Music To Start The Week With #034
by: Diego Martínez
May 14, 2012
If there was someone who had a profound love for music, that person was Sir John Peel. The legendary British DJ and broadcaster literally lived for eclectic sounds that pretty much ruled the BBC Radio 1 airwaves, from 1967 all the way to his death in 2004. Peel was responsible for showcasing the best of the UK underground scene, American Soul and R&B, Reggae, classical music and pop nuggets. He even brought performers of any genre (from Joy Division to Beck, Stereophonics and The White Stripes) to his show and recorded what became known as the ‘Peel Sessions’.
He was a free spirit, an uncompromising mad genius with little secrets and big treasures. The biggest of them all was his valuable record collection, one that comprises 25,000 LPs, 40,000 singles and many thousands of CDs, each with a typed index card filled with information. Thanks to the John Peel Centre for Creative Arts and its Patron Sheila Ravenscroft, friends and strangers are able to dig deep into the man’s archive, with 100 records unveiled week after week in a sort of virtual museum, made possible through the Space, a digital arts service funded by the British Arts Council and the BBC.
Only 200 LPs are public so far, just enough to keep the interest build up high. This WILD playlist is dedicated to Peel and all the music buffs out there, highlighting the DJ’s mixed taste as well as his personal favorites. Be sure to check out John Peel’s collection on the Space website.
1. Ray Martin and his Orchestra – Blue Tango
We begin Ray Martin and his Orchestra’s take on the classic Leroy Anderson composition “Blue Tango”. In the six-part radio series Peeling Back The Years, Peel revealed that “Blue Tango” was in fact the first record he ever bought, at the tender age of 13. Certainly it was light years away from the teenage rebellion he helped to push forward on the radio. Still, the instrumental’s sensibility was a true beginning to his more passionate endeavours with music.
2. Adam & The Ants – Kings Of The Wild Frontier
In January 23rd 1978, Peel introduced a new vibrant New Wave band in his radio show for the always celebrated ‘sessions’. The group’s fearless lead singer was an Arts school dropout whose first claim to fame was a role in Derek Jarman’s seminal punk film Jubilee. Two years later, Adam & The Ants was one of the UK’s leading bands, chanting anthems like “Kings Of The Wild Frontier” with a unique style and wild outfits to match.
3. B Side – Cairo
The broadcaster’s taste was so diverse that albums by US funk act B.T. Express and Hardcore rockers Belching Penguin would fit nicely next to those of French singer B Side, who once collaborated with Hip Hop legend Fab 5 Freddy. Her 1985 obscure LP Cairo Nights offered world music realness, with electronic instrumentation and arabic influences. Like most 80s wonders before her, B Side remained in oblivion, but held a cute spot on Peel’s collection.
4. Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – Baffling Smoke Signal
Prior to the assembling of Peel’s virtual museum, film director Elaine Shepherd made a documentary about a smaller collection with the man’s personal favorites, stored in a private wooden box. It contained 143 singles, some of them doublettes. One of those singles was Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s “Bafflin’ Smoke Signal”, a dub reggae track from 1978. Though most of his music was released on poorly distributed singles or albums, fellows like The Clash, Johnny Rotten and the Beastie Boys would later catch up with Perry’s legacy.
5. Back Street Crawler – Hoo Doo Woman
Did we tell you that Peel had a thing for Blues Rock? It all shines through on Back Street Crawler’s “Hoo Doo Woman”, the opener for the group’s 1975 debut The Band Plays On. Back Street Crawler was founded by former Free member Paul Kossoff, who lived a hectic life due to his narcotics addiction. They made one more album (1976′s 2nd Street) before Kossoff’s death from drug-related heart problems.
6. The Undertones – Teenage Kicks
John Peel had many favorites but only one was close to his heart: The Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks”. Released in September 1978, it was played twice in a row on Peel’s Radio 1 show. He often rated new bands’ songs with 1 to 5 stars, but the man liked “Kicks” so much he awarded 28 stars. In a 2001 article with The Guardian, he once said: “There’s nothing you could add to it or subtract from it that would improve it…we’re talking about a record that even now reduces me to tears every time I hear it.” When Peel died in 2004, his coffin was carried out to the rocking beat of the song. Apart from his name, the track’s initial line “teenage dreams, so hard to beat” is written in his gravestone.
7. Ace Spectrum – Don’t Send Nobody Else
Ahhh…the first seconds sound like they are ready for an inmediate sample for life. Ace Spectrum’s version of Ashford and Simpson’s “Don’t Send Nobody Else” is a 3 minute 20 seconds Soul delight that should’ve sold millions of copies when it was released in 1974. Unfortunately it was largely overlooked by the public (only cracked the Top 20 in the R&B chart, for shame!) but sure is timeless and quite a gem.
8. ABBA – Does Your Mother Know
He was championed by lots as an ‘alternative guru’, but John Peel knew the power of pop music pretty damn well. An example would be Sheena Easton’s 1981 chart topper “Morning Train (9 to 5)”: Peel enjoyed the bouncy tune so much, he had 2 copies of the record well kept in his wooden box. He also loved ABBA because, in all honesty, everyone does love ABBA. When he introduced a BBC tribute to the Swedish Fab Four in 1993, he acknowledged: “In the 1970s, when I should have been humming Pink Floyd b-sides, I caught myself humming ABBA singles. Now, when I should be humming Nirvana b-sides, I catch myself humming ABBA singles.” Yes, the man knew, given the fact that he had his trusty Voulez-Vous copy, which included this 1979 rocking-disco stomper led by Björn Ulvaeus.
9. B12 – Epilion
Peel also had a knack for what was cutting-edge in the electronic field. Mike Golding and Steve Rutter had ‘cutting-edge’ written all over them as techno outfit B12. One of their finest albums was 1996′s TimeTourist, their second on landmark label Wrap. With its expansive beats and spacial sound, this is high quality stuff that sounds as fresh today as it did 16 years ago.
10. Baby Bird – I Was Never Here/Iceberg/Dustbin Liner
We close this very special WILD playlist with a trio of Lo-Fi perfection courtesy of Baby Bird, the one-man-band of Stephen Jones. Way before Washed Out, Jones had written and recorded over 400 demos on cheap keyboards and guitar. Most of these heartfelt bedroom symphonies ended up on a 5-CD box set, apropiately titled The Original Lo-Fi. A fitting end to a great ride that reminded us of music’s possibilities and the man that embodied all of them.