A while ago I was asked to take a look back at the history of the pop music magazine Smash Hits. I wasn’t that much of a regular reader myself, but my sister definitely was, so I was familiar with the magazine to some extent when I was younger, and I have also seen plenty online, so here’s a look back at some of the fortunes that Smash Hits went through during the 28 years that it was published. Any additional thoughts/corrections etc. are welcome.
Smash Hits launched in 1978, and was originally a monthly magazine, becoming a fortnightly shortly after in 1979. By this point, pop music as we would come to know it hadn’t really developed yet. There weren’t a huge amount of pages, and hardly any of these were in colour, but there was an attempt to stand out from the competition by offering posters, “songwords” of all the latest hits, and even a column dedicated to the latest in disco music.
It took a few years, but Smash Hits would soon develop its famous style and go on to be a big success with readers going into the early-80s. I do get frustrated when people seem to sum up 80s pop music as “1980-1984 = endlessly brilliant, 1985-1989 = complete rubbish”, does looking back at old issues now make it possible to challenge this idea? The singles review page might be able to, with a lot of tut-tutting about the state of what was on offer, which was supposedly in a golden era.
By now, pop stars would be asked some very odd questions in interviews, much unlike what you’d get in any other music magazine. Fortunately, most of them had the charisma and personality to deal with this, leading to many entertaining moments. Where pop stars more charismatic in those days? There was a very distinctive journalistic style, inventing a lot of words and catchphrases along the way.
In 1983, No. 1 launched, a weekly magazine that was considered to be their closest rival on the market, not that they ever seemed to fear them. Another notable thing about the 80s is just how many acts appeared on the cover who went on to have big success, with possibly only Matt Fretton and Jimmy The Hoover making people familiar with that era when looking back say now “who where they?”. That’s why they stuck to the endless Duran Duran covers.
Among the writers at this time was Neil Tennant. After a while, Neil decided to leave to have a go at being a pop star himself. This departure was greeted with a typical “well good luck with that, see you back in the office in six months”-type comment. A year or two later, Neil was having chart-topping singles with the Pet Shop Boys in America, and he definitely succeeded in his ambition. It looks like they will have to get a new writer in after all.
When looking back at some issues from this era, I couldn’t help but notice that they also used some Private Eye-isms, such as “So. Farewell then…” and “shurely shome mishtake”. I wasn’t expecting any crossover between the two magazines but there clearly was (that’ll do). There was also a lot of spin-off merchandise by now, including yearbooks, sticker books, and even compilation albums, along with an American version called Star Hits.
By the late-80s, Smash Hits was going from strength to strength. This was helped by the free gifts, and acts that featured frequently on the cover by now included A-Ha, Rick Astley, Curiosity Killed The Cat, and Bros (although they were never the same after Ken left). In 1988, The Smash Hits Poll Winners Party was launched, a big ceremony that would be shown live on BBC1.
There would be a huge response from readers to this, and the biggest pop stars around were more than happy to turn up on stage and graciously collect their awards for categories including Best Haircut and the like in front of their adoring fans. How marvellous. But how would Smash Hits fare as we go into the 90s. Find out in part two?!?!?