The Readers’ Poll Of Polls

TwitterEvery periodical in the British music press in the 1980s asked its audience what they thought about the artists working in the industry and the records they produced. There were the occasional “best ever” surveys (best album of all time, best band of the decade), but the most common, most anticipated lists were those compiled in the annual readers’ polls. A form was printed that people completed and posted in, usually towards the end of the year, and the results would be announced a few months later. Smash Hits turned theirs into an annual televised event, ‘The Smash Hits Poll Winners’ Party’, first broadcast in 1988. For the most part, the weekly (and fortnightly, in the case of Smash Hits) music press published lists of the Top 10 in each category they asked people to vote on, the typical awards contested being best single, best album, best video, etc. These Top 10 lists were often startling different: the readers’ interests (and the title’s editorial policy) was usually very evident from the acts who appeared in the year-end results for each journal. For example, take a look at the ‘best band/group’ category for 1989 and see who made the Top 10 in New Musical Express, Record Mirror and Smash Hits:

New Musical Express Record Mirror Smash Hits
1 The Stone Roses Pet Shop Boys Bros
2 Happy Mondays Erasure Pet Shop Boys
3 The Wedding Present Soul II Soul Wet Wet Wet
4 New Order De La Soul Big Fun
5 The Wonder Stuff Deacon Blue Brother Beyond
6 Pixies =6 Beautiful South Erasure
7 REM =6 Guns N’ Roses Deacon Blue
8 The Cure =8 Simple Minds Bananarama
9 Inspiral Carpets =8 Simply Red Bangles
10 James Eurythmics Simply Red

As can be seen, the worthy, achingly credible (and often pretentious) NME’s Top 10 comprised, almost exclusively, ‘indie’ acts. This was the paper that also asked its readers to name best drummer, guitarist and so on, because it was a serious read for serious music fans, who knew bands’ musicians and not just the singers. On the other extreme was Smash Hits, full of chart-friendly, camera-ready names. It’s not by chance that none of the acts on the Smash Hits list appears on the NME one, as these two titles were catering for entirely different audiences. Record Mirror bridged the gap a little. Four of its winners also appear on the Smash Hits results, and although in 1989 the poll shared no artists with the NME one, this wasn’t always the case – New Order, for example, were often common to both in other years. But there are also some unusual names on the Record Mirror list that would never turn up on either NME or Smash Hits polls, such as De La Soul – this indicative of the magazine’s specialist coverage of soul, R&B, dance and hip-hop acts.

With such widely diverging views, which was the best band of the decade then? Who was the singer most favoured by fans of 80s pop? As the three titles already mentioned covered the broadest spectrum of musical taste, If You Were There below presents below the ‘poll of polls’, having reviewed the results for each year of the 1980s1. Ten points have been given to the winning act in each title’s survey each year, going down to one point for coming tenth.2 Then all the points each act3 collected throughout the decade have been summed to provide the following Top 10s. Although this system naturally favours those who were around for the whole decade, universal popularity across all three journals is in fact more important. For example, The Jam are fourth best band overall despite splitting up in 1982, as they appeared in the Top 10 in all three readers’ polls for each of the three years they were active.

Best group Best male singer Best female singer
1 U2 Morrissey Kate Bush
2 The Smiths Prince Siouxsie Sioux
3 Duran Duran David Bowie Madonna
4 The Jam Paul Weller Annie Lennox
5 Pet Shops Boys George Michael Alison Moyet
6 New Order Bono Vox Kim Wilde
7 Wham! Simon Le Bon Toyah Willcox
8 The Police Paul Young Liz Fraser
9 The Fall =9 Gary Numan Whitney Houston
10 Culture Club =9 Elvis Costello Sade Adu

1 Record Mirror did not poll its readers in 1983.
2 From 1988, NME merged the ‘best male singer’ and ‘best female singer’ categories and replaced them with unisex ‘best solo’ artist. I have awarded 10 points to the first man on the list through to 5 for the sixth, and 10 points to the first woman through to 7 for the fourth, in both years.
3 96 different groups appeared in the year-end results across the decade for the three journals surveyed, along with 76 male and 75 female singers. (It should be noted that Boy George featured in both male and female results tables in some years.)

NEW SINGLES on sale from Dec. 31
No release scheduled for this date.


Released today in 1985: System Addict


Tent PB40515

The release of System Addict provided evidence that Romford’s answer to the Jackson Five weren’t just inspired by Michael Jackson’s music, his vocal techniques and his dance moves, they were inspired by his commercial strategies too. It was the seventh single from their album Luxury Of Life; Jackson had taken the same number from his most recent album Thriller in America. His British record company only chanced six of those as singles here, so Five Star had actually gone one step further Jackson with their seven, and he was promoting the biggest selling album of the 1980s. One of the advantages of having your own label, I suppose, which with Tent, Five Star had.

