We’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Elvis conquer the world with a swing of his hip. Keith Moon’s drumkit on fire in the studios of San Francisco. Nirvana trash Reading. We’ve watched from the front row as Beatle clashed with Stone, punk with prog dinosaur and historic confrontations broke out: the hip-hop wars of 1986, the Battle Of Britpop 1995, Taylor vs Kanye 2009.
This week NME turns 70 years old, tantamount to a lifetime, and what a life it’s been. Since being funded in 1952 as a pre-rock’n’roll news sheet, we’ve been swept along by Beatlemania, reinvented by glam, impassioned by punk and new wave and blown away by rap. We’ve shifted style and persona wherever youth culture took us: reggae rude boys, indie dreamers, baggy raveheads, cocky ladrockers, New York hipsters and alt-pop princesses, we’ve been them all in our time. And, crucially, we’ve still got our teeth.
As NME finally goes platinum, then, let’s celebrate with a reel through the years in the shape of 70 songs that trace the winding history of the world’s greatest music magazine/website, and at least some of those who sailed in her. And it all starts with the birth of the charts themselves…
Al Martino, ‘Here In My Heart’ (1952)
A real orchestral roof-lifter that went down in history as the very first UK Number One when the freshly relaunched New Musical Express launched the Top 12 in 1952, scouting sales figures from record shops across the country. It stayed at the top for nine weeks, a feat which only eight tracks have beaten since, including Tones And I’s ‘Dance Monkey’.
2. Doris Day, ‘Sam, The Old Accordion Man’ (1955)
Prior to that 1952 relaunch, having been bought for the grand sum of £1,000 by London music promoter Maurice Kinn, NME was known as The Accordion Times And Musical Express, and would no doubt have frothed itself into a frenzy over this brisk show tune from Love Me Or Leave Me, sung by Doris Day, the Billie Eilish of the ’50s.
3. Bill Haley & His Comets, ‘Shake Rattle & Roll’ (1954)
“Guitars are news!” NME declared as Bill Haley hit the US Top Ten with Jesse Stone’s blues bawler, having ushered in the rock’n’roll era with ‘Rock Around The Clock’, “but what is it about this instrument which is stealing so much radio time?” It was a question we’d spend the next seven decades trying to answer.
4. Elvis Presley, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ (1956)
As Elvis’s breakthrough hit launched a run of four straight US Number Ones in 1956, cementing rock’n’roll as the raunch-hipped new sound of teenage rebellion, he became one of the first of many NME icons. The age of the rock star had arrived, and right here was where their legends were built.
5. The Beatles, ‘Please Please Me’ (1963)
The Fabs’ first Top 10 single was also first on the setlist when they stole the show from headliners Cliff Richard And The Shadows at the NME Poll Winners’ Party in 1963, launching a relationship with the paper that would come to dominate our coverage throughout the ’60s.
6. Dusty Springfield, ‘Take Another Little Piece of My Heart’ (1968)
An NME darling of the 1960s, Dusty won World Female Singer at the 1966 awards and World’s Top Female Singer the following year. Her 1968 album ‘Dusty… Definitely’ made the top 10 of our end of year poll, but it was her impassioned rework of Berns and Ragovoy’s ‘Piece Of My Heart’ that really stood out, marking a key step in her progress from the pop songbird of ‘I Only Want To Be With You’ to the status of true soul legend.
7. The Beach Boys, ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ (1966)
Deeply entwined with the hit parade – early editors would simply work their way down the chart when deciding who to cover – NME often became the mouthpiece of the teenage dream, and not least through its championing of The Beach Boys. But it was with one of their finest teenage symphonies to God, ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’, and the release of ‘Pet Sounds’ that the age of the album-as-artform really began, and NME found itself in the crossfire.
At the 1966 NME Awards, The Beach Boys broke The Beatles’ stranglehold on the title of World Vocal Group, and The Beatles, remember, had just released ‘Rubber Fucking Soul’. They retaliated with ‘Revolver’ and so began the ultimate game of rock’n’roll one-upmanship in which we were all winners.
