21 Oct 2014

Peel tribute; our Top 10 Peel Sessions

Of all the people who've changed music unmeasurable amounts, John Peel is quite possibly the one who changed it the most without actually being a musician. Throughout the early 70's, the punk era, and right through to his death in 2004, Peely championed upcoming bands that no one else championed. He brought bands like The Smiths, Joy Division, The Banshees, The Fall, The Delgados and Echo & The Bunnymen to the fore when no other radio DJ would, and he brought unique bands to the world. His greatest legacy is probably the millions of legendary sessions bands recorded for him; so this week, we remember ten years since his passing by compiling our favourite ten Peel Sessions.

10. The Fifth and Final Pixies session, 1991

There's no denying Pixies' fourth album, the dark horse that is Trompe Le Monde, is one hell of an album. People will tell you you're wrong, but fuck 'em. It's absolutely out of this world, harder, faster and much more dynamic than their other albums, and this session showcases why. They recorded a load of sessions, but this one is definitely the best. Subbaculcha is bombastic, and Palace on the Brine is explosive. Pixies' last Peel session before their breakup showed the world just how flawless their body of work was.
Tracklisting: Palace on the Brine, Subbaculcha, Motorway to Roswell, Letter To Memphis

9. The acoustic Jesus & Mary Chain session, 1986

Shamanic noise merchants the Jesus and Mary Chain rarely played without 'too much' feedback, so a stripped down Peel Session of pretty acoustic versions is just the bee's knees. The centrepiece is of course the gorgeous Some Candy Talking; a track that sounds heavenly as a single (or on reissues of Psychocandy) made even better with the feedback taken away. You Trip Me Up is just as wonderful, feeling like it was always meant to be an acoustic track. This session proves the Mary Chain have written some great, great songs underneath all the noise.
Tracklisting: Some Candy Talkin', Psychocandy, The Fall, You Trip Me Up

8. The Birthday Party's second Peel Session, 1981

The Birthday Party; one of the single most important, underrated bands ever; the first band ever to see the enigmatic pairing of Nick Cave and Mick Harvey. (who's still a Bad Seed) Like any straight thinking individual, John Peel thought The Birthday Party were something fresh, and exciting. So he invited the Aussies in for 4 sessions during their short career. The second is possibly the most overtly-psychotic session, and it features an all-conquering version of my favourite; Release the Bats. Cave screams down the mic "Release the bats! Release the bats!", and anyone who left Radio 1 on by accident in 1981 was in for a nice treat.
Tracklisting: Rowland Around in That Stuff, Release the Bats, Loose, Pleasure Heads Must Burn.

7. The final Joy Division session, 1979

Arguably the greatest band of all time, according to me and according to Peely, Joy Division recorded two Peel sessions - one at around the time of Unknown Pleasures and one around the time of Closer. The second one is, for me, the greatest. An amazing, energetic version of Love Will Tear Us Apart that is far better than the single version kicks it off. The session also features a great version of the best track off of Closer: 24 Hours, as well as album track Colony. Joy Division's final Peel performance is mind blowing.
Tracklisting: Love Will Tear Us Apart, Exercise One, 24 Hours, Colony

6. The Sonic Youth session consisting only of four Fall covers, 1988

The Fall were John Peel's favourite band, so when NYC's finest took to Radio 1's airwaves, they blasted through a set of covers by The Fall. Victoria, The Kinks song that propelled The Fall to the UK top 40, was also included, and with Thurston Moore's snarl it sounds so different to the original, but in a great way. They also played a menacing, screeching version of Rowche Rumble, and an amazing version of Psycho Mafia.
Tracklisting: Rowche Rumble, My New House, Psycho Mafia, Victoria

5. The Smiths' second Peel Session, 1983

Although their first album is pretty damn ropey, the sessions The Smtihs recorded for Peel in the run-up to it were stunning; some of them make up bits of Hatful Of Hollow which is rightfully seen as The Smiths' true debut album. The second Peel Session is the one people talk about the most; the harmonica driven Still Ill divides opinions, and if This Charming Man wasn't the most upbeat song ever anyway, the 1983 Peel version improves it tenfold. The best moment however, comes from Back To The Old House, sung with much more passion than the studio recording. This is one of the best bands of the eighties (or ever?) at their best.
Tracklisting: Still Ill, This Charming Man, Back To The Old House, This Night Has Opened My Eyes

4. The debut session from Delta 5, 1979

The Delta 5 are one of a handful of post-punk bands driven by a strong punchy bassline, and they just don't get enough attention. Their entire discography amounts to an okay album and a handful of singles, but dammit they were amazing. Their first Peel Session features the amazing You, and it sounds brilliant; more scintillating than on record. It also features the mighty fine Colour and the self-titled song Delta 5. And the frontwoman has a great voice too.
Tracklisting: You, Triangle, Delta 5, Make Up, Colour

Exactly 11 years after the Delta 5 session, the greatest band of the nineties took to Maida Vale to unleash some shoegaze on the nation.John Peel championed Slowdive, MBV and Ride in their early days, and this is the first time he got some 'gazing going in the studio - bar a noisey pre-shoegazing MBV session in 1988. The session's noted by Ride fans for featuring a cover version of Sight Of You, by fellow soft-voice shoegazers Pale Saints. Arguably the most bona fide single from their output, Like A Daydream (which was Creation Records' first top 40 hit as lead track on the Play EP) sounds faster and better here. It was also the first time anyone heard Dreams Burn Down, an amazing track from their perfect debut Nowhere. The whole Peel Session was perfect, and Dreams Burn Down and Like A Daydream both made their way into Peel's top 4 songs for the year.
Tracklisting: Like A Daydream, Dreams Burn Down, Perfect Time, Sight Of You

In 1989, Nirvana had a bit of US college radio underground success, but nothing major; they weren't known at all in the UK. But they were known by John Peel, the man who was most responsible for giving them their original UK airplay. Whilst a mellow-but-acoustic version of Polly was a beautiful, maybe even commercial touch, the rest of their set was full of the grimey furore of their debut record Bleach. The version of Love Buzz is great (mind you; could a song that great ever sound bad?) and About A Girl sounds much better than the famous MTV acoustic version. It set the stage for Nirvana to be the huge force they were, and Peel never went off them either.
Tracklisitng: Love Buzz, Spank Thru, About A Girl, Polly

1. The final session by The Fall

Manchester band The Fall are famous for being John Peel's favourite band; "always different, always the same" he said of them. Over a 26 year period, they recorded 24 sessions for John Peel, with a different line up each time. Their 24, and final is arguably their greatest, and arguably the greatest. It was a selection of tracks from their 27th studio album Fall Heads Roll (a personal favourite) which Peel tragically never got to hear. But luckily, each one is absolutely perfect, and anybody would be lucky to hear it. The track Blindness is surely one of the greatest ever released, the bassline is absolutely superb. You can't fault it. And What About Us? is a great, catchy number about the most notorious serial killer ever, Harold Shipman; and god is it catchy. The medley of late eighties hit Right Place, Wrong Time and I Can Hear The Grass Grow is something else altogether though - they go together perfectly and round of the session amazingly. One listen, and it's so obvious why this band were the great man's favourite, and why everyone reveres both Peel and Mark E. Smith as influential geniuses. You have to hear it below.

R.I.P John Peel

(written by calum cashin)