Monday, November 24, 2003

WHAT THE POP PAPERS SAID: NME, 1st August, 1987

One of the things I forgot the NME used to do, you know, is carry the name of the writer of the main feature on the cover - thus, we're tempted by 'Citizens Kane: Hue and Cry Interviewed by Stuart Cosgrove.' When did the paper last have such confidence that in theri writers to give them front-page billing? Although, of course, it's not the picture of the poor man's Tony Parsons and the thinking man's Andrew Ridgeley that was Hue and Cry that would have had people staring at the fornt page this week - it'd be the 'Smiths Split?' splash on the top right.

Page three is given over to contents (wasn't that one the things meant to be radical about the 2003 remix?) and a large picture of Captain Beefheart.

Considering that the received wisdom of What The Web has done is to move news hungry kids from print to the screen, it's curious that there was so little news in the '87 NME - just two pages (and a news extra on page 33). Madonna was given the green light to play Wembley, although local residents had mounted fierce objections - "You mark our words, she'll start snogging young girls on stage if we don't put our feet down" said one, while the collapse of Plymouth Rock Festival had left a whole big mess of refunds that might never have been sorted out yet. Vindaloo - home of the mighty Ted Chippington and Fuzzbox - ended its distro deal with WEA. The major kept hold of Fuzzbox, but were surprisingly not so keen to keep releasing Chippington's records.

Curiously, the Beatles were taking legal action against Capitol Records, claiming that a delay in getting their stuff out on CD had cost them squillions of pounds (keta-trillions in today's money.) Well, at least they'll have learned a lesson and if a new format developed in the future they wouldn't refuse to allow their music to be left out this time round, would they? [Checks iTunes]. Oh...

WH Smiths had banned Appetitie for Destruction but Boots and Wooloworths were happy to carry on doing so - yes, Boots used to be one of the biggest record retailers in the realm. Meanwhile, following a spate of Beastie Boy style badge pinching, Volkswagen stepped in to offer free VW badges for all.

But the big news, of course, was the Smiths schism - by page 5, the question mark of the cover had gone, and the nme was suggesting it was all over bar the shouting, a slew of greatest hits collections, a couple of unpleasant court cases and a diminshing returns solo career. Marr was telling friends in Manchester he was sick of Mozzer acting the "self centred star" (which is a bit like whining that Marilyn Monroe is blonde) and Morrissey was ticked off at Marr working with the likes of Keith Richard and Bobby Womack.

Thrills in '87 had yet to complete its transformation from smash-and-grab shorts into a pisstake assault on rock, and still had a newsy agenda - Mickey Bradley was more or less using the space to beg the rest of the Undertones to get back together, something the paper thought unlikely, what with the success that That Petrol Emotion were about to have. (Remember, this was before Thrills became all piss-taking, all the time); the column was taking the credit for inventing grebo and getting ready to pat itself firmly on the back as The Bambi Slam crushed all competition before them. And it provided a home to Rockets Passing Overhead, Stephen appleby's debut strip ("for badges send a stamp addressed envelope plus 1 loose 18p stamp per badge..." - thank good the Guardian feeds him now. And there was a Shaky Kane cartoon, too, taking the piss out of Suzanne Vega. "I think I have to be blatant" said Cliff Richard, quotingly, "and say the Sex Pistols are the worse thing that ever happened." Maybe, but at least it took the heat off the crucifixion, eh, Cliff?

Aaah... when Loop last did an interview and talked about drugs, James' mum phoned up and demanded he go home straight away. But, they admit to Danny Kelly that they don't really do drugs when they're playing - "we tried it and we couldn't play a sodding note." Nowadays, of course, they'd still stick the demos out as an "insight into the music making process."

Rock and Roll will pull the white man down to the level of the negro. That's not me saying that, that was Terence Trent D'arbys tshirt. Steven Wells was sent to investigate if, you know, that made D'arby some sort of, you know, racist. Both then editor Alan Lewis and future editor Danny Kelly are called to account as to how the NME carried an advert with the slogan. You forget that the paper used to be like this - concerned, sometimes to the point of parody, with ideas and politics and statements. Clearly, this case was one which a half-beat of synaptic activity would have dismissed - even Alanis would have spotted that it was an ironic thing for a black rock and roll chap to be quoting (the original of the statement had been made in the White Citizen's Council of Alabama in 1954, when it was somewhat less than satirical) - but it's a pity there's no longer the sense that what rock and pop people do matters that much. Even the attempts to document the struggles of the So Solids against the government have been muted.