Jackson’s sister Janet equalled Five Star’s effort by the end of 1987 when her record company, A&M, took a seventh single from her album Control in the UK. (In the US, they stopped at six.) But eighteen months later, Jackson himself set a new record: he took eight of the ten songs on Bad (nine of eleven songs, if you had the CD version) as singles. It took two years to release those nine singles, the resultant publicity keeping the album in the chart for 108 consecutive weeks. As there was more profit to made in the sale of an album, keeping that album in the news via a string of hit singles was a shrewd business move, but of course this could only be done if there were sufficient radio-friendly tracks on the album to lift from it as singles in the first place. Few other albums in the eighties were plundered for quite so many singles. Other albums containing six UK singles during the decade included

  • George Michael’s Faith (Epic, November 1987) – it took eighteen months to release all six singles, and the album remained in the chart for all but a handful of weeks in that time;
  • Paula Abdul’s Forever Your Girl (Siren, October 1988) – it took over two years to release the singles, with some being issued more than once in that period due to disappointing sales the first time around. The album only charted for a few weeks at a time when the singles were selling;
  • Whitney Houston’s Whitney Houston (Arista, August 1985) – the album, a classic of sorts, failed to chart in the UK when first released as its early singles weren’t hits: it started to sell when Saving All My Love For You made #1 at the end of 1985. The last of the six singles was released a few months later (it took just a year to release all of them), but the LP remained on the album chart long after the last single exited the chart in June 1986;
  • Def Leppard’s Hysteria (Bludgeon Riffola, August 1987) – eighteen months to release the singles, but again the album continued to sell steadily after radio airplay had died down;

and Five Star (again), with their second album Silk And Steel. The singles they took from Silk And Steel did much better than those from Luxury Of Life, with five of them making the Top 10. Only one of the singles from Luxury Of Life made the Top 10, and somewhat surprisingly – given it was the last of them – that was System Addict. It remains one of their best-known songs, and was re-mixed for re-issue in 2005.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Dec. 30
SINITTA I Could Be (Midas MID4)
EURYTHMICS It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back) (RCA PB40375)
FIVE STAR System Addict (Tent PB40515)
KING (Paul King) Torture (CBS A6761)
SADE (Sade Adu) Is It A Crime (Epic A6742)

Released today in 1987: New Sensation


Mercury INXS9

“Collectors’ edition poster bag versions on 7” and 12” containing full colour doubled sided band poster, also available on ordinary 7” and 12”,” declared the initial press adverts for this eleventh British single from INXS. Mercury were going all-out with merchandising to make sure this time the band had a major hit in the UK, given none of their previous singles had quite made it. In the band’s native Australia their new album Kick (probably the best of their career) had been an immediate hit and there was no reason to think it wouldn’t finally break them in the UK too. But lead single Need You Tonight had continued the pattern in Britain of minor hits, and so this time as well as the formats listed in the advert mentioned, a 7” picture disc, a CD single and a 12” single featuring a previously unreleased alternate mix of New Sensation would also be made available to maximize the opportunity to influence purchasers. It worked: it was their first Top 40 hit here.

Early INXS singles in the UK had been available only on standard 7” and 12” singles in picture sleeves. There had been some creative marketing: the title track of their fifth single I Send A Message inspired the production of a special outer cover shaped like an envelope, with a postcard and information sheets accompanying the standard 7” inside, and all four singles taken from the album Listen Like Thieves were available as limited edition double-packs to attract sales, although this promotional technique had been outlawed (see the earlier article on chart hyping) by the time of Kick’s appearance. But there were all sorts of other techniques used by record companies to make the product look attractive, and during the 1980s most of the commonly available formats were used by Mercury for INXS singles, including:

Variations in size, shape and colour of vinyl
Traditionally, singles were seven inches in diameter, round, and black. But they didn’t have to be. The most common variation was the 12” single (a discussion of which can be found in the earlier article about them), and with the exception of I Send A Message, all INXS singles in the UK from their second release Don’t Change onward were available on that size of record. Rarer but still made by all the major record companies was the 10” single, the first single from INXS appearing on that size being Devil Inside. Their next 10”, Never Tear Us Apart, was also pressed in white vinyl, changing the colour of the disc being a frequently used gimmick. Picture discs (usually a paper image contained within two sides of a transparent vinyl record) were another popular option for making a release stand out on the record racks, and were usually housed in a clear PVC sleeve rather than the usual paper ones. Listen Like Thieves was the first INXS picture disc in the UK, and that also changed the shape of the record itself. It was marketed as a 7” single but was cut into a flag shape. Shaped discs generally had the usual 7” circular playing area, but had been pressed from a larger piece of vinyl which was cut to the desired shaped around it. The shape had to be kept to a maximum of twelve inches wide or the manufacturer risked creating a disc that wouldn’t turn on the purchaser’s record deck.

