Every year the great British radio DJ John Peel broadcast a rundown of his listener's favourite tracks, known as the Festive 50. Mostly it was the favourite tracks of that year, on a few occasions it was their all-time favourite tracks. Peel complained about the dominance of white boys with guitars, but that's British rock and pop for you.
In classic work avoidance mode, I decided to compile a playlist of 27 tracks from the rundown, all of which got voted in at number 27. [In case you hadn't guessed, 27 is my lucky number.] I found a website with comprehensive listings and set to work. Peel was right - even down at number 27, there's a lot of white boys with guitars on this list.
1978 - Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
1979 – Jam - Strange Town
1980 – Stiff Little Fingers - Wasted Life
Hmm, cracking start. Can't say that Wasted Life is anywhere near the best song by the Stiff Little Fingers [a band perhaps best known now for getting a big fat plug in film of Nick Hornby's novel High Fidelity, starring John Cusack]. Still, that would explain why it was down at #27 on the Festive 50 for 1980. Moving swiftly on...
1981 – Killing Joke - Requiem
1982 – The Clash - Know Your Rights
1982 – Scritti Politti - The 'Sweetest' Girl
In 1982 Peel apparently had both his Festive Fifty for that year, and an All-Time Festive Fifty. I wasn't going to include both, but I remain besotted by Scritti Politti after nearly 30 years so The 'Sweetest Girl' got included on my list. Killing Joke's Requiem is a brilliant dirge. Embarrassingly, I didn't know Know Your Rights.
1983 - Sisters of Mercy - Alice
1984 – Very Things - The Bushes Scream While My Daddy Prunes
1985 – Cure – In Between Days
Alice isn't on iTunes, so I went for #28 - Peppermint Pig by the Cocteau Twins [very Peel-esque]. In-Between Days by the Cure is class, even if New Order did grumble about it sounding a big familiar. As for The Bushes Scream While My Daddy Prunes, what a great title for a song. Or, possibly, an episode of The Archers by David Lynch.
1986 – Age of Chance - Bible Of The Beats
1987 – Eric B & Rakim - Paid In Full
1988 - The Fall - Kurious Oranj
Annoyingly, Bible of the Beats by Age of Chance doesn't seem to be on iTunes, so my playlist needed its second bit of cheating. I substituted the band's cover of Kiss, which was #2 on the Festive Fifty in 1986. Paid in Full is still great, quarter of a century later. 1988 offers the only track by The Fall on this list [Peel loved them].
1989 - New Order - Vanishing Point
1990 - Lush - Sweetness And Light
1991 - Smashing Pumpkins – Siva
1989 is pretty much the last hurrah for New Order, a 1980s band who always sound futuristic and classic at the same time. I didn't know Lush, but this absolutely sounds like 1990. Apparently the 1991 list wasn't broadcast until years later, as Peel got in a grump about its predictability. Still, Smashing Pumpkins are rocking it.
1992 - Pond - Young Splendour
1993 - Tindersticks - Raindrops
1994 - Nirvana - The Man Who Sold The World
Suspect this is when I stopped buying much new music. Pond passed me by at the time, but Young Splendour is okay in a sub-REM way. The Sopranos featured one or two great Tindersticks tracks - Raindrops sounds vaguely Nick Cave to me. Nirvana go unplugged for a David Bowie cover. Far from polished but rather good, none the less.
1995 - Pulp - Disco 2000
1996 - Dick Dale - Nitrous
1997 - Delgados - Pull The Wires From The Wall
Disco 2000 is class in a glass. Can't say I've ever heard of Dick Dale, this sounds like something from a Quentin Tarantino film soundtrack [particularly if he ever does a remake of Surf Nazis Must Die]. After the super-urgent garage band rockabilly of Dick Dale, The Delgados are a bit twee. Is this shoegazing? Mumblecore? It's okay.
1998 - Clinic - Monkey On Your Back
1999 - Super Furry Animals - Turning Tide
2000 – Laura Cantrell – Two Seconds
This is becoming a real journey into the unknown. Clinic? Sorry, never heard of them either. Very Dunedin sound - would have worked fine on Flying Nun Records. Super Furry Animals, are they still going? This is very Pink Floyd [yawn]. On to Laura Cantrell - blimey, it's some actual country [or possibly western]. A nice change of pace.
2000 - My Bloody Valentine - You Made Me Realise
2001 - Lift To Experience - These are the days
2002 - The White Stripes - Fell In Love With A Girl
2000 had another All-Time list, but iTunes doesn't have You Made Me Realise so I went for #28, Transmission by Joy Division [another Peel fave]. Can't say I know Lift to Experience, but These are the days isn't bad at all. Never had much time for the White Stripes, but Fell In Love With a Girl certainly doesn't outstay its welcome.
And that's my 27 years of number 27s. In case anyone's still reading, Peel did one more Festive Fifty in 2003, before his untimely death in October the following year. So, what was number 27 in 2003? Porn Shoes by The French, of course [how could you forget that?]. Rather nifty if deliberately twee at the same time. Worth a listen.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out Peel did lists in 1976 and 1977. I started my listed of #27s in 1978 because the 1977 list seems to have stopped at number 13, plus Ian Dury got things off with a band. The 1976 list did have a #27 - it was Pickin' the Blues by Grinderswitch [nope, me neither]. So now you know.