The New Musical Express…
I first started reading it in 1974-75, aged 15. I’d been a Sounds fan, rather than NME or Melody Maker, for a while. It did the Rock – and I was into that, the Metal, Bad Co, Robin Trower, Rory Gallagher, Status Quo. But as rock’n’roll in its short sharp form – Dr Feelgood, Eddie and the Hot Rods to the fore – started to take hold, the NME seemed to capture the mood. I jumped ship and have never looked back.
As I grew into the sixth form and then university, the NME became my bible. It was like a friend recommending records, and you knew the recommendations were spot on. The NME knew. If it said something was good, it had to be worth a listen. Of course in the seventies having a listen wasn’t quite as easy as it is now. You’d listen out on the radio, or maybe go to a record shop with a listening booth, or, what the hell, just take a chance and buy the record. That sense of anticipation about the unknown was great, though disappointment was as likely as enjoyment. Today, a quick listen on Spotify or MySpace or You Tube avoids the disasters, but the sense of excitement at the possibilities is lost. (I prefer today by the way – so much more is available and explorable and that beats the sense of the unknown).
The mid to late seventies and early eighties were the NME’s hey day. Punk, New Wave, New Romantics, post-punk, these were almost NME creations. And indie thereafter. In those late seventies, I marvelled at the interviews that Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill and Nick Kent and Charles Shaar Murray and so many others had with all the top bands. The Tony Parsons interviews with Bruce Springsteen and The Clash were truly inspirational to this teenager. I couldn’t but help love the music after reading his call to arms. Later on, in the eighties, the likes of Paul Morley and Ian Penman bamboozled us with obscure prose, but intrigued us too, and pointed us to more good sounds, be it Yello, or Joy Division, or Orange Juice, or all sorts of electro-dance.
There was also humour and and just a bit of spite. If the NME built someone up, you could bet your life that they’d put one of the antis on to bring them down at some point. The classic for me was Television. Their first album, “Marquee Moon”, is one of the New York new wave classics. A wonderful album which is right there in the DNA of The Strokes, for example. I think it was Nick Kent who wrote the review (I could be wrong) and it was so good that the album just had to be purchased. And it’s one of my favourite albums of all time. There’s a fragility about Tom Verlaine’s singing and his layered guitar that is truly special. You can hear a bit of Neil Young in the solos, and the Velvet Underground are obvious influences, but there is really no-one like Television. But then the NME put Julie Burchill onto the second album, “Adventure”, and she absolutely destroyed it. As a student with not enough money to keep on chancing it on albums, it put me right off. I didn’t get around to buying it until a couple of years ago. And you know, she was kind of right. It wasn’t that good – but it wasn’t as bad as she made out either.
The NME almost always got it right. There is so much music I love that the NME first pointed me towards. Through the decades.
Fast forward to today. Friends have been wondering for some time, why are you still reading the NME? It’s for teenagers. OK, maybe twenty-somethings too. Students. It’s true, that is the NME demographic that the marketing men would pinpoint. And I’ll admit I read it now and sometimes feel a bit seen-it-all-before, a bit patronising about young people with the answers to all the world’s problems (not that older people have had any good answers recently), and yes, just a bit envious of the fun the youth are having. As they always have.
But I still buy it because of that youthful vibrancy and outspokenness and optimism and, above all, because the NME still has its finger on the pulse of modern music. You can still be sure that if the NME is saying an album is good, or if it’s hyping a band, at the very least the album and band are worth checking out. And more often than not it still pays off.
Recent examples? The Foals, to my mind one of the best bands of recent years – the new Talking Heads – brought to my attention by the NME. Not quite so recent, but The Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, The White Stripes: all NME enthusiasms which you just couldn’t resist. Best bands of the 2000s. Some excellent “Radar” downloads on their website in recent times, which put me on to the brilliant electronic track, “Wet Look” by Joy Orbison , the heavy rap of “Talking The Hardest” by Giggs (not Ryan!) and the indie pop perfection of “Constellations” by Darwin Deez. And they made the Horrors’ “Primary Colours” their album of the year in 2010 and it made me listen, and conclude it was pretty good, especially when I saw them rocking out at Glastonbury this year.
It never stops, because the NME is your good mate who just knows everything thing there is to know about rock’n’roll music. And if you listen to what it is saying, your music collection, your iPod shuffle, however you listen to music in 2011, will be better for it.
Here’s a link to the NME’s website, which is celebrating its first fifteen years.