(ABC January - June 2009)
|First issue||7 March 1952|
|Company||IPC Media (Time Inc.)|
The New Musical Express (better known as the NME) is a popular music magazine in the United Kingdom which has been published weekly since March 1952. It was the first British paper to include a singles chart, which first appeared in the 14 November 1952 edition. The magazine's commercial heyday was during the 1970s when it became the best-selling British music magazine. During the period 1972 to 1976 it was particularly associated with gonzo journalism, then became closely associated with punk rock through the writing of Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill.
The paper's first issue was published on 7 March 1952 after the Musical Express and Accordion Weekly was bought by London music promoter Maurice Kinn, and relaunched as the New Musical Express. It was initially published in a non-glossy tabloid format on standard newsprint. On 14 November 1952, taking its cue from the U.S. magazine Billboard, it created the first UK Singles Chart. The first of these was, in contrast to more recent charts, a top twelve sourced by the magazine itself from sales in regional stores around the UK. The first number one was "Here In My Heart" by Al Martino.
During the 1960s the paper championed the new British groups emerging at the time. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were frequently featured on the front cover. These and other artists also appeared at the NME Poll Winners Concert, an awards event that featured artists voted as most popular by the paper's readers. The concert also featured an awards ceremony where the poll winners would collect their awards. The NME Poll Winners Concerts took place between 1960 and 1966. They were filmed, edited and then transmitted on British television a few weeks after they had taken place.
The latter part of the 1960s saw the paper chart the rise of psychedelia and the continued dominance of British groups of the time. During this period some sections of pop music began to be designated as Rock. The paper became engaged in a sometimes tense rivalry with its fellow weekly music paper Melody Maker, however NME sales were healthy with the paper selling as many as 200,000 issues per week which made it one of the UK's biggest sellers.
By the early 1970s NME had lost ground to the Melody Maker as its coverage of music had failed to keep pace with the development of rock music, particularly during the early years of psychedelia and prog. In early 1972 the paper found itself on the verge of closure by its owners IPC (who had bought the paper from Kinn in 1963). According to Nick Kent, soon to play a prominent part in the paper's revival:
After sales had plummeted to 60,000 and a review of guitar instrumentalist Duane Eddy had been printed which began with the immortal words 'On this, his 35th album, we find Duane in as good as voice as ever,' the NME had been told to rethink its policies or die on the vine.
Adding to the irony of this review, in the 1960 NME Reader's Poll, Duane Eddy was the winner of the award for Number One World Musical Personality, taking first place ahead of consistent winner, Elvis Presley.
Alan Smith was made editor and was given a short period of time by IPC to turn things around quickly or face closure. As a result the paper's coverage changed radically from an uncritical and rather reverential showbiz-oriented paper to something intended to be smarter, hipper, more cynical and funnier than any mainstream British music paper had previously been (an approach influenced mainly by writers such as Tom Wolfe and Lester Bangs). In order to achieve this, Smith and his assistant editor Nick Logan raided the underground press for its best writers, such as Charles Shaar Murray and Nick Kent, and recruited other writers such as Tony Tyler and Ian MacDonald. By the time Smith handed the editor's chair to Logan in mid-1973, the paper was selling nearly 300,000 copies per week and was outstripping its other weekly rivals, Melody Maker, Disc, Record Mirror and Sounds. According to MacDonald:
I think all the other papers knew by 1974 that NME had become the best music paper in Britain. We had most of the best writers and photographers, the best layouts, that sense of style of humour and a feeling of real adventure. We also set out to beat Melody Maker on its strong suit: being the serious, responsible journal of record. We did Looking Back and Consumer Guide features that beat the competition out of sight, and we did this not just to surpass our rivals but because we reckoned that rock had finished its first wind around 1969/70 and deserved to be treated as history, as a canon of work. We wanted to see where we'd got to, sort out this huge amount of stuff that had poured out since the mid '60s. Everyone on the paper was into this.
The year 1976 saw Punk arrive on what some people perceived to be a stagnant music scene. The NME gave the Sex Pistols their first music press coverage in a live review of their performance at the Marquee in February that year, but overall they were slow to cover this new phenomenon in comparison to Sounds and Melody Maker, where Jonh Ingham and Caroline Coon respectively were early champions of punk. Although articles by the likes of Mick Farren (whose article "The Titanic Sails At Dawn", a call for a new street led rock movement in response to stadium rock) were published by the NME that summer it was felt that younger blood was needed to credibly cover the emerging punk movement, and the paper advertised for a pair of "hip young gunslingers" to join their editorial staff. This resulted in the recruitment of Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill. The pair rapidly became champions of the Punk scene and created a new tone for the paper (Parsons' time at NME is reflected in his 2005 novel Stories We Could Tell, about the misadventures of three young music paper journalists on the night of 16 August 1977, the night Elvis Presley died).
