenbeat’
, and ‘Creem’
, through to urban-music mag ‘Vibe’
, but none
of them can approach those ‘NME’
While ‘Melody Maker’
– the ‘serious’ musician’s and hipster’s beat-bible, sticks with its ‘For The Best For Jazz’ cover-boast, and will stay with it for as long as it can. Still selling over 97,000-a-week with its 19 March 1955 cover-story on the ‘Sudden Death Of Charlie Parker’, Leonard Feather reporting that the ‘Jazz world mourns great alto star’ without once mentioning the heroin responsible. Then giving brave cover-page dominance to Miles Davis’ brutal arrest and beating-up by Broadway cops in September 1959 – ‘This Is What They Did To Miles’, leading into a story of the ‘battered, bleeding figure’ of ‘one of the great names in modern jazz’. Art-jazz-activist George Melly confirms its policy by declaring ‘Melody Maker’
‘by far the most serious of the traditional musical papers. This is extremely well-written, has built-in shit detectors, and goes in for admirable interviews in depth as well as general coverage and comment on trends, however transitory.’ As a ‘detached but sympathetic guide to the pop world, although naturally with an emphasis on its musical side’ it ‘remains unbeaten… streets ahead of its teeny-bopper rivals ‘Disc’
’ (‘Revolt Into Style’
Of course, it was a different world back then. When Dean Martin sings ‘when the moon hits your eye/ like a big pizza pie’ people ask ‘what’s a pizza?’ And those papers were all drab, black-and-white pamphlets by today’s reckoning, with poor-quality half-tone photos. ‘Disc’
, at six (pre-decimal) pence, runs to just twelve pages. The twelve-page ‘Melody Maker’
expands to a full twenty by 1960. Outside of America the cultural time-lag effect – even slower then that it is now, means that authentic Rock ‘n’ Roll doesn’t initially travel well. And of course, taking a patronising snipe at Pop, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Skiffle (or ‘Piffle?’ it sneers) is embarrassingly easy. ‘Melody Maker’
s curmudgeonly Steve Race rails against ‘that particular kind of infantile and often suggestive chanting known as Rock ‘n’ Roll’.
And, in fairness, early British efforts to replicate its true voice are seldom convincing, Cliff Richard’s “Move It” or “Please Don’t Tease”, Johnny Kidd & The Pirates “Shakin’ All Over” or “Please Don’t Touch”, Marty Wilde’s “Bad Boy”, Vince Taylor’s “Brand New Cadillac” are more the result of fortunate accident than real design. With a controlling triumvirate of manager Larry Parnes, TV-producer Jack Good, and maverick record-producer Joe Meek dominating a shallow and contrived teen-market of pretty-boy pin-ups doing opportunistic cover-versions. For the first wave of home-grown Rockers – Tommy Steele, Marty Wilde, Cliff Richard, older wiser industry hands advise ‘this Rock ‘n’ Roll fad is a passing craze, it’s not a career. You have to learn a few dance-steps, tell some jokes, get into acting, target the family audience, that’s where the future lies’.
Wrong. But it would not be until the Beatles that the catch-up would approach full-circle. Meanwhile, there’s a kind of naïve innocence. Tin Pan Alley is still where the songs come from, from professional song-writers. Recording artists go to Denmark Street to take their pick of the latest crop, from Chappell, Southern Music or Lawrence Wright Music. Robbie Williams, ‘so rock ‘n’ roll, so corporate suit, so damn ugly, so damn cute,’ bristles with levels of knowing self-aware post-modern irony, totally absent here. When teenage Ricky Nelson sings a plaintive “Lonely Town”, when Roy Orbison’s falsetto quaver incredibly peaks into a desolate heart-broken “Only The Lonely”, when Johnny Tillotson emotes “Poetry In Motion”, when actor Tab Hunter declares his “Young Love”, they mean it, simple and uncomplicated in ways impossible now, no ‘write another ballad, mix it on a Wednesday/ sell it on a Thursday, buy a yacht on Saturday…/ do another interview, sing a bunch of lies/ tell about celebrities that I despise, and sing love songs…’
Filling the void in this strangest of time-warps, came the revivalist Trad-fad. Initially a meticulous attempt at replicating the Storyville sound of Dixieland from some two decades earlier – ignoring (or geographically separated from) the ‘Birth Of The Cool’ evolutions across the Atlantic. After all, curmudgeonly Philip Larkin was blaming Dave Brubeck and his crazy syncopation, trying to teach ‘his audience to clap in 11/4 time’ for being the death of jazz.
Instead, there were the ‘Rhythm Club’ columns in ‘Melody Maker’
publicising jam sessions. Humphrey Lyttleton joined the George Webb Dixielanders in 1947, within a year Wally Fawkes had joined too, and they assume control of the band. Chris Barber joined, and then outgrew the hard-line New Orleans-ist Ken Colyer’s Crane River Jazz Band with its fundamentalist approach under-scored by Colyer’s period spent in the Crescent City itself. Subsequently Barber’s Bands become for jazz what Cyril Davies and John Mayall would later become for R&B. While coincidentally accelerating Blues awareness by promoting ground-breaking first UK tours by eminent American Bluesmen.
Oddly, Skiffle was an accidental by-product of a Chris Barber experiment, with Lonnie Donegan’s debut hit “Rock Island Line” lifted from his ten-inch LP ‘New Orleans Joy’
(1954). Soon, Trad became a vital fixture in the music press, TV, radio, and even the pop charts, with Humphrey Lyttleton, Monty Sunshine, Alex Welsh’s good-time Trad, and even the Clyde Valley Stompers also achieving visibility. Eventually, Bernard ‘Acker’ Bilk charted for a full year with his melodic clarinet-and-strings TV-theme “Stranger On The Shore”, while Kenny Ball scored no less than thirteen Top Thirty hits with his tuneful radio-friendly jazz. Even The Temperance Seven score an unlikely run of novelty Roaring Twenties-style hits. But more advanced jazz-forms found such acceptance elusive, with ‘Club 11’ in Soho’s Archer Street becoming Be-Bop’s first UK home, and ‘Melody Maker’
itself questioning ‘Free-Form – Is It Worth It?’ in the face of the sublime beauty of experimentalist Joe Harriott (16 December 1961). But whether one-off hit-makers Dave Brubeck (“Take Five”) and Stan Getz (“Desafinado”) also benefit from Trad’s currency-value – is arguable, but hits there were.
Nevertheless, within two years of its launch the ‘New Musical Express’
chart expanded to a Top 20, then – by April 1956, to a Top 30, in time for ‘The World’s Most Controversial Singer’ to debut in May with “Heartbreak Hotel”. Broadcast on the eleven-to-midnight slot on Sunday’s ‘Radio Luxembourg’ the chart soon acquired essential authority. Bending to the inevitable ‘Melody Maker’
soon retaliated with its own Top Twenty (from 7 April 1956, boasting ‘Data Supplied By Over 100 Record Dealers’), adding a bonus of the US ‘Variety’
Top Ten from January 1957, and a ‘Juke-Box’ Top Twenty from 9 May 1959 (compiled from just 200 juke-boxes around Britain). A new rival – ‘Record Mirror’
, launched in June 1954, inaugurated a third listing from 10 March 1960, plus the UK’s first album chart (reprinting from trade-paper ‘Record Retailer’
, later renamed ‘Music Week’
). Then ‘NME’
retaliated with its
own LP chart from 8 June 1962, with Elvis’ movie-score “Blue Hawaii” as its first chart-topper.
To Simon Napier-Bell, by 1956 ‘teenagers were now more than tolerated, they were marketed to. And the first industry to do it was the record industry.’ Yet confusingly, the three charts didn’t always agree. In fact they were heavily biased towards whoever was buying the advertising space in the pages around them (and indeed – well into the mid-sixties the ‘NME’
front-cover was still made up of advertising copy). Hence notable discrepancies such as Elvis’ hits “Stuck On You”, “Wild In The Country” and “Devil In Disguise” all score no.1 places on one chart, but not on the other two. While that Pop-Trivia quiz-favourite about the Beatles first no.1 is complicated by “Please Please Me” qualifying on one chart, and “From Me To You” on another.
And chart position is now vitally important, with careers at stake. Into the 1960s there’s ‘Disc’
(which launched its own Top 20 in February 1958, compiled from samples from just 25 shops!), and ‘Music Echo’
which attempted to run the first UK Top 100, before the two titles merge… then vanish. As ‘MM’
reverted from a Fifty to a Top 30 ‘to beat chart fiddling’. ‘Record Mirror’
introduced colour in a big way, also scoring highly by the end of the decade by listing both the UK and the USA Top 50’s, plus LP, EP, and R&B charts. Their review pages also valiantly attempt to cover all the week’s releases with ‘B’-side and matrix-numbers, making a set of back-issues invaluable for archivists and Beat-Boom psychedelic historians. While well-genned journalists like Norman Jopling (through his ‘Great R&B Unknowns’ series) valuably helped nudge marginal tastes for Motown and Stax towards the mainstream.
meanwhile, found itself at the core of a youth musical and social revolution the like of which the world had never seen before. Andy Gray writes about how ‘following in their (the Beatles) great success were other groups from Liverpool and Manchester and London and all over the country. Groups were IN, in capital letters. Groups could do no wrong. The instrumental-vocal quartets and quintets took over the charts and every week or so a new group emerged…’ To chronicle such an emerging scene were a team of strong journalists, like Keith Altham talking to Bob Dylan, Richard Green reviewing the first Rolling Stones album, plus Alan Smith and Derek Johnson.
