The Smash Hits Years – Part 2.

On we go with this series taking a look back at some issues of Smash Hits from the 80s. This is one from 1 October 1981, and features Phil Oakey from The Human League on the cover. By the end of ’81, they will have hit the big time with “Don’t You Want Me”, one of the biggest songs of this era, which was also a transatlantic chart-topper (indeed, The Human League would have more Number One singles in the US than the UK). Oh, and where’s the free badge?

At this point, three years in, Smash Hits is still developing its style, and hadn’t reached its late-80s peak yet. Even now, looking back at those issues makes you realise that there are so many made-up words and in-jokes that it can be tough to decipher them (unless “swingorilliant” has since made the dictionary), and baffling people in interviews by asking them if they think “Ruddy Big Pig” by Reg “Reg” Snipton is going to be the next big thing or whatever it was called.

I think I’m right in saying that the team behind the early days of Smash Hits also later launched Q, a magazine trying to do a similar style, but for older readers, hoping that people would eventually move from reading Smash Hits to Q, and that did work, for a bit at least. Now let’s pick out some of the highlights from this 48-page issue…

The first songwords is “Thunder In The Mountains” by Toyah. Poor Toyah has now been locked in her kitchen for the past two years… And there is a note from the editors, informing readers of changes. The Indie and Disco pages have gone, and there are some new features. Hopefully it’ll be worth the 3p price rise. The interview with The Human League is accompanied by songwords for “Open Your Heart”.

Next is The Pictures, Bow Bow Wow are back, Gary Numan has a plane, Mood Six are the new The Move, a piano is about to fall on someone’s head, and also exciting newcomers Bananarama. I can’t see them getting anywhere?!? Next are more songwords with “Just Can’t Get Enough” by Depeche Mode, and “It’s My Party” by Dave “not that one” Stewart With Barbara Gaskin.

Then there’s an interview with David and Sketch from Linx. The Bitz pages feature all of the latest music rumblings. These include Alexei Sayle’s new album, The Higsons, a review of Madness’s film Take It Or Leave It, the Indie and Disco charts, a profile of Buster from Bad Manners, Suggs’s Top Ten, and a special apology for the wrong Star Teaser grid in the previous issue. Next songwords are “Mule (Chant No. 2)” by Beggar And Co., and “It Will Be Alright” by Odyssey.

Singles time! This is supposedly a golden time for pop music. Will it be reflected here? Again, here are the reviews of the hottest A-sides around reduced to one standout word that may (or may not) describe the quality of these records…

The Police “Invisible Sun”: “creamy”
Elvis Costello And The Attractions “Good Year For The Roses”: “sobbing”
The Human League “Open Your Heart”: “dreamboat”
Shakin’ Stevens “Shaky Sings Elvis”: “burping”
Toyah “Thunder In The Mountains”: “dazzle”
Squeeze “Labelled With Love”: “japesters”
Bee Gees “He’s A Liar”: “plods”
Foreigner “Juke Box Hero”: “leadweight”
Gary Glitter “Then She Kissed Me”: “spongy”
Bad Manners “Walking In The Sunshine”: “slobby”
New Order “Everything’s Gone Green”/”Procession”: “interesting”
Devo “Being Cool”: “pompous”
Tom Tom Club “The Genius Of Love”: “bizarre”
Hazel O’Connor “Hanging Around”: “sweaty”
Secret Affair “Do You Know”: “unremarkable”
Billy Idol “Mony Mony”: “desperation”
Kirsty MacColl “See That Girl”: “snappy”
The Cramps “The Crusher”: “kneecaps”
Associates “A”: “supple”
Bill Nelson “Living In My Limousine”: “slinky”
Dire Straits “Tunnel Of Love”: “chunky”
The Revillos “She’s Fallen In Love With The Monster Man”: “hammy”

On the albums page, highlights include “7” by Madness which scores, er, 8/10, and “Thirty Thousand Feet Over China” by The Passions top scores with 8½/10. Also notable is “Rhythm Breaks The Ice” by Bette Bright, soon to be Mrs Suggs, and helping out on this album is Ian Broudie, 15 years before “Three Lions”. The Get Smart! column is where your music questions are answered (“Simple Minds discography, please”). All of these would be answered nowadays with “go on Wikipedia, you fool”.

Next songwords are “Walking In The Sunshine” by Bad Manners, and “Mad Eyed Screamer” by The Creatures. And there’s an interview with The Creatures, the Siouxsie And The Banshees spin-off group. Look, there’s an Ultravox colour poster. More songwords with “Genius Of Love” by Tom Tom Club, and “He’s A Liar” by The Bee Gees. Then there’s an advert for The Face with Pamela Stephenson on the cover, and a quiz.