8. The Rolling Stones, ‘2000 Light Years From Home’ (1967)
The rivalry between The Beatles and The Stones – fabricated or not – helped set the blueprint for media friendly rock beefs which NME would feverishly stoke for decades to come, right up to the legendary Blur vs Oasis spat. There was one clear winner in the battle of psychedelia between ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ and ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’ however, despite this Mellotron mangled mindwarp from The Stones.
9. T. Rex, ‘Get It On’ (1971)
Post-Beatles but pre-Bowie, the NME readership didn’t quite know what to do with itself. Cliff Richard, Elvis and Cilla Black dominated the readers’ polls of 1970 to ’72 as if, to deal with The Beatles split, the nation’s music fans were digging out their childhood comfort blankets. The hottest new names on the polls were Credence Clearwater Revival and Elton John – until Marc Bolan’s T. Rex ditched their mystical Tolkien folk, strapped on three-foot glitter heels and kick-started the ’70s with ‘Get It On’.
In 1972 they amassed the biggest poll points total since Engelbert Humperdink in 1967, and glam was clearly go. NME responded by making Bolan one of the very first subjects of its new, long-form cover features as the paper shifted towards a more in-depth, countercultural tone.
10. Diana Ross, ‘I’m Still Waiting’ (1970)
Following her departure from The Supremes in 1970, Diana Ross struck her first solo UK Number One with this sophisticated soul classic and became NME’s soul diva of choice, bagging our World Female Singer award for several years running.
11. Bob Marley and the Wailers, ‘No Woman No Cry’ (1974)
With writers despairing at the sparsity of exciting music in the mid-70s, the arrival of reggae, and particularly Bob Marley, caused a stir in the NME office, which became a hotbed of reggae champions – ‘No Woman No Cry’ was the staff pick for Single Of The Year in 1975. Pre-punk, this was the real underground music rising from the streets, albeit the streets of Jamaica, where writer Chris Salewicz doorstepped Marley at his Hope Road headquarters and was invited in for a spliff.
12. Sex Pistols, ‘Anarchy in the UK’ (1976)
“I use the NME!” In the wake of the excitement over reggae, the punk uprisings in New York and the UK gave NME a new life, purpose and direction. Our coverage helped stoke excitement for the scene nationwide and The Pistols’ debut single, in its snarling, sardonic way, placed the paper at the heart of this ravenous year zero.
13. The Clash, ‘Capital Radio’ (1977)
An attack on the anodyne tedium of commercial radio from one of punk’s leading lights, ‘Capital Radio’ was virtually a manifesto for NME in 1977. Fittingly, the song was initially only available by mailing in a coupon from NME along with the red sticker from the sleeve of their debut album, and came with a recording of Tony Parsons, freshly recruited from the notorious advert for “hip young gunslingers” to join the paper, interviewing the band on the Circle Line.
14. ABBA, ‘Thank You For The Music’ (1979)
Once punk broke, dinosaur rockers and pop acts were fair game in NME, but still worthy of often savage column inches. Writer Mick Farren recalled interviewing Swedish Eurovision winners turned pop sensation ABBA and being told by Benny Andersson that he loved accordions. Despite the paper’s roots, Farren told NME biographer Pat Long, author of 2012’s The History of the NME: High Times and Low Lives at the World’s Most Famous Music Magazine: “I think we may have defined the culture gap, if not bridged it.”
15. Blondie, ‘Heart of Glass’ (1978)
It’s fair to say that NME didn’t quite get Blondie in their raw CBGBs punk days – “Blondie will never be a star because she ain’t good enough” wrote Charles Shaar Murray in 1975, spotlighting Debbie Harry’s “voice like a squeaky bath toy” and her “cruddiest…garage band”. Come the band’s fabulous conglomeration of punk and disco on ‘Parallel Lines’, however, they were cover stars being hailed as giants of new wave. Weird, because we’ve never wrong…
16. The Jam, ‘Eton Rifles’ (1979)
Meanwhile, heading up the UK wing of new wave came Weller, a regular visitor to NME’s Carnaby Street office, about-turning on his early pronouncements that he was a staunch Conservative to fire this smart punk volley at the public school system and the monsters it produces. The Jam became pivotal figures for NME as the ’80s arrived, winning almost every category in the 1980 and ’81 Readers Polls, and Weller became the Noel Gallagher of his day: “You put Paul Weller on the cover of NME,” said writer Mat Snow in Pat Long’s The History Of NME…, “and it would sell”.
