Jan 11

Mojo Jojo

FT63 comments • 2,676 views

Here’s a graph for you! It shows the average gap between the year of publication of an issue of Mojo and the year the cover star released their first album. The red line is a trendline of sorts, averaging out 5 years at a time.

As you can see, the gap has been rising pretty steadily – in fact, at a yearly rate. What this means is that time in Mojocoverland – a small fiefdom of Pepperland, somewhere across the Sea Of Dreams – has essentially stood still. Newer groups can make it onto the cover but repeat assignments are rare and since Britpop no new group has managed more than two covers. So there’s no great rate of replacement, but there doesn’t need to be since there’s no real rate of attrition, either: the proportion of covers given to 60s acts isn’t falling.

This isn’t a criticism of Mojo – it’s a magazine which knows its audience and has done very well from it: and as with most music mags the cover is a strategy to entice readers to sample more exotic delights within. When I read the mag regularly its features were well-researched, well-written and a lot more thoughtful than most British music writing.

I decided to look into this stat because I wanted to get a sense of the state of the rock canon. Mojo’s front covers aren’t a proxy for this, but are an interesting place to start. My hypothesis is that one of three things might be happening:

a) A rolling canon: the set of “classic bands” and “classic albums” is based on a moving window of interest and older items gradually drop out to be replaced with newer ones.

b) An expanding canon: older acts and records remain in the canon while new ones are added.

c) A closing canon: older acts and records remain in the canon and the rate of new additions is very low.

In the case of the Mojo covers, you can rule out a) (unless the window is VERY long, which it might be of course), and the truth seems to lie halfway closer to c than b – which is a surprise to me.

Of course, Mojo is a genre-based magazine, so we’re really looking at the ROCK canon here, and as mentioned above, it covers plenty of stuff inside too. And different audiences have different canons, and so on. So this little graph is, on its own, about nothing more than one magazine’s policy.

But the overall question interests me, and it interests me because of the question behind it, which is: how does a popular artform which mythologises its periodic renewals of itself and rejections of its past cope with having such a weighty history?


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  1. 31
    the pinefox on 3 Feb 2011 #

    I guess James Joyce never really read the Cantos either.

  2. 32
    Elsa on 3 Feb 2011 #

    30: that’s a good point and it makes you wonder how Mojo would deal with a featured artist who had thoroughly tacky or disreputable taste in earlier acts – or if said artist had no respect for any earlier acts! It would be amusing to try to imagine the kind of bad taste that would get you blackballed from Mojo. I do remember Mojo doing one of those “pick 50 tracks” pieces with Mark E. Smith and his choices were rather idiosyncratic, including a disco track (albeit a magnficent one) and other sundries.

  3. 33
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 4 Feb 2011 #

    haha my choice of the kinks as munters was totally random, indeed they are handsome fellows all — what i meant was, what you’re deciding on when you choose a cover is the actually pictures on the table in front of you, based on your kneejerk response to the pictures you have rather than the pictures you’d like, and sometimes the pictures you fnd yourself with are RUBBISH… so you end up going with gomez instead of whoever!

  4. 34
    Mark M on 4 Feb 2011 #

    I’ll second everything Sinkerman says at 33 and points above, especially as regards to the choice of cover star being in practice a whole lot more haphazard than most folks think. You might imagine that it would be one of the first things about an issue that’s decided – in fact it can often be just about the last. This is true even on the best run, fully staffed and monsters in their sector magazines I’ve worked on – Cosmo, for instance.

    Also, the importance of good* pictures: magazines are design-led – check the staff list of (print) ones and you’ll often find that the art director is the second or third name you see after the editor and far above a features editor. (This is part of the reason why moving a magazine to the internet means so much more of a complete change of priorities than just a shift of medium and therefore a little bit of why iPads (& equivalents) are seen as salvation…)

    *Good pictures can be a bastard to find – have a look on the newstand and you’ll see plenty where they’ve clearly settled for the least rubbish option.