In 1978 Logan moved on, and his deputy Neil Spencer was made editor. One of his earliest tasks was to oversee a redesign of the paper by Barney Bubbles, which included the logo still used on the paper's masthead today (albeit in a modified form) - this made its first appearance towards the end of 1978. Spencer's time as editor also coincided with the emergence of Post-Punk acts such as Joy Division and Gang of Four. This development was reflected in the writing of Ian Penman and Paul Morley. Danny Baker, who began as an NME writer around this time, had a more straightforward and populist style.
The paper also became more openly political during the time of Punk. Its cover would sometimes feature youth-oriented issues rather than a musical act. The paper took an editorial stance against political parties like the National Front. The election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 saw the paper take a broadly socialist stance for much of the following decade.
In 1981 the NME released the influential C81 cassette tape in conjunction with Rough Trade Records, available to readers by mail order at a low price. The tape featured a number of then up-and-coming bands, including Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, Linx and Scritti Politti, as well as a number of more established artists such as Robert Wyatt, Pere Ubu, Buzzcocks and Ian Dury. A second tape, C86, was released in 1986.
The NME responded to the Thatcher era by espousing socialism through movements such as Red Wedge. In the week of the 1987 election the paper featured an interview with the leader of the Labour Party, Neil Kinnock, who appeared on the paper's cover. He had appeared on the cover once before, in April 1985.
However sales were dropping, and by the mid 1980s NME had hit a rough patch and was in danger of closing. During this period (now under the editorship of Ian Pye, who replaced Neil Spencer in 1985), they were split between those who wanted to write about hip hop, a genre that was relatively new to the UK, and those who wanted to stick to rock music. Sales were apparently lower when photos of hip hop artists appeared on the front and this led to the paper suffering as the lack of direction became even more apparent to readers. A number of features entirely unrelated to music appeared on the cover in this era, including a piece by William Leith on computer crime and articles by Stuart Cosgrove on such subjects as the politics of sport and the presence of American troops in Britain, with Elvis Presley appearing on the cover not for musical reasons but as a political symbol.
The NME was generally thought to be rudderless at this time, with staff pulling simultaneously in a number of directions in what came to be known as the "hip-hop wars". It was hemorrhaging readers who were deserting NME in favour of Nick Logan's two creations The Face and Smash Hits. This was brought to a head when the paper was about to publish a poster of an insert contained in the Dead Kennedys' album Frankenchrist. The insert was a painting by H.R. Giger called Penis Landscape, then a subject of an obscenity lawsuit in the US. In the summer and autumn of 1987, three senior editorial staff were sacked, including Pye, media editor Stuart Cosgrove and art editor Joe Ewart. Former Sounds editor Alan Lewis was brought in to rescue the paper, mirroring Alan Smith's revival a decade and a half before.
Some commented at this time that the NME had become less intellectual in its writing style and less inventive musically. Initially, NME writers themselves were ill at ease with the new regime, with most signing a letter of no confidence in Alan Lewis shortly after he took over. However, this new direction for the NME proved to be a commercial success and the paper brought in new writers such as Andrew Collins, Stuart Maconie, Mary Anne Hobbs and Steve Lamacq to give it a stronger identity and sense of direction, although Mark Sinker left in 1988 after the paper refused to publish a negative review he wrote of U2's Rattle and Hum. Initially many of the bands on the C86 tape were championed as well as the rise of Goth rock bands but new bands such as Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses were coming out of Manchester. One scene over these years was Acid House which spawned Madchester which helped give the paper a new lease of life. By the end of the decade, Danny Kelly had replaced Alan Lewis as editor.
The start of 1990 saw the paper in the thick of the Madchester scene, and covering the new British indie bands and shoegazers.
By the end of 1990, the Madchester scene was dying off, acid house was suffering from being the subject of a vigorous campaign to outlaw it by the John Major government, and NME had started to report on new bands coming from the US, mainly from Seattle. These bands would form a new movement called Grunge and by far the most popular bands were Nirvana and Pearl Jam. The NME took to Grunge very slowly ("Sounds" was the first British music paper to write about grunge with John Robb being the first person to interview Nirvana. Melody Maker was more enthusiastic early on, largely through the efforts of Everett True, who had previously written for NME under the name "The Legend!"). For the most part, NME only became interested in grunge after Nevermind became popular. Although it still supported new British bands, the paper was dominated by American bands, as was the music scene in general.
Although the period from 1991 to 1993 was dominated by American bands like Nirvana, this did not mean that British bands were being ignored. The NME still covered the Indie scene and was involved with a war of words with a new band called Manic Street Preachers who were criticising the NME for what they saw as an elitist view of bands they would champion. This came to a head in 1991 when during an interview with Steve Lamacq, Richey Edwards would confirm the band's position by carving "4real" into his arm with a razor blade.
