Nick Logan
1.18 Ian Dury August 1979

Nick Logan was editor of NME between 1973 and 1978; upon leaving NME he set up Smash Hits before launching The Face in 1980. Built upon the success of this title he founded Wagadon Publishing and created the men’s lifestyle title Arena. More so than anyone else in the British music press of this period he played a key part in a number of key shifts including the rise of serious music journalism in the 1970s; the proliferation of the carnivalesque televisual aesthetic of the 1980s, and the emergence of men’s lifestyle titles 1990s. In this interview from November 2009 he looks back on the legacy of Smash Hits and its footprint in the 1970s, an era which has been written out of the various official accounts of the titles published since its demise in 2006.

SH: Nick Logan, you were editor of NME throughout the Punk era and what many people view as a golden age for the magazine, why did you decide to leave?

NL: I decided to get out of IPC because it was such a strain looking after a maverick staff and trying to keep them apart from a very straight board of directors. We were very happy with the way the sales were going, and the ads, but not with some of the language and also some of the deeds, and generally with some of the staff; no-one specific but some elements we were uncomfortable with.

We left the advertising directive with the board of directors and it was a strain because I allowed myself to be the buffer between the two, keeping them apart as much as possible, and it couldn’t take it anymore I’d just had enough. It’s also the reason why I sold Wagadon. And for different reasons: dealing with people.

So I left without any clear route just knowing I didn’t want to work for a corporation again. I never found it easy to sit in a committee and put my ideas forward. I’m not a committee person; I didn’t want to be in that position again.

SH: So you left NME in 1978; is that right?

NL: I left in a World Cup summer, watched a bit of World Cup and worked out what I wanted to in another magazine. I figured out I couldn’t do it on my own, but couldn’t do it with IPC and do it at an arm’s length. Someone else was doing something else with IPC, a women’s magazine, and had it under contract, and it was a template, so I thought if they could make it work so could I. I could go to the publishers with an idea, I’d like to edit it, deal with all the editorial side, and they could deal with the ads, and publish.

SH: Did you always have something like Smash Hits in mind?

NL: There were a few ideas knocking around, one for a kind of Rolling Stone, Street Life type magazine. I had about three or four ideas; the most grown up was the Rolling Stone idea. I didn’t want to go to people and have them think all I could do was another NME which is what I didn’t wanted to, another weekly magazine. That’s when I came up with Smash Hits and tagged that on, very much to make weight to the list: to balance it out.

SH: Did anything in particular influence you at this stage?

NL: It came from the copies of Disco 45 which were knocking about, and thinking about the experience I had from my freelance work with a monthly called Rock On, which was colour and glossy, completely different to NME. That kind of experience of ‘the juveniles’, part of IPC, and thought that the other magazines, not Rock On, were utter rubbish, mainly the kids magazines. I looked at Disco 45, which was also rubbish, but I thought the idea of song lyrics was something that appealed to me because I could do quite a bit of the magazine without a lot of staff, completely different to the 20/30 people I had working under me at NME.

SH: How influential was the American press on NME when you were editor?

NL: Pretty much Cream was, not so much Rolling Stone, but Cream was very influential on NME on that period I was there. With Lester Bangs…

SH: Did some of its stuff make it into the NME?

NL: Regularly, when an issue came in, every other couple of months there was just something we could lift and use.

SH: When did you take over at NME?

NL: Nineteen Seventy Three, I was 24 at the time, extremely young to be an editor and I had no real experience of it. I don’t know how I got the experience. The previous editor was called Alan Smith who was two or three years older than me and we were on the staff together. The NME only employed five or six writers when I first joined and they carved up the different groups between them and guarded their patch.

I was a junior, Alan was more senior than me, and Andy Gray was the editor who was a lot younger than I am now, but he was an old guy. The NME ran into trouble because it was out of touch with what was going on. Me and Alan sat in a coffee bar and talked about what we might do with the magazine.

When Andy Gray went, Alan became editor, although he didn’t want to do it for any length of time and he thought I should have got it, he recommended me and 18 months later, I got the job. So they didn’t got from a 40/50 year old to a 24 year old, they went to 27 year old then me.

