During grunge, Melody Maker became extremely talked about and almost popular again. We had witty, intelligent, provocative, and frequently bang-out-of-order writers who thrilled on the surprise of the new and the Riot Grrrl. Mueller, Joy, the Stud Brothers, True, Moran, Price.... Most of them currently write the popular-culture sections for the U.K.'s broadsheet newspapers.
The final issue of Melody Maker was this week, Christmas 2000. It has ostensibly been incorporated into NME--like any of the old mob would have stood for that. The so-called rivalry between the two papers (they share the same publisher) probably started at the time of punk, when Melody Maker was slower to catch on, and continued through the mid-'80s when Melody Maker wrote about much poppier stuff than the political NME. By the early '90s, the papers were almost identical, doubtless helped by the fact our assistant editor Steve Sutherland became NME's editor in 1992, and also the fact that we constantly got to the newer and American bands faster. (Hey, fuck it. Early '90s, I was a dyed-in-the-wool, old-school NME reader. The fact we transcended our influences wasn't our fault.) At one point, we could have overtaken NME in sales--the Huggy Bear cover was the Maker's best-selling non-promoted issue in over a decade--but our company didn't want the brand leader to lose its position in the marketplace, so we were sidelined. As I saw it, the rivalry only really existed in Steve's head when I joined the Maker in 1988, and no one cared about it after he left--at least our side didn't.
We knew we were better. I would talk about those years, how we defined music for a generation, both through our tastes and attitude, but who cares about history? Allan Jones (now at Uncut) left at the start of '97 and thus the old Maker came to a close. One of the understandings the new editor Mark Sutherland was under was to make the Maker as different as possible from NME--with disastrous results. NME promptly turned into the Maker of five years before (the journalists there are still "discovering" bands I first wrote about a decade ago). Rumor has it that the Maker's sales halved, to under 20,000, when the paper switched formats. It never recovered, despite a half-hearted attempt to move to covering more "rock" acts like the dire Limp Bizkit and equally turgid Slipknot in recent months.
Melody Maker sold about 250,000 at the height of its popularity in the '70s, and had famously been going for over 70 years--the world's oldest running music weekly. Its closure does not reflect the state of popular music in the U.K. Ironically, the demise of Melody Maker (and rival company EMAP's Select magazine, which covered roughly the same territory) comes at a time when indie music has never been stronger in the U.K. Witness the success of Radiohead, Coldplay, and stalwarts like Primal Scream and Richard Ashcroft, who insist on sticking around. Basically, what happened was the goal posts moved and no one has kept up.
The major selling point of the two music weeklies has always been the gig guide. (That's the cynical view. In the early '90s, we would have argued vociferously that people bought us for the standard of writing, and so the resultant sales figures seemed to prove. You try telling that to publishers, though.) But fans no longer look to the music press for this; they go directly to the fan sites on the Internet. And if indie-music fans can't be bothered with computers, there's always the ubiquitous coverage in all the daily newspapers and the men's magazines. Radio stations, too, are far more responsive to what is happening on the street than ever before, as is television.
Music papers had a massive effect on British popular culture--the radio stations, TV programs, broad sheets, music websites, and men's magazines are almost with-out exception populated by critics who got their grounding at NME, Melody Maker, or one of their more staid rivals. No one is going to lament the passing of the Maker as she finally appeared, but they should. In its day, it was the best fucking paper in the world.