15 Best Print Magazine Runs of All Time
by MOLLY LAMBERT & ALEX CARNEVALE
Sometimes people ask us where we get the inspiration for This Recording. This is a complicated question. As with all things, This Recording evolved over time, like Emily Blunt and Jim Halpert looking more like one another. These are the fifteen magazine runs that left the biggest imprints on our minds and fingertips.
15. The New Yorker
The New Yorker is an institution, but like fellow New York institution SNL it's hard to call it consistently good even though some sections are sporadically outstanding. The New Yorker is often a gateway drug for people growing up in media unsaturated areas. It's like The Catcher In The Rye or On The Road in that it's often the most loved bible for an aspiring intellectual person during periods they will later think of as formative but also semi-embarrassing. Unless you are Wes Anderson your tastes have probably evolved from what they were when you were 14 and starved for blurbs about opera. That said, there is nothing wrong with having a spot in your heart for The New Yorker, the way you would for any first love. Just don't go sending them any weird facebook messages late at night.
14. Crawdaddy! (1966-1973)
Before it turned into a generic music magazine, the idea that you could write something, print something in a magazine you wrote with all the run-on sentences and ridiculous unprovable generalizations and slang words and anything else you wanted to, was not a brand new concept when Crawdaddy! perfected it, but it might as well have been.
13. Spy (1992-1995)
Like any other satirical magazine, Spy had descended into a parody of itself by the time Bruno Maddox was appointed editor. Both of its founders (Graydon Carter and Kurt Anderson) have been a lot better at coming up with ideas than sustaining them, but in the case of Spy it was never intended to last for decades. I literally learned there was no Santa Claus from reading a (hard to obtain as a child) copy of Spy.
12. Might (1991-1995)
Dave Eggers's San Francisco magazine was known for rambling essays on provocative topics. Some have cited their "Are Black People Cooler Than White People?" as the first recorded LOL. They also did an issue that was entirely about cheese, and let David Foster Wallace make the argument that AIDS was going to make sexual pursuit better and more rewarding by making it more difficult. If you write about all the things you find interesting it is possible that somebody else will also be interested, or better yet become interested just because it's written well.
11. Life (1940-1965)
Life is just a magical blend of content that really should have been in Parade and photographs that should stay forever in the Smithsonian. Once it became a weekly, Ed K. Thompson used a trio of female editors and the pages improved under his reign. If they paid the right person for a feature, the writing could be incredible, but usually it wasn't. Life went through many subtly different approaches, like a true variety show. One issue could be a mind-blowing meld of ultimate design and approachable prose, another would be as vapid as People. Throughout, the photography was the real show, bringing the impact of full color and the wide breadth of the world to American homes.
10. Sassy (1991-1995)
Sassy was the best ever teen mag, the best ever women's mag, and the closest thing to a 'zine in the world of real magazines. It was pretty revolutionary in a pre-blog universe to find a magazine that told you straight up that other magazines aimed at girls were bullshit. Despite the sometimes annoying "cooler than thou" attitude Jane Pratt pushed, so much of Sassy holds up to a modern reader versed in blogs: the Kurt and Courtney interview, the fashion editorials making fun of fashion editorials, the Hunt for the Sassiest Boy In America.
9. Entertainment Weekly (1991-1996)
Before the first mass-market arts and culture magazine worth a damn lobotomized itself to compete with U.S. Weekly, Jeff Jarvis' Entertainment Weekly debuted in 1990 as the perfect combination of easy reading and incredible craftsmanship. Softening the teeth off clever graphic bits and listicles like Spy and Esquire's Dubious Achievements, EW brought to the print world what we think of today as commonplace internet sarcasm. They also may have invented the collectible review index of every episode of popular television shows (such as Seinfeld and The X-Files) long before DVDs made following along a probable task.
8. National Geographic (1981-2009)
From layout to design, National Geographic took the photographic best of Life and expanded its view. No magazine has changed so little and still been so relevant to the world to which it was originally borne. Richard Pryor called NG "the Black Man's Playboy" and the mag has taken some heat over the years for touching up photos of the third world. Under the leadership of Chris Johns, NG has exceeded Pryor's pejorative and reinvented the magazine as a series of subtle investigations. The nature photography/pornography is as compelling as ever.
7. Rolling Stone (1967-1971)
Even though it primarily sucks now, Rolling Stone will throw a curveball every now and then and run a totally awesome piece of investigative journalism about like some goth teenagers killing somebody, or a guy who has a huge cock and it's ruining his life. Not to mention, they recently ran the first of John Mayer's twofer crazy interview spree. Music writing has actually never been Rolling Stone's strongest suit, but all the counterculture trimmings are where they still knock it out of the park sometimes.
6. Creem (1971-1980)
Cooler than Rolling Stone, Creem featured articles from a dream roster of counterculture writers like Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, Nick Tosches, Richard Meltzer, Patti Smith, and Cameron Crowe, all of whom made or embossed their names here (plus countless other staffers who did all the work). The original arrogant confrontational blog, indier than thou when it still meant something, Creem articles expose all other music criticism as falsity. Our favorite kind of snobs, Creem touted the MC5 and ABBA equally.
5. National Lampoon (1971-1979)
Exploring one specific type of humor to the nth degree, the original National Lampoon had all kinds of great writers and a list of their credits would only remind us of the douchebag P.J. O'Rourke became within five minutes of attaining any notoriety whatsoever. Like its spiritual heir The Onion, there wasn't a whole lot of subtlety here, but a few decades ago, everything was generally subtle and Lampoon seemed like a wild alternative to the mean.
4. Mad (1958-1963)
Patti Smith once said, “After Mad, drugs were nothing.” During an extremely censorious time in American life, Mad put the lie to everything, savaging the culture and revealing its hypocrisies.
3. The New York Review of Books (1976-1992)
Before the best writers were published everywhere you look, they were published in the NYRB. At times stilted and pedantic, the Review was best when it opened itself up to wackier explorations of artistic merit, and writers who could stretch out of the academic confines of what was expected from a 'book review.' Their choices in the last decade have reshaped the review into something more familiar, but at its best the NYRB had a lively letters section replete with non-academic exchanges that rivalled comment wars on blogs. It's fitting that something so ancient as a book review could prefigure something so modern.
2. Time (1939-1945)
Before Time became the absolute mess it is now, two men made this venerable institution the most well-written compendium of critical thought ever to enter the public sphere at the time. Whittaker Chambers joined Time in 1939; soon enough he and James Agee were the primary composers of the arts section of the magazine. Chambers ascended to the magazine's editorial board, and kept writing. It only got better from there.
1. Esquire (1961-1973)
Looking at issues from George Lois' ten year run at Esquire under editor Harold Hayes makes one nostalgic for the type of journalism that had style and substance. The current Esquire now spends its entire day trying to become a bizarre hybrid of Maxim and a "serious" magazine. Under these two titans Esquire knew just what it was.
Other Magazines We Couldn't Live Without Until Print Died
The American Mercury (ed. H.L. Mencken)
American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge (ed. Nathaniel Hawthorne)
291 (ed. Alfred Stieglitz)
Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything.
- George Lois