Paper ephemera
Originally, singles came in plain, die-cut sleeves or paper bags with the issuing record company’s logos on them. Occasionally, advertisements for other products might appear on the bags. But by the 1980s it was usual for singles to come in a picture sleeve with photos of the act concerned on the front, and maybe the lyrics of the lead track on the reverse. There were a number of variations possible with the record’s sleeve. Some sleeves were printed on large pieces of paper designed to fold into a bag for the record, but when unfolded were poster-sized and revealed a large image of the artist. As indicated at the top of this article, New Sensation used poster sleeves for limited editions of its 7” and 12” versions. The re-issue of Need You Tonight in 1988 came in a special ‘magic pack’ which unfolded to reveal images of all the band members. Another type of sleeve was the gatefold, which opened up book-style. Usually printed for practical purposes (double albums where there were two discs to house), INXS used one for aesthetic reasons on a limited edition of the 12” of Never Tear Us Apart. Other paper goods used for INXS releases were cards and stickers (inserted in the pack for the Mystify single) and postcards (Devil Inside, and the previously mentioned I Send A Message).

Other sound carrying media
The 8-track cartridge was obsolete by the time Kick was released, but cassettes were popular with music buyers at that time and compact discs were growing in popularity. It was the latter format that Mercury favoured for INXS, with all the singles from Kick being made available on CD. Initially, most record companies used the 3” CD format for singles on compact disc, reserving the standard 5” disc for albums. Difficulty with playing the smaller discs made them unpopular with consumers (most people had to clip them inside an adaptor to play them, and the adaptors sometimes jammed in the players), and in any case they were unattractive, cover art having to be reduced to in size and losing all its impact. INXS’s CD singles were the 5” ones. The last three INXS singles of the 1980s were also issued on the CDV (compact disc video) format. These held audio content and could be played like a compact disc, but could also hold five minutes of video content. This was ideal for including all the sound media from the regular CD, plus the promotional clip filmed for the single. CDVs never took off though, as most people didn’t have the hardware to play them and weren’t about to pay the prohibitive price to get it. As for cassettes: INXS did not issue cassingles in Britain during the 1980s. One was manufactured, for the What You Need single, but this was given away free with the 7”.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Dec. 29
DEPARTMENT S Is Vic There? (Demon D1003)
DEAD OR ALIVE (Pete Burns) Something In My House (Epic BURNS1)
BANGLES Walking Down Your Street (CBS BANGS1)
Kylie MINOGUE I Should Be So Lucky (PWL PWL8)
INXS (Michael Hutchence) New Sensation (Mercury INXS9)

Released today in 1987: Father Figure


Epic EMU4


“We became the all-time ultimate pin-up band. And that was what I thought I wanted, but as success has a tendency of doing when it finally comes round, you find it wasn’t really what you were after and you have to re-evaluate. I could easily have carried on like that, I think I am a good enough actor to have pursued a solo career and Wham!, but we felt, ‘why should we?’. We proved that we did it better than anyone else so why bother carrying on an image that wasn’t suited to you anymore? I mean, I’m a more serious person now, I have rapidly got older and I know we could have got away with it, but why bother? It’s much better this way.” So George Michael told Smash Hits in June 1986, shortly before Wham!’s final gig at Wembley Stadium. Confirmation that the band was ending came on the 1st March 1986 edition of the television chat show ‘Aspel And Company’, where Michael admitted, “There’s no point trying to tell people we’re not splitting up… what we wanted to do when we formed the band four years ago had been just about achieved.” The following week, he flew to LA to record his next solo single, his first with no involvement from Andrew Ridgeley. The two had agreed to an amicable split by mid-1985, as Michael explained in a letter to fans that he asked Smash Hits to print: “Basically, Andy and I had decided that Wham!’s natural timespan was drawing to a close, that it was time to move on… the ‘split’ was not to be immediate, as we still had a few records planned, and wanted to play Wembley Stadium during the summer. And that’s still how we feel. Our differences with our now departed management company, unfortunately brought everyone’s attention to our plan, roughly six months early. That’s all. What’s important for you to know is that no matter what you read or hear, Andrew and I are still the good friends we always were…”

It was the change of management company that had heightened speculation that Wham! were about to split, as the rumour was Michael had changed his arrangements without informing Ridgeley. CBS remained neutral: they publicly welcomed solo material from both artists. While an album from Ridgeley wouldn’t be forthcoming until the 1990s, Michael’s solo career was already establishing itself before Wham! had put our their final record. “I’m making a single with Aretha Franklin, and possibly one in June with Michael Jackson,” he said. “With opportunities to work with people like that how can you not be happy?” There was even a rumour of an anti-apartheid single with Stevie Wonder. In the meantime, that Wham! farewell at Wembley – a six-hour extravaganza on 28 June 1986 – sold out in little more than twice that time. A final EP made #1 that summer.