  5. 35
    Ed on 4 Feb 2011 #

    @33, 34 That is some enlightening demystification. But are you really trying to tell me that this:


    was the best picture they could find anywhere in the autumn of 1998?


    That is a sobering thought.

    I remember seeing some style-mag ed being interviewed and complaining about how the civilians just didn’t understand how tough his job was. “We have to pick a cover picture,” he wailed, “EVERY MONTH.”

    Perhaps I should not have laughed quite so loud or so long.

  6. 36
    Mark M on 4 Feb 2011 #

    Re 35: that’s a horrible, horrible picture. But it’s also almost certainly the product of a long and unhappy photo session where the photographer and the stylist have battled heroically for hours to coax any hint of charisma out of the group. I’m guessing ‘imagine you’re the Magic Band’ was the theme of the shoot. The editor and the art editor and the editorial director will have spent hours over the light box just hoping that if they look long enough just one of the thirty shots they have on there will come to life. And with Gomez* there would have been no option of biting the financial bullet and putting aside your exclusive shoot for an agency buy-in.

    That cover line (“The band we’ve all been waiting for…”) is rather poignant in its yearning and misguideness. See, they wanted to branch out beyond the Beatles…

    *Possibly even more inexplicable than Mojo putting them on the cover is the fact that I interviewed Gomez for The Face, of all magazines…

  7. 37
    Billy Smart on 4 Feb 2011 #

    Aha! Look also at the December 1998 competition for Mojo cover star – it was a quiet month; Frank Zappa (who had already had a cover), Ian Dury and Mike Oldfield – both interesting stories, but rather divisive acts who would alienate much of the readership.

    Also the first issue of the year is the time for music magazines to showcase their bright hope for the coming months. I can remember the NME hailing Terris as the band for the new millennium in January 2000.

  8. 38
    swanstep on 4 Feb 2011 #

    I don’t know anything about Gomez but that photo reminds me of shots of XTC and of Waterboys/World Party.

    As for the cover-canon more generally: I like a lot of their choices but stripped of wider musical context it feels like a pretty arid bunch. No james brown, prince, curtis mayfield, talking heads is bizarre and as for ’90s stuff, one would think they’d be eager to canonize MBV, Jeff Buckley, Underworld, PJ Harvey, etc.. It honestly feels to me like Mojo invented an unhelpfully narrow musical niche to cater to.

  9. 39
    the pinefox on 4 Feb 2011 #

    If anyone recent / current deserves to be canonized it’s Stephin Merritt. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him on the cover of any magazine. Possibly not even Chickfactor.

    I’d be interested in an Uncut equivalent to all this, as I’m a bit more familiar with that magazine. Is it less traditionalist than Mojo?

  10. 40

    Differently traditionalist, maybe: Uncut always featured a ton of new country.

  11. 41
    Billy Smart on 4 Feb 2011 #

    I made a note of Uncut covers up to that point at the time of their tenth anniversary in 2007. I don’t have the last four years to hand today, but it hasn’t changed much;

    1 The Beatles etc 13
    2 Bob Dylan 7
    3 The Rolling Stones 7
    4 Pink Floyd etc 5
    = Neil Young 5
    6 Led Zeppelin 4
    = Neil Young 4
    = The Smiths/ Morrissey 4
    = REM 4
    = The Clash 4
    = David Bowie 4
    = Bruce Springsteen 4
    = The Who 4
    14 Nirvana 3
    = Paul Weller/ The Jam 3
    = Radiohead 3
    = U2 3
    = Jimi Hendrix 3
    19 The Doors 2
    = The Stone Roses 2
    = The Sex Pistols 2
    = Oasis 2
    = New Order etc 2
    24 Elvis Costello 1
    = Elvis Presley 1
    = Joy Division 1
    = The Beach Boys 1
    = The Specials 1
    = Echo & the Bunnymen 1
    = Suede 1
    = The Pretenders 1
    = Happy Mondays 1
    = Primal Scream 1
    = Shelby Lynne 1
    = Bob Marley 1
    = Depeche Mode 1
    = Elton John 1
    = Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young 1
    = The Police 1
    = The Eagles 1
    = Fleetwood Mac 1
    = The Byrds 1
    = Eric Clapton 1
    = The Cure 1
    = The Kinks 1
    = Queen 1
    = The Band 1
    = Stevie Wonder 1
    = Van Morrison 1
    = The Flaming Lips 1

  12. 42

    Shelby Lynne proves my point!

