Saturday, September 29, 2012

What the pop papers say: NME at sixty and a half

With a multitude of covers to choose from, this week it's the NME's 60th birthday.

Only it isn't, is it? As the free facsimile of issue one inside shows, the magazine launched in March 1952. Were you looking for a metaphor for "slightly behind the curve", turning up six months late to your own party would be a pretty good one.

So, who do we get on these multicovers? There is a nice surprise - a Patti Smith variant, meaning that at least there's one woman given front page prominence. A fifty per cent drop in the number of women who appeared on the front of issue one, but - hey, who said progress would always be a straight line, eh?

Smith is a slightly risky choice for the anniversary - she's not been considered worthy of a cover for over thirty years and so, unlike some of the other cover stars is a bit less grateful, a bit less eager to please. She tells an anecdote about how, to punky New Yorkers, NME was too expensive, so they'd read the content but not buy the magazine. Ah, for the days when that was just a problem in overseas markets, eh, IPC?

Other covers- well, obviously there's not one but two Gallaghers.

Liam is reminded that the NME in the 1990s was "practically stalking" him every week - imagine that, eh? Asked why the NME is important (a leading question) he burbles out something almost incomprehensible that they transcribe anyway:
When I go and do my weekly shop I get NME and I read it while my misses is putting all the gear in."
Ah, the magazine of choice for boorish middle-aged men; such a quick read you can get through it while someone lobs a couple of foccacias and a bottle of merlot into the Bag For Life.

Noel, meanwhile, makes a more spirited attempt to justify the NME's existence:
I don't read about things in the Daily Mail, or a Sunday supplement, or the fucking Guardian. I read them in the NME.
Me, Liam, Noel. Is there anyone in the actual demographic that NME sells to its advertisers buying the thing?

Talkingnof demographics, there's an inadvertently revealing quote from Noel when he's talking about his brother's covers:
I'd go into the shop, and me two Asian mates, they'd be reading it under the counter.
"Me two Asian mates", Noel? Apart possibly from David Cameron, who mentions irrelevant ethnicity in the middle of an anecdote?

Paul Weller awkwardly tells a story about the Melody Maker (hey, how is that Meldoy Maker website coming along, IPC?) but does spark a wonderful admission from Gavin Haynes, that the Preston from The Ordinary Boys interviews his hero Weller piece was a bit of a sham:
[Preston] wasn't even a fan, despite claiming to be. [...] He only didn't because that was the feature that would get him in the NME.
Really? Preston pretending to like someone just to raise his profile? Hard to imagine, innit?

Weller helpfully announces that he, too, reads the NME rather than blogs. The advertising department must have been screaming "can you find someone who doesn't wear trousers with elasticised waistbands who reads the bloody thing?"

There are some teenaged readers in the Arctic Monkeys piece, but, erm, they were the teenaged Monkeys.

Nicky Wire actually has something interesting to say, recalling a time when NME spoke confidently about Roth and Amis and - wonderfully - singling out the Sing Me To Sleep Youth Suicide issue, which normally gets pointed to as an example of what the NME shouldn't have been doing, despite it coming from an era of more solid sales and a more creative product.

John Lydon out of the estate agency business gets a front, too - I think he's the only person to mention Sounds, and as far as I can see, there's not a single mention of the fourth power, Record Mirror, anywhere in the issue.

The sixth cover is The Killers, who use their platform to announce that Razorlight get a bad rap. Which is true; Razorlight are no worse than The Killers.

Perhaps what's more interesting than the people who turned up is the people who didn't - most notably, no Bowie, who was something of a God for the 40th and 50th anniversaries and used to hold the record for most covers back when you had to wait for a while between reappearances. I wonder who fell out of favour with whom.

And there's barely a whisper of Pete Doherty.

What else do we get? There's a collection of "crazy covers" which ignores Wire's genuine enthusiasm for a time when NME was interested in the culture that created music rather than just rerunning old Lennon interviews. An arch eyebrow is raised for the Karen Grant and Blind Date covers - imagine, eh, the NME putting TV on its front cover. What were they thinking? It'd be like, say, half the 2012 NME website being given over to film and telly, wouldn't it? That would be crazy.

There's a two-page history of the magazine, which runs thought the well-trod path: Accordian Times, singles chart, Beatles, swinging London, falling sales, Tony Parsons, indie pop, lion rock, The Arctic Monkeys.

Alright, it might not have mentioned Lion Rock. But the is a namecheck for shrromadelica.
Rather awkwardly, the history starts with an error, suggesting it was a merger between the Musical Express and the Accoridan Times which created the NME - a "fact" which the Guardian repeated this week.

The reprint of issue one is lovely, although to be honest, I'm more curious to see what the final Musical Express & Accordian Times looked like. It's interesting to see a tension as to what the magazine might be known as back in March 1952 - there's a small lobby for The New ME, and NME appears only once. The page given over to Accordians mentions the first ever electric accoridan. Dropped from the masthead and electricity - it must have been a worrying week for accordianists everywhere.

Perhaps the most heartening thing in the issue, though, is a short bit by Matt Wilkinson setting out a manifesto for the next 60 years. Part a diagnostic on what's gone wrong in alt rock - no stars, no spirit - and part a pledge for the future:
Personally, I'm for smashing the whole fucker wide open
Next week's cover is Palma Violets. That's a start. But only time will tell if this really is a new rallying call, or merely the new music ed doodling in the corner while the churn of Gallagher - Beatles - Gallagher - Clash covers roll on.

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