1987 began with the release of the duet with Franklin (another #1), followed by I Want Your Sex, a song with deliberately provocative lyrics which sounded like he had recorded it in his garage and which he appeared to drop from his repertoire soon after. “Sex is natural, sex is good/not everybody does it, but everybody should,” he sang; the promotional clip saw Michael writing the words ‘explore monogamy’ in lipstick on a model’s back in case he was accused of inciting orgies. This scene in the clip was also the only acknowledgement from Michael of the concept of safe sex, and this being the year of the government’s Don’t Die Of Ignorance campaign to combat the rising numbers of HIV cases in the UK the release of I Want Your Sex didn’t seem very timely. Broadcasters were nervous about it too, and it received little airplay except some late-night airings of the video on MTV. It made #3, sales generated by the mild controversy it had caused and audience loyalty.

The rest of the content of Faith, his debut album, was more conventional, although none of the singles made #1 in Britain, the title track (and next single) coming closest when it reached #2. Nevertheless, the album was well received, sold millions worldwide, and won the Grammy for album of the year in 1989, and the 1988 Faith World Tour was a sell-out success. However, these achievements required Michael to work full-time on the Faith album and its related products for over two years, and he found the schedule (writing, recording, PAs to promote singles, video and photo shoots, live dates and rehearsals, world travel, award acceptance, interviews, etc) exhausting. To leave himself time for developing his music, he told CBS he wanted a reduced promotional workload on future records.

☛ What happened next
Michael’s assertion that “I’m a more serious person now” in that Smash Hits interview quoted at the top of this article set the tone for his 1990s career. The pretentiously (and some at the time said, arrogantly) titled second album Listen Without Prejudice Volume One was a rather solemn affair, and he did very little in the way of promotion for it, refusing even to appear in promotional clips for the singles. The album went to #1 all the same, but while it sold millions it was nowhere near selling as many copies as Faith. Michael blamed Sony (who had acquired CBS); they argued that his self-instigated reduced profile lessened the appeal of the product for fans. A lengthy legal dispute between Michael and Sony began, which would ultimately do him few favours, during which time he refused to record any new material, abandoning a Volume Two of Listen Without Prejudice from which just one single, Too Funky, emerged. Successful covers of Elton John (1991) and Queen (1993) songs were released during the dispute (on Fontana and Parlophone respectively) that returned him to #1 in the UK.

Thereafter, his recordings have appeared sporadically. In 1996 he returned on Virgin with Older, a critical and commercial triumph that confirmed him as one of Britain’s premier recording artists. All six of its singles made the Top 3, with Jesus To A Child and Fastlove making #1, his last chart-topping singles. The album was his last album of original material for eight years, although a number of standalone singles and collaborations kept him in the singles chart, with every release in the ten and a half years from late 1991 to early 2002 making the Top 10. A ‘best of’ and an album of standards were money-spinning long-players in the late 1990s. He returned to Sony in 2004 for his next – and to date, last – studio album Patience. It went straight to #1 although it lacked the string of big hit singles that might have been expected. But for some 25 years Michael has positioned himself as an ‘albums artist’ rather than the maker of chart singles he was in the 1980s. The industry pays attention when he releases a record, as do the critics, and his standing remains such that he was asked to participate in the closing ceremony at the London Olympic Games in 2012.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Dec. 28
BANANARAMA I Can’t Help It (London NANA15)
DEPECHE MODE Behind The Wheel (Mute BONG15)
Billy IDOL Hot In The City (Re-mix) (Chrysalis IDOL12)
George MICHAEL Father Figure (Epic EMU4)
DURAN DURAN All She Wants Is (EMI DD11)

The people who brought you Smash Hits…

TwitterWith scores of contributors at Smash Hits in the 1980s it’s difficult to know which of them to single out. So, below are contributors to the first and final issues of the magazine in the 1980s, together with mention of some of the longer serving writers between those editions.

Staff at 1 January 1980
Editor Ian Cranna
Features Editor David Hepworth
Design Steve Bush, Andy Ingamells
Editorial Assistants Diane Church1, Bev Hillier2
Cliff White3
Fred Dellar4
Jill Furmanovsky5
Julie Logan6
Red Starr7
Robin Katz8

