Jan 11

Mojo Jojo

FT63 comments • 2,396 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. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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 – […]

  9. 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.

  10. 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…

  11. 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)

  12. 62

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

  13. 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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