While ‘Melody Maker’
, as the price escalated through six-pence to one whole shiny shilling, announced ‘Beatles Top Pop Poll’ (14 September 1963), finally capitulating to the modern world being born. It might still advertise itself as ‘a specialised publication of interest to musicians, record listeners and enthusiasts of all forms of popular music,’ with ‘bright features, complete news coverage of the field, and technical instructions.’ But they had Ray Coleman touring with the Fabs, Nick Jones ‘Freaking out with Pink Floyd’, Chris Welch talking to the Who, plus Max Jones and Bob Dawbarn. Cover-wise they also score an iconically handcuffed Mick Jagger sentenced for cannabis possession, his hand held up to partially eclipse his mocking sneer (8 July 1967). While the amazing Brian Case could still levitate interest-levels in the driest jazz through the sheer power of his Beat-phonetic prose.
Before the Hollies broke big, Graham Nash told me, he used to read the Music Press and imagine himself on its pages. ‘That’s what you did. You imagined yourself on those pages. Every time you’d get ‘Disc’
or ‘New Musical Express’
– yeah, you could picture that’s what you could do. And you dreamed and you’d pull yourself towards that dream, and it happened with me, and I was fortunate to have it all come true…’
But if the ‘Swinging’ 1960s is often seen as a time of limitless freedoms, for the music industry it also happened within strict monopolistic restrictions. There was no ‘Indie’ label sector. Record marketing – and the advertising-space that was life-blood to the press, came largely from two monolithic companies, and their subsidiaries. When the Beatles failed their Decca audition, their only realistic alternative is to go to EMI. EMI had Columbia (Cliff Richard, The Shadows, Helen Shapiro) and Parlophone (Adam Faith, The Beatles, Billy J Kramer With The Dakotas). While Decca (Billy Fury, The Rolling Stones, Smallfaces), with RCA (Elvis), also valuably has the black-&-silver London label which leases titles from small American companies and was the first to issue much R&B and Spector sides, as well as Little Richard and Del Shannon. There was Pye (Kenny Ball, Searchers, Kinks). There was Oriole and Top Rank. Later there was Island (Traffic, and early Reggae) and Major-Minor (who famously over-buy ‘NME’ space to over-promote David McWilliams).
And even within those controlling factors there is writer-production control-freakery. Mickie Most (Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Donovan) and Howard & Blaikley (Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick & Tich, Herd) dominating release schedules (as Chinn-Chapman would do the seventies, or Stock-Aitken-Waterman for the eighties). While – aside from their obvious Beatles content, Lennon-McCartney’s writing-sponsorship for other acts (with Billy J Kramer, Peter & Gordon, the Fourmost, Cilla Black) equalled that of American teams Leiber-Stoller or Goffin-King. An example soon followed by Jagger-Richard (Chris Farlowe, Marianne Faithful, Mighty Avengers, and Andrew Loog Oldham’s ‘Immediate’ project).
Similarly, despite their apparent rivalry, both top music titles eventually found themselves emerging from the same publisher. Maurice Kinn sold ‘New Musical Express’
to publisher ‘George Newnes Ltd’ (later a part of IPC) in early 1964, shifting the offices from Denmark Street to Long Acre, then to 112 Strand. Later, realising that the archival-wealth of history back-catalogued in all that IPC history had a more marketable potential than it had foreseeable future, ‘NME’
launched a series of ‘Originals’, plundering their cuttings files to collect a highly-collectible ‘PUNK’ anthology, one on the Beatles, another on Nirvana, U2, and a ‘Madchester’ memorabilia special. While its eleventh compilation issue centres simply on ‘The Sixties’, which was surely the Music Press’ finest hour – wasn’t it?
Perhaps, but it’s salutary to realise how engagingly amateurish that decade was reporting itself live. The Beatles single “Hard Day’s Night” is ‘a bouncy finger-snapper with a pounding beat and catchy melody’ (3 July 1964). The Monkees “I’m A Believer” is ‘a wonderfully gay and happy disc, a compulsive toe-tapper with handclaps’ (31 December 1966). While Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” is ‘a gripping blues-tinged ballad warbled in heartfelt style by the soloist’ (13 May 1967). At this time – as Beatles and Byrds pressman Derek Taylor points out, there was only ‘the Pop press, there was no ‘Rock’ then, (and it) was far less languid than today, not at all knowing or hard. Fan magazines were uncritical journals – heart-warming precursors to ‘Hello’
.’ Witness, ‘Disc’
interviewing Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd as ‘The Kinky Pinkies’!, while Penny Reel reviewed the Rolling Stones Hyde Park concert. Caroline Boucher – who also wrote for ‘Disc & Music Echo’
at their Fleet Street office ‘located next to the ‘Golden Egg’, recalls how ‘many of our interviews were conducted over a greasy platter of eggs and bacon – Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Ten Years After and King Crimson all ate at the Egg in their smelly afghan jackets’ (to the ‘Observer Music Monthly’
But Pop was big. As a young comedian appearing on a 1966 screening of ITV’s peak-time ‘Sunday Night At The London Palladium’
, Ted Rodgers’ act was built around references to chart newcomers the Troggs (with ‘Wild Thing, you make my head ring’ and ‘I want to send my wife to Whipsnade Zoo’ to the tune of “With A Girl Like You”) and the Monkees “I’m A Believer” – ‘what’s at no.1 now, religious monkeys?’ A routine that relied on the across-the-board ‘Family’ audience’s close familiarity with the latest chart-moves. Something impossible to get away with now – below, arguably Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue. And while Rock was turning TV, radio – and the world, upside-down, for the compulsive Pop-Picker at the newsagent’s counter there were other false-starts and also-rans. ‘Rave’
, a glossy colour Mod’s monthly. ‘Pop Weekly’
with glossy pics – even though they still appeared in monochrome, launched by publisher Albert Hand encouraged by his success with ‘Elvis Monthly’
. And strangest of them all, ‘Record Songbook’
from McClennon Publications, which – for a mere nine-pence an issue, merely featured columns of sing-along song-lyrics...
‘DON’T KNOCK THE ROCK…’
“Psychedelic. I know it’s hard, but make a note of that
word because it’s
going to be scattered round the In-Clubs
like punches at an Irish wedding…”
(‘Melody Maker’ 22 October 1966)
The Music Press. Me, I got seriously addicted to the extent that it terminally wrecked whatever academic potential I may once have possessed. Buying as much pop-journalism as my vinyl-habit could afford, comparing charts, memorising positions and matrix numbers, compiling my own listings, devouring it all in massive gluttony when I should be studying French grammar or logarithms. Then writing my own fanzine… Does it matter? Does any of it really matter? Well yes. For me, yes. And for all those others down since 1926 to whom music is not just important, but vital. Bob Dylan writes about his own adolescence (in ‘Chronicles’
, 2004), ‘when something was wrong, the radio could lay hands on you and you’d be alright.’ Me too. While the act of reading Musician’s opinions on what they do, why and how they achieve it, even when translated through the distorting lens of not-always impartial nicotine-stained hacks, helps draw you into an extended community beyond your immediate orbit, informs your opinions, fine-adjusts your taste, guides your purchasing and listening strategies. They provide the interface between worlds, your mundane life, and the exotic realm of music. Of course, the feuds are fun too. The ‘I can be more obscure than-thou-ism’. Even the ads provide style-indicators, their art setting the tone.
But are record-reviews and critical opinion important to the musicians themselves? To Graham Nash, ‘it’s very difficult to listen to somebody talk about what it is that we do, if they don’t do it themselves. If they don’t understand what that process of creation is, and that process of expression when songwriters are singing brand new songs that they’ve just created – and you get somebody, y’know, criticising you! I’m not quite sure. I mean, if it was Bob Dylan up there – y’know, I’d go ‘OK, you’ve got the right to criticise! He knows the ups and downs. He knows the way around this tree. But to someone who might be an insurance salesman who writes this at night, they’re not important to us. It’s nice to be appreciated, of course it is. But… y’know, it’s OK. It’s just part of the process that we have to deal with.’
Journalism is the first draft of history. I recall a journalist observing in print how the Beatles first singles all centre on direct me/you terminology – “Love Me Do”, “PS I Love You”, “Please Please Me”, “I’ll Get You”, “From Me To You”. Later, in a radio interview, Paul McCartney drew attention to the same thing, as though it had been a deliberately contrived strategy all along. He’d obviously read the same journalist. Perhaps he’d even begun to believe he’d thought of it first?