1 First person appointed to the staff of Smash Hits in 1978 and stayed until 1980.
2 1979-1983: originally employed by to transcribe the lyrics for songs where there was no sheet music available; she became a permanent editorial assistant when the magazine went fortnightly. Later went on to edit Smash Hits’s “sister publication” Just Seventeen and was managing editor of Big! in the 1990s.
3 1979-1980: various roles in the music industry – from a sales assistant at HMV in the early 60s to a singer in beat group by the end of the decade; to a journalist for various titles including NME and Black Echoes in the 70s; before working for record companies as a reissue specialist in the 80s and 90s. More recently worked as a label boss for a distributor.
4 Veteran music journalist. Was an R&B and jazz fan from an early age; he wrote fanzines and contributed album sleeve notes part time before accepting a full time job writing for New Musical Express in 1972 where he later introduced his popular Fred Fact column. Thereafter working freelance he wrote for numerous music papers, and was a contributor at Smash Hits throughout the 1980s and well into the 1990s. He edited and wrote for a number of books and encyclopedias, and from 1996 has written regularly for Mojo.
5 1979-1981: award winning photographer famed for her pictures of pop stars; she collected some of her shots in the book The Moment: 25 Years Of Rock Photography (1995).
6 1979-1980: i.e. Mrs Nick Logan, later business manager and company secretary for his publishing company Wagadon.
7 1980-1982: mysterious name that also crops up occasionally in other music papers; in Smash Hits, his main contributions were reviews of indie singles/albums and a column called Independent Bitz. His encyclopaedic knowledge of bands signed to Postcard records indicates it might have been a pseudonym for Ian Cranna (who managed Edwyn Collins’ Orange Juice in addition to his journalism work).
8 1979-1981: American writer and broadcaster resident in the UK from the 70s until around 15 years; now lives in New Jersey. Wrote for just about every music paper in the UK while here: you can find her name in Record Mirror, Sounds, Disc, NME, Black Echoes

Staff at 31 December 1989
Editor Richard Lowe
Features Editor Derrin Schlesinger1
Reviews Editor Alex Kadis News Editors Mike Soutar, Tom Doyle Film/TV Editor Lola Borg
Design Caroline Grimshaw, Ian Pollard
Editorial Assistant Vincent Vincent
Production Joanne Higgs
Reader Services Jo Collins
Picture research Harriet Bell
Staff Writer Sylvia Patterson2
Carol Irving
Chris Heath3
Fred Dellar
Ian Cranna
John J Murphy
Julie Horton
Kipper Williams4
Miranda Sawyer5
Sian Pattenden6
Tina Radziszewicz7

1 joined 1986 on the picture desk. Left to become a television producer for which she has numerous credits.
2 joined 1986, barely older than the audience she was writing for; she was senior staff writer at the start of the 1990s. Went freelance and regularly appears in the pages of the quality national papers (The Guardian, The Sunday Times). Her memoir What’s It All About, Kylie? – A Writer’s Life Lost In Music is due on 16 June 2016.
3 post-Smash Hits joined 1985. Later he was a staff writer at American titles like Rolling Stone, Details and GQ. Noted for rock biographies including one on Robbie Williams, and in particular for his close association with Pet Shop Boys, for whom he has edited fan club publications, provided DVD commentaries and written numerous sleeve notes.
4 resident cartoonist from 1984 onwards. His illustrations have appeared in countless publications over the past 35 years.
5 joined 1988. Prolific contributor to magazines and newspapers for the past 25 years, also a documentary filmmaker and radio broadcaster. Best known as an arts critic; she was on the judging panel for the 2007 Turner Prize.
6 joined 1988, journalism was her profession only briefly and she is now an illustrator, animator and author. In an extraordinarily packed career, this former child actor was even a pop star of sorts herself for a short time.
7 joined 1988; went freelance and wrote for women’s magazines, becoming an advice columnist. Now a psychotherapist.

Other long-serving staff
Linda Duff (1980-1985): a key figure in Smash Hits’s early years, Duff’s column Get Smart! answering readers’ questions became an essential feature of the magazine and led to creation of a permanent role known as ‘reader services’. Her career began in Ireland working for a magazine’s sales and advertising department, graduating to writing. Moving to London, she became an editorial assistant for Smash Hits and stayed for over five years, leaving for national newspapers Daily Mirror (1985-1989) and Daily Star (1989-1998). At the Star she ran the pop and showbiz desks; her approach for the Splash! (later, Rave) column was to focus on emerging artists rather than the traditional chasing of established stars. This paid off when she gave early press to Take That in 1990, who went on to be the most successful pop act of the decade. She ended her time at the Star as Features Editor and then worked for a television production company for a time before returning to Ireland. She died in September 2013.

Dave Rimmer (1981-1986): long-serving features writer for EMAP titles Smash Hits and The Face, he went on to write for various titles in the UK, US and Germany. He was resident in Berlin at the end of 1980s and witnessed the fall of the Wall. Two of his most notable works are the books Like Punk Never Happened: Culture Club and The New Pop (1986) and New Romantics: The Look (2003) which concern the music industry at the time of his employment at Smash Hits.

Dave Bostock (1981-1986): designer; had a 35 year career with EMAP (later Bauer Media) in various roles such as publishing director for music and youth titles.

Vici Macdonald (1984-1988): art director, editor and writer. Macdonald encountered Smash Hits when she was an art student: after hearing then editor Ian Cranna on the radio, she sought out a copy of the magazine, found she was impressed with the content, and applied to join the staff after finishing her studies. She left to pursue freelance journalism and has reunited with her former boss Steve Bush for a couple of book titles in more recent years. Formerly (2012) features her photographs of disappearing London alongside poetry from Tamar Yoseloff.

