Will any radio DJ ever draw more respect than John Peel has? It seems unlikely, especially since so many fascinating artifacts of his life and career have become available on the internet since his death in 2004. You can now explore, thanks to the John Peel Archive, Peel’s digitized office, a repository of videos, sound recordings, photos and broadcasts. But for its obvious pièce de résistance, look no further than Peel’s record collection, made virtual for your browsing enjoyment. There you’ll find streamable albums, pop-cultural artifacts, and testimony from many a famous musician about the vital importance of John Peel to their careers. Those too young or too non-English to have tuned in to BBC Radio 1 during Peel’s heyday may not realize that this is no ordinary record collection. This is a treasure trove of 25,000 LPs and 40,000 singles assembled by a man who brought to the rock-enthusiast public the likes of Billy Bragg, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, The Fall, Pavement Buzzcocks, Elvis Costello, David Bowie… the list goes on.
Peel showcased such artists on his famous Peel Sessions, which would bring these performers into the BBC’s studios to lay down four or five songs. Quickly mixed and readied for broadcast, these songs would retain a rougher, looser, often more improvisational feel than the records that made these players famous. Tapes of a band’s Peel Session thus immediately became a hotly traded commodity among that band’s fans. Today, Peel’s own fans have helpfully uploaded a selection of his broadcasts, official Peel Sessions and otherwise, to the audio-sharing site Soundcloud. Perhaps you’d like to hear a snapshot of Peel’s view or the rock world on Christmas Eve 1979. Or how about October 13, 2004? Maybe April 4, 1988? Then, when you’re ready — and if you use Spotify — make a return to the John Peel Archive and pull up his Sessions with a favorite band, be it The Cure, Smashing Pumpkins, PJ Harvey, Cinerama, or whomever. You’ll hear why, 45 years on from his broadcasting debut and eight from his passing, John Peel remains the locus classicus of knowledgeable, discerning rock-radio cool.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.
… and off it is.