The Smash Hits Years – Part 1.

An introduction… A while ago I looked back at the history of pop music magazine Smash Hits, which ran for 28 years, and went from being hugely popular to disintegrating into irrelevance, just like so many of the groups that were featured. Recently I got hold of some editions of Smash Hits from the 80s. I know that all of them from this decade are available to view online, but for me there’s still no substitute for holding the real thing in your hands.

And some of them are from before I came along, but as I’m always keen to learn more about 80s pop music there can be no better way for me to discover groups from this era really. This will be a page-by-page review to some extent, mostly picking out the highlights of notable interviews, reviews, adverts, etc. And I am going to start with Issue 37, which is dated 1 May 1980, about 18 months after the launch. The Number One single on this day was “Geno” by Dexys Midnight Runners.

As we’ll see, the distinctive voice that went on to define Smash Hits articles hadn’t really been developed by this point, and the really big groups from the decade hadn’t really arrived. There are no boy bands here! And would you believe it, on the cover is Siouxsie Sioux. Now having got into rather quirky and pioneering woman from this era recently, it’s good to see her. Scattered throughout the pages are songwords (never described as “lyrics”), beginning with “Wheels Of Steel” by Saxon, and “My Oh My” by Sad Cafe.

Then there’s songwords for “Something’s Missing” by The Chords, “Staring At The Rude Boys” by The Ruts, and “Mirror In The Bathroom” by The Beat. And then we get the Siouxsie And The Banshees interview. They had a huge amount of hits in this decade, but only one of them made the Top Ten. And there is an advert for “a new rock monthly”, which is The Face, another magazine that would define its era for a while.

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The next songwords is “Coming Up” by Paul McCartney. Then there’s the Bitz pages, featuring lots of news. We discover among other things that Gary Numan is about to release “a videocassette”, The Photos are going on tour, another plug for The Face, AC/DC have found a new singer, a look at the making of Sex Pistols film The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle, The Cockney Rejects look forward to West Ham playing in the FA Cup Final, Toyah’s Top Ten, laughing at a mistranslation of the lyrics to “Video Killed The Radio Star”, and a new group called “Orchestral Manoeuvres”.

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Then there’s an interview with The Bodysnatchers. About a year or two later most of them went into The Belle Stars, who had further success. As a septet that played ska music, they were sometimes called “The Female Madness”. Next songwords is “Dear Miss Lonely Heart” by Phillip Lynott. Then there’s a page about indie music. It does seem a little odd to see “ghettoised” pages about various genres, this wouldn’t last long.

“Don’t Make Waves” by The Nolans is the next songwords. Then there’s a competition to win a mini TV by solving a crossword. Next is a disco music page. Among the hippest sounds of the moment are “The Groove” by Rodney Franklin, and “I Shoulda Loved Ya” by Narada Michael Walden, how funky. Then there’s a double-page picture of The Specials in colour (this was long before full colour). Then there’s an interview with Pete Townshend of The Who because for some reason “I’m The Face” which was recorded in 1964 when they were still called The High Numbers is being released, but this missed the Top 40.

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Next songwords is “All For Leyna” by Billy Joel. Then there’s a wordsearch which is a competition to win The Beat prizes. The next songwords is a Request Spot: and it’s “Life On Mars” by David Bowie from 1973. Now on to the singles reviews. This fortnight the reviewer is “A Small Creature (In Shorts)” (?) There’s a big pile to go through, will any of them be hits? Just like in PC Gamer magazine, I shall take one word from the review, that most sums up the song (sort of)…

Lori And The Chameleons: “The Lonely Spy”: “Swirling”
The Revillos: “Scuba Scuba”: “Tackiness”
The Human League: “Holiday ’80”: “Synthesizers”
The Monochrome Set: “The Strange Boutique”: “Clever”
Protex: “A Place In Your Heart”: “Plain”
Lew Lewis: “1-30 2-30 3-35”: “Rattling”
Lightning Raiders: “Psychedelic Musik”: “Riffs”
Bob And Earl: “Harlem Shuffle”: “Fandango”
Vic Godard And Subway Sect: “Split Up The Money”: “Untidy”
Jah Wobble: “Betrayal”: “Haphazard”
Clive Langer And The Boxes: “Splash (A Tear Comes Rolling Down)”: “Uncluttered”
Dave Edmunds Rockpile: “I Hear You Knocking”: “Crisp”
Cockney Rejects: “The Greatest Cockney Rip-Off”: “Blustering”
Martha And The Muffins: “Saigon”: “Expounding”
Gang Of Four: “Outside The Trains Don’t Run On Time”: “Tuneless”
Ian Gomm: “Slow Dancing”: “Tolerable”
The Beat: “Mirror In The Bathroom”: “Pumping”
Guns For Hire: “I’m Gonna Rough My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend Up Tonight”: “Crude”
Echo And The Bunnymen: “Rescue”: “Attractive”

And as for albums, Phyllis Hyman, New Musik, and The Cure come out on top with 8/10 reviews. More songwords with “Do You Remember Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio” by The Ramones and “Love and Loneliness” by The Motors”. Now it’s the Letters page, lots of debate here, although I was most amused by Helen M from Ashover’s comment: “ABCDEFGHIJKLM NOPQRSTUVWXYZ. Well, you said it was a letters page”. Then there’s a gigs page, go on, go and see Martha And The Muffins. The final songwords is “A Forest” by The Cure.

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In the next issue… Phil Lynott! Toyah! The Undertones! Finally, there is a poster of The Chords on the back cover. They are a group that I don’t know that much about, but it seems that one of them went on to be in The Style Council. More of these Smash Hits reviews to come soon, join me when I go back in time again pop fans…

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