Sure, the Music Press is essentially parasitic. It feeds off changes in the music itself. And somewhere around the end of the 1960s, music itself was changing massively. Advance tremors could be traced back to Al Aronowitz’s pioneering work with Dylan and the Beatles, separately – and together. Until Jann Wenner’s ‘Rolling Stone’
(first issue dated 7 November 1967) adopts that more serious in-depth style of journalism. Prior to its launch there was much talk around the West-coast alternative-press community mooting a more counter-culture orientated music-journal. Chet Helms – discoverer of Janis Joplin and promoter of the radical Family Dogg concerts (who died 27 June 2005) suggested ‘Straight Arrow’. But while a series of collective meetings discuss the project ethics, Jann Wenner rushed his own title into print, taking the ‘Straight Arrow’ imprint. It encouraged epic analytical coverage of Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead, all illuminated by Annie Leibowitz’ most artfully iconic photo-images of the Stones on tour, while reviewing albums as though they’re sacred artefacts to be deconstructed at previously unimaginable length.
All this, alongside the gonzo excesses of the iconic Hunter S Thompson, who re-made the writer into as much drug-munching outlaw protagonist as cool detached observer. He shifts the focal point. His own bad-craziness is always central to the story, viewing his subjects through the distorting lens of his own distinctive extremism, speed-writing ‘we were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold’ in his meisterwork ‘Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas’
, first published by ‘Rolling Stone’
in 1971. He adds the final punctuation by shooting himself in the head 20 February 2005.
Hunter J is the origin of the species of ‘new journalism’, hard-drinking, hard-writing, drug-loving, gun-loving gonzo. Such attitudes initially feed back into its UK counterparts only through the maverick ‘underground press’. Until, with the collapse of those ‘alternative’ titles the mainstream benefits from a huge influx of newly motivated acerbic renegade journalists including Nick Kent, Mick Farren (an SF novelist as well as being a member of the Deviants ‘underground’ group), and Charles Shaar Murray. They’ve all learned their craft with the more irreverent, more radically earnest ‘It (International Times)’
or ‘Dark Star’
. An eighteen-year-old Charles Shaar Murray had even worked on the notorious ‘Oz’
‘Skool-Kids’ issue – in ‘frizzy hair and dashing kerchief’ according to Richard Neville (before becoming an ‘NME’
regular from 1972-1986, reviewing Bob Marley as early as the Lyceum 26 July 1975).
And if there ever was a ‘golden age’ of Rock writing, this is probably its finest hour. In the wake of ‘Rolling Stone’
, fired-up on ‘Gonzo’-journalism and Lester Bangs, all stringers become stars in their own minds. They begin considering their own recreational drug-intake, savage opinions and decadent life-styles more profoundly significant than the cretinous one-chord one-hit glitter-punk bands they have the inconvenient necessity of having to write about.
Hasn’t ‘The Times’
conceded Paul McCartney’s melodies have Schubert qualities? Aren’t softback publishers rushing out articulate rationalisations of Rock music’s importance as social signifiers, George Melly legitimising its ‘Revolt Into Style’
(1970), poet-artist Jeff Nuttall crafting its protest-manifesto in ‘Bomb Culture’
(1968), Richard Neville adding his own anarchist Rock-based philosophy in ‘Playpower’
(1970)? While for the first time serious Rock histories – as distinct from fan-hagiographies, are being written, drawing conclusions, establishing critiques, analysing, arguing and discussing its finer points.
Unfortunately for journalism, at this point, just as its voice is breaking, just as its vocabulary is progressing beyond ‘A-Wop-Bop-A-Luma-A-Bop-Bop-Bop’, leapfrogging its puberty into a more mature reflective phase, the music itself is taking a dive. All the real progressions have already been made – “Please Please Me” to “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Surfin USA” to “Good Vibrations”, “I Can’t Explain” to ‘Quadraphenia’
(1973). All the classic albums have been recorded – ‘Revolver’
(1966), ‘Pet Sounds’
(1966), ‘Forever Changes’
(1967), ‘Blonde On Blonde’
(1966), ‘Exile On Main Street’
(1972). What’s left is a truckload of pretentious C-list also-rans trading inspiration for tedious triple concept-albums. Cameron Crowe’s soft-centred 2000 movie ‘Almost Famous’
portrays young wannabe-journo Patrick Fugit hung up on sacred ‘Rolling Stone’
texts pursuing interview-fodder in the vacuous new mid-American stadium-Rock in scenes both achingly shallow, and unerringly accurate.
‘The future?’ asks ‘Melody Maker’
editor Ray Coleman (in 1973), ‘we’re waiting for you to write it.’ Meanwhile, there’s Chris Welch, Chris Charlesworth and Colin Irwin, with future-Peace Activist Karl Dallas covering the Folk scene. Richard Williams who goes on to front ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’, writes a book on Phil Spector, and then becomes a respected sports writer. Through decades of change ‘MM’
has continued to nudge from a jazz-based agenda, celebrating Georgie Fame’s commercial breakthrough from the point of view of his album collaborations with the Harry South and Count Basie bands, welcoming Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago (originally Chicago Transit Authority) as symptoms of newer jazzier directions largely through their big-band use of an extended horn-augmentation.
Yet if it seems – to Pop fans, that their jazz-specific pages consist of wrinkled old black men dying, it also helps soft-land the emerging careers of audaciously dexterous British musicians into their reader’s consciousness, by familiarising names and faces into accessibility, documenting the frenetic activities of Mike Westbrook, John Surman, Alan Skidmore, Norma Winstone, Barbara Thompson, Jon Hiseman, Ian Carr and beyond. So there’s a recognition-factor when ‘Radio Times’
lists them for its valuable ‘Live At Ronnie Scotts’ TV-slot. Here, of course, image can propel further in-roads. Surman’s fringe. American Gary Burton’s evolution from Stan Getz’ bespectacled side-geek to a smooth long-haired beads-wearer who slips Dylan’s “I Want You” into his set-list. The Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) even record for Apple. Miles Davis uses psychedelic sleeve-art for his free-electric ‘Bitches Brew’
(1970), which also promotes the careers of Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, and ‘fusion’ into the increasingly blurred jazz-rock mix – or ‘elastic rock’ as Ian Carr re-brands it for his Nucleus project.
For with the 1970s, Pop Music is in a peculiar twentieth-century schizophrenic state. The massive adult expansion of album sales gets matched to the largest-ever teeny-bopper disposable-income, combining with coast-to-coast Radio One airtime dominance – unsullied by on-shore commercial opposition, to boost singles sales to an all-time high. And they respond by becoming both trashier and more junkable. Your pocket-money buys you a Pop single a week. You can pile seven or eight vinyl 45’s onto the Dansette… but play the latest Sweet three times, and it’s a Frisbee. ‘It’s almost like,’ in Paul Morley’s neat equation, ‘the criticism ran faster that the music.’ So, for the first time, journalists have to create their own aesthetic, mythologizing artists closer to what they perceive as the ‘correct’ party-line, and more responsive to their own self-image.
Hence the new celebrity of New York Dolls, MC5, Iggy Pop, Velvet Underground… Lou Reed, then Patti Smith, Flamin Groovies, and the immaculate Television. While the music press oscillates, seeking the edge. ‘Let It Rock’
survives from 1972 to 1976. Then the fortnightly ‘Street Life’
comes… and goes, collapsing in July 1976 after only sixteen issues, leaving memories of exclusive spreads on Roxy Music or Cockney Rebel. It bequeaths journalist Angus MacKinnon to ‘NME’
, which by now has elevated Maurice Kinn to Executive Directorship, Nick Logan inheriting the editor chair (from 1973). And, operating out of a trendy new Carnaby Street address, it’s busy bribing sales with free cover-mounted flexi-discs that crease and ruck into instant un-playability, the Faces, ELP, Alice Cooper. Even Monty Python, until eventually ‘NME’
cover-mounts a cassette breaking new band Oasis with a free “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”...
And all the while, ‘Inkies’ – why inkies? Check out these issues from the mid-1970s. Any title – they’re all the same. Dense heavy headlines. Block-photos with contrasting areas bleached to coke-white flesh-tones against sheer black shadow – hair, guitar-body, framing stage and amp-towers. Ad-pages monochroming album artwork set into solid tone. And all printed with inks that never completely bond into the paper’s absorbency, so coming off in messy smudges on your fingers.
But first, with the arrival of Punk, ‘NME’
finds its true voice. A movement almost custom-made to those preconceived journalistic blueprints, its arrival predicted by Mick Farren’s prophetic essay ‘The Titanic Sails At Dawn’. Here at last is a generation of bands worth all that inspired invective. A ‘permanent revolution’. Again, the oldsters fear this angry youth as musically illiterate vandals. While the young, the fucked-up and the Damned despise the old as tedious Luddites. The Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons gunslinger duo of enfant terribles (1976-1979) invest its coverage with authentic attitude and spiky stabs of truth, while they recruit stringers from snotty cut ‘n’ paste fanzines (a deliberately shoddy made-for-pocket-money DIY ethic filched from Mark Perry’s ‘Sniffin’ Glue’
, ‘Search & Destroy’
, ‘Toxic Graffiti’
), while ‘MM’
continues to champion the more ‘musicianly’ musicians, down-shifting too late and less convincingly. It never quite recovers, although oddly – if it had still been around, it would’ve loved the Jamie Cullum, Joss Stone, Clare Teal, Amy Winehouse, Diana Krall, trend.
