These days Smash Hits is a fairly forgettable part of a media empire (it’s a brand now, which means it has its own pop video channel and annual awards), but in the early 1980s – when the World Wide Web wasn’t even a twinkle in anyone’s eye, and MTV hadn’t been invented – it was essential reading for any music fan. You’d find bands such as The Smiths and Echo and The Bunnymen next to whatever pop moppets were in the charts at the time, and the writing was often hilarious. It had a very distinctive, irreverent style, and the letters page was utterly demented.
The same sensibility filtered into other magazines, partly because Smash Hits’ writers moved on to more adult publications (the roll of honour includes such luminaries as David Hepworth and Mark Ellen, who were responsible for launching Q and Empire and who can now be found at Word magazine and The Rocking Vicar; sadly both Q and Empire have become much less entertaining over the years), and partly because its readers moved on too. For example, Smash Hits’ irreverence infected the august NME, which was utterly indispensable (and frequently laugh-out-loud funny) from the mid-80s to the early nineties.
Smash Hits’ influence is still around today. Most consumer magazines are written and edited by people in their late twenties and early thirties, which means they grew up on a diet of Smash Hits; you could see the same irreverence in the early days of FHM (before it became a porn magazine for teenage boys too embarrassed to buy pornography, or too short to reach the top shelves) and you’ll find a distinct Smash Hits sensibility in the consumer technology press. You’ll even find it in newspaper supplements, although as yet there’s no sign of its influence in the leader pages. A Times leader written by black type? Now that, I’d love to see.