John Peel’s Record Collection

Browsing through someone else’s record collection is always very rewarding. You learn so much about the owner!

Although I’m sure none of us really needed to learn much about John Peel‘s beautifully eclectic tastes. If there’s anyone who didn’t worship him as a living God when he was around, then I’d be fascinated to know why. And if there’s a music fan out there who doesn’t know where they were then they found out he’d sadly died, then I’d be very surprised.

If you are the one person on the planet who wasn’t aware, then he was probably the finest DJ in British radio history. After some time in the world of piracy in the mid 1960s, he joined fledgeling BBC pop station Radio 1 when it started in 1967 and stayed there right up until his death in 2004. He was responsible for starting the careers of so many big name bands that it’s not even worth considering listing them, and his Peel Sessions remain a household name worldwide.

And this year, 45 years after he joined Radio 1, his estate have been working on a wonderful project to digitise his record collection, and they finally reach the end of the alphabet this week. Starting initially with the first hundred records from each letter, the archive of a few thousand records is quite compelling. Check it out here.

I’m sure I’ve missed plenty, but here are a few of the things which have caught my eye in his collection on my quick browse. Obviously I’m a lot less open minded than he is, but then neither was I going to list all 2,600 entries here! I’ve copied their links where appropriate, but I’d strongly recommend that you go and browse them for yourself!

In particular, the brilliantly bizarre industrial Slovenes Laibach get a full interview in the L is for Laibach feature here, which is well worth watching.

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Alabama 3 – Exile on Coldharbour Lane

How do you feel about country music? Not that great? Me too.

Alabama 3 (inexplicably known as A3 if you’re American, making them sound a bit like a third rate boy band) are entirely not from the midwest, and seem to have relatively little background of making country music. Apparently originally called The First Presleyterian Church of Elvis the Divine (UK), the whole project seems to have simply grown out of a desire to try a fusion of country and acid house.

Their debut album Exile on Coldharbour Lane opens with the bold statement “Let’s go back to church,” on a track called Converted, which is a fairly gentle religion-infused country track driven by a 303 bass line. Most of the album follows a similar vein.

Despite all feeling very familiar to me, the whole thing seems to have been a bit of a commercial flop. The album peaked at number 153 in the UK, and the only hit single was Ain’t Goin’ to Goa, which only just scraped the tail end of the top 40 on its second attempt, seemingly not helped by a slew of huge-name remixes. Despite opening the TV series The Sopranos, the exceptional Woke Up This Morning only managed to peak at number 80 (twice). Which must have all been rather disappointing.

The wonderfully atmospheric Woke Up This Morning passes the baton onto the hilarious U Don’t Dans 2 Tekno, which in brilliant country style (I want to say bluegrass, but I don’t honestly know enough about the genre) tells the tale of a friend who enjoyed The Drugs a bit too much. “You don’t dance to techno, hip hop or electro,” they sing, and it’s difficult not to smile.

Bourgeoisie Blues is almost entirely impossible to spell correctly, but brings a sweet gospel flavo(u)r to the album, and this is followed by Ain’t Goin’ to Goa. As I recall it got a lot of radio play, and I remember it well, presumably from its second release, so it was slightly surprising to me to see it was such a minor hit. Or perhaps the memory cheats.

The excellence continues. Mao Tse Tung Said is absolutely brilliant, Hypo Full of Love (The 12 Step Plan) catchy and wonderful. And the final track is the fantastic Peace in the Valley. All in all, Exile on Coldharbour Lane is an extremely good album, and comes highly recommended.

Buying Exile on Coldharbour Lane isn’t as easy as it should be. Here it is on Amazon.com, which seems to be the rare and exciting “explicit” edition, and this is the link for Amazon.co.uk.

Delerium – Music Box Opera

Delerium are back! It’s more than a decade since Silence hit the top three, and at least a couple of years since it was last reissued. But it’s hard not to love their style of mystical, gentle, beautiful music. The album Music Box Opera is out this week – here’s a taster with the first single Monarch:

Chart for stowaways – 27 October 2012

Usual suspects again, but with lots of bouncing up and down on the singles chart this week:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Leaving
  2. Delerium – Monarch
  3. Metroland – Inner City Transport
  4. The Good Natured – Video Voyeur
  5. The Orb feat. Lee “Scratch” Perry – Ball of Fire
  6. Cut Copy – Hearts on Fire
  7. Réplica feat. Client – Sorry
  8. VCMG – EP3 – Aftermaths
  9. Bim – Lights Out
  10. Metroland – Moscow Train

With a whole load of weird stuff going on further down the chart. On the albums, Metroland are still number one but Pet Shop Boys‘ Elysium is now descending down the chart like a bobsleigh.