  13. 43
    Billy Smart on 4 Feb 2011 #

    The NME appears to have moved into this heritage rock market in serious earnest of late. See this week’s cover star, Bobby Gillespie: “20 years of Screamadelica”. I don’t know how many 20 year-olds are going to be impressed with that.

  14. 44
    Mark M on 4 Feb 2011 #

    Re 40: an Uncut staffer once asked me what I presumed would be in an average issue of the magazine. I said something like ‘You seemed to have a “the new Emmylou Harris” every month.’ He rather ruefully admitted this was true.

    At the same time, as that list shows, they do much more post-punk and beyond than Mojo.

    Allan Jones is out having a fag every time I go to lunch. I find it a reassuring sight in an uncertain world.

  15. 45
    The Lurker on 4 Feb 2011 #

    My impression of Uncut, as a reader since its launch, is that it has got a lot more conservative in terms of cover stars over the years, with a higher proportion of Beatles/Stones/Dylan covers. Shelby Lynne was relatively early on, while they were still championing alt.country/Americana. The free CDs also have changed from being mostly tracks from the month’s new releases to be being mostly generic “Roots of xxx” or covers of a particular artist or album (is this cheaper to license? The roots CDs ofter have a fair amount of material whose publishing rights have expired, anyway).

    I suspect the last four years of Uncut won’t add many new names to the above list. I’ll look over the weekend if Billy doesn’t beat me to it.(BTW Billy, you’ve got Neil Young twice on the list above.)

    Incidentally, I wonder if the low number of U2 Mojo covers is due to the relatively high number of U2 covers for Mojo’s stablemate Q (Q seemed to have U2 on the cover about twice a year in the early 90s).

  16. 46
    Mitchell Stirling on 4 Feb 2011 #

    I have just been looking at Uncut covers myself and am missing a few of the earlier ones.

    I do have the last four years though

    Jan-07 The Beatles
    Feb-07 Radiohead
    Mar-07 The Smiths
    Apr-07 The Who
    May-07 Pink Floyd
    Jun-07 Paul McCartney
    Jul-07 The Rolling Stones
    Aug-07 Bob Dylan
    Sep-07 Paul Weller
    Oct-07 List 50 Best Gigs (Jimi Hendrix)
    Nov-07 Robert Plant
    Dec-07 Neil Young
    Jan-08 John Lennon
    Feb-08 Bob Dylan
    Mar-08 The Small Faces
    Apr-08 The Rolling Stones
    May-08 Led Zeppelin
    Jun-08 David Bowie
    Jul-08 Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
    Aug-08 George Harrison
    Sep-08 Oasis
    Oct-08 Pink Floyd
    Nov-08 Bob Dylan
    Dec-08 Paul Weller
    Jan-09 Led Zeppelin
    Feb-09 Johnny Cash
    Mar-09 Neil Young
    Apr-09 The Stone Roses
    May-09 Madness
    Jun-09 Bruce Springsteen
    Jul-09 Blur
    Aug-09 The Yardbirds
    Sep-09 The Who
    Oct-09 The Beatles
    Nov-09 Jack White
    Dec-09 The Velvet Underground
    Jan-10 Bob Dylan
    Feb-10 Jimi Hendrix
    Mar-10 Joy Division
    Apr-10 The Rolling Stones
    May-10 Neil Young
    Jun-10 Kate Bush
    Jul-10 David Bowie
    Aug-10 John Lennon
    Sep-10 Nick Cave
    Oct-10 The Clash
    Nov-10 Kings of Leon
    Dec-10 The Kinks
    Jan-11 Paul Weller
    Feb-11 Roxy Music
    Mar-11 Led Zeppelin

    If anyone has the cover stars for issues 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 17, 25, 30, 39 and 43 I can produce the equivalent to the graph at the top of the page. Thanks.

