Collecting John Peel Festive 50s - 1979-81
The 1979-1981 John Peel Festive 50s seemed very exciting at the time - as John himself remarked, it seemed like half the nation's population was taking part and he said he would sit by the fire entering thousands of votes into an old ledger "in a very Dickensian manner". But shortly after this period, in 1982, John called a halt to the "all-time" Festive 50s and changed the format instead to a "best of the year" chart, which immediately freshened up the shows and gave the impetus for the charts to remain a Xmas staple for 20+ years to come. The problem of this period was that the charts became very 'samey'. The sweeping away of the old guard finally ended in '79 - only "Stairway To Heaven", "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and "My Generation" remained from the years prior to 1976 - and the two subsequent charts of '80 and '81 saw a mass of new entries by Joy Division/New Order which threatened to wipe everyone else from the top ten entirely. Indeed, perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of these years was the fact the Peel audience ignored Joy Division completely in 1979, despite "Transmission" and "Unknown Pleasures" being released that year and Peel playing tracks from the LP regularly on the show - "Shadowplay" was a particular favourite I remember. They also toured the UK with the Buzzcocks to widespread acclaim, but it took the Curtis suicide in May 1980 for the music's quality to be widely recognised.
In terms of the tracks that were new to the chart in 1979, certainly the most significant in terms of the shows in years to come was the first entry from the Fall with "Rowche Rumble", their third single, appearing at number 40. The band went on to be the most successful Festive 50 act, with a staggering 85 tracks charting 92 times in total. Collecting these is quite a challenge, as since Mark E Smith's untimely death prices for all Fall releases have soared. As an example, "Rowche Rumble" sold for many years at around £8-10, but just a few months later it now trades at around £25-30. And that's one of the easier to find items. 1980 saw all three singles released that year make the chart, and the first issue of "Fiery Jack" with the yellow shadow on the sleeve is now hitting the £50 mark.
As previously mentioned in an earlier blog, most good quality punk singles have seen price rises over the last few years, and most of the Peel chart entries are no exception. Even very common records such as "Eton Rifles" by the Jam (a number one single), have risen by probably 50% over the last three or four years. Most are still fairly easy to find however. The exception, and a new entry in 1979, was "In A Rut" by The Ruts. Whilst the "RUT 1" repress from that year is very common, the original 1000-only 1978 issue with the "SJP 795" catalogue number and striking "black circle" label is a serious rarity and very sought-after indeed, selling usually at about £200.
However, in terms of collectors items, the most interesting pieces from the '79 chart are more from the fledgling (at this stage) post-punk genre. "Killing An Arab", the first Cure single, is a case in point. It was initially issued by Small Wonder, the visionary Walthamstow label run by Pete Stennett. Information on how many copies there were seems sketchy, but an educated guess would be possibly 5000 of the initial run plus 10,000 copies of the later Fiction reissue. Either way the original sells for around £80 for a decent copy, which seems very reasonable given the scarity and the stature of the band. The reissue is usually about half that.
Two places above the Cure in the '79 chart is another of the scarcer items, in the shape of The Mekons "Where Were You", which must feature one of the finest guitar sounds ever recorded:
Whilst not ultra-rare - any self-respecting punk collection should have a copy - it is another item which is rising in price, up to about £15 now from 6 or 7 quid a few years ago. Also worth a mention are The Specials and The Gang Of Four, with "Gangsters", "Too Much Too Young" and the "Damaged Goods" EP all following a very similar trend in terms of prices.
Moving on to 1980 and '81, the main interest for the collector are of course the Joy Division entries, and the ultimate achievement will be to find oneself a nice copy of the original release of "Atmosphere" on the French Sordide Sentimentale label. This much-bootlegged item was officially called "Licht Und Blindheit" and comes in an A4 size booklet-type sleeve with two blue paper inserts, a plastic outer bag and is numbered from 1 to 1578. The label of the records are black with white text. Most of the more common bootlegs from the mid-eighties are easy to spot as they have Medusa's heads on the labels instead. A good copy will probably cost you around the £1000-£1500 mark, unless you have a VERY good day in the charity shop.
Other Joy Division tracks come from both the Unknown Pleasures and Closer LPs, plus you will also need the "Transmission" and "Love Will Tear Us Apart" singles. In recent years interest has focused on the very dark red or "translucent"vinyl which seem to be available for most of the early Joy Division pressings. The attraction seems purely superficial as the pressing quality appears very similar, and in some cases they seem to be almost as common as the black pressings, but they do usually sell for around 2 to 3 times the price of the traditional black vinyl copies. It's also true to say that prices for all major Joy Division releases have increased significantly over the last few years and are likely to continue to do so. This is also true of the first New Order entry "Ceremony", with the 7" rising from around £6 a few years ago to around £12-15 for a nice copy now. I would certainly go for the 7" over the 12" copies - the rawer feel to the mix on the 7" makes it the best listen for me.
To return to the The Cure for a moment, their new entry to the charts at this time, "A Forest", is also a hard item to find a nice copy of. There are two different picture sleeves - the more sought-after "Forest" sleeve, with its negative image of trees (which is often-ringworn), and also the "Radio" sleeve, which is more common, but again hard to find a good copy of as it has a fairly delicate die-cut centre. Probably two-thirds of the copies that come up actually have just a plain white sleeve, which emphasizes the problem. The "Forest" sleeve is now selling at up to £50, and the "Radio" at around £15.
Next time we will be looking at the "crossover" year of 1982 where there was still an all-time chart done, but the first best-of-year chart also made an appearance. From this point on there were 50 new tracks a year to find, ranging from items worth hundreds down to 50p items that a charity shop would think twice about. Musical Youth, come on down....