Gangnam Style – Lily the Pink

Sometimes you can only long for the simpler days of the novelty hits of the 1960s. No flashy videos, no autotune. Back in those days you had to rely on trombones and tubas if you wanted it to be clear that it was a comedy song.

And in 1968, that’s what The Scaffold did, taking the folk song The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham, switching the lyrics to an altogether sillier set, and recording Lily the Pink, which got to number one in the UK and Ireland:

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – History of Modern

Oh, I don’t know. Reviewing Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark was always going to be difficult. We’re not far away from their next album, so it’s probably worth reviewing the last one before it actually appears.

The thing about OMD is that I really feel as though I should like them, a lot. They were the people who gave us Enola Gay and Electricity and Souvenir and Sailing on the Seven Seas and Universal and I don’t know how many other amazing tracks. The trouble is, they have also churned out vast quantities of rubbish.

Would it be an insult to call them a singles band? Certainly their singles compilation Messages is generally excellent. Maybe they just prefer quantity over quality. It’s also not that I think Andy McCluskey is a bit of a pretentious diva in interviews (he is). So let’s get one thing clear right now: I’m probably going to upset a few fans if any of them read this, and I’m truly sorry for that, but all I can do here is write about what I personally feel.

So going right back to the beginning, their first album Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (1980) is promising and has a certain charming raw energy. It’s true that it has a couple of dreadful moments (The Messerschmidt Twins), but if they had carried on doing things like this, they would have quickly reached perfection.

But in less than a year, they also churned out Organisation, which starts off promisingly (it opens with Enola Gay, so ‘promising’ is actually something of an understatement) but it quickly degenerates into forgettable mush. Architecture and Morality (1981) is generally celebrated as their finest hour, but to me it’s really just a couple of singles with a whole lot of filler. Dazzle Ships (1983) is a misguided attempt to recreate Radio-Activity.

Then by the mid-1980s, OMD seem to have been totally failing to produce anything of merit. Junk Culture (1984) is appallingly bad. Crush (1985) has So in Love to make it worthwhile, but little else, and I don’t even own a copy of The Pacific Age (1986). Wisely they took a break for a while, returning with Sugar Tax (1991), but although that brought us two exceptional singles in the form of Sailing on the Seven Seas and Pandora’s Box, there is little else of merit. Liberator (1993) tells a similar story. In fact it’s not until 1996’s Universal that they finally seem to have managed to come back with something special.

So quite rightly, fourteen years later, The Internet started getting very excited about the release of the new OMD album History of Modern. There’s a lot right with it: the concept is exceptional; the artwork brilliant. But then they choose to open the album with the utterly awful New Babies; New Toys, and to a degree I think the die was already cast.

But enough negativity – let’s concentrate on the good stuff. The album is partly a reappraisal of the band’s career, with nods back to various moments in their past. If You Want It is great, and was a wonderful lead single. Sometimes is an absolutely beautiful reworking of Motherless Child, complete with slightly unnecessary record scratching effects. Rfwk is quite fun, although I suspect it’s trying to sound like early Kraftwerk when it actually ends up just sounding like OMD.

The best track by a long way is The Future, The Past, and Forever After, which for me echoes the best OMD of the early 1990s. This is the one track on the album which reminds me why I bought this album in the first place – as the track chugs along and McCluskey reminds us that “Like a speeding train on wheels of steel it will come to you,” you wonder exactly what you might have been complaining about earlier.

But then, sure as the night follows the day, McCluskey has to include yet another bloody song about a dead religious figure. For once it isn’t Joan of Arc, and actually Sister Marie Says is pretty good, to be fair. The album definitely reaches its crescendo around the middle, before throwing out some unreleased Atomic Kitten with Pulse and finally lapsing into the entirely unnecessary filler of Green and Bondage of Fate. The closing track is another great moment which slightly inexplicably samples Komputer, and is entitled The Right Side?

So there you have it: History of Modern is a mixed bag, and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark think they’re a lot more important to the history of music than I do. But maybe they know best after all – what do I know? And am I looking forward to their next album English Electric? Well actually, yes. For all my criticisms, when OMD get it right, they really are exceptionally good.

Ignore what I said, and make your own mind up, by grabbing History of Modern from iTunes here or Amazon.com here.