  17. 47

    @45: re U2 and Q, yes I agree (and thought I’d posted something to this effect already, but apparently forgot to). There’s an element in Mojo’s and Q’s approach of defining themselves against each other niche-wise: Q went for “out amusing and personable chat with the fourth most famous member of the muswell hillbillies”, and Mojo was more “further documents unearthed from the production history of unhalfbricking” — and as lonepilgrim notes way up-thread, Mojo also always had a good line in sneaking in interesting offpiste material you wouldn’t get elsewhere, sugarcoated in a very conservative-seeming package.

  18. 48
    Billy Smart on 4 Feb 2011 #

    Thanks Mitchell – I can now present the COMPLETE Uncut covers canon;

    1 The Beatles etc 17
    2 Bob Dylan 10
    3 The Rolling Stones 9
    4 Neil Young 8
    5 Pink Floyd etc 7
    = Led Zeppelin etc 7
    7 David Bowie 6
    8 Bruce Springsteen 5
    = The Who 5
    10 The Smiths/ Morrissey 4
    = REM 4
    = The Clash 4
    = Jimi Hendrix 4
    14 Nirvana 3
    = Paul Weller/ The Jam 3
    = Radiohead 3
    = U2 3
    = The Stone Roses 3
    = Oasis 3
    20 The Doors 2
    = The Sex Pistols 2
    = New Order etc 2
    = Joy Division 2
    = Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young 2
    25 Elvis Costello 1
    = Elvis Presley 1
    = The Beach Boys 1
    = The Specials 1
    = Echo & the Bunnymen 1
    = Suede 1
    = The Pretenders 1
    = Happy Mondays 1
    = Primal Scream 1
    = Shelby Lynne 1
    = Bob Marley 1
    = Depeche Mode 1
    = Elton John 1
    = The Police 1
    = The Eagles 1
    = Fleetwood Mac 1
    = The Byrds 1
    = Eric Clapton 1
    = The Cure 1
    = The Kinks 1
    = Queen 1
    = The Band 1
    = Stevie Wonder 1
    = Van Morrison 1
    = The Flaming Lips 1
    = The Small Faces 1
    = Johnny Cash 1
    = Madness 1
    = Blur 1
    = The Yardbirds 1
    = The White Stripes 1
    = The Velvet Underground 1
    = Kate Bush 1
    = Nick Cave 1
    = Kings Of Leon 1
    = Roxy Music 1

  19. 49
    pink champale on 4 Feb 2011 #

    wot no kingmaker?

  20. 50
    punctum on 4 Feb 2011 #

    Surprised there’s no Ryan Adams.

  21. 51
    Billy Smart on 4 Feb 2011 #

    And finally – the inevitable conflated MOCUT cover star canon;

