The History of NME, By PAt Long

Would you give these men a job?

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The Independent Culture

It's an eternal pop chestnut that the New Musical Express isn't as good as it used to be. Unusually for an author marking its 60th anniversary, Long agrees. As a staffer himself, he spent quiet afternoons in the IPC archive reading back issues from an era when record companies flew freelancers around the world to see, and then slate, their acts.

It was a long way from the promoter Maurice Kinn's original trade paper, which introduced Britain's first sales chart. Not especially credible at the time, the paper was saved by the Sixties beat boom. The coverage was touchingly innocent – writers complained for years about kicking off puff pieces with the words "This week it's all happening for ...". Yet the astute Kinn marketed his baby by selling the annual Poll Winners concert to television. NME always was a brand. These days it's little else.

In truth, its golden age lasted only a few years. By the Eighties, Smash Hits and The Face, glossies perfectly suited to the shiny surfaces of the era's pop, had left the inkies behind. And Britpop's blip aside, lads with guitars have been losing ground for years.

Long salutes some of music journalism's oldest traditions: spelling mistakes mean that several old lags will have difficulty finding themselves in the index. But his approach often pays off. The heroic self-regard of men such as Nick Kent, 1972's sharpest-eared man, and Stuart Cosgrove, is downright hilarious. Cosgrove, later a TV commissioner, claims that he was canned for his anti-apartheid views and identification with black music. But with a third of the readership disappearing on his watch, management may have had other concerns. Descriptions of editorial meetings in which writers blamed deserting readers for not keeping up with them make great entertainment.

These writers, then, were the unemployable – damaged fantasists all. When the erstwhile van driver Chris Salewicz was taken on, he was amazed that none of his fellow hacks possessed a driving licence. Even into the Eighties, newbies were advised to keep their own teaspoons locked away because those in the office kitchen had all been ruined cooking up heroin.

Sadly, Long didn't speak to Nick Logan, a truly innovative editor and publisher, but his tribute hits enough targets to succeed. NME took music as seriously as it deserved: either not at all or more than life itself. And like its subjects and creators, it was best in its twenties, before the long decline set in.