17. Joy Division, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ (1980)
When Paul Morley profiled the post-punk Manchester underground in 1979, it was the iconic image of Ian Curtis in a greatcoat smoking a cigarette that defined the stark and startling nature of the scene. Curtis’s swansong single, the unadulterated masterpiece of new wave, would top NME’s Singles Of The Year list in 1980 and has since been declared the best single of all time by the paper in 2002 and 2012.
18. The Slits, ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ (1979)
The mere existence of The Slits in the punk landscape was a revolutionary culture shift that blew the age-old rock’n’roll boys club apart. “Before punk rock there were no women in bands,” former NME editor Neil Spencer told Pat Long. “There was a group called Fanny and that was about it. Then after punk you get The Slits. A big difference.”
19. The Specials, ‘Ghost Town’ (1981)
Lacing ska and reggae with the amphetamine edge of new wave, The Specials couldn’t have been more perfectly concocted to appeal to NME under Spencer’s more politicised direction. Their brooding evocation of Thatcher’s wasteland Britain was voted the best single of 1981 by NME writers and readers alike.
20. Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five, ‘The Message’ (1982)
Ranked Number One in NME’s Singles Of The Year list for 1982, the invigorating grooves of this early breakout rap hit laid the foundations for the NME’s hip-hop wars to come.
21. New Order, ‘Blue Monday’ (1983)
When the remains of Joy Division reconfigured as New Order and made the best-selling 12” of all time (and the NME Awards’ Best Single of 1983) by finding a sweet spot of credibility and commerciality midway between synthpop and Kraftwerk, Britain’s formative alternative dance culture found its way onto NME’s radar and stayed there until the acid house explosion obliterated clubland.
22. Siouxsie and the Banshees, ‘Cities In Dust’ (1985)
As new wave and post-punk burrowed further underground in the early ’80s, it turned ever darker. In the shape of Bauhaus, The Cure, The Birthday Party, Killing Joke and Siouxsie And The Banshees, goth was born, perfect fodder for the oft-pretentious scribblings of the paper’s wordier scribes. Goth wasn’t averse to the dashing through the pop spotlight every now and then, though; Siouxsie (recipient of NME’s Best Female Singer award three years running in the early ’80s) and The Cure certainly flirted with the synthpop mainstream.
23. Smiley Culture, ‘Police Officer’ (1984)
Seven years after ‘Dreadlock Holiday’, the story was finally flipped. South London reggae fast-chatter Smiley Culture shot to fame with this autobiographical tale of almost being arrested by the rozzers for cannabis possession then let off in return for an autograph; though light-hearted, it highlighted the issue police harassment of Black men to a prime-time audience on Top Of The Pops and made Smiley an instant figurehead in the struggle for equality. As such, he made NME’s cover, and was subsequently voted Best Reggae Act at the 1984 Awards.
24. The Smiths, ‘How Soon Is Now?’ (1984)
Pre-Smiths, Morrissey was a regular correspondent to the NME letters page and sent in copious reviews in the hope of getting published. By the time the dank Doppler rockabilly lament ‘How Soon Is Now?’ emerged on the B-side of ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’, however, the paper hung on his every word. As the totemic act of primordial indie, The Smiths replaced The Jam (RIP) as the definitive NME band and perennial sweepers of Awards boards – they’d be voted Best Group by readers until they split, as reliably as Margaret Thatcher would win Creep Of The Year.
25. Kate Bush, ‘Running Up That Hill’ (1985)
Having picked up the Best Female Singer award in 1979, Kate Bush’s swerve into art-pop made her one of the mainstream artists most aligned with NME’s mentality. By ‘Hounds Of Love’ and ‘Running Up That Hill’, she was a totemic figure in sneaking leftfield ideas into the heart of the charts.
