A few years ago I flirted with the contents of John Peel's Record Box after I watched a Channel 4 documentary about it. This was the box of 142 singles and EPs that John kept with him most of the time, which reputedly contained what he considered to be his favourite singles. The full list is here. I began to write about the releases that I was able to find, but this was circa 2006, so it was before the birth of Wikipedia and You Tube and it got harder and harder as I went deeper into the list. Some of the reference links I added went to geocities (RIP) and both the original list and definitive piece are now hidden behind the Times's paywall. I figured it was time to revisit and update my journey into the box.
As for my personal collection I only have a battered copy of Laurie Anderson's 'O Superman' (an 8 minute A-side for starters!) and Pavement's rare 'Demolition Plot J-7' (a six track EP), although I have some of the tunes on CDs. It was exciting that even as a long-term listener of Peel's show there were a lot of titles in the box that I didn't recognise. So, eyes down for a Peel box A-Z...
1. Al Casey – Surfin’ Hootenanny + Easy Pickin (Pie International records, 1963)
This single was a huge Billboard hit in 1963 so it may even be possible to track down some vinyl copies.
This isn’t your typically Trashmen/ Dick Dale surf guitar tune, it is lighter than that, with female vocals and a very wide stereo sound, courtesy of the production by the legendary Lee Hazlewood. I think he also wrote it. They pay homage to a lot of the other surf acts (like Dick Dale) in the song. The B-side is more throwaway, but then that was half the idea with b-sides I guess.
2. Al Ferrier - I'm Not Drinking More + Don't Play Blue Eyes' (Master Trak records, 1980)
LISTEN: Al Ferrier- Don't Play Blue Eyes
Originally a Louisiana rockabilly/ cajun artist who was on Goldband from the mid-1950s, this is a much later recording and is pure country. I had assumed it was a 1980 reissue, but this interview shows that he was recording at Goldband in the early '80s so it probably is a 1980 release.
This is very hard to find nowadays, I have a dull sounding mp3 of the A-side which was transferred from vinyl, and the B-side is an mp3 taped off the radio which I have uploaded above, complete with Peel back anno! The best thing about submerging myself in this list is that I feel like I have entered an epic lost Peel show, full of surprises, songs you love and songs you would fast forward if you had taped the 2-hour broadcast. As this reminds me too much of the country n western I was brought up with, I would have wind it on past this, but a few listens later I'm kind of impressed by Ferrier's slightly off-centre delivery. It is country but not (quite) as we know it.
3. Alan Price Set - I Put a Spell on You (Decca, 1966)
A big hit in the '60s and relatively easy to get your hands on as it is on a few compilations. This is the first artist in the list I’ve heard of and the first track I recognised as well. Things I know about Alan Price - he was in the Animals, he wrote the music for the 70s movie 'O Lucky Man' and he appeared in DA Pennebaker's Don't Look Back alongside Dylan. The A-side is a busy organ-dominated British blues take on the classic song, and it does have a similar arrangement to 'House of the Rising Sun'. B-side "Iechyd Da" is a standard jazzy blues instrumental, dominated by the organ and horns. First Welsh language title in the list, although Price was from the North East and this has no words!
4. Andy Capp - Popatop + Reco - The Lion Speaks (Treasure Island, 1969)
Now that I'm old I'm supposed to know a lot about jazz and reggae and the like, and I do know a bit, but not an awful lot, so feel free to correct me by leaving a comment.
This is early dub reggae dating from 1969, Andy Capp was engineer Lynford Anderson, who helped a lot of Lee Perry's early dub experiments happen. This was actually siting in my iTunes under Lee 'Scratch' Perry as it was on his Battle Axe compilation. This sits nicely with the Perry material of the same period, and they although do experiment with a stop/start dubby rhythm it's actually infectiously catchy.
I didn't know much about Rico and the Rudies, except that Rico was a trombone player and had releases on Trojan records, but via Wikipedia I found out that he has recently been playing with Jools Holland and was awarded the MBE in 2007. This song sits eccentrically amongst all the other reggae in the box as it has Rico's trombone all over it!