The John Peel Festive 50
August 8, 2017 6:18 PM   Subscribe

From 1974 until his death in 2004, the UK's legendary Radio 1 DJ John Peel's annual rundown of listeners' fifty favourite tracks of the year, 'The John Peel Festive 50' became a Christmas institution. Listeners of John's show picked the chart by voting for their three favourite tracks of the year before the end of November. The Festive 50 were then played on air. And with this Spotify playlist you can stream all 70+ hours --932 songs -- for free. [Requires free Spotify account.]
posted by Room 641-A (8 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
love it except ... Spotify
posted by philip-random at 7:22 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]

I know, I had to sign up, too. But 925 of the best rock music songs....
posted by Room 641-A at 7:52 PM on August 8

Amazing how many of these tracks are already downloaded onto my device.

You could start this playlist from almost any song (at least after 1980) and within 2 tracks I could tell you the year, and where I was and what I was doing and who I was doing it with.

Amazing post, thank you.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:54 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]

Two things:

Thing 1) You can download well over 500 real John Peel shows free from a fan site called The Perfumed Garden. These cover the great man's entire broadcasting career (1967-2004) and are contributed by fans (like me) who've long treasured their old cassette tapes recorded from FM broadcasts. Peel's dry wit in presenting these programmes is very nearly as entertaining as the music itself, and that's something no Spotify playlist will give you.

Thing 2) Peel's Festive 50 shows were always the least interesting ones he did, and there's a very simple reason for that. His own tastes were always in advance of his listeners' tastes - that's how he was always able to introduce us to so much great music we'd never have heard anywhere else. Handing the selection of tracks over to his listeners inevitably resulted in a far more conservative, more rock-centric and less adventurous playlist than Peel himself would have produced.
posted by Paul Slade at 1:44 AM on August 9 [17 favorites]

If you want to read about the Peel show in the context of its times, I highly recommend David Cavanagh's Good Night and Good Riddance. It's short descriptions of around 300 individual shows from throughout Peel's career - what was played, what was going on at the time in the UK, and what was happening in Peel's life.

I mainly remember late 80s and early 90s Peel, so seeing the broader span was really interesting.
posted by crocomancer at 5:07 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]

I've long thought the BBC should have a dedicated digital radio/internet stream to re-broadcasting all of Peel's shows back to back (and just start again when they reach the end)

I would listen to that forever.
posted by auntie-matter at 8:49 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]

Thing 2) Peel's Festive 50 shows were always the least interesting ones he did,

I was wondering about that having browsed the list for 1976, the top ten featuring exactly one track from 1976 (a soft rocker I've never heard of). The rest are all straight outa some Classic Rock ghetto. What were they smoking in Britain in 1976? Or was it more of an alcohol thing.
posted by philip-random at 4:54 PM on August 9

What were they smoking in Britain in 1976?

That's an excellent example of what I was talking about. Peel was an early champion of 1976's much-needed punk revolution, but many of his listeners remained unconvinced for a year or more. The festive 50's top threes for 1976, 1977 and 1978 tell the tale:

1) Led Zeppelin: Stairway to Heaven
2) Derek & The Dominoes: Layla
3) Bob Dylan: Desolation Row

1) The Motors: Dancing The Night Away.
2) Althea & Donna: Uptown Top Ranking
3) The Motors: You Beat The Hell Out of Me

1) Sex Pistols: Anarchy in the UK
2) The Clash: Complete Control
3) Sex Pistols: God Save The Queen

Whether this was his old listeners having a "Come to Jesus" moment or audience turnover replacing them with a younger crowd, I don't know. Completing his unfinished autobiography Margrave of the Marshes after Peel's death in 2004, his family wrote:

"Despite John's reputation for airing new music, those audiences who clutched him to their collective bosom in the late sixties and early seventies often reacted with depressing hostility and snobbishness whenever he played anything other than rock. [...] Punk made its first incursions into John's show in spring 1976 when he was struck by the lightening bolt that was the Ramones' first album. [...] Once again, this caused loud complaints from his core audience - or rather those parts of it that hadn't been frightened off by reggae. [...] Most objections that John received, whatever the year or era, stemmed largely from the fact that he refused to play the bands that listeners already knew and liked. A spirit of searching and adventurousness drove his shows, and more often than not, he would be proved right in his instincts."

Whenever someone asked Peel which records he was most excited about, he always replied that it was the ones he hadn't heard yet - and he meant it too. John Waters, his longtime producer and close friend, summed up this principle in his favourite riposte to nagging BBC managers: "It's not our job to give listeners what they want," he'd constantly remind them. "It's our job to give them what they don't yet know they want!" For Peel, this was a central part of the BBC's public service broadcasting mission, and he took that task seriously. Why waste his limited airtime on playing stuff as over-familiar as Led Zeppelin when there was so much wonderful unknown music to be discovered and passed on?

Whether it was reggae in the 1960s, punk in the 70s or soukous and jit jive in the 80s, Peel simply played the music he loved, and left listeners to catch up as best they could. For those of us prepared to listen with open ears, the rewards were glorious.
posted by Paul Slade at 12:35 AM on August 10 [1 favorite]

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