26. Run D.M.C. and Aerosmith, ‘Walk This Way’ (1986)
The mid-’80s saw NME staffers engage in what was termed the Hip-Hop Wars. One office faction believed the paper should cater to rock and indie fans. Another fought hard for coverage of the rising rap, funk and soul stars of the day. Run-D.M.C.’s cover of Aerosmith seemed to epitomise the stand-off.
27. Madonna, ‘Erotica’ (1992)
As she sat down for only her second NME cover interview, around her new concept album ‘Erotica’ and accompanying Sex book, Madonna was facing intense criticism from press and conservative groups over her provocative, hyper-sexualised image. She used the interview to fight back: “I don’t think people hate me,” she said, “I think they’re afraid of me.”
28. Prince, ‘Kiss’ (1986)
If Elvis Costello was the prime NME favourite of the early ’80s, his records regularly topping end-of-year staff polls, then Prince took his crown while the Hip-Hop Wars raged. ‘Kiss’ was the first of two consecutive Singles Of The Year for the purple one, while ‘Parade’ took the Album Of The Year title in ’86.
29. Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk & Jessie Saunders, ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’ (1986)
Adjacent to the office clashes over rap, Chicago house music arrived in the UK Top 10 with ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’ and, though house would offer up few potential cover personalities, several staffers such as Paolo Hewitt, Helen Mead and Jack Barron petitioned for its inclusion. When M/A/R/R/S arrived with breakthrough acid house hit ‘Pump Up The Volume’ the following year, NME had its in-built club fraternity, and before long entire sections of the paper would be dedicated to dance music.
30. Primal Scream, ‘Loaded’ (1990)
With Primal Scream struggling for press around their eponymous second album, acid house DJ and occasional NME reviewer Andrew Weatherall was dispatched to Exeter Arts Centre to review them. They’d met before, but now they hit it off creatively too, the Scream offering Weatherall their recent track ‘I’m Losing More Than I Ever Have’ to remix. The result was the majestic ‘Loaded’, where NME’s worlds of indie and dance most gloriously collided.
31. Public Enemy, ‘Rebel Without A Pause’ (1988)
The anger and vitality of punk resurfaced with Public Enemy’s arrival in the late ’80s, the new sound of the downtrodden fightback. The warring NME factions could unite behind this sort of rebel attitude; PE were voted Album Of The Year two years’ running.
32. Shop Assistants, ‘It’s Up To You’ (1985)
On the indie side of the divide, the legendary giveaway cassette C86 gave form and purpose to the new wave of Smiths-inspired janglers of the independent label scene, such as Shop Assistants, The Soup Dragons and The Pastels. Whole streams and generations of alternative rock and pop evolved from the tape, from the impassioned guitar frenzies of indie rock godfathers The Wedding Present to the twee indie pop of Shop Assistants and the swirling sonics of shoegaze.
33. Morrissey, ‘Suedehead’ (1988)
What is this, the New Morrissey Express? In the wake of The Smiths’ split it certainly seemed so as, solo, Morrissey became something of an NME obsession, appearing on the cover of the 40th anniversary edition and having entire cover stories devoted to his annotated touring Polaroids. “It became like a fan magazine,” writer Andrew Collins told Pat Long, but all that was to change in 1992, when NME criticised Morrissey’s appearance at Madstock wrapped in a Union flag and singing ‘National Front Disco’. He wouldn’t speak to the paper for the next 12 years.
34. The Stone Roses, ‘She Bangs The Drums’ (1989)
Sweeping in on the back of C86 and fermented at acid house and indie dance nights at the Hacienda club, the Madchester scene fore-fronted by The Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses proved another watershed moment for NME, as the E generation took control of the counterculture for a second psych-tinged summer of love.
The paper notoriously gave the Roses’ debut album a lukewarm review initially, but by the end of the year it was ranking high in the staff polls, and from here sprang the paper’s next generation of baggy and indie rave cover stars. The Roses themselves provided one of our most memorable covers, spattered in paint in imitation of John Squire’s Pollock-esque album sleeve.
35. Deee-Lite, ‘Groove Is In The Heart’ (1990)
Already won over by the chilled vibes of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, and increasingly of the “de-lovely” dancefloor persuasion, it was no wonder that NME took New York’s house pop one-hitters Deee-Lite to its groove-pounding heart in 1990. Their 1991 cover shot was one of the most fabulous of the era.
