Released today in 1983: Tragedy And Mystery

Virgin VS587

Virgin VS587

There was a new pop magazine on the newsstands the day before this single from China Crisis was released, and here’s what first issue of No.1 had to say about Tragedy And Mystery: “I hate people who gather up all the secrets of the world in their hands and then plonk them on a pop song. Tragedy And Mystery – Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About… I hated ‘Look And Learn too’. Having said that, this is not at all bad. Brassy and melodic – remember the Teardrops when they were fun? – it should do pretty well.”

The new magazine (cover dated the week ending 7 May and featuring Boy George) was created to directly challenge the market leader in pop magazines, Smash Hits, which within a year of going fortnightly had the highest circulation of any music periodical in the UK, comfortably selling more than 200,000 copies an issue at the start of the 1980s – an amount only the long-established New Musical Express could attempt to match. But Smash Hits just had the edge on the NME and as the decade progressed, the former’s circulation kept growing – at huge increments – while the latter’s shrank, losing around 30,000 readers a year in the first few years of the 80s until its publisher IPC decided to do something about it. The two publications were catering for different audiences, their content hardly comparable: the pop-oriented team at Smash Hits called their NME neighbours (both journals had premises in Carnaby Street, London, in the early 80s) “rockist” due to their somewhat cynical editorial policy. Therefore, IPC decided to try to take a chunk of EMAP’s Smash Hits audience not by changing NME’s format, but by introducing a new title.

No.1 took all the elements that had made its rival a success and shamelessly duplicated them. It was roughly the same size and shape and used a similar paper stock, although there were probably fewer colour pages on average. Smash Hits’s RSVP feature was Pen Pals in No.1; Personal File became Person-2-Person; Nightsout became In The Flesh. All the regular features such as puzzles and competitions, reviews, readers’ letters, song lyrics, colour posters and interviews were present. Other features emulated the rockist music press: the news section was probably more comprehensive than Smash Hits’s Start or Bitz features, and No.1 had a gossip column called Whispers (Smash Hits would later introduce Mutterings). But No.1 believed its trump card to be its frequency: it was weekly instead of fortnightly. This meant it could meaningfully include the charts, as other weekly music papers did. Initially it used NME’s charts, changing to the Network chart from 1985, the one used by commercial radio stations and television channels. (Only when the BBC took over as publisher in the 1990s did it include the ‘official’ chart as used by ‘Top Of The Pops’.)

No.1 sold around 164,500 copies per issue when first launched, rising to over 200,000 in 1984 and an audited average of 237864 per issue in 1985, effectively taking NME’s place in the market of five years before. But it did no harm to Smash Hits’s sales. In the same period, those went from just over 400,000 in 1983 to just under 525,000 in 1985. Thereafter, history repeated itself for an IPC publication: No.1’s sales went into decline while Smash Hits’s kept climbing.

NEW SINGLES on sale from May. 6
1983
CHINA CRISIS Tragedy And Mystery (Virgin VS587)
1986
BEASTIE BOYS Hold It Now Hit It (Def Jam A7055)
Julian LENNON Time Will Teach Us All (EMI EMI5556)
Owen PAUL My Favourite Waste Of Time (Epic A7125)

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