Meanwhile, as ‘Disc & Music Echo’
slid into limbo soon after the late Penny Valentine writes-up the career of recent-arrival Elton John, ‘Sounds’
was in the ascendency. Strap-lined ‘Music Is The Message’, it had begun uncertainly at the turn of the decade, with cover-stories framing counter-culture hairies, such as Family (27 February 1971), with the Moodyblues, and Robert Fripp in the ‘Talk-In’ column. Until it also found its metier with Punk – then Metal, the Mod Revival (by Gary Bushell in March 1979) and the contrived skinhead Oi – launching Jon Savage, Jane ‘Suck’ Jackman, and the iconoclastic persona of Britain’s ‘most hated loudmouth’ Gary Bushell. ‘Sounds’
survives from October 1970 through to 26 January 1991, while accidentally launching ‘Kerrang!’
from a one-off 6 June 1981 supplement. Simultaneously, in America there was the double-decade longevity of ‘Maximum Rock & Roll’
, plus ‘Creem’
ushering in the next revolution when a twelve-year-old Kurt Cobain fixes on a 1979 photo of the Sex Pistols and realises ‘I wanted to be in a Punk band before I had even heard any Punk music.’ In a scene from ‘The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle’
(1980) movie, the first paper they burn is ‘NME’
with a Sex Pistols cover, the last is ‘Rolling Stone’
, to neatly bookend their career.
is published from Edinburgh from October 1986. While in Dublin, there’s the start of the unique Eire-centric success-story that is ‘Hot Press’
Grunge, Indie, Shoe-Gazing, New Romantics… the first, and second Gulf War. From around 1983, there’s colour. At ‘NME’
, editors, writers, and editorial policies change, with Nick Kent and Roy Carr filing fine copy, Paulo Hewitt forging links with Paul Weller, Ian MacDonald compiling a three-part ‘Consumers Guide To 1984’, illuminated by Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn (especially U2), with editors Paul Morley (1976-1984, later of the ‘ZTT’ label), Neil Spencer (1978-1985), or David Quantick (1987-1993). Sometimes they get it all laughably wrong, but the music press is never less than loud, opinionated, impassioned. To Spencer his editorial regime is a time of ‘idealism, anger and artistic adventure. There was, for sure, a surfeit of earnest young men with George Orwell haircuts posing disconsolately in the shells of dead factories, one response to the ‘No Future’ we had been warned of by the Pistols’ (in ‘The Observer’
3 July 2005). The period Simon Reynolds will retrospect in his ‘Rip It Up & Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984’
(Faber, 2005), highlighting ‘Rock Against Racism’, the ‘Anti-Nazi League’ and the ‘Plutonium Blondes’ column.
As Pop-culture history comes and goes in its headlines and cover-stories. ‘Bowie Quits’ – or rather, Ziggy Stardust is retired (7 July 1973). The Sex Pistols Bill Grundy TV outrage ‘complete and unexpurgated’ (‘100 seconds That P*nk-Rocked Fleet Street’ – 11 December 1976). ‘Elvis: Remember Him THIS
Way’ (27 August 1977). ‘Lennon Dead’ (13 December 1980). In September 1980 a ‘Sounds’
headline announces the coming of the ‘New Romantics’ while reporting Steve Strange’s Blitz Club. A homo-erotic ‘Frankie Goes To Hollywood: Wild, Wet & Willing’ (November 1983). Then there’s the long-drawn-out love affair with Morrissey...
What music critics can never appreciate is that Pop singles are impulse purchases. Like candy-bars at the check-out. People buy them not because they’re acknowledging their significance in the evolution of the art-form, but because it’s randomly snagged at their attention, because he’s the pretty guy on the TV-soap, or it’s the catchy hook they heard on the radio when they got up this morning, or because it was playing at the club where they met that special person. Critics can never reconcile the essential irrationality of Englebert Humperdinck preventing “Strawberry Fields Forever” reaching no.1, or Joe Dolce stopping Ultravox’s “Vienna” – or Crazy Frog doing the same to Coldplay. A musical nonsense, of course. Jim Reeves, Ken Dodd and Benny Hill get to no.1, while the Who never do. This is not a quantifiable science.
Bob Geldof and Chrissie Hynde had already tried the journo-thing for size. Neil Tennant worked on ‘Smash Hits’
. Music writer Cliff Jones formed art-Indie band Gay Dad, whose biggest success came when Mitsubishi used their “Joy” for a TV-ad. Morrissey began with a published letter (about glam-duo Sparks) in a 1974 ‘NME’
‘Gasbag’ column, then filed gig reviews for both ‘NME’
and ‘Record Mirror’
, before role-switching into a Smiths’ column-inch domination that endured clear through to the 1 August 1987 shock ‘Morrissey/Marr: The Severed Alliance’ split. But there are always new gods. Each ‘New Thang’, each ‘New/Newer Wave’ ousts its predecessor, but barely has time to settle in when another one comes snapping at its suddenly very unfashionable heels. Kevin Cummins’ iconic photo of the Stone Roses ‘Jackson Pollock-ed’ in deluges of vivid paint (November 1989). And the curious incident of May 1991, when news editor Steve Lamacq interviews the Manic Street Preachers as Richey Edwards uses a razor-blade to carve ‘4-Real’ into his forearm. And ‘Kurt Cobain RIP’ (April 1994). Then Oasis. From their first sighting (7 August 1993) to their first cover-story (‘Totally Cool: What The World Is Waiting For’ – 4 June 1994), to ‘Blur vs Oasis: The Big Chart Showdown’ (12 August 1995). But throughout it all, circulations remain high, with the weekly inkies pivotal to the changes.
‘What a long strange trip it’s been’ says Jerry Garcia. ‘A mighty long way down Rock ‘n’ Roll, from the Liverpool Docks to the Hollywood Bowl’ adds Ian Hunter. All the way – in fact, from that January 1926 launch of ‘Melody Maker’
. While Leonard Feather once speculated on ‘that distant year 2000’, and what it holds for weekly music publishing. From such a dominant hold on the pulse of the times, he couldn’t possibly have foreseen the virtual extinction of the weekly music press, and the total extinction of ‘Melody Maker’
. By 2000 the once-proud title was reduced to a glossy all-colour A4 ‘Smash Hits’
format complete with pin-up section, before it was devoured in a merger with ‘New Musical Express’
– largely to acquire its still-respected musician’s classified-ads section. Then – finally, ‘NME’
So where did it all go wrong? Well, first the lower end of the market gets cut away by the glossy fun-trashy ‘Smash Hits’
(launched by ex-‘NME’
editor Nick Logan, who then does the same for ‘The Face’
– announced as ‘Rock’s Final Frontier’), indicating the celebrity-gossip direction it will all go in. ‘NME’
s James Brown (1987-1992) quits to found Lads-mag ‘Loaded’
, then life-style mini-mag ‘Jack’
... while Neil Spencer eventually goes on to become an astrologer, and ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here’
commentator. In the 1980s, a massive growth in page-numbers, more colour, and diversification from a pure music policy into movies, comic-books, TV, politics, novels, life-style, even a graphic ‘Youth Suicide’ special (8 November 1986)… and soon, computer games too. Whatever. It’s a haemorrhage of cult-exclusivity not always repaid in circulation hoist.
While it’s around this time that the daily tabloids make two magic circulation discoveries. The page three nipple… and an audience for celebrity Pop. The Brit-Pop wars are fought out as much through the pages of the ‘Sun’
(with its ‘Bizarre’ pages) or the ‘Mirror’
(through its ‘3am Girls’) as they are through the specialist music press. Isn’t Rock music supposed to be something you grow out of? Apparently not. It proves remarkably resilient, reinventing itself for each new audience, while never quite shaking off its first adherents. You can’t really summon up the required parental disapproval for Oasis when you’ve grown up through Beatlemania. You can’t condemn Acid House if you’ve done LSD to ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’
(1973). And what has Marilyn Manson’s manufactured outrage to offer when you’ve already bought into Alice Cooper or ‘Aladdin Sane’
(1973)? And the mainstream dailies dutifully both tap into it, and lap up each prurient detail. Music that once fed on its cult exclusivity, is now everywhere (the launch of MTV on 1 August 1981 made Pop more visual than ever). Even the broadsheets get in on the cerebral end of the act with critical coverage of the more ‘intelligent’ mature demographics, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen… Radiohead, and all points beyond. The ‘Observer’
even tucks-in its own ‘Music Monthly’ supplement. While the record companies re-exert absolute control, becoming increasingly adept at eating and regurgitating non-conformity into product, a music industry ruthlessly expert in appropriating and marketing anything remotely challenging and authentic, neutralising it into commodity.