David Keeps (1984-1988): editor of the US version of Smash Hits, Star Hits, which was launched in February 1984. Content between the two titles was shared.

William Shaw (1985-1989): born in the UK, grew up in Nigeria, lived in Hackney in the 80s and LA in the 90s and now resides in Brighton. Was an editorial assistant for Zigzag and Blitz in the early 80s; at the latter, he interviewed Neil Tennant in the early days of Pet Shop Boys, who introduced him to Smash Hits. His colleague there Tom Hibbert was best man at his wedding in 1994. At the behest of another colleague, David A Keeps, Shaw wrote for Details during his time in America. He has written for numerous publications including regular pieces for New York Times and The Observer and is the author of several non-fiction and fiction books, the latter being his Breen and Tozer crime series.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Dec. 27
No release scheduled for this date.

The people who brought you Smash Hits…

TwitterIn the absence of any new releases in the post-Christmas period, today and tomorrow If You Were There turns the spotlight on Smash Hits itself – or rather, the people that made it the magazine it was during the 1980s. We start today with the editors during the decade. This doesn’t include Smash Hits founder Nick Logan, but a few words about him first: he edited the magazine for its first year, initially under the pseudonym Chris Hall (the first syllables of his children’s names). When the magazine went fortnightly from the issue of 8 February 1979, he began using his real name but sometimes credited himself as ‘acting editor’, it being clear that he intended to hand the day-to-day running of the title to someone else. By the 1980s he had done so, but he remained closely involved in the magazine, its marketing and promotion for many years to come, often billed as ‘Managing Editor’ under the masthead. At the same time, he launched two other hugely influential magazine titles, The Face and Arena, eventually selling his publishing interests to EMAP, who owned Smash Hits.

Ian Cranna (until 29 April 1981 – first 34 issues of the decade)
Smash Hits cost 30p
Ed1Cranna contributed to Smash Hits in one form or another throughout the 1980s, becoming one of its longest-serving writers. His first credited contribution was in the 22 March 1979 issue; by 26 July he was Assistant Editor before taking over from Logan as Editor from the 18 October edition (incidentally the same issue in which the official address for the magazine changed to 52-55 Carnaby Street, where it would remain throughout the 1980s). He studied at St Andrews and Edinburgh universities before deciding on a career in journalism. Smash Hits was one of his earliest appointments, and after surrendering the editorship he worked on a range of other titles on a contract or freelance basis: proofreading and sub-editing, writing articles or reviews, and researching and fact-checking. All these skills were put to good use when he pulled together several editions of The Rock Yearbook in the mid-80s, and more recently when he ghost-wrote for Pete Burns’ autobiography Freak Unique in 2007.

David Hepworth (30 April 1981 – 30 March 1983 – 50 issues)
Smash Hits cost 35p
Ed2.jpgHepworth was there pretty much from the beginning, receiving his first credit as a Contributor when Smash Hits’s first fortnightly edition was published. He had previously written for New Musical Express (whose offices were across the road from those of Smash Hits) and Sounds and had a dual career in the 1980s as a journalist and broadcaster. He joined the presenting team of the BBC’s ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ and was a co-anchor on the channel’s coverage of Live Aid. In the meantime, he was responsible for the launch of two other titles for EMAP, Just Seventeen (1983) and Q (1986). The former was sometimes described as a ‘sister’ paper to Smash Hits, so similar was its style. The key difference was that it was marketed exclusively to girls which it did through fashion coverage and agony-aunt columns/problem pages; beyond that, the same faces interviewed by Smash Hits made up the feature content. It remained in publication for 21 years. Q was an altogether different proposition, a perfect-bound monthly title ignoring the charts and focusing on album product. Read in conjunction with Smash Hits it gave a very good overview of what was happening in British popular music. Other high-quality monthly music (and general entertainment) periodicals he has launched include Mojo (1993-present) and The Word (2003-2012); at the other end of the market, but hugely popular, is the celebrity gossip mag Heat (founded 1999). He has formed his own publishing company Development Hell, won both the Editor and Writer of the Year awards from the Professional Publishers’ Association, and writes regularly for various magazines and newspapers. His book 1971 – Never A Dull Moment: The Year That Rock Exploded will be published on 7 April next year.

Mark Ellen (31 March 1983 – 18 June 1985 – 58 issues)
Smash Hits cost 40p
Ed3A close associate of Hepworth, Ellen’s career has followed a similar trajectory. He had early posts at New Musical Express, Record Mirror and Time Out before arriving at Smash Hits in 1980. Like Hepworth, he had a career outside journalism too, being a radio disc jockey (standing in for John Peel on Radio 1) and television host (‘Whistle Test’ etc). He was the launch editor of Q and co-founder of The Word. He was also Editor in Chief at EMAP. His memoir Rock Stars Stole My Life! is out now in paperback.

