By: Angel Hinojosa
What more can be said about John Peel that hasn’t already been discussed?
Before his death in 2004, the English DJ had practically showcased almost every seminal American and English rock band on his radio show. For about forty years, John Peel curated radio ears as he frequently gave air-time to then contemporary musicians playing music outside the traditional broadcasting sphere. From Nirvana, Black Sabbath, Bob Marley and Leonard Cohen to This Heat, Pere Ubu, Stereolab and The Slits, every rising band eventually made their way to Peel’s studio to pre-record tracks for listeners to hear throughout the week. Almost unanimously and continuously, John Peel has been cited as a heavy influence to popular music’s landscapes from Rock and R&B to Reggae, Dub, Punk, and Soul…
Because I have been digging through these sessions, here’s a couple of ones of interest:
Brian Eno and the Winkies (1974):
Recorded in 1974, this has Eno playing songs off Here Come the Warm Jets only a month after the album’s release. These Peel Sessions include a much more stripped down version of his songs “Baby’s On Fire/Totalled” and “The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch”, as well as a cover of the Little Willie John song, “Fever”. What opening guitar riff works better than that on the first track, “Paw Paw Negro”?
The Sugarcubes (1987):
There are listeners who say this session never took place due to the unknown date in which these five songs were recorded. We assume them as definite Peel Sessions anyways, because of their broadcast for John Peel’s show on December in 1987. Here we are given The Sugarcubes right before their launch to international fame and four months before Life’s Too Good’s release date. Apart from the great band dynamics, the vocal deliveries are what make these recordings. Einar Örn’s spoken words on “Delicious Demon” and “Motor Crash” are reminiscent of bands like The Talking Heads or The B-52s, but Björk is definitely what places The Sugarcubes in a league of their own.
Ann Peebles (1974):
Capturing her at the height of her popularity, these Peel Sessions also capture something entirely different than the studio versions found off I Can’t Stand the Rain. Ann Peebles here is fierce and raw backed by her brass and rhythm bands. “Slipped, Tripped, & Fell in Love” and “You Keep Me Hanging On”, although missing from the aforementioned album, fit entirely in this collection of songs. What really stands out of these Peel Sessions however, is the sound Peebles is able to get out of the studio; no one has sounded as good.
The Mummies (1994):
Although presented over eighty-five hundred miles from home, the San Bruno band, The Mummies, were given a chance to shred their way through these four songs, each heavily inspired by their cheap kicks, 60s garage-rock, and complete budget mindful practices. I haven’t been able to find a more satisfying version of “The Fly” (maybe this one? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xr0StuubuaM) than the one present on Peel’s show. Something about the sound is much more fuller and deeper than The Mummies have ever sounded before. The performance even clocks in under ten minutes! Ready to raise the dead?
Jim O’Rourke (1999):
Although not necessarily a “live” performance, singer/songwriter Jim O’Rourke recorded these songs by himself back in 1999 to send to John Peel. Even if composed of three pre-recorded tracks, each one is so wonderfully performed and contained, it leaves you content regardless. The “Halfway to a Threeway” recorded here is miles ahead of the one given to us through the EP version. In all seriousness though, even if I could experience the sound collage (tape loops?) at the end of “Little Island Walking” endlessly, “Prelude to 110 or 220/Women of the World” is what I would like to be wrapped in for the rest of my life.
Do your own exploring! As I have been listening, YouTube channels FruitierThanThou and Vibracobra23 have been uploading various sessions throughout Peel’s and his performer’s careers. Maybe your own artist has some Peel Sessions? If they do or not, John Peel is still an important figure to consider as we move more and more away from radio broadcasting. Are our current artists still given the ability to showcase new sounds/songs to a larger audience or has that disappeared due to new emerging forms of media (YouTube, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Spotify)?