Friday, February 03, 2006

Smash Hits RIP

In 1978 former NME writer Nick Logan birthed Smash Hits on his kitchen table. The first issues cover star was Plastic Bertrand, and Logan so unsure of the magazine he edited it under the pseudonym Chris Hall. He shouldn’t have worried as the Magazine went on to both mirror and shape the pop music of the 1980’s. Its colour posters became wallpaper for teenagers bedrooms. The real revolution was securing the rights to print the lyrics to ‘Smash Hit’of the day. These lyrical crib sheets rested between the pages of school textbooks. Scanning the words to Nik Kershaws ‘The Riddle’ held a greater appeal to me than studying my French verbs.

Smash Hits was my first introduction to the wonderful world of the music press. Interviews and record reviews showed a wonderfully na├»ve and witty take on the world of pop. What they may have lacked in terms of critical analysis they more than made up for with humour, pathos and the ability to show no respect for reputation. My distrust of Paul Weller stems from the amount of abuse he suffered at the hands of Smash Hits. He was ridiculed for his angst-ridden approach to music. He came across as Rik from the Young Ones, the people poet with a guitar. Although I admire Jam I don’t love them as I feel maybe I should and Weller’s post Jam music leaves me cold.

Posh, Ginger, Scary, Sporty and Baby owe a great deal of their brand image to Smash Hits. The nicknames came from the pen of a writer at Smash Hits, plain Mel, Mel, Emma, Victoria and Geri doesn’t have the same ring to it does it.

So why has it died on its feet? Well the landscape of pop has been rapidly changing. The rise of the Internet has provided a free source of lyrics. Britpop crossed over into the mainstream media and much of what was special about the music press started to wither. Oasis and Blur where everywhere so there was no need to seek out something like Smash Hits for coverage.

The irreverent style that had won Smash Hits so many fans. Typical question; what colour is Thursday? Is sadly misplaced in this media trained era. Stars can’t stray from the script that the PR people had given them, they parrot out the same answers across a wide range of publications. Why did you need Smash Hits if the same points are made in Heat or The Daily Mail. In stripping bands of any semblance of personality record companies have not only diluted the colour in the charts but murdered the cut and thrust of the pop music press.

In the past Morrissey would drop quotes about Oscar Wilde or colour of his underwear. It was via Smash Hits that I first came across, Jesus and Mary Chain, New Order, The Cure, The Mission and a cast of 1000’s. The publication did have bite. On an assignment to interview New Order, the bands surly reaction and unfriendly nature resulted in a piece that allegedly cost Barney Sumner his marriage. Bizarre Love Triangle made flesh.

It seems odd with Arctic Monkeys defining a tipping point where organic pop seems to be replacing the manufactured variety that Smash Hits has gone now. I guess the NME has stolen the ground that Smash Hits once owned. If they printed song lyrics then the NME would be Smash Hits in indie clothing.

I doubt Smash Hits will be missed as music has been replaced by a general idea of celebrity at the centre of youth culture. The shifting of Top of The Pops to a Sunday is another sign of this. Heat covers this new ground well and should be praised for its stance on weight issues. Not a week goes by without them attacking celeb’s for being too skinny or praising women who are not afraid to be curvy.

It always sad when any form of printed media folds. It means less voices, less opinion and less choice. I hope someone sat at a desk at the NME is dream of a new pop magazine……..

Tony Heywood