Saturday, October 29, 2022


 This was the launch party on November 1st 2001 for Rock's Back Pages and Paul Gorman's oral history 'In Their Own Write'. Pictured are three of the very best music writers namely Charles Shaar Murray [with Anna Chen], Vivien Goldman and Chris Salewicz. I wasn't interviewed for the book but I was mentioned twice. There was Jonathon Green talking about Frendz :'Dick Lawson was the rock 'n' roll editor... and there was people like John May, who later worked for NME and was a real journalist, writing lots of very informed and radical stuff.' Chris said; 'John was very good as Dick Tracy. He started the film section with what was called Silver Screen and he was quite instrumental in changing the paper'.

Paul Gorman has returned to the subject with a 360 page whopper of a book that traces the whole history of music papers, magazines and fanzines starting with Melody Maker which was first launched in 1926. New Musical Express  came in 1952 and within a couple of years it had a circulation of 100,000 while MM was selling 97,000. They were soon joined by two other weeklies Record Mirror and Disc. All had a different take on the pop scene. MM was jazz, blues and folk and they were not interested in the new rock 'n' roll.

In the States there were two trade papers -Billboard and Cashbox and the jazz journal Downbeat which had been founded in 1934. In the 40s and 50s these were joined with a string of teen mags - Seventeen, Dig, 16 and Hit Parade, which switched from pop to rock 'n' roll.

By the 1960s there was a dozen weeklies aimed at the 5 million teenagers in Britain that made up 15% of the population who were using their spending power to buy records and record players.

In the States apart from the teen mags a new kind of music mag was emerging  which was more concerned with the aesthetics of rock. Paul Williams' Crawdaddy  lit the touch paper, says Gorman, 'for a cerebral strand of music criticism that was to play out for decades in the American press'. This led to Rolling Stone  which marked a real sea change with writers like Greil Marcus, Lenny Kaye, Lester Bangs, Ben Fong-Torres alongside the new journalism of Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson.

The underground press that emerged in the '60s in the US and the UK provided another platform for music journalism and record company advertising kept many of them in business. For a brief time there was a British edition of Rolling Stone which morphed into Friends then Frendz. Gorman judges it to be the best when it comes to music coverage. In the early '70s when most  of these papers closed down Nick Kent and photographer Pennie Smith left Frendz, Charles Shaar Murray left OZ, and all joined the NME to be followed by Mick Farren  from International Times and myself. Those were great times to be around. 

The great late Ian MacDonald said NME had most of the best writers and photographers, the best layouts, a sense of style and human and the feeling of real adventure. Mick Farren (now also no longer with us) said 'NME had an incredible pass-on rate. We could claim 900,000 readers at the peak'. 

NME ignored punk for a while but fanzines flourished and Sounds was on it with the great Jon Savage alongside Vivien Goldman on dub. Gorman is good on the subject of the women journalists who had to fight to hold their own in a very male driven atmosphere, Penny Valentine  being one of the pathfinders.

The inky papers were always in competition with each other as sales fluctuated and music styles evolved. But in 1978 when Nick Logan left the editorship of the NME he created the first of new kind of music mag which was a bigger threat to their survival.  Smash Hits  was a colourful magazine which combined glossy star shots with the actual lyrics of the new releases. Within a short time it was selling 100,000 copies, just 35,000 less than the NME and 10,000 more than the MM.

Post-punk had arrived and with that came Neil Spencer as the new editor of the NME and what Peter York called the'pale boys' a new generation of writers like Paul Morley and Ian Penman who used a style of literary criticism to write about experimental bands like Cabaret Voltaire, Human League, Joy Division and others. Readership figures fell by some 40,000.

Meantime Nick Logan used family money to launch The Face  a completely new styled mag combining music and fashion for the New Romantics. It's huge success marked a decisive shift away the previous music papers.

 In 1984 Smash Hits was selling 500,000, NME 120,000. Sounds 80,000, Record Mirror 70,000 and Melody Maker 68,000. 

Smash Hits was edited by David Hepworth who hired Mark Ellen as his Features Editor. This duo went on to create a string of successful titles including Q, (which lasted for 34 years) Mojo, Heat and The Word. They felt the post-punk bands had an inflated sense of their own importance and that pop stars were absurd.

Hard on their heels came a string of others: Blitz  was a challenge to The Face; Kerrang was the bible for metal heads, Collusion was for world music lovers. From the US came Details, Wet and Andy Warhol's Interview amongst many others.

The golden days of music papers has passed although my local newsagent still carries MojoUncut, Record Collector and expensive definitive magazines on major bands like Led Zep as well as punk and heavy metal titles. In his Epilogue Gorman writes: 'Despite the substantial odds stacked against them over the course of the 2000s and 2010s, music magazines continued to emerge, albeit on a micro level'.

This review can only skim the surface of this very large and detailed history which is a definitive work that will stand the test of time.

Visit the Generalist Archive and click on the Dick Tracy banner to see many of the stories I wrote for the NME

No comments: