The NME (and, of course, there's now nme.com). The Enemy. Among the oldest of Britain's pop music weeklies. It predates rock and roll, and, like its competitors, it changes personel and personality with every era. "Your" NME will be a lot different from "mine" (sarcastic, obtuse, post-punk, OTT). Famous alumni: Paul Morley, Chrissie Hynde, Simon "I invented postrock" Reynolds, Richard Cook (co-founder of The Wire, an eclectic monthly), et al. Does Cath Carroll count as famous?

Based in England; the world's longest-running pop paper. Became legendary for its hiring in the 70s of "2 hip young gunslingers" to cover punk: Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons. They were the antithesis of the laid-back long-haired hippy types covering progressive rock and guitar solos for the NME at that time, and with Nick Kent they gave the paper a cleaning out. To paraphrase Burchill and Parsons, it was more important to sit up and ask questions than lie down lapping up answers; and this is what then-editor Nick Logan (who went on to found The Face), Charles Shaar Murray, Danny Baker (who later had a career in television), Ray Lowry, Gavin Martin and others did for the rest of that decade and into the Thatcher years.

NME at the start of the 80s was best known for the convoluted prose of Paul Morley and Ian Penman, who worshipped 45 rpm singles (specially those on the Postcard, Factory Records, Ze and Les Disques du Crespescule labels) like these had the answers to life's mysteries. They analyzed pop's appeal and dragged in the texts of Jacques Derrida,Jean Baudrillard and other French bigshots to help them sort it all out, provoking frustration in some readers and hilarity in others. Still, their reviews, articles and interviews were magic (if sometimes incomprehensible, prompting one person to wonder whether Penman knew the difference between a paradigm and a parachute).

It was during these heady post-punk years that pop kids around the world bought their NME every Thursday without fail, and spent hours poring over every word (even the small-print ads). NME was their left-of-center culture Bible, taking precedence over the utterances of parents, teachers, politicians and religious leaders. 2 popular topics on the Letters page were politics in the NME and Burchill's inflammatory polemics. This latter caused then-editor Neil Spencer to defend Burchill's right to free speech even if her opinions weren't shared by the rest of NME; and Burchill reportedly stated that it was important for some things to be said even if she didn't believe in them or they were factually incorrect.

Maybe it was a coincidence that Burchill, Morley, and Penman began to disappear from the NME and that for a couple of years in the mid-80s it was hardly worth reading. The paper came back to life with the infusion of fresh blood including Steven Wells (who elsewhere staged performance art political rants under the name of Attila the Stockbroker).

NME, in the midst of an internal struggle about whether hip hop and rap were worthy of mention, gave minimal space to these types of music and preference to guitar rock, but was forced to sit up and take belated notice when the Beastie Boys, T La-Rock, Public Enemy, and Def Jam in general became huge towards the late 80s. Madchester, the Happy Mondays, the ecstasy/rave lifestyle and techno rolled over the planet; NME introduced color into its pages, changed its layout, and gained a website.

It's possible that NME's heyday is now past and that the 90s' specialist magazines like Mixmag, Mojo and Uncut have undermined it; but historically (and to many who read it while they were young and impressionable) it remains a part of "rock's rich tapestry".

NME has rather lost its zing recently. The style of reviews, always a little preposterous, has spiralled ever further up its own nonsensical bottom, and is forever using the kind of silly comparisons -'it's the Stooges and Bjork fighting over the last Smiths record on earth', for example - which poor music writing is famed for. Whilst there are a couple of good writers, notably the splendidly splenetic Stephen Wells, and Victoria Segal, there's no-one approaching the brilliance of its late 70s heyday.

It deals with a wider musical range than ever before, which is good, and regularly features the likes of Destiny's Child or Oxide and Neutrino on the cover, though its core readership still listens to guitar music more than anything else. But in an increasingly competitive marketplace it appears increasingly desperate and has, for example, recently indulged in a pointless style revamp (I much preferred the old look) and a move to a glossy cover, which does look nice but may be dangerously close to alienating those readers who are under the mistaken impression that reading the NME makes them part of some underground counterculture.

Its greatest flaws are the same as they always have been: a rather tragic uppity self-aggrandisement which makes it impossible to take anything they say seriously, and a tendancy to overhype new bands to a totally absurd extent, only to ignore them/rampantly take the piss out of them a few months later. I've lost count of the number of bands who've been hailed in absurdly hyperbolic terms: this week's heroes, to take a random example, are Athlete, about whom NME say: 'if we were to call them one of the greatest Britpop bands we've heard in the last five years, we'd be doing them a slight disservice.' This is all very well if such praise is meted out once in a blue moon, but it's not: it's every bloody week. Last year their big favourites were The Strokes, who they hyped to such an absurd degree that when they finally released their quite-good-but-not-very-good first album they simply had to give it 10 out of 10 and hail it as the greatest thing since sliced bread when it was in fact a reasonable Velvet Underground rehash.

Still, for all that, they write passionately about current music, they care about politics, a rare thing for magazines aimed at 16-30s, and they still regularly feature excellent interviews, the most interesting letters page in any music magazine, and regularly make me aware of exciting music which I might not otherwise have heard of. And they're still streets ahead of the god-awful Q. They ain't by any means perfect, but they're all there is, really. And they aren't bad.

In the last week on eBay I bought a collection of around 15 New Musical Express magazines,published between 1990 and 1994. I bought them purely out of interest,but I think I underestimated the glaring differences in every aspect of the whole music industry that looking at them would throw up.

The whole format of them is completely different to today. It’s big and packed with words,a proper music newspaper,not just a glossy magazine with pretty pictures that you read in ten minutes. It would take a good while for even me (who is a fast reader) to get through that - something you properly invested your time in. One thing in particular that made me think this was the section at the back where you could order records from - huge page long lists of them were typed in microscopic print,alphabetically with codes to order them. Imagine how time-consuming it would be just to order a single CD or vinyl,one of the many versions they had - finding the numbers,ordering it by post,waiting for it…now we can just do it within seconds on the internet.

The whole thing is just so packed in - hundreds and hundreds of bands mentioned in a few pages,gig adverts shouting for your attention,huge full page adverts for singles released when I wasn’t even born. It was a bit strange to see a) bands I’ve never heard of but were obviously quite popular at the time and b) bands that now go down in music history but were still tiny and gaining support back then. It was like looking at photos of people you know and thinking what was coming next. I spent a lot of time thinking about that. It was odd.

It’s one thing liking the music,and a whole other the way it was made and presented. What really struck me was the tactile,active nature it seemed to encourage. It’s true that access to the internet and consequently anything that came before it has made music fans lives easier,but it’s also removed a whole part of the fun that comes with it,or so it seems to me. Of course I still love the whole music ’scene’ online,but it would be much more interesting and rewarding if you had to do a little more to get to something that,in my opinion,is priceless.

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