Steve Bush (joined 1978, editor 19 June 1985 – 4 November 1986 – 36 issues)
Smash Hits cost 43p
Ed4Bush was the original designer at Smash Hits (credited in early issues as Ross George) and remained with the magazine until October 1986. “And so another era in the shifting tableau of publishing that is Smash Hits has come to a halt,” the Bitz column reported in the issue after his exit. “Blub! It’s almost too tragic but the diminutive genius clad in black, Steve Bush, i.e. the editor, has left the ranks of our esteemed magazine… oh, well, no use crying over it now. He’s gorn, GORN!! So as the petite führer shuffles through the glittering portals into Carnaby Street for the last time, Bitz hankily presents…Ode To Steve Bush. Dear dear dear Steve Bush/did you resign/or were you given the push? (haw haw)”. In fact he remained with EMAP to begin with (“he’s gone to think up new ‘projects’ for our publishers,” Bitz admitted), and became an entrepreneurial publisher, designing and editing a number of titles. A lasting legacy of Bush’s at Smash Hits was the logo he introduced with the issue of 28 August 1985, which would remain for nearly fifteen years. During his own time with the magazine he changed the logo every other year.

Barry McIlheny (editor 5 November 1986 – 22 January 1989 – 58 issues)
Smash Hits cost 45p
Ed5.jpgBorn in Belfast in 1960, McIlheny worked on local newspapers before a stint in London at Melody Maker led to his appointment at Smash Hits as editor. He left in 1989 to become launch editor of Empire magazine, another EMAP title, eventually becoming the publisher’s Managing Director in 1994. He was the first editor of Heat when it was launched five years later. He is currently the CEO of the Professional Publishers Association.

Richard Lowe (joined 1987, editor from 17 May 1989 – final 17 issues of the decade)
Ed6.JPGSmash Hits cost 52p

Between McIlheny’s departure and Lowe’s appointment, designer Jacqui Doyle (1985 – 1989) was appointed ‘acting editor’. First credited as a Contributor at Smash Hits in 1987, Lowe saw the magazine into the 1990s.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Dec. 26
No release scheduled for this date.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

1225It is usually described as “the coveted Christmas #1 spot” in the media, but why should it be so? Why the prestige of having the last chart-topping single of a year, more than, say, the first? A #1 at any time of the year is a good indication of an act’s current popularity, but the main reason seems to be simply cold, hard cash: more records are sold in the run-up to Christmas than at any other time of the year, so a #1 then is can genuinely be called one of the biggest hits of the year.

There are two types of track that do well at the end of the year: songs you can dance to and/or sing along to, and sentimental songs you can feel all warm and fuzzy to. The former came into their own in the 1970s, spurred by the likes of Slade: glam rock was ideal for the party season, with its brashness and colour. People planning parties had an instant soundtrack with that musical genre. Slade wrote Merry Xmas Everybody with the express purpose of making #1 by Christmas, deliberately releasing it on 7 December 1973 to give it the best chance. It worked, and it led to the 70s having the most Christmas-inspired Top 10 listings of any decade, although the chart toppers tended to be at the slushier end of the market, for example Boney M bringing Mary’s Boy Child in 1978.

That song had also been a Christmas #1 in 1957, on that occasion by Harry Belafonte. Songs that referenced Christmas itself weren’t often to be found at the top of the charts on the day in question. Belafonte’s hit was one of only two in the 1950s, the other being Dickie Valentine’s Christmas Alphabet in 1955 (although sales of Winifred Atwell’s 1954 Christmas #1 Let’s Have Another Party might have been influenced by the inclusion of some bars from When The Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin’ Along in her piano medley, the bird being a winter motif at least); there were none at all in the 1960s (The Beatles had four Christmas #1s, none of which was seasonally-geared); and the other two Christmas-themed #1s in 1970s were Mud’s Lonely This Christmas in 1974 and Johnny Mathis’s When A Child Is Born two years later. In the 1980s, as detailed below, three festive songs were at the top of the charts on Christmas Day. In the past 25 years, it has happened only twice: Saviour’s Day was the Christmas #1 in 1990 for Cliff Richard, and one of the 80s #1s, Do They Know It’s Christmas?, returned to the top in a different version in 2004.

Today, the Christmas #1 is major event in the music industry calendar, with acts holding back a song that can be released in the week prior to the day itself. This has paid off for ‘The X Factor’, the annual televised talent competition: the winning act will have her/his single released in the critical week. It has led to social media campaigns to get a different song – any other song – to the top instead, and this worked in 2009 when downloads of Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name was the Christmas #1. (The campaign was no less cynical than Simon Cowell’s, of course.) But, as the list below (generally) shows, if you release a great song in the run-up to Christmas, you have every chance of being #1 on the day, regardless of the song’s theme or the marketing tools used.

