I don’t understand why no one ever talks about Phonograph Record Magazine, a rock tabloid that ran from 1970 to 1978. The magazine seems to be nearly forgotten, and you don’t see it mentioned alongside your Rolling Stone or your Creem, your Crawdaddy or Circus, or even your Trouser Press as one of the great rock rags of the ’70s. But it was. For me, in fact, it was more important than any those, even more than my beloved Creem. Because PRM was my first. Not my first rock magazine; I’d flirted with a couple before that. But Phonograph Record Magazine was the first to make me fall in love with rock ‘n’ roll journalism, both as a fan and as a potential practitioner. Maybe I would have wound up writin’ about the big beat even without PRM‘s influence. It’s possible, maybe probable. Either way, though, it was in fact Phonograph Record Magazine that provided that nudge. I remain grateful, and I remain a fan.
I was a senior in high school in the spring of 1977. Although I’d been a devoted AM Top 40 radio listener for all of my young life, the increasingly banal fare on former Syracuse airwave Fave Rave WOLF-AM had largely driven me to FM–specifically, to nearby Utica’s WOUR-FM, “The Rock Of Central New York.” OUR had some of the negative aspects of ’70s FM rock stations, the laid-back atmosphere, the consciousness of its own perceived hipness, the almost smug feeling of superiority over those frivolous, uncouth Top 40 outlets. BUT! The station compensated for all of that by simply being more adventurous than any other commercial station in the area. I betcha Syracuse University‘s WAER-FM was probably at least the equal of WOUR, but I never heard AER at the time. It was okay, though. WOUR rewarded my interest by playing The Kinks (I became a huge fan of The Kinks’ Schoolboys In Disgrace LP track “No More Looking Back” via airplay on WOUR), Graham Parker, Greg Kihn, Michael Nesmith, Nick Lowe, and The Rubinoos. WOUR had a killer Friday night oldies show, but one could often also find essential ’60s gems by The Animals, The Rascals, The Dave Clark Five, and The Beatles airing alongside the station’s contemporary music choices. The following summer, I wasn’t surprised to hear vintage Elvis Presley on WOUR a few days before his scheduled Syracuse concert. Hearing a number of Presley tracks back-to-back, however, was my first clue that The King would not be keeping that Syracuse date. Elvis had left the building.
I digress. The point is that WOUR was a great radio station that helped to expose me to more and more music. Hell, I first heard The Yardbirds on OUR, and later on, it was OUR that allowed me my first dose of The Sex Pistols. Let AM radio have its disco and its swill and its “Undercover Angel;” WOUR-FM was playing the stuff I needed to hear.
And, in that spring of 1977, WOUR offered me a chance to read all about it, too.
I doubt that I had heard of Phonograph Record Magazine before that, though it’s certainly possible that an earlier issue crossed the periphery of my vision while I was divin’ through Hollies and Suzi Quatro LPs in the cutout bins at Gerber Music. But the April 1977 issue of PRM was different; it was free! The magazine had deals with radio stations in many markets (WMMS-FM in Cleveland, for example), with the stations presumably underwriting the cost to distribute PRM as promotional giveaways. WOUR instructed local rock ‘n’ roll fans to head on down to any Gerber Music location to pick up a free copy of the latest Phonograph Record Magazine. Well, I had my orders. Duty called! Rendezvous at Gerber Music! FALL IN, you battle-happy Joes!
Target acquired. And I was immediately rewarded with entry into a fresh vista of pure rock ‘n’ roll wonder. Phonograph Record Magazine blew my freakin’ mind.
More than forty years later, in this ever-changing world in which we live in, it’s just impossible to properly convey the feeling of discovery, the liberating sense of possibility, that blanketed me with the turn of each pulpy tabloid page. What, transcendent revelation from a razzafrazzin’ rock magazine?! Oh yes. Emphatically yes. This was a whole new world. This was the Promised Land! And it had a good beat. If one could dance, one would surely dance to that beat.