    1 The Beatles etc 36
    2 Bob Dylan 19
    3 Pink Floyd etc 18
    4 Led Zeppelin etc 15
    = The Rolling Stones 15
    6 Neil Young 12
    7 Oasis 11
    = The Who 11
    9 Bruce Springsteen 9
    10 David Bowie 8
    = The Clash 8
    = Nirvana 8
    = Radiohead 8
    = REM 8
    15 Jimi Hendrix 7
    = The Sex Pistols/ PiL 7
    = The Smiths 7
    = Paul Weller/ The Jam 7
    19 Bob Marley 5
    20 Blur 4
    = The Doors 4
    = Joy Division 4
    = Iggy Pop 4
    = Queen 4
    = The Stone Roses 4
    = U2 4
    = The White Stripes 4
    28 The Beack Boys 3
    = Kate Bush 3
    = The Kinks 3
    = New Order etc 3
    = The Police/ Sting 3
    = Elvis Presley 3
    = Lou Reed/ The Velvet Underground 3
    35 AC/DC 2
    = Arctic Monkeys 2
    = Johnny Cash 2
    = Nick Cave 2
    = Eric Clapton 2
    = Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young 2
    = Nick Drake 2
    = Peter Gabriel/ Genesis 2
    = Marvin Gaye 2
    = Elton John 2
    = Kings Of Leon 2
    = Kraftwerk 2
    = The Pretenders 2
    = The Ramones 2
    = The Specials 2
    = Rod Stewart/ The Faces 2
    = Tom Waits 2
    = Frank Zappa 2
    53 ABBA 1
    = Richard Ashcroft 1
    = The Band 1
    = Beck 1
    = Captain Beefheart 1
    = Blondie 1
    = The Byrds 1
    = Leonard Cohen 1
    = Elvis Costello 1
    = Crowded House 1
    = The Cure 1
    = Depeche Mode 1
    = The Eagles 1
    = Echo & The Bunnymen 1
    = The Flaming Lips 1
    = Fleet Foxes 1
    = Fleetwood Mac 1
    = The Foo Fighters 1
    = Gomez 1
    = Happy Mondays 1
    = John Lee Hooker 1
    = Howlin’ Wolf 1
    = Michael Jackson 1
    = Janis Joplin 1
    = KD Lang 1
    = Shelby Lynn 1
    = Madness 1
    = Manic Street Preachers 1
    = Massive Attack 1
    = Van Morrison 1
    = Primal Scream 1
    = Red Hot Chilli Peppers 1
    = Roxy Music 1
    = Smashing Pumpkins 1
    = Steely Dan 1
    = Sly Stone 1
    = The Strokes 1
    = Suede 1
    = T Rex 1
    = Amy Winehouse 1
    = Stevie Wonder 1
    = The Yardbirds 1

  22. 52
    Ed on 5 Feb 2011 #

    @12, 48, 51 Thanks for those. So: Mojo and Uncut, compare and contrast….

    Mojo is a lot more keen on Brit-rock: Floyd, Zeppelin and Oasis do much better there.

    Uncut, as has been said, likes its Americana: higher placings for Dylan, Neil Young and REM. And the Stones, who always wanted to be American, and are a massive influence on a lot of those Americana acts.

    But Uncut also gives proper respect to Bowie, bless it.

    Giving four times as many covers to Oasis as to Bowie makes the whole Gomez thing look quite well-judged.

  23. 53
    Tom on 5 Feb 2011 #

    What surprises me is that it’s Mojo which is the keener to showcase emerging – er, recently emerged – talent. I think of Uncut as skewing slightly more modern, and it likes its post-punk, but as Mitchell pointed out to me on Twitter, Shelby L. is the only act to have appeared on Uncut’s cover within FIVE YEARS of their debut.

  24. 54
    Ed on 5 Feb 2011 #

    #53 That is a good point, and I agree it is surprising. I look at the covers of both Mojo and Uncut most months, and I would have never gussed how much more friendly Mojo was to new(ish) music. It shows why it is worth applying science here.

    In the 21st Century, Uncut has neglected the Arctic Monkeys, Amy Winehouse, the Fleet Foxes and The Strokes, and under-played the White Stripes severely, compared to Mojo, and I think Uncut has suffered for it. Those calls by Mojo on who to admit to the canon are all pretty reasonable. No more Gomez-type fiascos, anyway. And if you refuse to add any new music to the canon, then it is bound to feel increasingly antique and lifeless.

    Uncut has seemed increasingly stale in recent years, and I have certainly been buying it less and less often, without quite knowing why. Perhaps those cover stars are the answer.