‘IN THE YEAR 2525…’
‘We’ll be here, if you’ll be there, in the year 2026…’
(Ray Coleman in ‘Melody Maker’ February 1976)
Forever came today. Suddenly, the future those press pundits yakked on about for so long has started beaming down. And nothing – outside perhaps Mr Patel’s corner shop, works quite like it used to. Nor will it, ever again. The internet is continually undermining the structures that for the past fifty years have fostered charts and empowered major labels. The concept of having a ‘hit’ is becoming increasingly fragmented and difficult to assess. Identifying a track as either single or album-track, ‘A’-side or ‘B’-side becomes pointless and arbitrary. Fat monthly glossies continue to gobble-up ground lost by the weeklies. Some of them even get their own dedicated digi-TV channels.
wunderkind Felix Dennis first hits American pay-dirt with his ‘Blender’
. Its success forces three-decade-old counter-culture bible ‘Rolling Stone’
to appoint British editor Ed Needham (in 2002) with a remit to refocus its appeal downwards. Dumbing Down? – possibly. Shedding older Deadhead grizzlies in favour of a more airbrushed populist ‘Justin Timberlake: His Life, His Loves, His Music’ special editions? – certainly. But it’s still capable of cultural bite. Its June 2010 interview ‘The Runaway General’ by Michael Hastings directly resulted in the General in question – Stanley McChrystal, being fired by President Obama. Felix Dennis’ ‘Maxim’
stable is soon eying up European markets too. Meanwhile, 124-page glossy rock monthly ‘Bullit’
, an independent launched in November 2003 under Steve Janes’ editorial guidance, leads on U2, ‘The End Of The Beautiful Ones: The Last-Ever Suede Interview’, plus movie-pages including a high-prestige Christopher Lee interview. It targets for the more mature reader perceived to be disillusioned by ‘Q’
s equally down-dumbing shot for a more Britney Spears-friendly audience.
But these are high-risk strategies. Start-up publisher Development Hell launches ‘Word’
(no.1 dated March 2003 with Nick Cave on the cover), an ambitiously serious music mag ‘hand-made’ by ‘Q’
-founder Mark Ellen (‘…and four of his friends’), although it’s soon rumoured to be falling short of its target 20,000 break-even circulation point. Emap’s ‘Kingsize’
– aimed at Nu-metal skatepunks, lasts just six months before wiping-out without trace, alongside the bands it covered. Future Publishing’s ‘Bang’
, edited by Dan Silver, gets killed off in December 2003 after its sixth and final issue managed to reveal those ‘Ten albums you have to hear before the end of the year’. Dance is also prone to struggling, IPC’s ‘Muzik’
closes in July 2003, Ministry of Sound’s eponymous monthly shuts down when its sales dive below 50,000, while ‘Trash’
endures as long as a single issue… Elsewhere, cooler-than-thou style-mag ‘The Face’
saved from extinction by S-Club 7 mastermind Simon Fuller whose rescue-talks with EMAP fail to prevent its demise. While ‘i-D’
not only survives, but celebrates its Twenty-Fifth anniversary in early 2005. Started up as a quarterly north London fanzine, it defined Eighties life-style and fashionista culture, becoming sufficiently prosperous for founder Terry Jones to buy back full control of the title. It also acted as a launch-pad for – among others, ‘GQ’
s editor Dylan Jones. Dylan takes James Brown’s ‘GQ’
editorial chair in 1999, adding the likes of Boris Johnson, Piers Morgan, Tony Parsons and AA Gill to its journalistic contributor-roster.
Through the nineties, with ‘NME’
under editor Conor McNicholas, it was still very much a thing for white male obsessives. As the music press has always been. Only more so. Retreating ever-further into niche, even while celebratorily branding itself ‘Fifty Years Of Sex Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll’. There’s the same hormonal binge-excess of stimulants and bad behaviour, although it’s less about evolution, invention, or progression, as it is about career-choice, selecting the correct elision from long-established and predictably well-thumbed approved back-catalogues. Little black music. With the American music scene dominated by Urban and Rap – maybe due to demographic shifts, maybe not, but undeniable – the UK was still entranced by its longer-term crush on guitar-bands, the gulf between the two had seldom seemed wider in living memory. No jazz or Folk. Or women, other than for decorative purposes. All memory longer than the most recently contrived guitar-band wave – all history, has been hived off to ‘Mojo’
routinely dismiss everyone over thirty until, when forced into the review-corner, have to concede the Stones made ‘the greatest Rock ‘n’ roll music of all time’ (12 March 2005). After McNicholas, another rebranding, in April 2010, saw Krissi Murison as the venerable old organ’s first female editor, with a revamped style reminiscent of the simultaneously demised ‘Observer Music Monthly’
, slick and more grown-up. There was a choice of ten different covers, a new logo, and some innovatory editorial touches. Fewer in-jokes, less hype, she even put Simon Cowell on the cover! And, a long way from any resemblance to its origins, it continued to be a fixture on the newsagents display.
Even as downloading erodes the sales-figures of major labels (Apple launched its iTunes stores 28 April 2003 to combat online piracy), there’s now more recorded music simultaneously available than at any other time in human history. While every Shopping Mall Megastore recently covered everything from Blue Note Jazz, 1960s Acid-Punk, World Music from Mali and Ecuador, Dub to Doo-Wop, that spread of taste has shifted to online retailers. The Velvet Underground, Love and MC5 now sell more than they ever did during their initial releases. And they’re all competing for the same ears and pockets as the latest ‘X-Factor’ winners.
There’s always been music, while music has been dominated by record labels, and by the business-model of trading songs as pieces of ‘plastic ware’ for little over half a century. A remarkable longevity for any business-model to dominate any market. ‘I think records were just a little bubble through time and those who made a living from them for a while were lucky’ says Brian Eno (‘The Observer’
17 January 2010). ‘There is no reason why anyone should have made so much money from selling records except that everything was right for this period of time.’ People have been making music for ten-thousand years, probably longer. Record labels have been around for mere decades. Things will change. They always do. Music will survive. Major labels may not. While reading itself is being gradually eroded by a kind of inevitable osmosis – more splash-pics, less text, bullet-point press reviews, movies, TV, DVD and the internet, iPods, web-blogs, plus the old-fashioned word of mouth. Where music publishing takes it all from here is anyone’s guess…
The Music Press is in a state of crisis… apparently. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was...
“MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC…!!!”