On the same page, Swells also considers the claims that Prince is an emissary of Satan, made by one Alex Maloney. The Staffordshire cabbies claimed that Prince promotes darkness by hiding backwards messages in his songs (a harmless pursuit long since ruined by the death of vinyl); having spent three columns considering straight-faced that D'arby might be racist, Swells at least manages to see this as slightly risible. You wonder what Maloney makes of Prince's current role knocking on doors flogging Watch Tower - probably, in the way of religious fanatics, he sees that as confirmation of his satanic nature rather than putting him in the clear.

"They act out this year's shrewdest gimmick - pop fratricide." So, in effect, Oasis are little more than a tabloid reworking of Hue and Cry, are they?

1987 - there was still a communist East, there were still two Germanys, and the Christians were still a going concern. More interesting than anything they had to say about playing in Berlin were the words of Johannes, NME's guide, explaining why he wanted to take the risk of crossing the Wall - "In the East, there are only three good discos, and in the West, I think there are many." So that was what was in the minds of those crowds the historic day the Berlin Wall came down - "Must get to Cinderella Rockerfellas..."

Nowadays, Radar is the new bands slot. Back then, radar was the TV & Film section - something that's fallen by the wayside a little, but that's probably as explained by a range of other titles muscling more single-mindedly onto the territory as any lack of interest in the general culture. On telly, it was a momentus week, with MTV coming to Europe. Back in '87, only 7% of the country could get the channel and NME was giving a grudging welcome to a service that counted Robert Maxwell as its majority shareholder. If you'd have told them in the future they'd be gleefully signing up for a chart show on an MTV channel, they'd have spat in your face.

Also long gone is Manifesto, the short-lived political column - this week about the Poll Tax (we have a vague recollection that every week it was about the Poll Tax.

SOTW was A Primary Industry - Heart of Glass ("the dance track you've been waiting to pay good money for")
Also up for consideration: Tom Jones - What's New Pussycat ("I'm glad they rushed this out before Jonathan Ross could get to it")
Roxanne Shante - Have a Nice Day ("watching women rap is like watching women join the army - someone else got there first."
Spacemen 3 - Transparent Radiation ("this really is the music of the future."

A smattering of interviews: The Dave Howard Singers - you might recall Yon Yonson, who works in Wisconsin, even if you'd forgotten the Canadian who sang about him; The Hoodoo Gurus ("If they don't crack it in the next three months" predicts Terry Staunton "they probably never will") and Alexander O'Neal: "if they think I'm a successor to marvin gaye, I'll take it, but I'm not going to be the encroacher."

The centre pages are given over not to pull-out posters, but an advert for Nat West. With Adrian Edmondson and almost the word "bastard" in it.

Album reviews (still called "33"):
Guns N Roses - Appetite for Destruction - "the sweat of prisoners as opposed to the perspiration of inspiration"
Dead Can Dance - Within The Realm of A Dying Sun - "could well be A-Ha or Ultravox on a gloomy day"
Madonna - Who's That Girl - "looking like Margi Clarke with a lobotomy"

Live reviews
The Fall - Finsbury Park - "Mark E Smith is still the Pope of post-punk pre-grebo abstract expressionism"
Big Black - Hammersmith Clarendon - "look like the Feelies after a night out corpse-molesting
The Stone Roses - Manchester International (reviewed by Dave Haslam; this was before they were cover fodder) - "at times their fine artistry is marred by a sulky, confrontational influence learned from Theatre of Hate"

There's a two page spread on Hispanic Music, which we guess must have seemed like a great idea at the time, as it really did seem like a coming thing; that by 1988 we'd all be grooving to Little Louie Vesa and Midnight Fantasy. The only names we recognise out the whole piece are Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam and, erm, "Gloria, of Miami Sound Machine."

Sean O'Hagan - who would go on to be a proper journalist - edited Angst, having to referee a spat between Don Watson and Toby Young. Watson was miffed because the week before a letter from Young had banged on about an incident in a taxi. Didn't follow it then, don't really follow it now. And proto-pseudo-gossip columnist Dick Nietzsche was claimign that Mel out of Mel and Kim was actually George Melly. You trying telling kids of today that... they'd think you were mad.

And finally, in the personals: "Bee Gees fan would like to hear from any Gibb fans. Write Rick Box No. 7014." So desperate for friends was young Rick he didn't care if you didn't even like them all.


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