36. Nirvana, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (1991)
The early ’90s were a maelstrom of shifting styles and bubbling microscenes within the pages of NME. A year on from ‘Groove Is In The Heart’ and ‘Loaded’, and with shoegaze, baggy, Stourbridge and grebo underway at home, the distant sounds of Seattle’s grunge eruption echoed across the Atlantic. Honing the melodic roars of Husker Du, Pixies, Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth into an MTV friendly quiet-loud dynamic, Nirvana rejuvenated American rock and made Ned’s Atomic Dustbin look altogether irrelevant as they bagged Single Of The Year at the 1991 awards and Album Of The Year in the critics’ poll.
37. Hole, ‘Celebrity Skin’ (1998)
Kurt Cobain’s relationship with Courtney Love – herself a major mover in the US rock scene as the confrontational singer with Hole – opened up a rock soap opera avenue for NME’s ’90s coverage, which it would also apply to Britpop rivalries as the tabloids began to take notice of the era’s turbulent alt-rock landscapes. It also caused frictions between the scene and the paper – writer Keith Cameron, interviewing Nirvana in Spain as they broke big, witnessed and subsequently wrote about Kurt’s heroin addiction and his band’s dislike of Courtney. It earned him a Nirvana interview ban and a vodka in the face at Reading from Love’s bandmate Eric Erlandson.
38. Rage Against The Machine, ‘Killing In The Name’ (1992)
As mainstream attention on underground US rock grew, it was the political punk spirit of RATM’s keystone protest track, equal parts Stooges, Black Flag and Public Enemy, that NME latched onto, thrusting them onto the cover around the release of their debut album.
39. PJ Harvey, ‘Sheela-Na-Gig’ (1992)
The British response to grunge was varied. Polly Jean Harvey was a West Country cousin to the scene, making raw, grisly rock’n’roll records such as her second single ‘Sheela-Na-Gig’, inspired by ancient “exhibitionist” statues. As she reworked and refined her art, Polly became an icon of NME’s identity and ideology for decades to come.
40. Suede, ‘Animal Nitrate’ (1993)
Others fought back against America’s grunge invasion. Suede’s arrival, doused in Bowie’s androgyny, Lou’s sexual depravity and Iggy’s drug habits, set Britpop in motion as a sharp, sexy, photogenic and seedily glamorous antidote to grunge’s matted anti-fashion. British indie fans were instantly enthralled, and NME (Bernard Butler had joined the band – through the classified ads) wasted no time in getting stuck in.
41. Oasis, ‘Roll With It’; Blur, ‘Country House’ (1995)
As Blur took the baton of Britishness and ran with it back to Quadrophenia, The Dam Busters and Carry On Jogging, Britpop became NME’s new raison d’etre and a national phenomenon. It also became a musical north/south class war as noisy northern upstarts in big coats Oasis rose to challenge the arty southern archness of the thing. Rising personal tensions between the bands came to a head the day Blur decided to change the release date of ‘Country House’ to clash with Oasis’s second album comeback ‘Roll With It’ (in the end, Damon and co. beat the Gallaghers to Number One).
Editor Steve Sutherland concocted a boxing style stand-off issue and Britpop was suddenly national. And, yes, it’s a cheat to include them both as one entry – but we still couldn’t choose.
42. Elastica, ‘Stutter’ (1993)
With its 1,500 7”s having sold out within a day, the only way most music fans could own the much-hyped debut single from Elastica for over a year was on NME’s Singles Of The Week compilation CD of 1993. By the 1994 Awards they were declared Best New Band and would go on to become a central strut of Britpop and, thanks to their buzzsaw new wave songs about erectile dysfunction, lube, groupies and car sex.
43. Pulp, ‘Sorted For E’s & Whizz’ (1995)
Debuted at their celebrated surprise headline set replacing The Stone Roses at Glastonbury 1995, Pulp’s strumbling ode to tracking down a rave is testament to the way in which, thanks to a common dedication to hedonism at all costs, alternative ’90s cultures blurred into one another, both in the pages of NME and in fields somewhere in Hampshire.