SH: In the 50’s and early 60’s NME was a pop magazine, then it became more rock orientated, were you there during that time?

NL: I was there during that time; it was all pop when I arrived. It was totally based on the singles charts.

SH: When did you arrive?

NL: 1969. It was so pop, the way the editor used to decide the content was to look at the Top 30 singles chart, he used to sit there and mark who was number 1 and see who we had covered and put them in the issue for next week, and that was it, nothing got in from the outside.

Gradually, he had to concede that there were album sales, bands like Fleetwood Mac and Cream got in, and that was the stuff that I was writing about. They were slow to realise that things were changing and Melody Maker made them pay for it.

SH: How did authenticity fit into the framework of NME?

NL: We all loved music, we were moved by it. My background was Motown, soul, black American music. Then I realised, home-based acts were easy to get hold off and make much better copy, despite being inferior to the records that I loved.

I was just a huge fan of music. It wasn’t something I thought of and analysed; it was just something I loved and wanted to write about. I thought this music is fantastic but it’s not so easy to write about, because it’s not easy to get hold of the people who make it. These people, you can get to, the music is still good and it makes great copy.

It comes down to the music you love, and what makes good copy. The ideal is when both of them combine, which they did most of the time. It was a really exciting period to be involved in. I didn’t sit around thinking how authentic it was. Credibility I suppose - the two interchangeable - making the NME credible was something I had to think about and I suppose with every magazine that I have done.

SH: When punk came along, did it reinforce it all?

NL: It was a fantastic time. I worked for my local paper, I’d done five years in a local paper, it wasn’t a hard music reporter, it just bought back the excitement of things actually happening, having actual news stories to put in a magazine around the awful time of the pubs being burnt, the riots, as well as what I thought was pretty good music.

SH: For you personally and as editor, the idea of musicianship versus social credibility in terms of real material circumstances, there’s not a distinction for you between those two things?

NL: One replaced the other, the throwing out of everything old, because what was happening was very exciting it was being written about over and over and made everything else seem stale and old. In my personal listening, I’ve come back to those people that I totally rejected, as have a lot of people.

SH: It’s quite unusual for you to make that journey yourself?

NL: I liked others apart from punk, I loved Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Fleetwood Mac and all those people and I wrote about them but they just felt completely stale. Not so with Bowie, Roxy Music, Lou Reed, Velvet Underground, which you could draw threads into punk. It was a great time to be involved with a magazine. But also it was a time when the staff were at their most anarchic, with things I’ve mentioned earlier and also a couple of printer strikes, where only the editor was allowed in the offices.

SH: When was that?

NL: Just after I became editor of NME, there was an 8 week printing strike, which was quite cathartic because we couldn’t put a magazine out; I was going to be more radical than Alan had been. I knew I wanted to put just one image on the front cover. But I couldn’t do anything for the 8 weeks, but when we came back, all the pent up emotion just came out into the very first issue, which if you look at the issue, there was a sea of change which wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the printer’s strike.

But then later, during punk there was another one but we were allowed to publish but I was the only one allowed, as the editor, by the union to proof read and publish the magazine and this was a tremendous strain.

SH: When was this?

NL: Probably about 1976, because we printed at Kettering and I was in the print works, where other people would have helped me but they were in a Holiday Inn somewhere in Kettering. I passed them the information and they did what they could. It was the time where all the things were happening on the street and it felt like we were at guerrilla warfare as well.

SH: Why do you think artists like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell were rehabilitated in the late 1980s?

NL: I don’t know, Neil Young made a contribution to punk, he made one punk album and he was one of the few that made the right noises. He did experiment throughout his career and did experiment in that area he was the first one that didn’t get away.

SH: Back to Smash Hits, how did you approach EMAP initially?

NL: Having got this portfolio of ideas together, I went to speak to EMAP who owned the printing press in Kettering where NME was printed, and they were just starting up a magazine division, but nothing musically or youth orientated and it surprised me they liked the Smash Hits idea.

