Regarded as one of the most influential magazines of the 1980s and early 1990s, Smash Hits was a fortnightly music publication which became hugely popular thanks to its irreverent approach to its subject matter. At its peak in the mid-80s, it was selling around one million copies a fortnight.
The magazine was launched in 1978 by editor Nick Logan, who had previously worked on the NME. He edited the first issue under the pseudonym Chris Hall (an amalgamation of his childrens' names Christian and Hallie). A test issue, which was compiled on Logan's kitchen table, was published in September 1978, featuring Belgian one-hit wonder Plastic Bertrand on the cover. The first official issue hit the shelves two months later, with cover stars Blondie.
Originally published monthly, Smash Hits became fortnightly after three issues. The magazine quickly became known for a more humorous style of journalism which was unseen in other music publications such as the NME. However, it took its music seriously, and was known for its pages of charts, a plethora of pull-out posters and song lyrics. Chart-toppers of the era featured heavily but more obscure acts and up-and-coming artists were also given column inches.
So Then What Happened?
As the 1980s progressed, the tone of the magazine became more witty and irreverent, with journalists eschewing serious interviews about music and instead asking pop stars random questions about anything and everything. 'What colour is Thursday?' and 'Does your mother play golf?' are just two examples of the kind of questions which were asked on a regular basis.
It was this that made Smash Hits such a hit with its largely teenage audience, as it provided an entertaining alternative to the other music publications on offer at the time. Many pop stars of the era were given an identity of their own through its pages – Paul McCartney, for example, was referred to as Fab Macca Wackythumbsaloft; the drummer of Big Country was known as Mark Unpronounceablename; David Bowie became Dame David Bowie; while Freddie Mercury was renamed Lord Frederick Lucan of Mercury. Other phrases and words such as Uncle Disgusting (to describe any pop star past their prime, especially one given to having much younger girlfriends), frightwig (any pop star with a bad haircut), and 'pervbreeks' (bad trousers), fell into common usage.
However, it wasn't just the magazine's unique style of interviewing that made it such compulsive reading, it was the subjects themselves. Among Smash Hits' most memorable features of the 1980s was their exclusive interview with then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who revealed that her favourite song was 'How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?'
Swingorilliant Free Gifts
Others to grace their pages included Michael Jackson, at the height of the Thriller era, and Madonna, when she was first making an impact on British audiences with Holiday. Their more generic features covered everything from the topical – such as asking pop stars their thoughts on nuclear disarmament – to the trivial (a feature on which singer was the tallest, or who was pop's 'Mr Clever-Trousers' for having the most 'O'-levels.) The regular free gifts, such as badges and sticker albums only added to its popularity, while spin-off products such as the annual Smash Hits yearbook and later on, Smash Hits compilation albums, extended the brand name even further.
Frequent cover stars included Duran Duran, Wham! and Culture Club, while towards the end of the 1980s the likes of Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan and Bros took over. Some of the more offbeat covers included Morrissey cradling a kitten inside his coat and Neil from The Young Ones complaining about being on the cover of Smash Hits.
However, the magazine didn't always get it right, and produced some rather peculiar efforts over the years. This included making a cover star of unknown singer Matt Fretton in 1983 which tipped him for stardom (he remained an unknown); putting one-hit wonders Jimmy The Hoover and Roman Holliday on the cover; and most notably making cover stars of eccentric Scottish duo Strawberry Switchblade in the same week that they had exclusive access to the recording of Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas (which was dismissed with a single coverline). They made up for it by putting Live Aid on the cover several months later and giving it extensive coverage in the magazine.
The magazine also established many renowned writers. Nick Logan, the launch editor, went on to launch style publication The Face in 1980, while others who worked for Smash Hits included Mark Ellen (who went on to a string of other magazines including Q, Mojo and Word), journalist and author Miranda Sawyer and Heat editor Mark Frith.
A number of Smash Hits alumni also went on to fame and fortune, including Neil Tennant, who left in 1986 to pursue a career in music with the Pet Shop Boys. Despite the magazine mocking him, saying he would come crawling back within six months, the band have gone on to be one of the most successful of the past two decades. Kate Thornton, who now presents ITV1's talent show The X Factor, was also editor of the magazine for a short time in the mid-1990s.
In the 1990s and into the 21st Century, Smash Hits saw a fall in its fortunes as rival publications such as Top Of The Pops magazine were launched; and celebrity magazines such as Heat, began to flood the market. The rise of the Internet also played its part in the magazine's falling popularity. However, the brand continued to thrive through Smash Hits TV and radio stations, the Smash Hits website, and other spin-offs such as the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party, an annual event broadcast live on TV.
The Final Countdown
On 2 February, 2006, it was announced that the magazine was to close due to a sharp decline in sales, having shed over 800,000 readers since the peak of its popularity. Preston from the Ordinary Boys, who had recently found fame as one of the stars of Celebrity Big Brother, was the last cover star. The TV and radio channels, as well as the website, live on, as well as international editions of the magazine.
The spirit of Smash Hits, meanwhile, is alive and well in such TV shows as Channel 4's Popworld, and the website 'Popjustice' set up a tribute site called 'We Love Smash Hits' shortly after its demise.
Meanwhile a book, The Best Of Smash Hits, which includes some of the most memorable interviews and features from the magazine, was published in late 2006.