Collecting John Peel Festive 50s - 1976
Over the next few months we are going to be offering guides to collecting tracks on vinyl that were entries in John Peel’s Christmas Festive 50s. Are they really a good path to the best music from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s? Well that is for you to judge, but with the listeners’ taste encompassing everything from Musical Youth to Melt Banana, from national chart number ones to unlistenable rackets by “gangs of lugubrious Belgians” (as Peel himself was fond of saying) there is a surprisingly wide range of classics and long-forgotten obscurities to choose from.
As there are around 1300 individual tracks in the 23 yearly charts plus the various all-time lists, these blogs will be mainly concentrating on what 7” issues are available (for space-saving as well as purist purposes) with 12” and LP formats a second and third consideration. Needless to say, bands offering tracks on a CD-only format will simply be taken outside and shot. David Gedge fans will obviously be sad at that news, but there’s a man who really ought to have known better.
The first time the chart was broadcast was on the 24th December 1976 – or rather, the first six tracks were broadcast. Despite Peel discovering proto-punk during the year and broadcasting the first Damned session on the 30th November, the listeners were still very much attached to the music Peel played in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. In fact many of his listeners were hostile to the very idea of punk and he received sackfuls of negative and aggressive mail concerning his new playlist choices. Plus it genuinely seems that any track released by a prog band that was lengthier than 10 minutes was automatically considered a classic. “Echoes” by Pink Floyd (at number 4) comes in at over 23 minutes, with “Supper’s Ready” by Genesis only fractionally shorter. Given that, it’s quite surprising to find that 42 of the 50 tracks are available on a 7” single of one sort or another, including “Suppers Ready” itself – although it should be noted that of course it is only an extract version and is a French-only promo! The full length track Peel played is of course to be found on the “Foxtrot” LP. Also, a word of warning – this stat and others like it are simply the result of our research so far; anyone with superior knowledge is very welcome to mail in and correct us. The exceptions are noted on the chart’s list page.
Of course, some of these singles are easier to come by than others. Collectors are not going to have any trouble picking up copies of the Doors singles, or the tracks by The Beatles, Stones or Dylan, and many of the slightly less well-known items are still easy to find for a couple of quid. “Rocky Mountain Way” by Joe Walsh, for example, can often be found lying neglected in record shop bargain boxes.
So which are going to be the hardest to come by? Well if you want the aforementioned Genesis promo it will probably be a challenge to find a nice condition copy. Also in many cases, which release you are happy to settle for will be an important factor. The Legendary Stardust Cowboy track “Paralyzed” is reasonably easy to pick up on the US Mercury label, but if you are determined to have the original on Psycho-Suave, then you may well be in for a long and potentially fruitless wait. If one does eventually come up it could well cost you three figures. For those of you that don’t know the track, here's a video for you:
We were just saying that it sounds a bit like an old busker we know who stands outside Primark playing the mouth-organ, but it’s a record that famously divides opinion.
The John Peel listeners voted it number 15 of all-time at that point, but shortly afterwards Kenny Everett saw fit to include it on his “World’s Worst Record Show” LP.
John Peel’s flatmates The Misunderstood’s “I Can Take You To The Sun” is another record that is going to set you back some serious dosh, with decent copies currently trading at around the £100 mark, and the Grateful Dead’s “Dark Star” is another fairly rare and expensive item at £50+. Note, in the UK it is the B-side of “Born Cross-Eyed” (Warners WB 7186), whereas it was an A-side in America.
But perhaps the really essential purchase from this list for the Peel fan is Grinderswitch’s “Pickin’ The Blues”. If that doesn’t ring any bells for you it was the theme to the John Peel show itself, and the voting of it in to number 27 in the chart was perhaps an indication of the affection that his listeners had for the great man even at that relatively early time in his career. It can usually be found for around 10 quid.
Of the tracks that are LP only, none are going to be hard to find. Of course you could go mad and spend large sums on original copies of the Beatles, Van Morrison and Led Zep LPs, and it should go without saying that if you are looking for the best investment and sound quality that would be the way to go. But all will also be readily available on reissues for far less.
So, is this a good list of the best records of all-time up to that point? To be fair, if you like ‘60s and ‘70s rock you are probably going to be very impressed, although the surprisingly obvious omission of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen is intriguing, and makes you wonder if Peel had mentioned himself during the programmes how he disliked it. And of course, if you are interested in soul (or indeed any black music at all), you are going to find very little to interest you save Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry”. Is “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” really not one of the best 50 records pre-1977 for example? I think I might squeeze it in ahead of “Rose of Cimarron”. :-)