Then I was very nervous about doing it with them because things could get screwed up and I don’t think they really understood where I was coming from. I did the first few issues under a pseudonym to save any embarrassment. I put the magazine together on my own in my kitchen. Then messed around a bit with the layout and then they put it out.

What I was looking to do was to use some of the photographers that I used at the NME that I knew were around because they worked in colour and I wanted to get credible articles into the magazine that I was interested in and that people younger than me would be interested in and should be given a chance to be interested in and not just what was the pop music at the time.

I also wanted something simple and easy to produce and that was the thinking behind the song lyrics. It was a strange time because EMAP were pushing me to do it and I loathed to do it. It only got done because they wanted me to go up to Peterborough. I didn’t want to go all the way up there but I happened to be going up north and I said I’d stop in on the way back.

It could have easily not have happened. It didn’t have a title at that time. They had the idea of calling it Disco Fever, which repulsed me because it had no longevity. It was very ‘Saturday Night Fever‘. I had no objection to it going into the magazine, but it seemed stupid to call it Disco Fever.

They came back with Smash Hits, which I didn’t like, I wanted to call it The Hits. There was a magazine afterwards with that name. But I agreed with Smash Hits. They did a test issue in the north east all the titles at the time was on news print at that time, but I wanted it to be on good quality paper. They got good paper for the test issue and the response was that they loved the paper quality but they really hated Sham 69, but they generally liked it. I made a point of wanting to keep Sham 69 and they accepted it.

What I wanted was to use people like Blondie and The Jam, The Pistols, The Clash and new wave and post-punk bands because I thought they would sell the magazine and have hits. Blondie had already had their first hit I think. It was a big part of what I wanted to do. I didn’t mind the odd picture of John Travolta but I didn’t want that to be the focus of the magazine.

SH: The 7” Single sold more at this time than any other point…

NL: The sales on the first few issues were extremely good, and they came back saying that wanted to make it weekly and I didn’t want to do that, so it became fortnightly so I comprised on it. I was doing it on my own from my house and then a cubbyhole office round the corner from Carnaby Street. I employed Bev Hillier to transcribe the lyrics that we couldn’t get from the publishers.

I then employed Steve Bush who was very good as an art director. It was the 3 of us for about 9 months until EMAP came and said we had offices in Carnaby Street, right opposite NME. We were one floor below them and they were looking down on us. Occasionally I’d have meetings with NME about royalties and they’d patronize me when I told them what I was up to, their eyes glazed about and they stuck their noses up at me.

SH: The confrontational people were the people at NME rather than the people at Smash Hits?

NL: No, we were doing a completely different thing, I didn’t know how groundbreaking Smash Hits was going to be, we were ploughing separate furrows.

SH: But now looking back can you see this?

NL: Yes, it rocked its foundation, as did The Face when it came along.

SH: Do you wish you’d stayed with Smash Hits longer?

NL: No, I was ready to move on from the start. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. I said about not doing it as a company, I got this agreement with EMAP to be freelance, but they said they couldn’t have me as an individual having a bit of a share of the sales based bonuses.

They then asked me to form a company and I bought Wagadon. That’s where Wagadon came from, an off the shelf company, to put the right spin on the connection with EMAP. I wasn’t employed by them and was going to move on to what would eventually shape up to be The Face.

It was about a year later, I was always looking for someone else. The early writers on Smash Hits were Ian Cranna and Dave Hepworth, who was getting nowhere at NME, Mark Ellen who’s review was submitted to NME and it wasn’t that bad. They basically didn’t fit at NME, but found a home at Smash Hits.

They could see where I was going with this one. I was always planning to move on, I was looking for someone to talk over, and Ian was writing so he came in as editor and I moved up to editorial director and while I was sitting in my room, not wanting to do what Ian was doing, I started playing along with ideas for The Face.

I then went to EMAP, and said I had this idea for The Face, and they said not for about six months because they had just launched Match magazine and that had taken all their money, and I was a bit miffed because Smash Hits was making money, and why couldn’t they put that money into The Face.

In that 6 months, I thought that I wanted to go now because two-tone was so big, and I loved two-tone and saw the possibilities and wanted to put that into a glossy magazine.