Next is an interview with parody group The Hee Bee Gee Bees, featuring Angus Deayton, Philip Pope, and Mike Stevens, soon to be among the cast of Radio Active. And there’s the songwords for “Quite Ahead Of My Time” by David Bowwow. It’s a shame that he didn’t do a collaboration with another group around at the time, they could’ve called it David Bowwowbowwowwow.

Letters! “Could you tell me whether Champagne and Orange Juice doing a gig together would sound like Bucks Fizz?”. Well that’s a great way to earn a £5 record token. Then there’s an advert for music and fashion magazine New Sounds New Styles. The request spot is “Get Off Of My Cloud” by The Rolling Stones. An interview with The Police features the songwords for “Invisible Sun”.

Next are the Star Teaser and Crossword, with correct grids hopefully! Next songwords are “You Sure Look Good To Me” by Phyllis Hyman, and “Endless Love” by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. Then there’s a stupendous competition to win a video recorder and Madness prizes. We are introduced to new columnist Barry, who knows a lot of things. The new concert column has a review of Depeche Mode. And next time, there’s an Adam Ant poster… nice!

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sh2.jpg

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”.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sh3.jpg

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sh5.jpg

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sh7.jpg

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…

The Smash Hits Story – Part 2.

Something rather odd happened to Smash Hits in the early-90s. Not only was there a redesign that made it look like they’d recently got a shiny new computer at the office, but, they’d just about run out of pop stars to write about. Around 1992/1993 you’d be more likely to see “Hollywood Hunks” on the cover like Luke Perry, Keanu Reeves, and Christian Slater, or TV presenters including Toby Anstis, Chris Evans and Andi Peters. What?!?! sh8

And inside you’d be more likely to come across gossip about people in Home And Away than any interviews with star names. This was mostly down to the increasingly “faceless” amount of pop music around, with many enjoyable but here today-gone tomorrow anonymous dance acts filling up the singles chart with their rackets. Come back Rick Astley, all is forgiven. However, a letter from my sister was published in an issue around this time, so clearly all was not lost. sh9

And in 1992, Number One closed and merged with Fast Forward, meaning that after nine years they had seen off their closest rival. One enjoyable feature around this time was “Oh No! Not The Biscuit Tin!”, where various people had to answer bizarre questions picked at random from the tin. Things picked up a little in the mid-90s when they tried to embrace Britpop, and all the major players made the cover including Blur, Oasis, and, er, The Bluetones, but was this really the place for them? sh10

In 1997, there was a TV advertising campaign, with the phrase “100% Pure Pop”, which featured a young Billie Piper, who launched a pop music career of her own about a year later, and soon she was appearing on the cover herself. And by the late-90s, there was the Boy Band invasion. These rather bland and interchangeable characters received a line of questioning that strayed little beyond wondering who they were currently “snogging” (anything more probing than this was usually answered with “oh my god!”), which was usually accompanied by a big picture of them with their top off. sh11

S Club 7, Steps, Westlife and the like practically alternated on the cover, weren’t there any other pop groups out there? Coming into 2000, and I was in my mid-teens at this time, and I was really into pop music. There were some changes including a new masthead replacing the one that had been around since 1985, probably to get ready for the new millennium or something. sh12

Also around this time, the brand (I don’t like to describe a magazine as a “brand”, but this one really was) was expanded, with the introduction of a TV channel and radio station. But sales were beginning to fall, and while Smash Hits might have been a big deal in the 80s, there was a new generation coming along that wasn’t really that interested. sh13

And then we go into the era where Pop Idol and the like took off, and now the magazine was filled with rather a lot of pointless gossip and uninteresting manufactured pop stars, along with endless price increases and more free gifts. It’s a rather easy comparison to make, but the magazine was now falling out of favour, just like so many acts that had briefly featured in their pages over the years. sh14

It was still something of a surprise though when Smash Hits closed in 2006, and not long after Top Of The Pops ended as an ongoing weekly show, meaning that two of the longest-running institutions that championed pop music had both gone. Not long after this, a book was released featuring some of the highlights of the magazine, and you have to say now, when it was at its best, it really was splendiferous.

The Smash Hits Story – Part 1.

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. sh1

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. sh2

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. sh3

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.sh4

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. sh5

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. sh6

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.sh7

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?!?!?