glossy specialist monthly. Future soft-porn magnate Richard Desmond started out in publishing as advertising editor for ‘Beat Instrumental’. (October 1964, no.18) 1s/6d, Hank Marvin cover & column, win George Harrison’s guitar, player of the month: Keith Richard. (December 1965, no.32) 2/-, Buddy Holly, Stones recording in States. (February 1966, no.34) 2/-, Shadows cover, Ventures, Stevie Winwood. (November 1966) 2/6d, Keith Moon colour cover. (October 1969) The Return of Graham Bond, ‘Full Ahead For Blodwyn Pig’. (May 1970) 4/-, Frank Zappa, Hollies, Strawbs
‘Blues And Soul’
began as ‘Blues & Soul: International Music Review’ 5 August 1975 to 27th January 1976, then ‘New Weekly Blues & Soul’ 10 February to 16 March 1976, ‘Blues & Soul: Weekly Music Review’ 23 March to 24 August 1976, ‘Blues & Soul & Disco Music Review’ 7 September 1976 to 30 July 1984, then ‘Blues & Soul’ from 31 July 1984
‘America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine’, (no.1) 5 March 1969 to 1989
‘Dazed And Confused’
founded by London College of Printing students Jefferson Hack & Rankin Waddell in 1992, the first issue cover-yelled ‘This Is Not a Magazine’, smudgily, ‘this is not a conspiracy to force opinion into the subconscious of stylish young people. A synthetic leisure culture is developing – plastic people force-fed on canned entertainment and designer food. Are you ready to be Dazed & Confused?’ A 1995 issue added ‘If you can’t afford it, steal it’ above the barcode, resulting in a three-issue John Menzies ban and a threatened WH Smith expulsion. Despite being named after a Led Zeppelin title this independent publication is a fashion, culture and arts magazine (an early adapter to online digital format) championing new literary and photographic as well as music talent, from a 1998 issue guest-edited by Alexander McQueen, a 2004 ‘South Africa’ celebration with Bob Geldof, to Jake & Dinos Chapman 2011 cover-art protesting student fee increases, to a 2011 Boyoncé cover. Has survived ‘Twenty Years Of Getting Away With It’
edited by long-time Beatles’ follower and friend Ray Coleman. Launched as ‘Disc’ – no.1 (8th February 1958). (No.23, 12 July 1958) has Malcolm Vaughan cover, with Jerry Lee Lewis, Tommy Steele & Elvis stories. (No.159, 8 April 1961) has Shirelles cover, with Dean Martin, the Allisons & Guy Mitchell stories. From 5th December 1964 it continues as ‘Disc Weekly’. (22 May 1965) ‘Mr Send-Up’: Laurie Henshaw interviews Bob Dylan. (31 July 1965) Ringo talks about ‘Help’. (26 March 1966) ‘Why Does Mr Lennon Keep A Stone Frog’ by Ray Coleman. From 23rd April 1966 it incorporates ‘Music Echo’ and continues as ‘Disc and Music Echo’. (23 April 1966) first combined issue carries half-page NEMS notice confirming that Brian Epstein has dropped Tommy Quickly and the Rustiks. (7 May 1966) Crispian St Peters one-night stand in Cromer. (6 August 1966) Ray Coleman interviews George Harrison about Pirate Radio, ‘why don’t they make the BBC illegal as well – it doesn’t give the public the service it wants.’ (1 October 1966) ‘Disc & Music Echo’ 9d, The Who: Why Pop Art is now just OLD HAT!’, Dave Dee ‘when we admit our act is sexy, we don’t mean something revolting’, Dusty, Scott Walker. (25 November 1967) Long John Baldry, The Fool, Traffic, DJ Emperor Rosko. (20 January 1968) Monkee Peter cover, Peter Frampton, Grapefruit ad, Simon Dupree. (17 August 1968) Simon & Garfunkel, Jefferson Airplane, Idle Race, Sly & Family Stone. (5 November 1968) ‘Five Great Years of Dusty Springfield’. (7 December 1968) 1/- ‘Scaffold Blasted by Jonathan King’ cover, Beach Boys back on a smash tour, story and pictures’. (26 April 1969) ‘Herman Quits’, ‘Lennon Could Go Bald’. (26July 1969) ‘Congratulations on a hit, everybody’ – on the Plastic Ono Band’s “Give Peace A Chance”. (6 December 1969) Tremeloes, The Nice, John Peel. (25 December 1971) Marc Bolan Goes Solo, Paul Simon Talks About Split From Art Garfunkel, & Merry Xmas from Frank Zappa. It reverts to ‘Disc’ from 15th April 1972. And incorporated with ‘Record Mirror’ 30th August 1975
(Chicago, US) January 1937 to December 1995 (Jazz)
colour fan magazine. 1/- In ‘Hard Days Night’ the schoolgirls in the train-carriage are reading a copy. With photographers Fiona Adams, Bill Francis and David Steen. (18 January 1964) with Beatles cover, Tommy Quickly and Gerry Marsden pin-ups, and ‘This Is Emperor Epstein’ article. (8 February 1964) Richard Chamberlain cover, Trini Lopez, Everly Brothers. (15 February 1964) all-Beatles issue. (3 October 1964) ‘Shaking London Town’ issue with ‘Ready Steady Go!’ spread, and Vicki Wicham’s ‘Pop Guide To London’. (2 February 1965) 1/- ‘World’s Pop Stars In Colour Colour Colour’ ‘Nine King-Size Full Colour Pin-Ups’ Moody Blues, Billy Fury, Manfred Mann, Julie Grant. (14 August 1965) guest-editors ‘those gorgeous’ Kinks, with Goldie & The Gingerbreads, Who, Animals and Manfreds. (18 September 1965) Yardbirds fact-file. (30 July 1966) Hollies, Cathy McGowan, Paul Ryan centre-spread. (18 November 1967) Tony Blackburn cover, Peter Frampton, Kiki Dee. Became ‘Fab 208’ for 1968-1977 (19 March 1977) David Soul, Girls Will Be Boys feature
no.1 dated May 1980, with Jerry Dammer cover ‘The Specials: 2-Much Pressure’, The Clash, Madness, Public Image, Dexy’s, plus Ian Dury on Elvis Presley. In 1981 designer Neville Brody used clashing and distorted typography to create vivid attention-grabbing spreads
from October 1972 to December 1976
from 1 November 1989 to 29 August 1995 (girls’ magazine)
semi-pro fanzine launched Spring 1972 by Andy Childs, later of ‘ZigZag’ (no.7) 7p, Grateful Dead, Mad River, Commander Cody: Lost In The Ozone. (no.9) John Cale, Jerry Garcia. (no.10) 10p, Terry Reid, Medicine Head, Kaleidoscope. (no.11) Stooges, Sopwith Camel, Brinsley Schwarz. (no.12) Ritchie Havens, Jefferson Airplane. (no.13) Allman Brothers, Insect Trust, Paul Butterfield. (no.14) Andy Roberts, Glenn Phillips, Buzzy Linhart
launched in 1997 in Camden, to promote Barfly events. Went national two years later. First of the free ad-funded magazines ‘Celebrating The True Originals Of New Music’
from 9 June 1977 (Irish music news)
began November 1956 to 24 October 1963, ‘The Wednesday Jazz Weekly’, continued as ‘Jazz News & Review’ 7 November 1963 to December 1963 (21 March 1962) Kenny Ball Reaches To The Top Ten. (28 March 1962) Count Basie: Chairman Of The Board, Alexis Korner. (23 May 1962), 9d, Fletcher Henderson, Billie Poole, A Reader Answers The BBC. (5 September 1962) Sonny Criss: Jazzman In Paris, Steve Race. (12 September 1962) Sam Jones, Alexis Korner, Manfred Mann. (Vol.7 no.11, 14-20 March 1963) 1/- Festival Season 1963, Traditional, Modern, Mainstream, Rhythm & Blues, Fringe
(no.1, June 1981) 50p with AC/DC cover and page-header ‘Sounds Heavy Metal Special’. (no.7, January 1982) Motorhead cover, (no.68, May 1985) Sisters Of Mercy, (no.473, December 1989) Nirvana, (no.490, April 1994) Kurt Cobain 1967-1994, (November 1996) Prodigy, (July 2008) Slipknot
‘Let It Rock’
runs from no.1 (October 1972) with Bowie, Burritos, Doors. (no.2, December 1972) Robert Calvert, George Harrison, Heinz. (no.5, February 1973) CSN&Y, Buddy Holly, Tim Buckley. (No.6, March 1973) reviews Stevie Wonder ‘Talking Book’, Traffic ‘Shoot-Out At The Fantasy Factory, Slade ‘Slayed’, Moody Blues ‘Seventh Sojourn’. (no.7, April 1973) Chuck Berry, Argent, JJ Cale. (no.10, July 1973) Dr John, Hawkwind, Roy Buchanan. (no.11, August 1973) Beach Boys, Andy Bown, Carole King. (no.18, March 1974) Beatles, Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, Grateful Dead, Sandy Denny. Continues until no.35 (December 1975)
began January 1926 with various subtitles (including ‘Melody Maker & British Metronome’). (10 April 1960) ‘Jack Good Back With A – WHAM!’ plus Sister Rosetta. (24 September 1960) ‘Quincy Jones Talks to MM’, plus Connie Francis, the Shadows and Duke Ellington. (7 July 1962) ‘Round The Clubs’ page paragraph ‘The Rollin’ Stones and the new Long John Baldry Blues Band will play the rhythm-and-blues session at the Marquee, London, on July 12’. (8 May 1965) ‘Dylan Digs Donovan’. (24 September 1966) Georgie (Fame) Snuffs Flames, Jim Reeves, Roger Daltrey. (27 March 1971) Syd Barrett by Mike Watts. Final issue dated 20 December 2000
