Museums are now the place for music journalism
We have lost a treasure trove of rock writing, says Pierre Perrone
On hearing of the impending closure of The Word, the thinking-person's music monthly from Mark Ellen, David Hepworth and their team, a thought came to mind.
If Hepworth and Ellen, who worked on the New Musical Express and Smash Hits, and went on to launch Q and Mojo, can't keep their magazine afloat, music journalism is doomed. Another casualty of the digital age – unless you happen to write for a quality newspaper.
Ellen, editor of The Word, is not quite as pessimistic. "No journalism is 'doomed' but record industry advertising has been the mainstay of music journalism since the Fifties and that's begun to melt away dramatically," he says. "We can't see how we could transfer the essence of what makes the magazine special to an online format. It would be too expensive to produce editorial that complex and considered just for the tablet market."
He recalls that, a few years back, The Word gloried in celebrating some of the once iconic, now extinct, music publications that helped shape British pop culture, with a pictorial feature called "Found In The Attic". "The Face, Melody Maker, Smash Hits, Select, most of the copies came from my attic," he says. "It was meant to be a one-off but we got a great response from the readers so we continued. I managed to get the first edition of the NME from 1952."
In the Seventies, music aficionados eagerly awaited the NME, Melody Maker and Sounds for their weekly fix of news and features. Sounds, the "inkiest" of the lot – the newsprint left your fingers black – is best remembered for its championing of progressive rock, heavy metal and punk and for launching Kerrang! as a one-off supplement in 1981 – it's still going as a weekly. Sounds folded in 1991, nine years before the Maker, whose ads helped many a budding musician find the ideal bandmates. When Nick Logan quit as NME editor in 1978, he created two magazines that defined the big, brash and flamboyant music of the Eighties: the teen-pop title Smash Hits, and the fashion bible The Face, which ended in 2004, two years before Smash Hits. Neville Brody's groundbreaking graphics and typography mean The Face is now in the permanent collection of the Design Museum in London.
A mighty combination of 12in vinyl LP and 62-page magazine, the all-in-one Debut was the forerunner of the CD cover-mounts now adorning Mojo and Uncut. Launched in 1984, it delivered on its promise of "Sounds, Visions and Words" with tracks and interviews by its cover stars Thompson Twins, Ultravox and The Smiths, but floundered on the logistical nightmare involved in licensing tracks from several record labels and stopped in 1985.
First published in 1990 with a cassette featuring 12 PolyGram acts – making licensing easier – Select found its feet in April 1993 with its "Yanks Go Home!" cover story by Stuart Maconie, complete with Suede frontman Brett Anderson pictured in front of a Union Jack. The monthly ditched grunge and hoisted the Britpop flag of Blur and Oasis to its mast. Tellingly, its last cover, in January 2001, featured Coldplay. Select's fortunes mirrored the ebb and flow of popular music.
Ellen appreciates the irony of The Word now suffering the same fate after nine years and 114 issues. "Judging by the overwhelming outpouring of love and affection on the site and blogs and Twitter, I think we might be fondly remembered. That would be wonderful. I've never known a writer/reader relationship this close. I've had emails from people who've listened to all 217 of The Word podcasts. We feel very proud."
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