There was something indescribably exciting about Phonograph Record Magazine, a palpable thrill I never got from previous perusals of Circus or Rolling Stone. PRM‘s writers seemed engaged. tapped into the music they were covering. You might presume it was legendary rock writer Lester Bangs who dazzled me here, but I don’t even remember his Nils Lofgren piece from this issue. No, I was enticed by Ken Barnes, by Greg Shaw (in the May issue), by Rodney Bingenheimer, by Flo & Eddie, and by the proud, delirious silliness of Mark Shipper. Furthermore, I was intrigued by all of these mysterious, elusive rock acts I’d never heard about before. I’d read news reports of the controversial punk group The Sex Pistols, but this was my real introduction to the concept of punk rock. I instantly wanted to know more, so much more. Punk? Hey, that’s for ME! Between this issue and its May 1977 follow-up (with Eric Carmen on the cover), I saw a truckload of rock ‘n’ roll names that were brand-new to me. Iggy Pop. Blondie. The Dictators. Cheap Trick. Elvis Costello. The New York Dolls. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Eddie and the Hot Rods. Chris Spedding and the Vibrators. The Damned. Milk ‘n Cookies. The Ramones.
Oh, the notion of The Ramones just transfixed me. What could they possibly sound like? Were they really that loud, that fast, that violent, that incredible, that irresistible? Were they really as dangerous and depraved as they seemed? Did it matter? I was a closet Ramones fan before I’d heard even one of their famous three chords, all thanks to Phonograph Record Magazine.
Alas, I saw but one more issue of PRM, with the familiar face of The Raspberries‘ former lead singer Eric Carmen as its poster boy. I don’t know if WOUR’s deal with PRM ended, but I presume that was so. And it left me hanging. The May issue’s edition of Flo & Eddie’s Blind Date column had featured our erstwhile Turtles wrestling uncomfortably with British punk, with a promise of an all-American punk Blind Date to follow in June. I never saw it. And Lord, I wanted to! But it was not to be, at least for me. I found an older, WMMS-sponsored issue of PRM while visiting my sister in Cleveland that summer. I never saw another issue anywhere.
By the time I was in Cleveland that August of 1977, I had heard The Sex Pistols explode my radio with “God Save The Queen,” courtesy of WOUR. And then I was off to college, where I would finally hear more of that punk rock Phonograph Record Magazine had made me crave. I would read more about it, thanks to a (frankly, dumb) one-shot ripoff called Punk Rock or somesuch, teasing, enticing bits in the hallowed pages of a new discovery called Rock Scene, as well as in the otherwise-stuffy Rolling Stone. I would get into Creem and Trouser Press before long, and into John Holmstrom‘s Punk magazine, all as I developed a near-insatiable need to read rock ‘n’ roll magazines. And I developed a need to write about rock ‘n’ roll, which manifested in My First Rock Journalism: “Groovin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do),” an emeritus contribution to my high school newspaper The NorthCaster. My piece was influenced by Phonograph Record Magazine in much the same way George Harrison‘s “My Sweet Lord” was “influenced” by The Chiffons. I had to start somewhere. PRM provided my template.
No one talks about Phonograph Record Magazine. There’s no hardcover retrospective, no proposed behind-the-scenes documentary, no comprehensive, dedicated on-line archive. The magazine that meant so much to me is now a mirage, a memory that few recall. But I remember. If I ever write anything that can come close to connecting with a rock ‘n’ roll fan with even a fraction of the blissful, electric bond I felt with PRM, then my so-called writing career has succeeded. I am not exaggerating when I say that Phonograph Record Magazine was ultimately as important to me as any rock ‘n’ roll act this side of The Beatles. Seriously. Because I don’t get to The Ramones or The Flashcubes–and I don’t get to writing for Goldmine–without PRM pushing me in the right direction.That way, kid. Head to the light!
In the spring of ’78, about a year after communion with my first Phonograph Record Magazine, I was an eighteen-year-old punk of the world. I’d seen punk shows. I’d developed an occasional ability to seem pruriently interesting to gurls. In my mind, I was feverishly linking the punk of the Pistols and Ramones with the Beatles and Kinks records I loved, and with my favorite never-forgotten AM radio sounds of The Raspberries, Badfinger, and Sweet. I found a magazine that articulated that link, a magazine written in part by PRM‘s Greg Shaw, and in part by a visionary named Gary Sperrazza! They were writing about something called powerpop. Their magazine was called Bomp! It was pretty important to me, too.
TO BE CONTINUED!
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