When Creem first hit newsstands in March, 1969, the world hadn't seen anything like it. The Detroit-based rock mag was rude, irreverent, and over the next couple of decades, it helped define rock and roll for a generation of fans. The magazine's third and most famous editor, the late legendary rock critic Lester Bangs, defined Creem's ethos like this: "Grossness is the true criterion for rock 'n' roll. The cruder the clang and grind, the more fun."
The magazine was started by Barry Kramer, a record store owner, and Tony Reay, a clerk in Kramer's store. Although it was founded at the tail end of the '60s, Creem quickly defined itself in reaction to hippiedom. Indeed, one of Bangs's most famous essays, "James Taylor Marked For Death," includes a fantasy sequence of the writer travelling "down to Carolina" to hold the singer-songwriter responsible for his alleged navel-gazing crimes against good taste (most of the essay, collected in Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, is actually in praise of the English garage rock group The Troggs).
Over the magazine's initial run, from 1969 to 1988, it championed both heavy metal and punk rock and gave early exposure to acts that would go on to become rock legends, including Lou Reed, David Bowie, Blondie, The Clash, Van Halen and Motörhead. Among the many writers and editors whose work graced its pages was Cameron Crowe, whose 2000 film Almost Famous includes this scene of a wide-eyed writer meeting Bangs, played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman:
This article by an acquaintance of Bangs, published after Hoffman's death, says the portrayal was spot-on.
Bangs left the magazine in 1976, and Barry Kramer died in 1981, leading to legal battles over the magazine's ownership and, eventually, bankruptcy. The magazine was revived several times with varying success, most recently by an entrepreneur named Jason Turner, who tried to bring it back as a quarterly in the late 2000s — although that never got off the ground amid disputes over the rights to the Creem name.
In the gallery above, we've assembled some of the characteristically freewheeling Creem covers from over the years.
And for a taste of the writing that made Creem so beloved in its heyday, head over to Rock's Backpages.