Revisit the Radio Sessions and Record Collection of Groundbreaking BBC DJ John Peel

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.

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