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Sunday, 24 February, 2002, 14:33 GMT
NME: Still rocking at 50
U2 at the NME Awards 2001
The NME Awards keep the magazine in the spotlight
As this year's NME Awards take place, the music magazine that hosts them is celebrating its 50th birthday. BBC News Online looks back at its highs and lows.

On reaching its half century, New Musical Express (NME) has good reason to let out a sigh of relief.

Kerrang!
Kerrang! has become the world's most popular music weekly
For many music fans, it remains the weekly bible, having chronicled - and in some cases created - the youth trends of the last 50 years and outlasted rivals like Melody Maker, Sounds and Record Mirror.

But it should not feel too smug, having just been overtaken by heavy rock magazine Kerrang! in the circulation stakes for the first time.

NME is now bought by 70,000 people per week, down from a high of 230,000 in the 1960s, and is struggling to win young readers who know nothing of its heritage and get their information elsewhere.

The internet and TV were not a factor in 1952 when a "New" was added to the Musical Express, a paper that doffed its hat to the pop stars of the day - big band leaders and crooners.

It championed rock and roll in the 1960s with candid access to bands like The Beatles that would be unheard of in today's era of zealous protection and marketing.

They started at the NME
Michael Winner
Clive James
Bob Geldof
Chrissie Hynde
Julie Burchill
Tony Parsons
Danny Baker
Stuart Maconie
At the height of its powers, in 1966, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Small Faces and Roy Orbison were just some of the groups who played to 10,000 people in NME's annual poll winner's party.

But it was on the verge of closing after getting left behind by the rise of prog and psychedelica in the early 1970s.

It reinvented itself and gained the reputation that many still associate with it - one of an anarchic enthusiasm strewn with sharp, opinionated outbursts.

The Sunday People felt that it posed enough of a threat to the fabric of society to print the headline: "Must we fling this pop filth at our pop kids?"

The Strokes at The Brits 2002
The Strokes owe much success to the NME
Writers like Nick Logan, Charles Shaar Murray and Nick Kent became legendary, while Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons were given their first writing jobs after answering an ad for "hip young gunslingers".

The NME office even provided a breeding ground for future rock stars, with Bob Geldof and The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde getting pre-stardom jobs there.

The paper lost its way in the 1980s with the "hip-hop wars" about what should be covered breaking out between staff. But the indie fans won and the paper played a big part in the successes of The Smiths, Madchester and Britpop.

'Golden era'

"People grow old with the magazine and it constantly has to reinvent itself for each new generation," says Steve Sutherland who was editor between 1992-2000.

"It is testament to the editors and people who have worked on the title that that has happened. That has been because the magazine has always been run by music fans first and foremost."

Music fans grow up with the NME, he says - although most end up saying that it was not as good as it used to be.

"That is quite depressing until you discover that everybody's golden era is a different one, and it is part of the way people grow up," Mr Sutherland says.

'History'

NME has always been influential, with their backing - or lack of it - often making or breaking bands.

"I recall when I was editor, getting the staff into a room one day when Britpop took off and we were the first publication ever to put Oasis on the cover," Mr Sutherland says.

NME Originals
NME Originals will reprint material from the archives
"I said to these guys, 'Right , this is your time, you own this music, you own this era, you've made this happen. Now you've got to go out and enjoy it. You're part of history.'

"I think the music world would be very different if there hadn't been a publication like the NME."

More recently, several bands would not be stars if NME had not picked up on them - The Strokes, The White Stripes and The Hives.

Their success proves that the magazine still has influence, despite falling sales.

Mr Sutherland - now editorial director - is hoping that a series of one-off issues reprinting stories from the archives, NME Originals, will help give the title some momentum.

While most of its competitors may have folded, NME does not have a monopoly on fans.

It now has had to compete with thousands of websites and a host of music TV stations.

'Exciting'

Plus, it has recently come in for criticism for its confused coverage of hip-hop, and a new generation of heavy rock fans have turned to Kerrang!

Mr Sutherland admits that the magazine was aware that it was not engaging with younger readers - but said that concentrating on one musical style was not the answer.

"NME always tends to gravitate towards the most exciting music at the time, and it really should matter what form of music that is," he says.

"The paper's job is to be a weekly update on the most exciting music that's happening."

See also:

15 Feb 02 | Music
Kerrang! overtakes NME
04 Feb 02 | Music
Strokes top NME's shortlist
10 Jun 01 | Music
New York's new sound
15 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Melody Maker to merge with NME
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