By 1992, the Madchester scene had died and along with The Manics, some new British bands were beginning to appear. Suede were quickly hailed by the paper as an alternative to the heavy Grunge sound and hailed as the start of a new British music scene. Grunge however was still the dominant force, but the rise of new British bands would become something the paper would focus more and more upon.
In 1992, the NME also had a very public dispute with its former hero Morrissey due to allegations of him using racist lyrics and imagery. This erupted after a concert at Finsbury Park where Morrissey was seen to drape himself in a Union Flag. The series of articles which followed in the next edition of NME soured Morrissey's relationship with the paper and this led to Morrissey not speaking to the paper again for over a decade. When Morrissey did eventually speak to the NME in 2003 he made it clear that he was content with speaking to the paper again as the three writers concerned had long since left.
Later in 1992, Steve Sutherland, previously assistant editor of Melody Maker, was brought in as the NME's editor to replace Danny Kelly. Andrew Collins, Stuart Maconie, Steve Lamacq and Mary Anne Hobbs all left the NME in protest, and moved to Select; Collins, Maconie and Lamacq would all also write for Q, while Lamacq would eventually join Melody Maker in 1997. Kelly, Collins, Maconie, Lamacq and Hobbs would all subsequently become prominent broadcasters with BBC Radio 1 as it reinvented itself under Matthew Bannister.
In April 1994 Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was found dead, a story which affected not only his fans and readers of the NME, but would see a massive change in British music. Grunge was about to be replaced by Britpop, a new form of music influenced by British music of the 1960s and British culture. The phrase was coined by NME after the band Blur released their album Parklife in the same month of Cobain's death. Britpop began to fill the musical and cultural void left after Cobain's death, and Blur's success, along with the rise of a new group from Manchester called Oasis saw Britpop explode for the rest of 1994. By the end of the year Blur and Oasis were the two biggest bands in the UK and sales of the NME were increasing thanks to the Britpop effect. 1995 saw the NME cover many of these new bands and saw many of these bands play the NME Stage at that year's Glastonbury Festival where the paper had been sponsoring the second stage at the festival since 1993. This would be their last year sponsoring the stage, subsequently the stage would be known as the 'Other Stage'.
August 1995 saw Blur and Oasis plan to release singles on the same day in a mass of media publicity. Steve Sutherland leapt on this and stuck the story on the front page of the paper. This saw Sutherland come in for criticism for playing up the duel between the bands. Blur won the 'race' for the top of the charts, and the resulting fallout from the publicity led to the paper enjoying increased sales during the 1990s as Britpop became the dominant musical genre. After this peak the paper saw a slow decline as Britpop burned itself fairly rapidly out over the next few years. This left the paper directionless again, and attempts to embrace the rise of DJ culture in the late 1990s only led to the paper being criticised for not supporting rock or indie music. The paper did attempt to return to its highly politicized 1980s incarnation by running a front cover story in March 1998 condemning Tony Blair, who had previously associated himself with Britpop bands such as Oasis, and this received a certain level of attention in the wider media, but was generally not seen as coherent or well-argued.
Sutherland did attempt to cover newer bands but one cover feature on Godspeed You! Black Emperor in 1999 saw the paper dip to a sales low, and Sutherland later stated in his weekly editorial that he regretted putting them on the cover. For many this was seen as an affront to the principles of the paper and sales reached a low point at the turn of the millennium.
From the issue of 21 March 1998 onwards, the paper has no longer been printed on newsprint, and more recently it has shifted to tabloid size: it has full, glossy, colour covers.
In 2000 Steve Sutherland left to become Brand Director of the NME, replaced as editor by 26 year-old Melody Maker writer Ben Knowles. The same year saw the closure of the Melody Maker (which officially merged with the NME) and many speculated the NME would be next as the weekly music magazine market was shrinking - the monthly magazine Select which had thrived especially during Britpop was closed down within a week of Melody Maker. In the early 2000s the NME also attempted somewhat to broaden its coverage again, running cover stories on hip-hop acts such as Jay-Z and Missy Elliott, electronic music pioneer Aphex Twin, Popstars winners Hear'say and R&B groups like Destiny's Child, but as in the 1980s these proved unpopular with much of the paper's readership, and were soon dropped.
