New Musical Express (NME) is a British music journalism website and former magazine that has been published since 1952. It was the first British paper to include a singles chart, in the edition of 14 November 1952. In the 1970s it became the best-selling British music newspaper. During the period 1972 to 1976, it was particularly associated with gonzo journalism, then became closely associated with punk rock through the writings of Julie Burchill, Paul Morley and Tony Parsons. It started as a music newspaper, and gradually moved toward a magazine format during the 1980s and 1990s, changing from newsprint in 1998.
The paper was established in 1952. The Accordion Times and Musical Express was bought by London music promoter Maurice Kinn, for the sum of £1,000, just 15 minutes before it was due to be officially closed. It was relaunched as the New Musical Express, and was initially published in a non-glossy tabloid format on standard newsprint. On 14 November 1952, taking its cue from the US magazine Billboard, it created the first UK Singles Chart, a list of the Top Twelve best-selling singles. The first of these was, in contrast to more recent charts, a top twelve sourced by the magazine itself from sales in regional stores around the UK. The first number one was “Here in My Heart” by Al Martino.
An online version, NME.com, was launched in 1996. It became the world’s biggest standalone music site, with over sixteen million users per month. With newsstand sales falling across the UK magazine sector, the magazine’s paid circulation in the first half of 2014 was 15,830. In 2013, the list of NME’s The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and the way it was conceived was criticized by the media.
The printed magazine NME was relaunched in September 2015 to be distributed nationally as a free publication. The first average circulation published in February 2016 of 307,217 copies per week was the highest in the brand’s history, beating the previous best of 306,881, recorded in 1964 at the height of the Beatles’ fame. By December 2017, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, average distribution of NME had fallen to 289,432 copies a week, although its publisher Time Inc. UK claimed to have more than 13m global unique users per month, including 3m in the UK. In March 2018, the publisher announced that the print edition of NME would cease publication after 66 years, leaving it as an online-only title.
NME‘s headquarters are in Southwark, London, England. The brand’s current editor is Charlotte Gunn, replacing Mike Williams, who stepped down in February 2018.
In the 1980s, the NME became the most important music paper in the country. It released the influential C81 in 1981, in conjunction with Rough Trade Records, available to readers by mail order at a low price. The tape featured a number of then up-and-coming bands, including Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, Linx and Scritti Politti, as well as a number of more established artists such as Robert Wyatt, Pere Ubu, the Buzzcocks and Ian Dury.
A second tape, C86, was released in 1986.
The NME responded to the Thatcher era by espousing socialism through movements such as Red Wedge. In the week of the 1987 election, the paper featured an interview with the leader of the Labour Party, Neil Kinnock, who appeared on the paper’s cover. He had appeared on the cover once two years before, in April 1985.
Writers at this time included Mat Snow, Chris Bohn (known in his later years at the paper as ‘Biba Kopf’), Barney Hoskyns, Paolo Hewitt, Don Watson, Danny Kelly, Steven Wells and David Quantick.
However, sales were dropping, and by the mid-1980s, NME had hit a rough patch and was in danger of closing. During this period (now under the editorship of Ian Pye, who replaced Neil Spencer in 1985), they were split between those who wanted to write about hip hop, a genre that was relatively new to the UK, and those who wanted to stick to rock music. Sales were apparently lower when photos of hip hop artists appeared on the front and this led to the paper suffering as the lack of direction became even more apparent to readers. A number of features entirely unrelated to music appeared on the cover in this era, including a piece by William Leith on computer crime and articles by Stuart Cosgrove on such subjects as the politics of sport and the presence of American troops in Britain, with Elvis Presley appearing on the cover not for musical reasons but as a political symbol.
The NME was generally thought to be rudderless at this time, with staff pulling simultaneously in a number of directions in what came to be known as the “hip-hop wars”. It was haemorrhaging readers who were deserting NME in favour of Nick Logan’s two creations The Face and Smash Hits. This was brought to a head when the paper was about to publish a poster of an insert contained in the Dead Kennedys’ album Frankenchrist, consisting of a painting by H.R. Giger called Penis Landscape, then a subject of an obscenity lawsuit in the US. In the summer and autumn of 1987, three senior editorial staff were sacked, including Pye, media editor Stuart Cosgrove and art editor Joe Ewart. Former Sounds editor Alan Lewis was brought in to rescue the paper, mirroring Alan Smith’s revival a decade and a half before.
Some commented at this time that the NME had become less intellectual in its writing style and less inventive musically. Initially, NME writers themselves were ill at ease with the new regime, with most signing a letter of no confidence in Lewis shortly after he took over. However, this new direction for the NME proved to be a commercial success and the paper brought in new writers such as Andrew Collins, Stuart Maconie, Mary Anne Hobbs and Steve Lamacq to give it a stronger identity and sense of direction. Lewis prioritised readership over editorial independence, and Mark Sinker left in 1988 after Lewis refused to print his unfavourable review of U2‘s Rattle and Hum (“the worst album by a major band in years”), replacing it with a glowing Stuart Baillie review intended to be more acceptable to readers. Initially many of the bands on the C86 tape were championed as well as the rise of gothic rock bands but new bands such as the Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses were coming out of Manchester. One scene over these years was Acid House which spawned “Madchester” which helped give the paper a new lease of life. By the end of the decade, Danny Kelly had replaced Lewis as editor.