Pure Pop for Now People! as someone once said. Providing an essential burst of fun, and irreverence into proceedings at the end of 1978, “ver Hits” (using the in-house vernacular) was a perfect mirror on the ensuing decade’s pop landscape. The initial novelty being the publication of hit single’s lyrics when no-one else was doing that. But it developed into more than it’s initial remit. For a time it was more than just teen fodder; it had sharp wit and intelligence, due to the core journalistic flair of people like Mark Ellen and David Hepworth (later to host the re-vamped “Whistle Test” and a little show called “Live Aid”), Miranda Sawyer and Tom Hibbert. The latter providing a memorable piece when Ver Hits went for tea with Margaret Thatcher at No. 10, with an style that combined geniality with a touch of lampoonery that the inkies of the time just wouldn’t have pulled off. Cheeky rather than acerbic. When Mark Ellen later found Q magazine for the grown-ups in 1986, Hibbert would later instigate the “Who the hell does………..think they are?” feature. And famously, it was edited by one Neil Tennant up until 1984 when much to the derision of his colleagues he gave up the day job to follow the dream. In the summer of that year, the aspiring pop star found himself in New York on an assignment to interview The Police. Astutely, the time was spent tracking down dance supremo Bobby O, where three tracks were “laid down”. One of those never got played to the incredulous ‘Hits’ hacks back home because the singer was too embarrassed by the ersatz white bloke rap – “Sometimes you’re better off dead, there’s a gun in your hand and it’s pointing at your head…..”. He needn’t have blanched. 18 months later it was No. 1 and Hepworth, Ellen “et al” were eating their proverbial head “gear”…….
The second half of the 80’s were arguably it’s most poptastic, the esoteric turns of phrase defined the magazine’s character. “Dame David”, “Lord Frederick Lucan of Mercury”, “Mark Unpronouncible name from Big Country”, “Sir Paul Fab Wacca Macca Thumbs Aloft McCartney”, “Morton Smorton Forton Hacket out of A-Ha”, “Saucy Sir Samuel Fox”, “Mark Horrible Headband Knoplfer” and “the Trout from the Sprout” (that would be the Prefab kind), Uncle Disgusting (worthy ‘rawk’ stars over 35) etc. Then there were the almost surreal interviews – What colour is Thursday? What’s In Your Fridge? But this apparent silliness was all part of the bigger blueprint. In 1981, Smash Hits editor David Hepworth sent a memo to record company press departments that read: “It is my intention to reverse the entire direction of [popular music publishing] in favour of entirely trivia…. We want to know the colour of your artists’ socks.”
In 1987 the “brand” got so big it even got it’s own “Now That’s What I Call Music Album”! LOOK! “32 Swingorilliant Hits of the 80s! Oh Yesh!
Pricking pomposity and reverence at every turn while simultaneously celebrating and sending up the pop world. (Speaking of which, Simon Amstel seemed to be it’s rightful heir, bringing forward that same spirit of playful insolence with a show called Popworld in the early 00’s). Reaching it’s peak in readership around the time of Kylie, Jason and the Brothers Matt and Luke, it lasted until 2006 when everything had changed. It had been a long time since teenagers needed to bother the news stands for their music fix, teen pop stars were now developing into media-savvy products where perfection rules and karaoke cover versions were the order of the day. Pop music wasn’t that important to ver kids anymore, times change. Or maybe this is just an ‘Uncle Disgusting’ rambling on about the good old days of pop. Boooo (?- ed).
Sooo anyway back to March 1981 – New Romantics are in full swing with an article from exotic Birmingham with newcomers Duran Duran, enjoying their first hit with “Planet Earth” and an ad for a special spin-off mag full of these blokes in blouses cropping up everywhere – “New Sounds, New Styles”. Between the high gloss of the newly launched fashion bible “The Face” and the pages of “Smash Hits”, it was a marriage made in Heaven, each offering a colour alternative to the monochrome earnestness of the inkies.
David Hepworth visits New York to talk to Talking Head David Byrne. Yes, incredible that this is in the pages of Smash Hits really but that was what was great about ‘pop’ back then, ahh. (Get on with it, Grandad – ed.)
Posters of The Stray Cats and Honey Bane. Song words from Status Quo, Elvis Costello, Yoko Ono, Human League, Motorhead/Girlschool, Judas Priest, Toyah, The Freshies, Beggar & Co., Duran Duran, Madness, Kiki Dee, Kim Wilde, Kool and the Gang, The Jacksons.
In the Letters page, sounding like it comes from the Neolithic era, Michelle from Leeds writes- “Please could you print a picture line-up of the group Magazine as I would like to know what John McGeogh, Dave Formula and Barry Adamson look like”. Kids of 2014, you don’t know you’re born (Shut it, elderly person! – ed.)
The 1981 Smash Hits Reader Poll Results
It took until 1988 for the annual Smash Hits Poll Winners Party to arrive on our tellys with “Pip” Schofield and that unpleasant incident in 1991 where “Fruitbat” from Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine jumped on poor Pip. You don’t remember that? Oh OK…….
Aaaanyway, this is what the kids thought about 1980…
- Band Of The Year: The Police
- Hottest New Act Of The Year: Spandau Ballet
- Male Singer Of The Year: Gary Numan
- Female Singer Of The Year: Kate Bush
- Best Single Of The Year: The Police – Don’t Stand So Close To Me
- Worst Single Of The Year: St. Winifred’s School Choir – Grandma
- Best Album Of The Year: The Police – Zenyatta Mondatta
- Best Film Of The Year: Breaking Glass
- TV Programme Of The Year: Not The Nine O’ Clock News
- Radio Show Of The Year: John Peel
- Most Fanciable Male: Sting
- Most Fanciable Female: Debbie Harry
- Most Unwanted Person Of The Year: Kelly Marie (“It Feels Like I’m In Love”)
Interesting it’s the full Top 10 for the final category there that represents the true essence of 1980- behind Kelly Marie is Margaret Thatcher, Sheena Easton, St. Winifrid’s School Choir (all of them), J.R (leading a nation to enquire “Who shot J.R.?”) and sadly we all know who shot J.L. – Mark Chapman.