Happy Birthday, John Peel: Our 10 Favorite Sessions
Today would have been the 73rd birthday of John Peel, one of the planet's most legendary, eclectic and flat-out best radio disc jockeys of all time. He died in 2004, but the nearly 40 years of outrageously good music that he helped bring to the masses at BBC Radio 1 beginning in 1967 form a pretty damn impressive legacy.
Peel actually got his start in radio in Texas, first as an unpaid presented on WRR AM in Dallas and then as the "official Beatles correspondent" for KLIF-FM during the height of Beatlemania.
In 1967, he returned to his native England, where he worked as a DJ for the offshore pirate radio station Radio London, breaking new music from LA and San Francisco among other tasty morsels. After Radio London folded, he was hired by the BBC's new pop music station, Radio 1, where he'd remain for the rest of his life.
Peel took great pleasure in sharing radical new sounds with his audience, and he introduced a huge number of artists into the mainstream consciousness who would go on to worldwide fame. He was among the first (and only) DJs anywhere to broadcast reggae, punk, hardcore, grindcore, grime and dubstep music over the radio, and his shows became mandatory listening for musical explorers anywhere that BBC Radio 1 was broadcast.
A long-running feature of his shows were the famed John Peel Sessions, showcasing acts' exclusive in-studio recordings that often turned out better than the originals. Over Peel's 37 years at the station, more than 4,000 sessions were recorded by more than 2,000 artists. That's... a whole hell of a lot!
As a little birthday tribute, Rocks Off has compiled 10 of the best Peel Sessions (that we could find on YouTube) for your listening pleasure. Though the names are now familiar, they didn't used to be. For many listeners, these recordings served as the first taste of far-out styles.
10. The White Stripes
According to the excellent John Peel Wiki, the DJ first happened across the White Stripes' music at a record shop in the Netherlands, where he found a U.S. import of their debut album. Based on a hunch, he bought it, and soon became one of the band's biggest boosters when they were still relative unknowns in the pop music scene.
Peel was old enough to remember the original tunes that inspired the band's rootsy sound, and he took to the pair immediately. The Stripes would eventually record three Peel Sessions and become close to the man who helped break them to a mass audience very far away from their homebase of Detroit.
9. Joy Division
Joy Division emerged from the post-punk scene in Manchester in the late '70s that caught the attention of Peel and many other British tastemakers of the day. The band managed to record two Peel Sessions at the BBC in 1979 before singer Ian Curtis committed suicide. That violent act ended the group before they ever made it across the Atlantic to tour, adding an additional layer of gloom to the band's moody sound. The surviving band members carried on as New Order.