44. The Prodigy, ‘Firestarter’ (1996)
Likewise The Prodigy’s pyromaniac anthem, the punkest thing since ‘Killing In The Name’, which snagged the Best Dance Act Award in 1996 en route to 10million sales of the following year’s ‘Fat Of The Land’ album. Between The Prodigy, Underworld (thanks to Trainspotting pile-driver ‘Born Slippy’), Fatboy Slim’s Cornershop remix and The Chemical Brothers’ collaborations with Noel Gallagher and Tim Burgess, the indie-dance crossover sparked by New Order and nurtured by Madchester became a central component of the ’90s alternative mentality. The barriers crumbled; everything went.
45. Kelis, ‘Caught Out There’ (1999)
With the British rock scene swamped with Oasis-alikes and stool rockers making the ‘alternative’ sound indistinguishable from the mainstream, the post-Britpop years – particularly if you weren’t that bothered about The Beta Band – were bleak days indeed. Luckily, rap and R&B acts such as Destiny’s Child, Missy Elliott and Kelis – with this no-shits-left bawl of frustration – were keeping the punk-ass attitude alive.
46. Destiny’s Child, ‘Survivor’ (2001)
Enter, stage right: the internet. The new millennium brought a new technological wave of music piracy; with the advent of filesharing platform Napster, people’s music tastes were blown wide open, like kids in a candy store that takes two hours to download a wine gum. Hence, in 2001, Destiny’s Child, Aaliyah and Basement Jaxx could make the cover, as well as – o, brave new world! – nu metal bands.
47. Slipknot, ‘Left Behind’ (2001)
Of that most infragrant of genres, one band stood spiked gimp mask and shoulders above the rest. The nose-wanking, crow-sniffing gentlemen of Slipknot, whose masked, murderous stares from the covers of 2000 and 2001 threatened to eat all the terrified JJ72 fans. Behind the serial killer façade, however, lurked connoisseurs. In one interview with this writer in a hotel restaurant in Portland, Clown paused briefly, while insisting he was going to flamethrower Reading Festival to the ground during Slipknot’s set, to recommend the clams to a friend.
48. Muse, ‘Plug In Baby’ (2001)
From the post-Britpop ashes, rose a phoenix or two. Coldplay, Radiohead and, from the modest Devon town of Teignmouth, the mightiest of them all: Muse. Their debut album ‘Showbiz’ was deemed a disappointment by NME’s reviewer, but ‘Plug In Baby’ – still, as far as this writer is concerned, the greatest rock song of the century – hit the office stereo like a Stinger missile of sci-fi riffage and second album ‘Origin Of Symmetry’ was declared a masterpiece.
49. The Strokes, ‘The Modern Age’ (2001)
With just as seismic an impact on the NME stereo, The Strokes’ ‘The Modern Age’ EP kick-started the new millennium of alternative rock, instantly obliterating all memory of Badly Drawn Boy and refocussing the office radar stateside again. There we found Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Killers, The White Stripes, The Von Bondies and swathes of funk punks, broke them here first and willed into being a new US indie rock explosion that shaped the next decade.
50. The Libertines, ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ (2003)
The Strokes were a defibrillator jolt to the British guitar scene. Inspired by their stylishly ragged garage vitality, febrile indie punk bands sprung up across the country: Franz Ferdinand in Glasgow, The Futureheads in the north-east, Kaiser Chiefs in Leeds and, in London, an entire scene headed up by Bloc Party and frock-coated urchins The Libertines. Delivering romantic tales of low living and narcotic misadventure in dervish-wild sets, The Libs became the new NME heroes for the ’00s, like The Jam on junk.
51. Beyoncé feat. Jay-Z, ‘Crazy In Love’ (2003)
Above ‘Seven Nation Army’. Above ‘Hey Ya!’. Higher than ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’, ‘Darts Of Pleasure’ and a dozen other timeless ’00s indie monsters. At the top of the NME critics’ list of Singles Of The Year for 2003 sat Beyoncé’s second solo single and brass-blasted herald for the new queen of pop.
