Thursday, March 08, 2018

Farewell to the NME

Sad to hear that New Musical Express will no longer exist in print form. It's a sign of the times, as print journalism can't compete with online any more. But for someone whose passion for music began in the sixties it's a sad day. The NME reached a peak circulation of over 300,000 in 1964 with its coverage of the Beatles and the Stones. And music writers such as Tony Parsons, Julie Burchill and Charles Shaar Murray ensured that its place as a champion of progressive music and punk in the seventies, as well as its left wing stance, gave it a pre-eminent place as a thought leader of the era. It was the place where 'gonzo' journalism thrived.
Yet, for me, the NME was only of real significance for a few years in the early sixties when its top 30 chart was what I looked for when it dropped through my letter box every week. It had some good writers, but as soul and R and B developed I lost interest. I moved to the New Record Mirror, as it was called for a couple of years, because it covered black music, while the NME was stuck in the British beat scene. Record Mirror, the name it reclaimed in 1963, also had some excellent writers, including Norman Jopling and Peter Jones, but what swung it for me, as well as the coverage of soul, was the inclusion of the top 50 charts, for both the UK and and US, plus other music lists. I always was a fan of lists! Other music magazines of the era, such as Melody Maker (rather too jazz orientated for me) and the chart focused Disc, were occasional reads, rather than regulars, and NME became of less interest as the decade wore on.
I no longer have my original NMEs, or my Record Mirrors for that matter, But I came across the NME annual for 1961, which offers a glimpse of just how boring NME, and British pop music, was in those days. Writers such as Derek Johnson, Mike Gowers (who I later worked with at Barclays), and Keith Goodwin, wrote glowing, non controversial articles about stars of the day such as Elvis, Cliff, Lonnie Donegan, Tommy Steele, Adam Faith, Bobby Darin, Connie Francis and Eddie Cochran, and also artists who by no means could be described as teen idols. These included  Bing Crosby, Max Bygraves, Frankie Vaughan, Russ Conway and Sammy Davis Jr. There were inaccurate predictions of future stardom ( whatever happened to Dick Jordan or Johnny Shanly?), a look back to the first UK hit parade in 1952 (produced by the NME and topped by Al Martino), a run down of chart success in 1960 (the top five were Cliff Richard, Adam Faith, the Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley and Anthony Newley) and, in this pre-Beatles age, the rather thin successes of UK artists overseas. It was all rather lame, but at the time it was all we had. Or rather it was what the NME believed we wanted. Very little about rock and roll, nothing about R and B and precious little about US music.
NME will, no doubt, be missed by lovers of seventies music. It was ground breaking at the time. But for me, it lost its appeal a decade or so earlier and never really regained it.


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