Christmas #1: There’s No One Quite Like Grandma, St Winifred’s School Choir
Runner up: (Just Like) Starting Over, John Lennon
Other hits in Top 10:
John Lennon’s death on 8 December 1980 led to three of his singles being in the Top 10 at Christmas that year. Indeed, his most recent single, (Just Like) Starting Over, had been #1 the week before. It had originally peaked at #8 and was on its way down the chart by December, then went back up to #1. Meanwhile, the title track of his 1971 album Imagine, which had previously been a single in 1975, was at #9, and his seasonal hit Merry Xmas (War Is Over) was at #4, matching its chart peak of 1972 when it had first been released. The chart compilers’ policy of not preparing a chart for publication between Christmas and New Year meant that whatever was at #1 at Christmas was automatically given a minimum two-week run there; the next chart (for the week ending 10 January 1981) showed Merry Xmas (War Is Over) at #2, denied the chance to be a #1 by Imagine, which was now at the top.

There was one other seasonably-themed song in the Christmas 1980 Top 10, Stop The Cavalry by Jona Lewie at #3.

Christmas #1: Don’t You Want Me, The Human League
Runner up: Daddy’s Home, Cliff Richard
Other hits in Top 10:
Three acts who had singles in the Christmas Top 10 the previous year had different songs in the Top 10 this year: Abba, Adam and The Ants, and Madness – in neither year was any of these singles Christmas-themed. (The Police, who were also present in 1980, didn’t quite make it in 1981 – they were at #12.)

Christmas #1: Save Your Love, Rene and Renato
Runner up: The Shakin Stevens EP, Shakin’ Stevens
Other hits in Top 10:
Seasonal hits came from David Bowie and Bing Crosby with Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy at #3, and David Essex at #7 with A Winter’s Tale. For the third year in a row, Madness also had a single in the Top 10.

Christmas #1: Only You, The Flying Pickets
Runner up: My Oh My, Slade
Other hits in Top 10:
Culture Club were the only returning faces from previous Christmas Top 10 lists from the 1980s: they had also been present the previous year.

Christmas #1: Do They Know It’s Christmas, Band Aid
Runner up: Last Christmas, Wham!
Other hits in Top 10:
The other yuletide hit in 1984’s Top 10 was Another Rock And Roll Christmas by Gary Glitter at #8. The only returning act this year was Paul Young, his second consecutive year in the list.

1984 was the first year where the chart compilers didn’t take a week off, there being separate charts for the weeks ending 23 December and 30 December. The listings revealed that the previous policy of repeating the Christmas chart for a second week was probably fair enough: there was very little movement in the Top 10, the top three singles the same, most of the others simply changing places with their neighbours, and only one new title that hadn’t been there before (Foreigner’s future #1, I Want To Know What Love Is, moving up one place from #11 to #10).

Christmas #1: Merry Christmas Everyone, Shakin’ Stevens
Runner up: Saving All My Love For You, Whitney Houston
Other hits in Top 10:
Not only were there returning faces in 1985’s Top 10, there were returning singles: the #1 and #2 for the previous year were back in the Top 10 at #3 and #6 respectively, while a third returning act, Shakin’ Stevens, provided a Christmas-themed #1. Aled Jones’s Walking In The Air, at #5, made this the most festive Top 10 of the decade.

Wham! also had another single in the Top 10, I’m Your Man at #8.

Christmas #1: Reet Petite, Jackie Wilson
Runner up: Caravan of Love, The Housemartins
Other hits in Top 10:
The Housemartins’ single was the closest to a Christmas single that there was in the Top 10 in 1986, with its allusions to Christianity. The familiar face in the Top 10 this time was Madonna, who had first featured the previous year.

Christmas #1: Always On My Mind, Pet Shop Boys
Runner up: Fairytale of New York, The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl
Other hits in Top 10:
The #2 record has proved the most enduring, and has made regular returns to the chart since. The other seasonally-themed hit in the Top 10 was charity effort Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree, #3 for Mel Smith and Kim Wilde. Once again, Shaky was back (What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For was at #10); chart toppers Pet Shop Boys had also been present in a 1980s Top 10 run down in 1985.

Christmas #1: Mistletoe And Wine, Cliff Richard
Runner up: Especially For You, Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan
Other hits in Top 10:
Bros had cut a version of Silent Night and put it out as a double A-side with their song Cat Among The Pigeons; they were at #8. In addition to Cliff Richard, Status Quo were returning faces in the Top 10, having previously made the 1983 list.

Christmas #1: Do They Know It’s Christmas, Band Aid II
Runner up: Let’s Party, Jive Bunny And The Mastermixers
Other hits in Top 10:
A new recording of the 1984 #1 saw the decade out. Tina Turner, Jason Donovan, Madonna and Bros, who had all previously featured in Christmas Top 10s during the decade, were back this year – but the #1 was the only Christmas-themed single.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Dec. 25
No release scheduled for this date.