52. LCD Soundsystem, ‘Losing My Edge’ (2002)
Electroclash was enough to make anyone think they were losing their edge. Evolving from the techno and electropop clubs of Munich, New York and Paris and gathered onto DJ Hell’s International DeeJay Gigolo label, it featured acts such as Fischerspooner, Miss Kittin & The Hacker and Tiga adorning retro-futurist synth-pop beats with a neon trash performance art aesthetic. Painfully cool, it burned brief and bright, but it was James Murphy and DFA Records’ sardonic reaction to it that caught NME’s imagination long-term and gave the NYC new wave its cult electronic undercurrent.
53. Arctic Monkeys, ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ (2005)
Every generation gets its own Oasis, and for the ’00s it was Sheffield’s Arctic Monkeys. Thanks to the cultural groundwork laid by The Strokes and The Libertines, instant NME support and one of the first fanbases built online – with songs swapped around between their Myspace followers – they shot to Number One with their intoxicating debut single and then claimed the decade as their very own with the masterful ‘Whatever You Say I Am That’s What I’m Not’, the fastest-selling debut album in UK history at the time. Guitars now owned the mid-’00s just as they had the mid-’90s, and NME’s stars would become so chartable that naysayers would come to decry the scene purely on the basis of how much of it there was.
54. Gossip, ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’ (2005)
In America, meanwhile, the New York scene evolved into a funk punk revival (led by Radio 4, The Rapture and copious other Gang Of Four acolytes) that spread across the nation, arguably peaking with the ubiquitous debut single from Arkansas’s Gossip. Frontwoman Beth Ditto would later pose nude on a celebrated 2007 cover described by Courtney Love, referring to an infamous 1993 shot, as “[the] best…since PJ Harvey in the chicken yard”.
55. Amy Winehouse, ‘Back To Black’ (2007)
The sound was classic soul but the sentiment was all indie rock – despairing, drug ravaged but defiantly independent. Amy Winehouse became an unlikely NME hero with ‘Rehab’ and ‘Back To Black’ and an early indication of the paper’s shift towards a wider stylistic ethos towards the end of the decade.
56. Klaxons, ‘Golden Skans’ (2007)
Of all of the micro-scenes that NME concocted in the ’00s, from shroomadelica to the New Rock Revolution, it was nu rave – effectively the UK’s answer to electroclash – that really swept the nation as the next generation of indie dance fanatics fashioned their hair into electric bolts, spray painted their shoes gold and necked glow sticks to the tune of CSS, New Young Pony Club and Klaxons. Klaxons’ debut album ‘Myths Of The Near Future’ was NME’s Album Of The Year in 2007.
57. Rihanna, ‘Umbrella’ (2007)
Meanwhile, US R&B was undergoing its own modern overhaul, Beyoncé’s success inspiring a raft of new pop singers such as Rihanna and her monumental hit ‘Umbrella’. Her inclusion as one of 10 different covers of a redesign issue marking the arrival of new NME editor Krissi Murison in 2010 indicated the breadth of coverage the magazine would embrace under her stewardship.
58. Florence + The Machine, ‘Kiss With A Fist’ (2008)
Before the otherworldly sound really kicked in, Florence Welsh staked her place in NME’s heartlands with a debut single of glorious rockabilly punk – not, Welsh explained on MySpace, a song about domestic violence. By 2012 she was being declared Best Solo Artist on a regular basis.
59. Dizzee Rascal and Armand Van Helden, ‘Bonkers’ (2009)
Also making the leap to the cover at the end of the decade was long-term NME grime favourite Dizzee Rascal, enjoying a career boom with his fourth album ‘Tongue N’ Cheek’ in 2009, featuring collaborations with major EDM producers and DJs. It was the previous single ‘Dance Wiv Me’, featuring Calvin Harris and Chrome, that bagged our award for Best Dancefloor Filler, but Dizzee’s collaboration with Van Helden was the rave-friendly hit that helped kickstart the second wave of grime that would come to dominate the 2010s.