In 2002 Conor McNicholas was appointed as editor. With a new wave of photographers including Dean Chalkley, Andrew Kendall, James Looker & Pieter Van Hattem and a high turnover of young writers, the paper slowly began to increase in sales. The NME reasserted its position as an influence in new music and helping to break bands including The Strokes, The Vines, The Libertines and The White Stripes alongside less successful bands such as The Von Bondies and The Cooper Temple Clause; this the paper heralded as "The New Rock Revolution". It focused on new British bands such as Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party and the Kaiser Chiefs who emerged as "indie music" continued to grow in commercial success. Later, Arctic Monkeys became the standard bearers of the post-Libertines crop of indie bands, being both successfully championed by the NME and receiving widespread commercial and critical success.
In December 2005 accusations were made that the NME end of year poll had been edited for commercial and political reasons. These criticisms were rebutted by McNicholas, who claimed that webzine Londonist.com had got hold of an early draft of the poll.
"NME bands" fall within very narrow parameters. In the 80s, the paper prided itself on its coverage of hip hop, R&B and the emerging dance scene which it took seriously and featured prominently - alongside the usual Peel-endorsed indie fare. Now, though, its range of approved bands has dramatically shrunk to a strand embodied by the [Arctic] Monkeys, Babyshambles and Muse - bands who you don't need specialist knowledge to write about and who are just "indie" enough to make readers feel they're part of a club. Like everything else in publishing, this particular direction must be in response to reader demand, but it doesn't half make for a self-limiting magazine.
In May 2008 the magazine received a re-design, with the magazine being aimed at an older readership with a less poppy, more authoritative tone. The first issue of the re-design featured a free seven-inch Coldplay vinyl single. Circulation of the magazine has fallen continuously since 2003. In the first half of 2009, the magazine's circulation was 40,948, 44% down on a 2003 figure of 72,442.
In 1996 under the stewardship of NME editor Steve Sutherland and then NME publisher Robert Tame, the NME started its website NME.COM. Its first editor was Brendan Fitzgerald. Later Anthony Thornton redesigned the site, focusing on music news. In November 1999 the site hosted the UK's first webcast of Suede, 'Live In Japan'. In 2001 the site gave away a free mp3 of The Strokes debut single "Last Nite" a week before its release. The site rallied around The Libertines after their debut single "What A Waster" dropped from playlists due to its profanity - giving away the single as a free mp3 download.
The website was awarded Online Magazine Of The Year in 1999 and 2001; Anthony Thornton was awarded Website Editor Of The Year on three occasions - 2001 and 2002 (British Society Of Magazine Editors) and 2002 (Periodical Publishers Association).
In 2004, Ben Perreau joined NME.COM as the website's third editor. He relaunched and redeveloped the title in September 2005 and the focus was migrated towards video, audio and the wider music community. It was awarded 'Best Music Website' at the Record Of The Day awards in October 2005. In 2006 NME.COM celebrated with a party at London's KOKO featuring Leicester band Kasabian and was subsequently awarded the BT Digital Music Award for Best Music Magazine and the first 'Chairman's Award' from the Association of Online Publishers awarded by the Chairman, Simon Waldman in recognition of its pioneering role in its ten year history.
In 2007 NME.COM was launched in the USA with additional staff and plans to launch its Breaking Bands contest and the NME Awards across the Atlantic.
The site now provides news, photos, video, blogs, reviews, gig listings and videos as well as featuring downloads, merchandising and message boards.
The Website over the last year has shifted it focus to also include tabloid gossip alongside its traditional music news, with regular news articles entitled "Daily Ligger" and "Tabloid Hell".
In 2007 NME.com had a free download from The Verve, the first songs The Verve released since they got back together.
In October 2007 David Moynihan joined as the website's fourth editor. In 2008 the site won the BT Digital Music Award for Best Music Magazine, plus the Association of Online Publishers' Best Editorial Team Award, the British Society of Magazine Editors Website Editor of the Year and the Record Of The Day Award for Best Music Website. In June 2009 NME.COM won PPA Interactive Consumer Magazine of the Year (Periodical Publishers Association).
According to the latest traffic figures, NME.COM now has 3.5 million monthly unique users (ABCe, June 2008), making it one of the largest magazine websites in the UK.
NME Awards is an awards show held every year to celebrate the best new music of the past year. The nominations and eventual winners are voted for by the readers of the magazine.
NME sponsors a tour of the United Kingdom by up-and-coming bands each year.
In 2002 the NME started publishing a series of themed magazines reprinting vintage articles, interviews and reviews from the NME archives. The magazine special editions were called NME Originals, with some featuring articles from other music titles owned by IPC, including Melody Maker, Rave and Uncut magazines. Notable issues so far have featured Radiohead, The Beatles, Punk rock, Gothic rock, Britpop, The Rolling Stones, Mod, Nirvana, and the solo years of The Beatles. The series has had several editors, the most prominent of whom have been Steve Sutherland and Chris Hunt. The most recent issue of NME Originals was published in 2005.