began in Liverpool by Bill Harry as ‘Mersey Beat’– with a no.1 print-run of 5,000 dated 6th July 1961. After Brian Epstein became share-owner it became ‘Music Echo & Mersey Beat’ from 6 March to 7 August 1965, then as ‘Music Echo’ 14 August 1965 to 16 April 1966 (12 February 1966, ‘Win Jimmy Savile’s Bicycle’), until it was incorporated with ‘Disc’ (23 April 1966)
began as ‘The Record Retailer & Music Industry News’ from 10 March 1960 to 26 December 1970, then as ‘Record & Tape Retailer’ from 9 January 1971 to 11 March 1972, then as ‘Music Week’ from 18 March 1972 on (subtitled ‘Music & Video Week’ from 17 January 1981 to 27 August 1983)
(official monthly of the National Jazz Federation’) from January 1960 to February 1961
‘New Musical Express’
began as ‘Accordion Times & Musical Express’ 4 October 1946 to 30 January 1948 (nos. 1-69). Continues as ‘Musical Express’ 6 February 1948 to 22 February 1952 (nos. 70-268). Then relaunched as ‘New Musical Express’ 7 March 1952 (no.269) by London music promoter Maurice Kinn. Editor: Ray Sonin. 16-pages, cover photo-spread includes Ray Ellington with the Goons, bandleader Ivy Benson boarding the Dusseldorf plane, The Keynotes with Johnny Johnston… and Big Bill Broonzy, inside Ted Heath, ‘Britain To Have Commercial Radio!’ news, Earl Hines, Johnny Dankworth record reviewer, Jack Bentley radio reviews, Roger Dee on TV, Humphrey Lyttelton, US Singles chart Johnny Ray Cry’ no.1, UK Sheet Music chart, ‘The Alley Cat’ gossip-column. (14 November 1952) first singles chart, “Here In My Heart” by Al Martino is no.1. (13 September 1958) with “When” by Kalin Twins at no.1, Cliff Richard makes his chart debut with “Move It’ at no.29. (12 August 1960) ‘Girls Who Give Lads Quivers Down the Membranes Inspired My Hit’ says Johnny Kidd. (5 November 1960) Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now Or Never” enters at no.1. (27 October 1962) with “Telstar” by the Tornados at no.1, The Beatles make their chart debut at no.27 with “Love Me Do”. (26 March 1965) Keith Altham ‘A Kink A Week’, Sue Mautner visits ‘Brian Jones New Pad’ and photos of ‘Ready Steady Go Motown Special’. (April 1966) circulation peaks at 230,000. (25 December 1976) with “When A Child Is Born” by Johnny Mathis at no.1, Sex Pistols chart debut with “Anarchy In The UK” at no.27. (1987-1990) editor Alan Lewis. (18 November 1989) ‘Never Mind The Pollocks’ Stone Roses paint-cover photo by Kevin Cummins. (January 1994) launches ‘The Brits’ awards, Suede win Best Band. (1996) launch of online www.NME.com (2002) following gradual shift ‘NME’ drops newsprint for glossy format. (28 November 2007) Morrissey ‘racist’ interview by Tim Jonze – ‘the gates of England are flooded, the country’s been thrown away’, litigation ensued and continued. Editor was Conor McNicholas. (September 2009) first female editor, 28-year-old Krissi Murison. (December 2009 Xmas Double issue) ‘The Grinch Speaks’ Simon Cowell interview. (4 April 2010) relaunch with Rihanna cover, circulation around 27,650. (29 September 2012) 60th Anniversary Special includes reproduction of the first issue. With sales falling to 15,000 from 18 September 2015 it becomes a free give-away with editor Mike Williams. First free issue has Rihanna cover. (23 October 2015) Sam Smith ‘James Bond’-theme cover, TV Hollyoaks at Twenty feature, films, books, games, Joanna Newsom CD review. (4 December 2015) Coldplay cover, Adele ‘25’ data, Katherine Ryan ‘being female is a chronic illness’, Album of the year: Grimes ‘Art Angels’. (11 December 2015) ‘Music-Film-Style’, ‘The Myth and Mystery of Lana Del Rey’, Star Wars: A New Hope, 10 Most-Liked Instagram Posts of 2015, Album of the week Coldplay: ‘A Head Full Of Dreams’. (22 April 2016) ‘Topman’ advertising wrap-around cover, Biffy Clyro interview, ‘Game Of Thrones’, three albums reviewed, no gig reviews. (10 June 2016) ‘100 Things To Do This Summer’, no.1 Vote in BrExit Referendum. (9 Sept 2016) Kings of Leon cover and interview, ‘Is Banksy 3D of Massive Attack?’ Reading Fest Supplement, Beatles ‘Eight Days A Week’ movie-review. (16 Sept 2016) Britney Spears cover and interview. (2 December 2016) Deadmau5, ‘Blue & Lonesome’ album ‘the (Rolling) Stones sound their youngest in years on an album of Blues standards’. (17 March 2017) Stormzy: Depression. Agenda: Leonie Cooper on Disney’s ‘Beauty And The Beast’ gay content. CDs Zara Larsson ‘So Good’ and Spoon’s ninth LP ‘Hot Thoughts’. (31 March 2017) NME Festival Guide 2017, Glastonbury, Reading & Leeds, Download, Latitude, Iceland, Belgium, Lollapalooza. Future Island interview, Mastodon (‘Emperor Of Sand’) and Lydia Ainsworth (‘Darling Of The Afterglow’) CD review. (1 December 2017) ‘Music.Film.Style’ Loyle Garner: It’s A Rap, Charlie Brooker’s ‘Black Mirror’, U2 ‘Songs Of Experience’ fourteenth album ‘50 minutes of very plain sailing indeed’ (5 December 2017) ‘The Last Jedi: Mark Hamill on the rebirth of Luke Skywalker’, Liam Gallagher NMEs Godlike Genius, CD ‘QTY’ straight-up indie bliss from New York’s hottest new talents. (9 March 2018) Final print edition. End of the era of the weekly Music Press.
began as ‘No.1’ 7 May 1983 to 5 September 1987, then as ‘Number One’ from 12 September 1987
‘Pop Star Weekly’
from 24 March to 23 June 1979, then incorporated into ‘Record Mirror’
‘Popular Music & Dancing Weekly’
from 28 January 1924 to 23 October 1926
Survived four distinct relaunch series. It began (no.1, 1 September 1962). (no.12, 17 November 1962, with Cliff, Hank and Bruce cover). (no.26, February 1963) with Elvis cover, Billie Davis, Mike Sarne, Joe Brown. Relaunched ‘Second Series’ 1/- (no.1, August 1963) Cliff Richard cover. (no.2, September 1963) Billy Fury cover, Billy J Kramer, Bobby Vee, John Leyton. (no.5, September 1963) Elvis ‘It Happened At The World’s Fair’ cover. (no.6, 5 October) Frank Ifield poster, Lee Sterling, Helen Shapiro. (no.7, 1963) Billy J Kramer cover, Rolling Stones, Overlanders, Del Shannon. (no.9, 26 October) Gerry Marsden cover, Peter Aldersley DISCussion, Pat Harris And The Blackjacks. (no.13, 23 November) Billy J Kramer cover and ‘Listen’ LP review, London’s Answer: Rolling Stones, Mark Wynter. (no.16, 14 December) John Leyton, Glenda Collins, review of Everly Bros ‘Sing Great Country Songs’ LP. (no.17, December 1963) Beatles cover. (no.22, January 1964) Cliff Richard with Susan Hampshire, Elvis back cover. (no.25, 15 February 1964) Dave Clark 5 cover, Elvis in ‘Fun In Acapulco’, Top 30, ‘The All Stars ‘64 Tour’, Manfred Mann, Ronettes. ‘Third Year’ 1/- (no.5, 26 September 1964) McCartney cover, double-page Stones pin-up, Honeycombs, Nashville Teens. (no.13, 21 November) Is Mick The Stones Odd Man Out? Is Ringo Married? Is This The End Of The Road For PJ Proby? Finally ceases 12 February 1966, when it was incorporated into ‘Pop Shop’. At one time owned by Robert Stigwood
(George Newnes Publ). Colour Mod’s glossy at just 2s 6d. (No.1, February 1964) Beatles with 007-badges cover, with Searchers, Crystals, Susan Maughan, Gerry Marsden, Billy Fury ‘The Billy No-one Knows’. (no.2, March 1964) Cliff Richard cover, Rolling Stones, Mark Wynter, Gene Pitney. (no.3, April 1964) Paul McCartney cover, Rolling Stones, Ringo, Shadows, Dave Clark Five, Swinging Blue Jeans visit Portobello Road. (no.4, May) Mick Jagger cover, Pete Best, Cilla Black, Billy J Kramer. (no.6, July) Beatles cover, Rolling Stones, Cilla Black, Mojos, Merseybeats. (no.7, August 1964) PJ Proby cover, Yardbirds, Animals, Gerry Marsden. (no.8, September) Jagger cover, Stuart Sutcliffe, Brenda Lee, Pretty Things. (no.9, October 1964) Ringo cover, Jane Asher, Peter ‘Herman’ Noone, Brian Poole. (no.10, November 1964) Cilla Black cover, Bachelors, PJ Proby, Animals, Dave Clark 5. (August 1966) Marriott & Lane cover, The Action, Brian Jones, Gene Pitney. (February 1967) Paul Jones ‘Privilege’ cover plus ‘Fantastic Rave Offer: Boyfriends By Computer’. (April 1967) ‘At A Small Face’s Place: Ian McLagan’ by journalist Maureen O’Grady. (January 1968) ‘Peter Frampton: This Is The Big Pop Face Of 1968’ cover. (February 1969) with Mick Jagger, Love Sculpture. At its 1966 peak ‘Rave’ was selling 125,000 a month, and included contributions from Cathy McGowan, Maureen O’Grady and Dawn James, with photographers Jean Marie Perier, Terry O’Neill and Marc Sharratt