60. M.I.A., ‘XXXO’ (2010)
If the inclusive attitude of NME in the 2010s was encapsulated by any one artist, it was M.I.A.. Merging world sounds – increasingly in vogue in the wake of Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut album and Animal Collective’s ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’ – with cutting edge electronica and rap, she represented an internet-era globalism in tune with the opening up of both music and media’s accessibility. What’s more, she was already tackling the fakery of iPhone romance on this third album banger.
61. Lana Del Rey, ‘Video Games’ (2011)
In the grand tradition of the enigmatic alt-pop crooner – see also Hope Sandoval, Nancy Sinatra, Julee Cruise – Lana Del Rey arrived as an instant timeless icon, her evocations of Golden Age Hollywood and honeyed sulk vocals utterly bewitching. Our entranced critics voted ‘Video Games’ Single Of The Year in 2011; she was still an undisputed queen almost a decade later when we named ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’ record Best Album In The World at the NME Awards 2020.
62. Robyn, ‘Dancing on My Own’ (2010)
The greatest sign of NME embracing the full range of pop culture in the streaming age came when Robyn’s 2010 pop classic topped our Best Songs of the Decade list in 2019 and the Swedish bangermama was declared Songwriter Of The Decade at the 2020 awards.
63. Tyler, the Creator, ‘Yonkers’ (2011)
Narrowly pipped to the 2011 Single Of The Year honour by ‘Video Games’, Tyler’s confrontational second single took hip-hop to ever darker places: stabbing Bruno Mars on his goddamn esophagus, murdering Pitchfork writers, having dinosaur threesomes. Morbidly, we tagged along.
64. Haim, ‘Forever’ (2012)
Between their beach-ready Californian pop tunes and gurning onstage rock outs, Haim personified the pop-rock crossover of the ’10s and swiftly became cover and Awards regulars.
65. Kanye West, ‘Black Skinhead’ (2013)
In the ’00s, Kanye West was merely the best hip-hop act on the planet; by ‘Yeezus’ in 2013 he was also the most inventive, exploring fresh sonic ground and expanding the parameters of the genre with virtually every release. ‘Black Skinhead’ delved into swamp glam, and we were here all day for it.
66. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, ‘Sacrilege’ (2013)
The guitar bands of the ’00s didn’t just roll over and die: on the back of sophisticated moodswing albums such as 2009’s ‘It’s Blitz’ and 2013’s ‘Mosquito’ – venturing into trip-hop, psych folk and punk gospel – and a spectacular NME cover featuring Karen O wearing an entire birthday cake as a hat, the continued success of Yeah Yeah Yeahs into the 2010s exemplified the staying power of the finest acts of the era.
67. Daft Punk, ‘Get Lucky’ (2013)
When practiced party-starters Nile Rodgers, Pharrell Williams and a re-emergent Daft Punk clubbed together on the stone-cold anthem of 2013, there wasn’t a person alive who didn’t raise their cup to the stars and stay up all night for good fun. We certainly did. “We have superpowers,” the robotic dance duo told NME in their 2013 cover feature: the powers, it seems, to turn the planet into one big disco ball.
68. Taylor Swift, ‘Shake It Off’ (2014)
Taylor Swift’s ascendence from country sweetheart to pop Boadicea mirrored NME.com’s shift from niche to universal appeal as it grew to replace the print edition and become the greatest music website in the world. When Taylor turned up at the 2020 Awards to accept the Best Solo Act In The World gong, it was like she’d finally come home.
69. Skepta, ‘Shutdown’ (2015)
NME owned punk in the ’70s, so grime – the new punk – fit like a glove. As the second wave erupted and long-standing Boy Better Know general Skepta finally rose to cultural dominance, NME made ‘Shutdown’ its Single Of The Year in 2015 and readers voted him British Male Artist in 2017.
70. Billie Eilish, ‘Bad Guy’ (2019)
With technology putting high-end recording studios onto everyone’s laptops, Billie Eilish quickly became the face of alternative pop – a movement which started with DIY bedroom releases going viral and grew into a leftfield evolution of the mainstream, the first major shift in global music culture driven by the enthusiasm of social media rather than the machinations of industry gatekeepers. No wonder we made ‘When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go’ our Album Of The Year in 2019. The future, it appears, belongs to all of us.