One of the frustrations of writing a book about the history of magazines is what has to be left out. Smash Hits is one of those great titles that, in the end, has just snuck into the book with one cover and a couple of other mentions. Smash Hits is well gone now, having lasted for 28 years after its 1978 launch by Nick Logan, but its power as a teen icon lives on – just look at the Facebook fan site Smash Hits Remembered.
It carved a place in the hearts of millions of teenagers – in Australia and America as well as Britain – with scurrilous gossip, song lyrics, posters, stickers and free gifts. In February 2006 – just after Emap had announced the title’s closure – a first issue of Smash Hits sold on Ebay for £30. The seller, Ruth, summed up the magazine’s appeal: ‘Smash Hits was the best pop magazine of its time. I used to buy it regularly from about the age of 8 to 13. I remember tearing out the posters to cover my walls and singing along really girlie to the songs.’ At its 1988 peak, Smash Hits sold a million copies of the Kylie/Jason covered issue dated 30th of November. Its average issue sales for the second half of 1988 jumped almost half over the first six months to 767,540 copies.
These days, it’s the retiring baby-boomers of the 1950s who rule the economic roost in Britain, with their property-based wealth and political voting power, but in the 1980s, it was the number of teenagers that was booming, and no magazine publisher caught that wave better than Emap with Smash Hits.
That November 1988 issue coincided with the release of the single ‘Especially for You’ from Neighbours-actors-turned-pop-stars Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan. The phenomenon of the Aussie soap opera was exploited by Stock Aitken Waterman – pop impresario Pete Waterman with song-writers and musicians Matt Aitken and Mike Stock – in a year that saw the recently-formed music producers dominate the charts. Pete Waterman is known to today’s TV audiences as a former judge with Simon Cowell on Pop Idol and Popstars. In 1988, he was also The Hitman!, a columnist on Number One – a rival magazine to Smash Hits. ‘Especially for You’ was a single from Donovan’s first album Ten Good Reasons and he would go on to eclipse even Kylie’s record sales in the next year (though he has lacked her staying power). But Stock Aitken Waterman had already made 19-year-old Kylie Minogue one of the biggest successes of 1988.
Neighbours had been one of the most popular television programmes for two years and, although I raised the possibility of spinning off a magazine from the soap opera with BBC executives, the fact the British broadcasts were months behind the first Australian showings stymied the idea. Minogue’s fame allied to the skills of Stock Aitken Waterman saw her debut single ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ at number 1 for weeks – a feat it repeated around the world. Her other releases in 1988 – ‘Got to Be Certain’, ‘The Loco-Motion’ and ‘Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi’ all reached the top 5 and the album Kylie dominated that chart for six weeks.
Smash Hits had it all covered. The May 18 issue had Kylie Minogue as one of its three posters in the centre (Five Star and A-Ha’s Morten Harket being the others). The issue also printed the lyrics to Kylie’s ‘Got To Be Certain’. Climie Fisher was on the front cover and Dirty Dancing actor Patrick Swayze was on the back.
The issue of 27 July ran its first Minogue cover – ‘It’s Kylie!!!’. For 20 September, there was another Kylie poster. The issue of 19 October carried Kylie on the front for the second time – ‘It’s … Smylie Minogue!!!’ was the cover line. November 2 had centre posters of Kylie and Michael Jackson.
Incredibly, amid the Kylie phenomenon, Stock Aitken Waterman also had hits with Mel & Kim, Sinitta, Rick Astley, Bananarama, Hazell Dean and Brother Beyond. They were known as the ‘Hit Factory’ and BBC radio ran a recent programme with that title in its Reunion series, which is still available on BBC iPlayer. Donovan had also reached the top 5 with ‘Nothing Can Divide Us’, so the pairing of the Neighbours duo in ‘Especially for You’ was a sure-fire hit.
The single was pitched into a battle for the lucrative Christmas number 1 against Cliff Richard’s ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ – 1950s rock ‘n’ roller versus 1980s soap stars. However, even though the release of ‘Especially for You’ coincided with Kylie and Jason’s on-screen Neighbours wedding, the pop veteran who had seen his first hit in 1958 with ‘Move It’ won out with the biggest-selling song of 1988. However, ‘Especially for You’ did top the charts in the new year.
Before [in their Neighbours hey-day, with a cheesy photo of him with Kylie]: He was Scott to Kylie’s Charlene in the Aussie soap in the 80s, and later her boyfriend in real life. In 1990 he won Best Male Solo Singer and Worst Male Solo Singer at the Smash Hits Awards.
After [2000, with shaven-headed photo]: He is now a father of two and reportedly has found happiness with long-term girlfriend Angela Balloch.
Smash Hits may be gone – sales were down to 120,000 copies an issue when it closed in 2006 – but it is not forgotten. There are even two books about it – the 2006 Best of Smash Hits by former editor Mark Frith, and Pop Life (2011) by three former writers and editors of the Australia edition. The best-selling issue in Oz was also in 1988, with a Bon Jovi cover for the 30 November issue. That sold 150,000 copies.