SH: Did you conceptualise The Face as a music magazine from the outset?

NL: Yes I did, and I had people saying to me that I shouldn’t launch the magazine now because there’s a recession. I didn’t know what a recession was and I wasn’t going to be looking for advertising anyway. They said that a general interest magazine for men will not work in this country. So I thought it was going to be mainly music with a few other things and I gradually introduced fashion and film and the things that we were working with at NME, apart from the fashion side.

SH: The Face has been historicized as a sophisticated, metropolitan men’s magazine but in the early days it seemed more of a mixed readership?

NL: I never did any research on it. I thought that given the background of NME, it would appeal more to men but that it would have a unisex appeal and built it on the basis that the readership was 50/50. I tried to anyway but given my previous connections with NME, which was predominantly male, it ended up being a slightly more male-based audience.

SH: With Q people have written that they stole this idea that Q used the music as bait and was a men’s magazine in disguise?

NL: The editor has come up to me and said that he wouldn’t have had the idea if I hadn’t done The Face.

SH: The thing that strikes is that Q is a much more middle brow audience...

NL: EMAP had only 2 magazines and a raft of local papers and printing works. I asked these two guys to set up a magazine division. I’m 100% sure they wouldn’t have gone that route if I hadn’t have come across them and Smash Hits. The people from the early Smash Hits launched a few magazines, people such as Bev Hillier. They really were clueless about music publishing. When I setting up early issues of Smash Hits, and someone put holly around the song lyrics at Christmas and I really didn’t want to do it. They were absolutely clueless. Steve Bush was a big factor because he made it look so good and ended up very successful and went to Australia and launched very successful magazines over there. He started one publishing company and sold it, then did the same with another one.

SH: The sophistication of the language and the attitude towards the readership is so optimistic.

NL: I wanted to take what I did at NME and make it accessible for a younger audience and something with colour.

SH: Was pop music video an early influence on early Smash Hits?

NL: No not really, I don’t remember that at all, you didn’t know pop music video was around, I wasn’t aware of pop video then.

SH: Smash Hits is often seen of being a product of the New Romantics and MTV era. There were some music videos but not in the Smash Hits demographic…?

NL: I don’t remember the music video at this period at all.

SH: This idea of the pin-up’s, people are presented in a very 1950’s style.

NL: It was something I liked to do at NME, I was always interested in fashion. When I was 14 or 15 there was so little music literature out there, we used to get The Instrumental we were studying the pictures as much as I was reading the text and something was always right.

I did this in NME very much with Penny Smith and that was a big part of what I wanted to do. When I was working on local papers, I was doing layouts more than actually reporting. That was always a thing of mine. I did a lot of the layouts for the cover for NME and a lot of the stuff inside. That was kind of my thing.

SH: Was it influenced by things beyond pop?

NL: You’d look at Top of the Pops and see what people were wearing, if it was something completely different. For me it goes back to the era of black music and studying a tiny picture of the Rolling Stones in The Instrumental and trying to figure out what they were wearing and whether I could get it.

When I was 15 I left school in London because my family got evicted and I went back to my grandparent’s house in Lincoln where I was born and spent about 9 months up there when big things were happening, and I just felt out of it, not that I would have been anymore in the thick of it, I wasn’t Mark Bolan, I wasn’t running around the King’s Road, I would still have been on the fringes, but I was stuck up there and all this stuff was going on. There was nothing in the NME on it, Record Mirror had an 1/8 of a page on soul legends each week and the odd picture in The Instrumental.

Do you think that this isolation was quite formative?

NL: Yes that’s what I’m saying. It’s what I was trying to do with NME, reach out to people who couldn’t be a part of the scene, I did with Smash Hits and also with The Face and it was very much what I was trying to do, to reach out to people and creating a community of people who were in the same situation as me. I was the only one who was into that sort of thing, I was the only one who got it. There was nowhere to get the information, whereas today it is everywhere.

I wanted that to work in NME, to a slightly less degree in Smash Hits, I was trying to take the basics of this is good pop music, a bit embarrassing, bands such as The Police, not so much Blondie and The Jam, although they did embarrass some people. These people looking good. But the photographers, that I wanted to work with, didn’t want to run it this way. I thought “stuff it”, if you want to run handout shots of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.