  25. 55
    MichaelH on 7 Feb 2011 #

    Back to Gomez … To be fair to Mojo, Gomez won the Mercury; they played completely Mocut friendly music; they had some sort of a story; and “the biz” genuinely thought they were going to be huge. Lots of people bought that first Gomez album (only to discover Whippin’ Piccadilly was the only listenable song on it) and it probably seemed to Mojo that here was a perfect new band does old music feature. Sadly, the world stopped giving a shit about Gomez almost immediately.

  26. 56
    punctum on 7 Feb 2011 #

    I thought the whole of Bring It On was very good and inventive, myself. Hardly listened to Liquid Skin and it went on my Poor Of The Parish pile almost immediately but that may not be Gomez’s fault.

  27. 57
    lonepilgrim on 22 Feb 2011 #

    the latest (April) edition of Mojo featuring The Smiths on the cover seems like one of the most uncentred for some time

  28. 58

    […] rysuje personalno-finansowy krajobraz krytyki muzycznej w 2010 roku (za komentarz niech służy ten wykres nt. okładek Mojo), ktoś inny zestawił listy sprzedaży z podsumowaniami płytowymi ubiegłego roku – […]

  29. 59
    Mark M on 18 May 2014 #

    Noticed today that both Uncut and Mojo have contemporary (if hardly new) bands on the cover this month: Arctic Monkeys and Black Keys.

    Also, seems like a good place to mark the retirement of Allan Jones*, founding editor of Uncut, after an epic 40 years at just two magazines – he was at the Melody Maker from 1974 to the launch of Uncut in ’97. I only worked with him for a rather bizarre two days, but he’s always seemed like a decent bloke, and – certainly in his MM days – seemed to be one of those editors happy to let individual staff members get on with being good at what they were good at, rather than the kind of editor who would have preferred to write every word themself if they could have had the time.

    Also, I just like the idea of those characters who stretch back in the mists of time – IPC will feel diminished without him.

    *I keep misspelling his first name as Allen – that’s someone else entirely.

  30. 60
    punctum on 19 May 2014 #

    I wrote for Uncut for two years and do not remember Jones as quite the charming chap you present him as. It may have been the influence of IPC’s “Brand Manager” of the time but my impression (based on the accounts of others who worked there) was that he was a bit of a shit, and my time with the magazine came to a sticky end*. I do not think that in the MM days Jones would have insisted on writers signing away copyright for whatever they wrote in order to get paid for work that they had already done (but then he did not author or countersign the document in question).

    *actually, nobody there bothered to tell me that my time with them had come to an end; I was simply dropped, without any sort of explanation or even notification, and although this happened nearly ten years ago, rest assured, you managers there in King’s Reach Tower, some of us have very long memories and DON’T forget…

  31. 61

    iirc ipc had already introduced the “signing away yr rights” contract when i was still at nme: certainly there was a lot of grousing and pushback at the time (and ppl signing the contract and sending it back with the key lines crossed out and such)

    (i don’t recall how this eventually played out as i left for other things — but i assume the recent fight about who had the right to reprint old reviews on the internet is linked: many old freelancers banding together to insist that they owned their own work and forcing the site which put it up to shut) (if i’m remembering this correctly)

  32. 62

    kings reach tower itself is apparently being demolished and rebuilt even taller (fancy apartments this time)

  33. 63
    Mark M on 19 May 2014 #

    Re60, 61: We were having similar running battles with Emap Metro over the copyright grab throughout the late ’90s into the ’00s, probably still going on probably. I certainly wouldn’t expect any one editor to have been able to do anything to stop it – they could have resigned in protest, of course, but alas, that wouldn’t have changed much.

    Re62: Yes, IPC fled crumbling King’s Reach Tower some seven years ago, I think. KRT is now South Bank Tower – not so much demolished as stripped of its cladding and growing. Anyone who has a spare five million or so will one day be able to invite people up and say, ‘Once upon a time, it was all Mark Sinker round here…’

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