There are some mysteries in life that have kept me awake at night. What is the meaning of life? Where do we go when we die? Where do flies go at night? What are the holes in biros for? (I must admit, I hadn’t thought about that one before Robbie Williams pointed it out.) Why have people ever bought anything at all by Westlife? Why would anybody headbutt one of their opponents 10 minutes away from winning the World Cup for the second time?
However, none of these weighty questions has ever bothered me half as much as this one: What were the contents of John Peel’s 1977 Festive Fifty, chosen by the great geezer himself? Since I started this blog, the answer has been shrouded in mystery. Rocklist provided a Top 13, and the Yahoo Peel Group speculated endlessly about the rest. However, I was not willing to accept people’s memories (which as we all know can be faulty…as Sid Vicious claimed), and needed undeniable proof of the rest. Adam from Fades In Slowly posted a late ’77 show which proved that Peel had broadcast a Festive Sixty. Yet we still did not know what the other tracks were.
Until I switched on my computer this morning, bleary-eyed and caffeine-starved as I was, and soon woke with a jolt when I read this message for the Peel group from Ken Garner, author of a new book about the Peel sessions:
DEFINITIVE HISTORY OF JOHN PEEL’S RADIO 1 SESSIONS REVEALS
THE “FORGOTTEN FIFTY” OF 1977
DJ John Peel’s long lost “Festive 50″ of top tracks of 1977 has been
reconstructed as part of the new definitive history of his show THE
PEEL SESSIONS, to be published by BBC Books on 4 October 2007. The
rundown presents a startling snapshot of Peel’s personal view of a
year when music changed for ever, with punk and reggae elbowing out
the rock legends.
The first ever Festive 50 poll of his listeners’ all-time favourite
tracks was broadcast over Christmas 1976, but with everything
changing in 1977, Peel and his producer John Walters decided not to
run a poll that year. Instead, Peel chose his own favourites, but
presented it as a ‘Festive 50’ chart rundown anyway. The Top 13 are
well-documented, but the full chart is the “Forgotten Fifty”,
remembered only in fragments by even diehard listeners.
Prompted by queries and tip-offs from fellow members of the John Peel
News Group on Yahoo, author Ken Garner reconstructed the chart from a
combination of listener diaries & off-air tapes, and the programme
scripts kept on microfilm at BBC Written Archives, Caversham. “Even
though he referred to it on air as the Festive 50, Peel clearly chose
60 personal favourites from across the year to spin again, plus The
Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save The Queen’ cheekily thrown in as an extra at
the start”, he says: “The track was still banned at the BBC in Silver
Jubilee Year – although Peel had of course played it twice before the
ban was imposed – and you can imagine the furore if he had drawn
attention to it by ‘placing’ it. This way he sneaked it in with no-
one noticing.” Although no chart placings are given on the scripts,
it was possible to count backwards from the number one at the end of
the final countdown show. “The Forgotten Fifty as a whole in its
range and order is very much like the nightly Peel shows of the time
in its mixture of old and new, the fashionable alongside the uncool”
says Garner, “with some giveaway Peel running-order jokes, like following
The Boys with The Yobs.
As you can probably imagine, having already written a post featuring the Top Five, I had kittens and immediately dashed off an effusive email to Ken congratulating him for his hard work and apprising him of my intention to profile this discovery at the earliest opportunity.
Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to post the rest of the chart in full: truth to tell, I am still so excited about this discovery that I don’t even know which tracks I have and which I have yet to obtain. Nonetheless, I have one surprise for Davy of The Ghost Of Electricity. He asked if Dr. Feelgood, those worthy pub rockers from Canvey Island, ever had a FF entry. Well, Davy, I can now reveal that they made the 1977 FF at #33 with Paradise, the second track from Sneakin’ Suspicion, which was the last album they made with Wilko Johnson on guitar.
This has got me in such a lather that I will have to go and lie down with a mug of green tea, but not before I share that #61 sneaky classic from the Sex Pistols, their declaration of war ‘without meaning to’, as Johnny Rotten succinctly put it (which also made FF 1978 #3, 1979 #13, 1980 #25, 1981 #38, and All-Time FF 1982 #25). (There is an extensive Wikipedia article about it here.) For those of you who were there (and even those who weren’t):
The Festive Fifty of 1977 was first broadcast on BBC Radio 1, The John Peel Show, 22.00-00.00, over the four nights of Thurs 22nd, Fri 23rd, Mon 26th and Tues 27th December 1977. Reconstructed by Ken Garner with contributions from Adrian Barber, Jimmy Stepek, John Bravin, & Stu McHugh.
Thanks a million, guys.