Tweeting about this evocative chronicle of the world’s most infamous music magazine recently, former contributor Danny Baker eloquently described the New Musical Express as “a magnificent blazing pirate ship”, and he wasn’t wrong. From humble beginnings in 1952, it became an essential weekly purchase for generations of fans, populated by characters as notorious and as celebrated as the stars they wrote about.
The 70s and 80s were arguably its golden age, and Long, a former deputy himself in more recent times, coaxes colourful stories of rock glamour, bad behaviour and in-fighting out of a fabulous cast including, in addition to Baker, such great writers as Charles Shaar Murray, Nick Kent, Julie Burchill, Tony Parsons and Paul Morley. In tandem with John Peel’s radio shows, the NME was an unfailing barometer of cool; later triumphs such as the mag’s on-the-pulse coverage of Madchester, acid house and Britpop kept it the eye of music’s ever-changing storms.
It’s unlikely the NME will ever be such a vital part of the fabric of pop culture again; its current weekly sales average 27,000 (one-tenth of what the record-breaking issue after Ian Curtis’ death in 1980 shifted), a victim of punters’ immediate access to information via the internet. If Long’s book is to be read as a eulogy to music print media’s past, it couldn’t be more vibrant or loving.