NL: There are a few of them in the early issues though, a promo shot of Donna Summer for example?

NL: In the early issues I had to use a lot of free stuff, because in the early issues I had a small budget of just £1400 per issues, out of which I had to buy songs and all of the features and get some for myself. It didn’t go very far.

SH: One of the bands that stand out in the Smash Hits mould is Blondie.

NL: Blondie was the first cover of Smash Hits. I didn’t care about what people thought about they looked. If I had Sex Pistols on the front and people said that they were revolting, I just said that you’ve looked at it and you’ll come back and look again, you’re not going to come back and look at Buck’s Fizz. I didn’t care that they said that they didn’t want it in the magazine.

SH: How do you think it changed from your remit, in the 80’s and how was it selling?

NL: It was great, the people who came after made something more of the magazine and gave it much more character. The one that launched from scratch such as Smash Hits and The Face, struggled for about 18 months to develop a character it was a desperate struggle, I couldn’t make it work. They came along with something that already had a successful base, and took it on to another level it was good what they did. At the same time, I’d moved on to another direction and I hadn’t really looked at what they were doing over there. It felt like it was something I’d done.

SH: All the student’s here at Sixth Form where I teach are so enthusiastic about early issues of Smash Hits and it seems very ironic that the magazine is now shut.

NL: I told them not to make it Disco Fever because it would be very short lived and that the charts would be around forever, or so I thought then. I thought it had a long, long life.

SH: The mainstream was very varied at this time, it was less streamlined and niche marketed, did this influence the visual style of Smash Hits?

NL: All the people I put on the cover were people that I liked, I don’t remember being stuck for choice. I took it seriously, because it was my only source of income, but given that I wasn’t going to be there for any length of time, and that someone else would take over, I could have some fun with it. No one at EMAP was telling me who I was going to be putting on the cover.

SH: Do you think that when you look back at that period, there’s a level of acknowledgement of certain artists, but that it wasn’t viewed as one of the definitive periods of pop music?

NL: It was only just post-punk, which I thought was a great time. I thoroughly enjoyed this period of music. There was time where I thought music was in the doldrums, which was just before punk broke on NME, having got my period off the ground with acts like Bowie and Iggy Pop, then it was the era of prog-rock and it was tough running a magazine with an annual reader’s poll. You wouldn’t find an article about Yes in NME even if they won the reader’s poll, unless it was a piss-take and that was that period, and there periods like that at The Face. I thought that time at Smash Hits was a great time because those groups were mixing it with the likes of Bucks Fizz and ABBA, who I didn’t have much time for, I didn’t feature them in Smash Hits because I didn’t like them. I could always just stick the lyrics in, which worked quite well, but the features would be about people that I actually liked.

SH: Suprisingly there’s an element of retrospection in both NME and Smash Hits in the 1970s, which foretells of the way in which the music press would develop in the 1980s and beyond…

NL: I never thought about it in that period, NME was a relentless treadmill, week after week, with no time off, trying to control the magazine, you didn’t have the time to be retrospective. You need to talk to John Savage or Simon Frith for the intellectual angle. I’ve never tried the intellectual angle, I was always about the fun and having fun doing it for the most part. If you read anywhere that it was my idea that the name should be Disco Fever. Some people say it was their idea to do Smash Hits because their daughter was singing the lyrics, or that it was my idea to call it Disco Fever, which is rubbish.

1.16 Buzzcocks July 1979
1.13 Blondie June 1979
1.14 Donna Summer June 1979.jpeg
2.16 Bob Marley August 1980
1.27 The Clash Dec 1979
2.5 The Jam March 1980
1.28 Blondie Dec 1979
1.19 The Police September 1979
2.10 Kate Bush May 1980
1.24 Skids Nov 1979
2.2 Sparks Feb 1980
2.3 Police Feb 1980
1.22 Stiff Little Fingers October 1979
1.16 Buzzcocks July 1979
1.15 Gary Numan July 1979
2.12 Roxy Music June 1980

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