from 31 August 1988 to 13 March 1996 (‘Rock Action Worldwide’)
began as ‘The Record Mirror’ from 17 June 1954 (no.1) with editor Isidore Green ‘The Sparkling Record And Show Business Newspaper’, then as ‘Record & Show Mirror’ from 29 August 1959, then as ‘The New Record Mirror’ from 18 March 1961 with new numbering sequence, then as ‘Record Mirror’ from 16 November 1963. (14 December 1963) Norman Jopling interviews Johnny Kidd. (no.150, 25 January 1964) Beatles top in the US, the Blue Jeans, cover-ad for Zephyrs “I Can Tell”. (no.162, 18 April 1964) 6d Swinging Blue Jeans colour cover, Great New LP for Stones, cover-ad for Merseybeats “Don’t Turn Around”, page 7 exclusive Manfred Mann story. (no.181, 29 August 1964) Kinks cover, Herman’s Hermits, Beach Boys, Chuck Berry. (26 September 1964) reviews ‘Electric Album From Honeycombs’ plus Dean Martin, Count Basie and Percy Faith. (3 October 1964) ‘New Stones EP’ cover story. (no.199, 2 January 1965) Georgie Fame, Zombies, Twinkle. (no.216, 1 May 1965) Yardbirds cover, Bob Dylan & Cilla Black, Dave Berry, Unit 4+2. (no.223, 19 June 1965) ‘Poetry From Donovan’, Byrds, Ivy League. (no.225, 3 July 1965) Yardbirds cover, Britain’s first R&B chart, Elvis new film pix. (November 1965) ‘Yardbirds: Five Hearts Full Of Soul’ Alan Freeman meets the Yardbirds. (no.245, 20 November 1965) Who cover with Zoot Money LP ad. (3 September 1966) The Who “I’m A Boy” back-page story, The Face gossip-column. (1 October 1966) The Who colour cover, Paul Jones, Cream, The Singing Postman, Los Bravos. (15 October 1966, no.292) 6d ‘Largest Selling Colour Pop Weekly Newspaper’ Dusty Springfied cover. (19 August 1967, no.336) colour cover Scott McKenzie and Dantalian’s Chariot, also Cat Stevens, Peter Green. (16 December 1967) Norman Jopling reviews Rolling Stones ‘Their Satanic Majesties’. (21 December 1968) Beach Boy Dennis Wilson ‘I live with 17 Girls’ talks to David Griffiths about LSD, the ‘Friends’ LP and ‘a guy named Charlie (Manson)’. (7 September 1974) as ‘Record Mirror and Disc’, Showaddywaddy cover. (20 March 1978) As ‘Record Mirror & Disc’, 12p, ‘Diana Ross: Fantasies And Facts’ cover plus David Cassidy and Kenny. Before the Smiths, Morrissey contributed reviews to ‘Record Mirror’ as ‘Sheridan Whiteside’. To final issue 6 April 1991 – with Transvision Vamp cover. The chart-section continues as a 4-page ‘Music Week’ supplement
(US, with a UK edition from 24 October 1974 to 5 August 1982) from 9 November 1967. The first issue includes a free ‘roach-clip’. (29 March 1973) Dr Hook make the cover – in cartoon form, after scoring a massive hit with “Cover Of Rolling Stone”. (No.169, 12 September 1974) has Paul Morantz article about Jan Berry’s (of Jan & Dean) recovery from his ‘Dead Man’s Curve’ autowreck
(US) not so much a music magazine, more a way of life. Launched September 1944 – as Frank Sinatra was hitting his first bobby-soxer high, and aimed at the teen-girl demographic defined by its title, it editorialised that ‘you are the bosses of the business’. An immediate success, it was soon selling 500,000-copies. Offering a non-patronising approach that hit a chord, it focused the American market on the barely recognised purchasing power of adolescents. Bought and sold through various publishers, Primedia sold it to Hearst in 2003, where it still sells well
from 8 February 1979, with a circulation peaking during 1983 when it sold 800,000 every fortnight. (23 August 1979) Martyn Ware ‘Sheffield Rising’ feature on Sheffield music scene. (20 September 1979) 25p, Secret Affair, song-lyrics to ‘Cruel To Be Kind’, Joe Jackson in colour. (March 3-16th 1983) Eurythmics cover, a Free Badge (Get 7 More – See Inside), plus Musical Youth, Depeche Mode, Joboxers, Kajagoogoo, & many more. Final issue dated 13 February 2006
billed ‘Music In The Message’ from no.1, 10 October 1970, priced at 1/-. (17 October 1970) Joan Baez poster, Alvin Lee, Otis Redding, Muddy Waters. (7 November 1970) Frank Zappa cover, Graham Nash, Dave Mason, Free Taj Mahal poster. (23 January 1971) Stevie Winwood, John Cale, Pink Floyd, Tina Turner. (25 May 1971) ‘A Split In The Crows’, Melanie, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs tour. (24 August 1971) ‘British Dates For Traffic’, Edgar Broughton, ‘Bo Diddley: R&B’s Muhammad Ali’ (23 November 1972) ‘Allmans: A Question Of Survival’, Beach Boys Tour, Russ Ballard colour poster. (20 December 1972, 7p) ‘Alice Cooper Elected”, Dave Cousins talk-in, Noddy Holder. (31 May 1975) ‘Robert Wyatt: Singles Are Out’, ‘Yes Say Yes’ – to Reading Festival, ‘Traffic Have Retired’. (27 January 1979) ‘Stars In Embryo’ cover, Cure, Deep Purple, Joe Jackson, Aerosmith. (9 June 1979, 20p) Hawkwind Family Tree, ‘Secret Affair: Mods Without Parka’, Lene Lovich. Final issue dated 6 April 1991, when parent company United Newspaper is sold to EMAP
no.1 May 1985, US title founded by Bob Guccione Jr with a loan from his ‘Penthouse’ father. Despite its success as an Indie college-Rock rival to ‘Rolling Stone’ Dad withdrew financing, but a November-December 1987 relaunch worked covering Punk & Hip-Hop, until Guccione Jr sold the title to Miller Publ in 1997. From the July 2006 issue, with Beyoncé cover, it has appeared through Spin Media LLC with a strong online presence
edited by Mark Williams, (No.1,dated 11-25 September 1970) with MC5, Humble Pie, IOW Festival), to October 1970 (prices 2s 6d)
sixteen fortnightly issues, with spreads on Roxy Music or Cockney Rebel. (17-30 April 1976) Mick Brown on the ‘Perfect Master & Unholy Squabbles’ of Maharaj Ji. Survives until July 1976. It bequeaths journalist Angus MacKinnon to ‘NME’
‘The Rock Magazine’ edited by Peter Frame who compiled their famous ‘Rock Family Trees’. (No.1, 16 April 1969) priced at two shillings. (No.2) John Tobler writes as John HT. (no.3, July 1969) with Frank Zappa cover, and Jeff Cloves on ‘The Amazing Adventures Of Liverpool Scene’ and Music Poetry. (No.12, May 1970) with Pete Frame on Brinsley Schwarz much-hyped Fillmore East debut. (No.14, August 1970) with Pete Frame’s Byrds Family Tree. (No.17, December 1970) John Mayall Family Tree. (No.21, July 1971) Marc Bolan, Amazing Blondel, Kevin Coynem Al Kooper Family Tree. (no.22) Jack Bruce Tree, Mott The Hoople, Allman Bros, link Wray, Terry Riley. (no.23) John Sebastian, Colin Bluntstone, Fairport Tree, Big Brother. (no.25) Elton John, Lou Reed, Flamin Groovies, Zappa-Mothers Tree, early Floyd, Love Tree. (no.28, February 1973) Byrds cover, Jimmy Page on Led Zeppelin, Kim Fowley, Stealers Wheel, Love and Arthur Lee. (no.32) Pink Floyd, Steve Ellis, Spirit, Clifford T Ward, Byrds Pt6. (no.33) Robert Plant, Sir Douglas Quintet Tree, McKendree Spring, Clarence White. (no.34) Family, Lou Reed, Capt Beefheart, Asleep At The Wheel. (no.36) Van Morrison, Stan Tracey, Kevin Coyne, Grateful Dead Pt2, Byron Berline. (no.42) Nick Drake, Albert Hammond, Moby Grape, Dr Hook, Free, Lovin Spoonful. (No.43) The Erik Jacobsen Story Part 2: Being The Tale Of The Maiden Flight Of The Sopwith Camel, Tim Hardin, Jachie Lomax, Bees Make Honey, Love, Camel. (no.44) Tim Buckley, 10cc, Blue Oyster Cult, Tangerine Dream. (No.45) Russ Ballard, Bruce Springsteen, New Riders Chart, Bert Jansch, Poco. (no.46 Vol.5 no.6, 20p) Phil Lesh, Ron Wood, ‘The World Still Hasn’t Caught Up With Poco Yet’, Leonard Cohen, Kevin Ayers, American Newsletter. (no.47) Ricky Nelson history Pt3. (No.48) interview with Curt Boetcher, writer-producer and Association, ‘The Continuing Story Of John Sebastian’ by Jerry Gilbert, Butts Band. (No.53) reviews Flamin’ Groovies “Sneakers”. (No.59, April 1976) With James Burton, Gram Parsons, Country Joe, Kaleidoscope. (No.65) Linda Ronstadt talks about Tim Buckley. (No.100, April 1980) Nostalgia archive. After stuttering relaunch it closed with a final issue dated January 1986.